Chris: When those in the Lyme Disease community hear “Stephen Buhner”, the immediate connotation is the protocol you’ve assembled for healing from Lyme Disease and its many coinfections; but there’s a history. How was Lyme Disease introduced to you and why have you become so passionate about the subject at hand?
Stephen: One of the primary questions I was asked for nearly ten years, as I taught on the road throughout the U.S., was “Do you know anything for lyme disease?” I kept saying “no” but the question began to pique my interest. Then one of my good friends, Wend Leffel, who wrote the introduction for the book, said I really should consider doing something on lyme since if anyone could figure it out, I could, and so I did. The decision to go so deeply into that particular disease ultimately opened up a whole new world to me, not lyme per se, but rather a new way of looking at disease complexes and more sophisticated ways to treat them. Because antibiotics are only moderately effective in treating lyme a new approach had to occur, so, it forced me to begin thinking outside the box to a tremendous extent. And that is when I began to focus on the cytokine cascades that diseases like lyme cause. As far as I know my approach to lyme, which focused on using herbs that reduced or eliminated the cytokine cascades the spirochetes cause is the first comprehensive herbal (and possibly medical text) that takes that approach to healing this kind of condition. I later found that there are some very leading edge researchers and young physicians that are also looking at that approach; it really is a very fine and sophisticated development in both herbal and pharmaceutical medicine and healing. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the lyme book and my approaches to treating lyme began to overlap with work on resistant and emerging bacterial infections, something I had been interested in since the early 1990s. The Earth ecosystems are undergoing tremendous alterations in response to the huge numbers of humans on the planet. The reduction in ecosystem habitat is stimulating many bacteria and viruses to jump species . . . into us, causing a huge upsurge in formerly rare diseases. In addition, the tremendous overuse of antibiotics are causing resistance problems that are very serious. In short, the approaches that have been used for the past 60 years are so are failing at a greater rate every year. My passion for alternatives to pharmaceuticals has a great deal to do with that dynamic as well as a tremendous discomfort with the current medical system in place in the U.S.
Coming from a family of physicians that began practice in 1911 and also powerful political physicians including a surgeon general of the U.S. I have seen how the medical system has changed the past century. It is not good. The patient is quite often treated as a cog in a medical machine with little consideration of their essential dignity or the necessity for human contact between them and their physicians. They are often charged what I consider to be fraudulent amounts of money for treatment, so much so that medical costs are either the first or second cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. (depending on the source of the data). A great many of the medical interventions do not work all that well, if the outcomes are really examined. And finally, the insistence of the technological medical establishment that no other approaches to healing can or should be used for diseases such as lyme . . . well, it is just too much to bear. I dislike the misuse of power by the powerful, especially when it causes as much sorrow and damage as that by the current medical paradigm, so, yes, I am passionate about it. Any look at the lyme community shows that most of the medical community don’t really care whether or not those with lyme are actually healed, they primarily care that their paradigm is the only thing used to treat it. The horror stories of misdiagnosis and bankruptcies and lost lives and years are heartbreaking. If someone is not passionate on this issue, they aren’t paying attention.
Chris: The popular notion for removing Lyme Disease from the body is to launch an all out counter offensive on the bacteria with conventional antibiotics, herbs, or both. The Buhner Protocol for Lyme Disease, as mentioned in your book Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections, conveys that the literal act of killing the spirochetes is a last priority for overcoming chronic Lyme Disease. Would you mind explaining this counter intuitive strategy?
Stephen: Nearly all Americans have been trained to think about disease using a lens that developed in the early to mid-twentieth century, in short, the bacterial theory of disease-causation. There were a large number of people raising objections to that paradigm then but they were pretty much shouted down. Essentially most people believe that it is the bacteria that cause the disease and if we kill them off, we will be well. There is a certain level of truth to that and in fact, in the short run, from about 1950 to now, the approach seemed to work very well. What is more accurate however is that that orientation has been failing at an ever increasing rate for some time. To the point that within the near future it will fail almost completely (except in certain, very specific circumstances). There are a number of factors involved in that failure. One of them is that the bacterial theory of disease paradigm that came into play in the early twentieth century was based on a number of false premises, premises that were representative of psychological projection more than anything else. The most glaring of these was the assumption that bacteria were stupid and people were not, in other words that the bacteria would just sit around and twiddle their non-thumbs while we killed them off. This false premise has led to the tremendously dangerous position we are in now with resistant bacterial diseases.
