Cognitive problems, such as difficulties with focus, concentration, spatial orientation, memory, word finding, decision-making and analysis, are common in chronic Lyme disease. Sometimes referred to as “Lyme brain,” this is for numerous reasons: Lyme causes inflammation in the brain, destruction of neurons, dysfunctional firing between the neurons, damage to the myelin sheath and other nervous system components; reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain, nutritional and hormonal deficiencies, food allergies, blood-sugar imbalances and more.
Cognitive problems have been one of the most problematic Lyme disease symptoms for me, but over the years, I’ve discovered some great supplements to help mitigate the symptoms, which I hope you’ll find useful, too. As a medical writer and book author, I can’t afford for my brain to not work, and while, at times, I have struggled to put words to the page, I have battled even more with other issues; remembering names, dates and appointments, or where I parked my car. Or being able to listen to people without my mind wandering a thousand places, or carrying out activities that have required coordination, focus or the ability to analyze.
Today, I still suffer from memory problems and occasionally struggle to focus and concentrate, but my symptoms have greatly improved over the past 10 years. I can work at least twice as fast and get things done a lot more efficiently and effectively than when I was first got a Lyme disease diagnosis. I don’t have to labor as much to stay engaged in a conversation, and I get lost less frequently when I drive. Restoring my brain function hasn’t been easy, but I have found all of the following nutritional supplements for Lyme brain to be helpful. Perhaps you will find them to be helpful for you too:
Nutrients for Improving Cognitive Function in Chronic Lyme Disease
1. 5-HTP: The body makes serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter, from the amino acid 5-HTP. Serotonin also assists with memory and cognitive function, and it is commonly low in people with chronic Lyme disease. People with methylation problems (which is most of us) may need to take a methyl donor, such as SAM-e, P5P, methyl-folate or methyl B-12 to make 5-HTP work effectively in the body. It is best to get tested to find out how much 5-HTP you might benefit from, as well as to discover which methylation supplements would work for you. Taking too little or too much of a supplement, as well as the wrong kinds, can exacerbate symptoms, which is why I recommend testing. However, many doctors share with me that short-term dosing of 5-HTP is generally safe for most people.
2. L-tyrosine: According to an article published in 2007 in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, L-tyrosine can prevent cognitive decline due to stress. I have also personally found it to be helpful for improving cognitive function in Lyme disease. It has helped me with focus, analysis and to process information faster. L-tyrosine is also a mood enhancer. However, it can be stimulatory, so as with 5-HTP, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to find out whether it would benefit you.
3. Alpha GPC (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine): This is phospholipid metabolite isolated from lecithin, which increases acetylcholine levels in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that aids with memory, cognition, comprehension, creativity, and spatial orientation. This is perhaps one of the most important nutrients for restoring cognitive function related to neurological disease.
4. L-acetyl-carnitine: According to Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, this amino acid compound binds and activates the acetylcholine receptor, and studies have shown L-acetyl carnitine to improve cognition and delay Alzheimer’s progression. Since spirochetal infections such as Borrelia have been linked to Alzheimer’s, L-acetyl carnitine may benefit some people with Lyme disease. It can also help to restore energy, among other things.
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5. L-Huperzine A: This compound decreases the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain. Studies have shown it to aid in memory and cognition, and according to Dr. Kharrazian, it is one of the best to use if you have symptoms of acetylcholine imbalance.
6. Vinpocetine: Vinpocetine increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain and protects it against the effects of glutamate, a neurotransmitter found in excess in people with chronic Lyme and which damages neurons. According to an article published in 2008 Neurochemistry International, vinpocetine protects against the cytotoxic effects of glutamate overexposure. The authors of the study then state that glutamate excitotoxicity leads to the dysregulation of mitochondrial function and neuronal metabolism. So vinpocetine may be a very helpful nutrient for some people with Lyme disease.
There are many other nutrients out there that are known for improving cognitive function in chronic Lyme disease, but I haven’t tried them personally, and what works for one person may not work for another. Also, cognitive function in Lyme disease can be improved by restoring hormonal levels, gut health and brain oxygenation, and by balancing blood sugar levels. People with Lyme disease tend to have imbalances in all of these areas, so I recommend working with a doctor to make sure that you are on an anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar stabilizing diet, and are taking supplements to support the health of your gut. Personally, I have found a high-fat, moderate protein and low carb diet to be most beneficial for stabilizing my blood sugar. Getting your hormones tested and balanced is likewise important, as is doing therapies that encourage blood flow and oxygen to the brain, such as exercise and EWOT (exercise with oxygen). Incorporating these nutrients and strategies into your Lyme disease treatment protocol can go a long way toward helping your mind (and body!) to function optimally.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on January 30, 2016 and was updated on February 4, 2020.
Connie Strasheim is the author of multiple wellness books, including three on Lyme disease. She is also a medical copywriter, editor and healing prayer minister. Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine and prayer, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at: ConnieStrasheim.
Kharrazian, D. (2013). Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Carlsbad, CA: Elephant Press.
Tárnok K, Kiss E, Luiten PG, Nyakas C, Tihanyi K, Schlett K, Eisel UL. Effects of Vinpocetine on mitochondrial function and neuroprotection in primary cortical neurons. Neurochem Int. (2008 Dec);53(6-8):289-95. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2008.08.003. Epub 2008 Aug 28.
Young, S. L-Tyrosine to alleviate the effects of stress? J Psychiatry Neurosci. (2007 May); 32(3): 224. Accessed on December 30, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1863555/.