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How Chinese Medicine Can Treat Lyme Disease, Kampo Toronto

Grandmas who can make the most delicious meal have zero knowledge about the chemical structure of the food.
Medicine E can treat the disease without knowing the names of the microbes.
Medicine W has all the knowledge about the structure of the virus (e.g.,COVID-19 ) but still has no effective treatment for chronically infected patients.
Who do you choose?


Lyme disease is a chronic infection that is increasingly becoming an epidemic, affecting a growing number of individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early treatment with antibiotics usually leads to a complete and rapid recovery. However, in prolonged cases, known as Post-Borreliosis syndrome, antibiotics are no more effective than a placebo. Moreover, long-term antibiotic use has been linked to serious, potentially fatal complications such as sepsis and colitis. The CDC also recognizes the limited scientific understanding and research gaps concerning persistent symptoms after treatment (1).

Lyme disease affects multiple systems and presents widely varying symptoms, making it challenging for conventional medicine, which often focuses on specific systems and is based on the “germ theory” to pinpoint a single cause and achieve substantial outcomes. This complexity requires a more holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment, addressing the diverse manifestations of the disease.

Chinese medicine, however, takes a holistic view of the body and offers a variety of natural therapeutic treatments, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, and moxibustion. These therapies may provide better outcomes for people who have been suffering chronically from Lyme disease.

In this post, we will discuss Lyme disease in detail from both Western and Eastern perspectives.

Understanding Lyme Disease: Cause, Signs and Symptoms

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium is transmitted to humans through the bite of a black-legged deer tick. Forest fragmentation, changing temperatures, and the population explosion of deer over the last century have created optimal conditions for the spread of ticks, triggering this ongoing epidemic.

You can read more about the causes and history of the Lyme epidemic in the blog by Yale Medicine HERE.

Some patients with Lyme disease may have no or minimal symptoms, while others may suffer more severe symptoms. Symptoms may not develop until weeks after the initial bite, and many people do not remember being bitten because the black-legged tick is so small and usually painless. The infection can be broken down into stages:

Early Stage (infection present for under 3 months):

Common Symptoms:

  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Cutaneous signs (multiple erythema migrans, more common in children)
  • Cardiac manifestations (4-10% of cases) such as atrioventricular block, tachyarrhythmias, myopericarditis, and myocardial dysfunction
  • Neurological symptoms: radiculopathy, encephalopathy, cranial neuropathy (especially facial nerve palsy), subtle cognitive difficulties, motor and sensory radiculoneuropathy
  • Other rare manifestations: uveitis, keratitis, conjunctivitis, mild hepatitis, splenomegaly

Late Lyme Disease (infection present for over 3 months):


  • Baker’s cyst
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Asymmetric oligoarticular arthritis (usually affects the knees)
  • Transient, migratory arthritis and effusion in one or multiple joints


  • Subacute mild encephalopathy (affecting memory and concentration)
  • Chronic mild axonal polyneuropathy (causing distal paresthesias and radicular pain, which is less common)

Rare Manifestations:

  • Encephalomyelitis
  • Leukoencephalopathy

If left untreated, Lyme disease can last for months or even years.

How to Test Lyme Disease in Ontario

In Canada, Lyme disease is tested using a two-tiered serological testing approach. The first step is an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) screening test. If the EIA result is positive or equivocal, a confirmatory immunoblot (IB) test is performed. In cases of suspected Lyme meningitis, testing for intrathecal IgG or IgM antibodies may be helpful. It is important to note that the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) alone has poor specificity due to cross-reactivity with viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and varicella-zoster virus (VZV), other spirochetes like Treponema, and autoimmune processes, leading to a high rate of false positives.

The Controversy

The testing for Lyme disease is generally precise and effective. However, the challenge lies in the fact that Borrelia burgdorferi is extremely effective at evading the immune system, thus escaping detection in serological tests. A few of the mechanisms by which the bacteria hide from the human immune system include:

  • Hiding Undetected Inside Macrophages: Borrelia can reside within macrophages, the body’s cleanup cells, avoiding detection and destruction.
  • Forming Biofilms: The bacteria can create biofilms, which are resilient bacterial communities that protect them from the immune system and antibiotics.
  • Changing Morphology to Round Bodies: Borrelia can transform into round bodies, which are dormant, undetectable forms that can evade immune detection and reactivate later.

These mechanisms complicate the ability of serological tests to accurately detect the presence of the bacteria, especially in chronic or later stages of the disease (2).

You can read more details on how Borrelia escapes the immune system in this post by Holtorf Medical Group: https://holtorfmed.com/how-does-lyme-disease-evade-the-immune-system/

Treatment of Lyme Disease in Western Medicine

Conventional treatment for Lyme disease typically involves antibiotics, with doxycycline being the most commonly prescribed medication. However, there are specific considerations for different populations. During pregnancy and lactation, doxycycline is contraindicated due to its potential adverse effects on the fetus, including permanent tooth discoloration and compromised bone formation. Instead, ceftriaxone is the first-line treatment, with amoxicillin or cefuroxime as second-line options.

For pediatric patients, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations in 2018. Doxycycline is now considered safe for children under 8 years of age, except in cases of non-cutaneous borreliosis, where cefuroxime should not be used. For children under 8 with late disseminated Lyme disease, amoxicillin or cefuroxime is recommended for a 28-day treatment course. It is important to note that the safety of doxycycline beyond 21 days has not yet been studied in pediatric populations (3).

Can Chinese Medicine Help Lyme Disease?

Chinese medicine is a holistic system that views the body through patterns of signs and symptoms, treating it as a whole rather than focusing on a single cause of disease, as is common in the “germ-theory”-based Western medicine. Curing Lyme disease conventionally is very difficult because the symptoms vary between individuals, and no single cause has been identified for effective treatment. Especially in chronic stages, antibiotics, the only conventional treatment, have not been shown to be clinically effective.