The second thing is that AIDS (and cancer to some extent) brought home the point that many objectors to the bacterial theory of disease were making: if the immune system is healthy, the bacteria are quite often not dangerous, that is, they do not cause disease. if the immune system is not healthy, no amount of pharmaceuticals can heal anyone. No matter how many antibacterials were given to AIDS patients, they still died. If the immune system is not healthy there is no way to survive. So, the treatment of disease is moving into a new paradigm: 1) targeted antibacterials; 2) immune support; 3) cytokine cascade disruption; 4) symptom treatment. And in fact, if the latter three conditions are fulfilled, then the first is often unnecessary. In fact, the latter three are the most important.
I found that in helping those with lyme to recover from the disease, if their immune function was brought up, the specific symptoms addressed, and the cascade disrupted, their symptom picture would improve and they would get better. On the other hand, many people with lyme, when given antibiotics that in fact did kill of the spirochetes, did not recover very well. In fact, they often continued to have symptoms for years afterwards, what some people call post-lyme disease syndrome.
This approach is not news to those who treat AIDS or cancer, it is just that most physicians are using an outdated paradigm for treatment.
Chris: Conventional antibiotics are considered by some to be inappropriate for completely healing the cases of Lyme Disease that have become chronic. A holistic approach is recommended under such circumstances. Why is this?
Stephen: Well, I pretty much answered that in the last question. In short, antibiotics rarely do anything to heal the damage caused by a bacterial infection. The physicians leave that up to the patient’s body (and then take credit for it later). But with lyme, the degree of damage the infection causes is directly related to the level of health of the immune system. The worse initial immune function is, the worse the damage. Many people simply can’t recover their energy levels, immune function, and so. In addition, there is often neural damage which, by itself, is hard to correct on its own. The older a person is, the harder that is to heal. So specific protocols designed to heal the damage is often necessary. Medical doctors know virtually nothing about how to do that, nor do the pharmaceuticals they use have that kind of effect. So another approach is essential.
Chris: Stephen, it’s obvious to me that you have an affinity and great respect for the healing plants nature possesses. If you can in words, explain to me what it is you understand, absorb and feel from nature that drives this passion?
Stephen: Human beings are very late on the scene here. We are not nearly so smart as we like to think. Plants on the other hand have been here a very long time, 170 million years for the flowering plants alone. Plants cannot run, they have to stay there and take it, so they became the greatest chemists there are. Plants have been dealing with bacterial infections their entire time on this planet. To give an example of how complex their responses are: if a bacteria infects a plant, the plant has a very complex response. 1) the plant releases antibacterial compounds to kill the bacteria; 2) the plant releases compounds that have only one function: to reduce the side effects of the antibacterial compounds (this protects their own tissues from damage); 3) the plant releases compounds that deactivate the resistance mechanisms the bacteria use to avoid the antibiotic, e.g. disabling bacterial efflux pumps; 4) the plant releases compounds that act synergistically with the other compounds to enhance their effects; 5) the plant begins creating and releasing compounds that stimulate its own immune response.
This is just a small picture of what they do. This kind of approach is so much more sophisticated than human approaches as to leave us in the dust. Further, plants are biodegradable (pharmaceuticals are not), they are renewable (pharmaceuticals are not), they don’t cause resistance problems in bacteria (pharmaceuticals do), they don’t cause environmental pollution the way pharmaceuticals do, and they don’t cost very much – they are in fact something that people can grow and use themselves, thus they empower people in their own healthcare.
Chris: You recently released a new book, Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. The book details herbal alternatives to standard conventional antibiotics for treating drug resistant bacteria. Why is it that bacteria are able to muster a resistance to conventional antibiotics and not plant alternatives?
Stephen: Nearly all pharmaceuticals are a single chemical substance. It is very easy for bacteria to identify that chemical and to then rearrange their genetic structure to avoid it. they can’t do that with plants, plants have hundreds of compounds, all working synergistically. The bacteria just don’t have the capacity to deal with that. They can’t develop resistance to several hundred synergistically compounds simultaneously.
Chris: With the public release of such great knowledge on plant alternatives to drug resistant bacteria from your new book, should we be as fearful about these bacteria as the media programs us to be? Take for instance the recent case in the United States of the drug resistant flesh eating bacteria.
