Essential Oils and Their Ability to Eradicate Stationary Phase Lyme Disease Bacteria

Essential Oils and Their Ability to Eradicate Stationary Phase Lyme Disease Bacteria

By Kimberly Neyhard

In December 2018 I read a blog that had me very intrigued.  Ana Sandoiu published a blog titled “These 10 essential oils can kill persistent Lyme disease” on the website MedicalNewsToday. The blog claimed that specific essential oils were able to kill persistent Lyme disease based on the scientific study “Identification of Essential Oils with Strong Activity against Stationary Phase Borrelia burgdorferi”.  The study was published on August 2018 in the journal Antibiotics. The study was led by Dr. Ying Zang, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins.  After initially reading the blog, I set out to learn as much as I could about this exciting new discovery. I started at the first place that made the most sense, the scientific study.  I found that in order to fully comprehend the findings, it was imperative to understand what persistent Lyme disease is and what exactly persister cells are.


Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, more commonly known as a deer tick.  According to the Statistics Portal, Lyme disease is the most common-vector borne infectious disease in the US.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) approximates 30,000 cases reported by the state health department but their recent estimates suggest around 300,000 people may contract Lyme disease each year.  That would work out to be 5,753 cases per week or 822 cases per day.

Lyme disease is diagnosed by a blood test called ELISA or EIA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).  The ELISA test detects and measures the level of antibodies to the disease causing bacteria.  In the majority of cases Lyme disease is successfully treated with oral antibiotics.  Some of the more common antibiotics used today are doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime.  The antibiotic treatment plan can vary depending on the stage of the disease, age, and medical history of the infected patient.  The current Lyme antibiotics are good at killing the growing bacteria but have shown to have poor activity against persisters in stationary phase cultures.


According to the New England Journal of Medicine, even when individuals have been fully treated for Lyme disease, approximately 10 to 20 percent of people will have disease symptoms including fatigue, muscle pain, disrupted sleep, and cognitive dysfunction.  In the past, these symptoms were sometimes described as chronic Lyme disease.  According to the CDC, this terminology has also been used to describe symptoms in people who have no evidence of a current or past infection with the disease so experts no longer support its use.

Since the description chronic Lyme disease is no longer supported, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) has been established to describe the patients who experience non-specific symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and muscle aches after the treatment of Lyme disease.  The exact cause of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome is not known so there is debate regarding treatment.  Experts are still unclear as to why some people don’t fully recover after antibiotic treatment.  Some experts believe that the symptoms are caused by persistent bacteria that were not destroyed by the antibiotics.



A study published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ASM) discovered a significant finding; they found that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) does indeed form dormant persister cells.  Persister cells are dormant variants of regular cells and are highly tolerant to antibiotics.  The study showed that B. burgdorferi develops dormant persisters in the stationary phase cultures that are not killed by the current Lyme antibiotic.  These finding could help explain why it’s so difficult to treat the infection in some people.



Dr. Ying Zang and his team of researchers set out to find other drug candidates that are more active against the B. burgdorferi persisters than the current Lyme antibiotics.  The researchers tested 34 essential oils in vitro (test tube) against stationary phase bacteria.  The research identified the top essential oils that have the strongest activity against stationary-phase B. burgdorferi cells: garlic, allspice, myrrh, hydacheim, and Litsea cubeba.  These oils were able to completely eradicate stationary phase B. burgdorferi with no regrowth at a concentration of .1%.  Even more impressive was garlic essential oil was able to completely eradicate stationary phase B. burgdorferi at the lowest concentration of .05%.  They also found that cinnamaldehyde, an active ingredient in cinnamon bark, also shown very strong activity against the stationary phase cells.


The causes of PTLDS are still unknown but the discovery of the Lyme disease bacteria creating persister cells might just be a groundbreaking step in the right direction.  Of course this was only a preclinical research study done in vitro but that is how the development of vital new drugs are developed.  The next steps for Dr. Ying Zang and his team are to carry out future studies that identify the active components in the top performing essential oils.  They will then determine their in vitro activity alone or in combination with other essential oils or antibiotics against the bacteria.   The final steps would be animal testing before moving to human trials.

**Please do not consume any essential oils after reading this article.  These studies where completed in vitro (test tube) which is completely different than in vivo (in the living).


My name is Kimberly Neyhard and I am currently enrolled in the aromatherapy certificate program attending the herbal school, Heart of Herbs.  As a lover of nature and science I was inherently attracted to essential oils.  I have a particular interest in essential oils and their role in science and healing.  When it comes to health and wellness I am an advocate for natural solutions first but I also understand the importance for the advancement of modern science.  I believe that nature and science can both provide very effective solutions to some complicated issues but when working in conjunction with each other can be quite the powerful duo.

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