The general principle of Chinese medicine in treating Lyme disease and all illnesses is to “treat what is presented in front of practitioners.” Therefore, Chinese medicine treatments for Lyme disease vary from person to person, depending on the clinical presentations of the individual patients, whether it is chronic fatigue, brain fog, joint and muscle pain, or neuropathy. Over thousands of years, Chinese medicine has accumulated vast knowledge and experience that can address most of the symptom patterns manifested in Lyme disease patients.

Another way to understand how Chinese medicine treats Lyme disease is that it does not focus on “killing” the bacteria. Instead, it identifies the body’s weak links by identifying specific Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) patterns, such as “kidney deficiency” or “blood stagnation.” By addressing these patterns, symptoms improve, and more importantly, the body becomes stronger and more resilient to illness. Eventually, the body’s own immune system will either kill the bacteria or keep them under control.

Can Acupuncture Help Lyme Disease?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate healing and alleviate various symptoms. While acupuncture cannot cure Lyme disease, it can be beneficial in managing some of its symptoms. Many patients with Lyme disease experience musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, and brain fog, all of which acupuncture has been shown to help alleviate. By promoting better blood flow, reducing inflammation, and balancing the body’s energy, acupuncture can provide relief and improve the overall quality of life for those suffering from Lyme disease symptoms.

Is Lyme Disease Curable?

Lyme disease is generally considered curable, especially when diagnosed and treated early. The standard treatment involves a course of antibiotics, typically doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime, which can effectively eliminate the infection and lead to a full recovery in most cases. Early treatment is crucial to prevent the progression of the disease and the development of more severe symptoms.

However, if Lyme disease is not treated promptly, it can progress to later stages, leading to more complex and chronic symptoms. In these cases, known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) or chronic Lyme disease, some patients may experience persistent symptoms despite antibiotic treatment. The exact cause of these lingering symptoms is not fully understood and can be challenging to treat.

Therefore, while Lyme disease is curable in many instances, especially with early intervention, some patients may continue to experience symptoms that require ongoing management and support.

Use Kampo Medicine to Manage Chronic Lyme Disease

Kampo medicine can be used to manage the symptoms of chronic Lyme disease and improve the quality of life. However, each patient’s clinical presentation is different. Therefore, the Kampo treatment should be designed for each individual according to their main symptoms and underlying factors.

Kampo/TCM Herbal Formulas for Lyme Disease

Kampo/TCM medicine selects herbal formulas based on each patient’s unique symptoms. For example, suppose a patient’s main complaint is chronic fatigue. In that case, Kampo practitioners often use formulas with Astragalus (Huang Qi) as the chief ingredient, such as “Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang” and “Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang.” For cases where body aches and joint pain dominate, formulas containing Ephedra (Ma Huang) and Cinnamon (Gui Zhi), such as “Wu Ji San” and “Gui Zhi Tang Jia Ling Zhu Fu,” are preferred. The latter formula has been successfully used to treat Fibromyalgia.

Some Chinese medicine practitioners believe that Lyme disease corresponds to “Gu,” an ancient condition thought to be caused by invisible spirits with evil energy attaching to the body, leading to many unexplained symptoms. With modern medical knowledge, we now understand that most of these symptoms are due to viral or bacterial infections. However, the herbs and formulas developed to treat “Gu” can still be effective because Chinese medicine is an empirical system that judges treatment by outcomes rather than mechanisms. As long as the treatment works, it is retained. Some herbs used to treat “Gu” include Chinese Asparagus (Tian Men Dong) and Cimicifuga (Sheng Ma), which have broad-spectrum antimicrobial effects. A classical formula containing these herbs is “Ma Huang Sheng Ma Tang,” first recorded in the ancient herbal medicine book “Shang Han Za Bing Lun” 1800 years ago, which may help some Lyme disease patients.

However, these herbs and formulas should not be used indiscriminately for everyone suffering from Lyme disease. Chinese medicine relies on specific clinical application principles that guide herbalists in selecting the appropriate formulas for each individual patient. Each herb and formula has unique clinical indications and contraindications, unlike supplements that do not specify who can or cannot take them. Using the wrong herbs or formulas can lead to adverse reactions.

If you have suffered from Lyme disease and are seeking natural solutions to manage this condition, feel free to book a consultation with our practitioners. We will answer your questions and discuss the potential Kampo Chinese medicine treatments tailored to your needs.

Final Thought: Lyme Disease vs Long-Covid

The main difference between Lyme disease and Long-COVID is their original causes: Lyme is caused by bacteria, while Long-COVID is caused by a virus. However, the characteristics of both diseases are very similar, with multiple affected body systems, lingering symptoms, and chronic fatigue. I wrote a detailed post about how Chinese medicine treats long-term COVID-19. While the causes are different, the body’s responses and symptoms are similar. Considering the ineffectiveness of Western medicine in treating these two diseases, we should reconsider the fundamental principle of Western medicine: “germ theory,” and ask if it is the only way to approach disease treatment.

Chinese medicine, often labeled “pseudoscience” by sources like Wikipedia, is based on empirical evidence rather than modern bio-mechanistic medical science and double-blinded clinical studies. Despite this, could Chinese medicine offer something valuable to treat these complex conditions?


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Chronic symptoms and lyme disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Anderson, C., & Brissette, C. A. (2021). The Brilliance of Borrelia: Mechanisms of Host Immune Evasion by Lyme Disease-Causing Spirochetes. Pathogens (Basel, Switzerland), 10(3), 281.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.-b). Treatment and intervention for Lyme disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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