Stephen: There is no way we can avoid the difficulties facing us. We are facing the emergence of resistant bacterial epidemics more virulent than any known before. It is only a matter of time. I realize that this sounds alarmist and there is every tendency on people’s part to assume that this comes from some desire for grandiosity on my part. But the fact is that the world’s leading bacterial researchers have been warning of this for several decades now. Every year sees the moment when these epidemics break out come closer. Because of the long term miseducation of the American public, for most people, when the epidemics occur, they will be caught off guard. In fact most likely the American population as a whole will feel, rightly so, betrayed. To put it frankly, a trade union (the AMA) ended up controlling medical care in the U.S. and promulgated a perspective on disease and its treatment that was and is tremendously inaccurate. To date, there is virtually no movement to correct this. If you read the papers, the stories of people contracting resistant infections in hospitals appear daily. All of them are surprised.
Yes, the majority of these diseases are treatable with herbal medicine – if the knowledge base is there on the practitioner’s or person’s part – but the majority of people are not aware of that, neither or most herbal practitioners, including naturopaths. As David Livermore, MD, Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring and Reference Laboratory, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, puts it, “It is naïve to think we can win.”
Chris: It was recently announced in the media that vitamin B3, when taken in higher doses than what the government recommends, may be the significant alternative cure for drug resistant bacteria as opposed to conventional antibiotics. Why is vitamin B3 getting all the attention and not the herbs you recommend in your new book, Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria?
Stephen: It is a form of a manufactured medicine, a kind of pharmaceutical, and people cannot grow or make it on their own. the last thing the medical establishment wants or will support is people making their own medicines. Ultimately the reason is that they think the American public too stupid to do so. (And besides it would lose too much money for the medical/industrial complex.)
Chris: I want to delve into Stephen Buhner’s imagination for a moment. Hypothetically speaking, if all conventional medicine was immediately removed from the planet and replaced with their appropriate herbal alternative, in your opinion, what would be the consequences, good and bad, of such an imaginative revolution?
Stephen: Well, if all technological medicine disappeared in the night? Chaos. People would panic and there would be a lot of deaths. I suppose now is a good time to say that I do think that technological medicine has its uses. If you get hit by a car, you do need trauma medicine and that is what they are best at. They just aren’t that good at healing disease, in spite of their press. What I think is a better approach would be the treatment of 95% of most disease problems by approaches other than technological medicine. I am particularly fond of the Cuban model where there is one doctor and one nurse for every certain number of people. They live in the neighborhood, treat people in their homes, and know them well. It is only if the disease is serious that people are moved up the ladder to more technological approaches. The MDs they have there are much more like the family physicians of 1911 than now. I would like to see community healers who use herbs in every neighborhood who know their neighbors and treat them as neighbors NOT medical emotionally distant professionals. What is true is that we cannot afford the medical model that is now in place, as human beings, economically, or environmentally.
Chris: More and more people are discovering everyday that the cause of their mysterious symptoms is Lyme Disease. How does the bacteria responsible for Lyme Disease have such great success in biologically hijacking a human being and slowly shutting its body down? Is this an issue of immune system suppression or is the bacteria simply more evolved than us?
Stephen: These spirochetes are very old, evolutionarily speaking. And they have evolved ways of avoiding immune responses and hiding in the body. They are very intelligent, they are not stupid. So, they learn and they adapt. We, to respond effectively, need to support our own body’s intelligence to do what it does well, prevent infection or cure it once it occurs. In general, the immune health of Americans is so bad and our disruption of the environment so pervasive that we are more liable to infection and we have stimulated faster adaptation in the bacteria. In other words, population problems have a horrible way of solving themselves.
Chris: Are there any words of solace and wisdom you could provide to those battling chronic Lyme Disease who feel they’ve reached a dead end, hit rock bottom, or no legitimate reason to believe they’ll ever lead a normal life again?
Stephen: You can get well. Thousands of people have. By deciding to take charge of your own health and finding out what works for you, yes, you can get well. There is hope. Really.
Chris: Stephen, I am in much appreciation and gratitude for the time, energy and knowledge you shared with me for this interview. I personally want to thank you for all you’ve done in regards to Chronic Lyme Disease. You’ve given people the tools and capability to reclaim their lives in due time and that I perceive to be an act of selflessness and compassion; two incredible human qualities. All my best to you Stephen and your continued journey of holistic healing.
Stephen: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it. All the best.