Understanding Lyme Disease, Part IV: Holistic Treatment Options

Dr. Joyce Harman of Harmany Equine Clinic wraps up her four-part series on equine Lyme disease with a discussion of holistic treatment options.

Flickr/Jeffrey Kontur/CC

Flickr/Jeffrey Kontur/CC

If you’ve read Parts I-III (catch up by clicking the #LYME DISEASE hashtag), you by now know all about Lyme disease, how it’s diagnosed and how it’s treated in the early stages. Now, we’ll talk about other methods I find useful as a complimentary and integrative veterinary practitioner.

Main treatments

Homeopathics should be prescribed constitutionally. However, there are several remedies that fit many of the Lyme symptoms quite well. Ledum is one of the major remedies for Lyme disease; its symptoms include effects from toxic puncture wounds as well as insects. A tick bite is both of those. Rhododendron and Kalmia as well as remedies in those families are worth considering.

Western herbal protocols have been used successfully. There are a number of them, mostly sold only to practitioners. The best way to use them is to change formulas frequently, rather than use the same product every month.

Chinese medicine offers one of the best modalities to treat Lyme disease in my experience. Acupuncture is excellent for pain control, immune stimulation, relieving Blood stagnation or pain and moving or tonifying Qi. Among many points that are useful (always treat the pattern the animal presents) are LIV 3, LIV 8, ST 36, KI 3, LI 4, LI 11, LI 10, BL 23, BL 26, SI 3. Acupressure can be also be used at these and other points that your acupuncturist may find beneficial for your horse.

Chinese herbal medicines are effective in both the early and late stage Lyme cases, depending on the pattern presented. Many herbs that have direct action against the spirochete are also Chinese herbs that clear toxins, move Blood, expel Wind, Damp and strengthen Qi. Since the spirochete has such an ability to change and adapt to treatment, some of the current thinking is to change formulas on a regular basis.

One way to approach the Chinese treatment is to use a formula geared towards clearing spirochete for two weeks, and alternate with a formula that fits the main pattern the horse exhibits. So one horse may have SP Qi deficiency signs with lethargy and loose stool, so one could use a Lyme formula and alternate with a Qi Tonic and add a different spirochete clearing herbs such as Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) for two weeks. Or a horse showing signs of Liver Qi and Blood stagnation could receive a formula for that and Cat’s Claw for those two weeks. Horses with body pain, Blood and Qi stagnation or Blood Stasis can receive a pain formula. A holistic veterinarian with experience in Chinese herbs can select the appropriate formula for your horse.

Other treatment suggestions

Other compounds can be helpful depending on the symptoms the horse has. Magnesium is a mineral that is frequently deficient in human Lyme patients and is easy to supplement to the horses with magnesium citrate (1 to 3 g per day). Curcumin is an herb that shows excellent anti-inflammatory effects on joints as well as being supportive to the liver. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, if it is available, has been shown to be helpful in humans as has heat therapy. Horses that live outside in the sunshine may actually have increased body temperatures for a portion of the day; however in the wintertime that can be difficult to achieve. Garlic may be beneficial, it may also help keep some ticks away and is a good tonic herb. Coenzyme Q10 (100-300 mg per day) is a fat-soluble antioxidant that may be beneficial.

Herbs to support general gut health can be beneficial, especially after prolonged courses of antibiotics. Slippery Elm, marshmallow and meadowsweet are examples. Hilton Herb’s Digest Support contains these herbs.

Exercise at the level the horse is comfortable with is important on many levels. It is good for the immune system; it is helpful for the horse mentally and the Liver needs to move to avoid Liver Qi stagnation. There is no benefit to pushing the horse beyond what is comfortable and if he’s having a bad day, just go for a short walk.

Stress is a huge factor in the recovery from Lyme disease. Herbs can be used to help counteract stress and from many horses once they have recovered and gone back to competition it is beneficial to maintain them on adaptogenic, stress relieving herbs such as APF or Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng). Also important to pay attention to the amount of rest the horse actually gets at a barn. It has been shown that at many busy barns, horses actually get very little rest and sleep. This adds to stress and we know that stress suppresses the immune system.

The treatment of Lyme disease is complex and requires the willingness to keep reevaluating the progress. Most of the horses can be returned to full performance even with chronic Lyme disease, but many will require ongoing maintenance.

About Joyce Harman: Dr. Joyce Harman opened Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd in 1990, bringing holistic healing to horses from all walks of life, backyard retirees to Olympic competitors. Over the years, Dr. Joyce Harman has observed and adapted to the changing needs the industry. Twenty-plus years ago, no one had heard of Lyme disease or Insulin Resistance, yet today that makes up a large part of her clinical practice.

In 2001, she wrote the first paper in a peer-reviewed journal about the possibility that horses have insulin resistance (IR), and now it is part of our every day conversation. In 2004 she published the first comprehensive book on English saddle fitting since the 1800’s, with the western version of the book following in 2006. To this date, these books are the only books written by an author who is independent from a saddle company, which brings unbiased information to the horse world.

In 2015, Dr. Harman released the Harmany Muzzle, a customizable and breathable grazing muzzle designed with the horse in mind. Because she deals extensively with metabolic and insulin resistant horses, she felt it was her duty to offer them a comfortable muzzle option.

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