Could a common sweetener that’s already in the kitchen cupboards in many American homes — stevia — prove to be an effective treatment for a disease as debilitating and persistent as Lyme disease?
It’s too early to say that for sure, but research by Eva Sapi, a University of New Haven professor of cellular and molecular biology, and the students in her Lyme Disease Research Group looks promising.
In a paper published in the European Journal of Microbiology & Immunology, Sapi and her students found that the most antibiotic resistant form of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease — called biofilm — actually increased in mass with individual antibiotics.
But liquid, whole-leaf stevia extract — not the powdered varieties that people most commonly use — reduced the biofilm mass by about 40 percent, they found.
“Is it the one?” Sapi asked. “I don’t know.” But in confirmation test after confirmation test, “that is the one that jumped out.”
A small clinical trial based out of New York got underway just a few months ago, and researchers there are using stevia along with antibiotics to try and treat Lyme disease, while others are taking the extract themselves.
I’ve got emails from people saying they’re getting better, but again, we need to have double-blind clinical trials before we say ‘yes’. Everybody is holding their breath to see if it helps, and let’s hope for it. That would be wonderful.
– Professor Eva Sapi, Ph.D.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne multisystemic disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. Administering antibiotics is the primary treat-ment for this disease; however, relapse often occurs when antibiotic treatment is discontinued. The reason for relapse remains un-known, but recent studies suggested the possibilities of the presence of antibiotic resistant Borreliapersister cells and biofilms.In this study, we evaluated the effectiveness of whole leaf Stevia extract against B. burgdorferispirochetes, persisters, and bio-film forms in vitro. The susceptibility of the different forms was evaluated by various quantitative techniques in addition to differ-ent microscopy methods. The effectiveness of Stevia was compared to doxycycline, cefoperazone, daptomycin, and their combina-tions. Our results demonstrated that Stevia had significant effect in eliminating B. burgdorferi spirochetes and persisters. Sub-culture experiments with Stevia and antibiotics treated cells were established for 7 and 14 days yielding, no and 10% viable cells, respectively compared to the above-mentioned antibiotics and antibiotic combination. When Stevia and the three antibiotics weretested against attached biofilms, Stevia significantly reduced B. burgdorferiforms. Results from this study suggest that a natural product such as Stevia leaf extract could be considered as an effective agent against B. burgdorferi.