Patients often ask me if stevia can treat Lyme disease. The answer is both yes and no.
The question stems from a study published in 2015 in the European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology on stevia and the different forms of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The study showed that in a petri dish stevia extract was able to kill the bacterium as effectively as, if not better than, antibiotics.
Stevia comes from the leaves of the South American Stevia rebaudiana plant. The leaf can be up to 150 times sweeter than sugar while having no noticeable effect on blood sugar, and for this reason stevia has become a popular sugar substitute.
But can stevia effectively treat Lyme? To answer this we need to take a closer look at the study and how it was performed–in vitro (in a petri dish), not in vivo (in a live human body).
The study showed that stevia extract (not the powdered form you might be using to sweeten your tea) is effective against B. burgdorferi, persistent forms of B. burgdorferi, and also its biofilm forms. The extract’s rates of effectiveness were similar to or better than the antibiotics. But remember this all happened in a lab.
Here’s the catch: in order for stevia to work in the human body it must be absorbed in its full form through the intestine. Researchers have documented that this does not occur, and this is why the sweet plant doesn’t affect your blood sugar when you use it. Thus, what happens in a petri dish is not what happens in your body.
Except perhaps in one case. It’s possible that any B. burgdorferi biofilms (a group of microorganisms that stick together and form slimy films that adhere to surfaces like the gut lining or a blood vessel lining) in the gut might be effectively treated by liquid stevia extract.
However, until in vivo studies are done, don’t rely on stevia to treat your Lyme disease. You may, however, continue to sweeten your tea with it.
Casey Kelley, MD