Many Lyme disease patients experience hypothyroidism — myself included — at some point during treatment. When a person is hypothyroid, the thyroid gland (a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck) fails to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone, which makes it difficult for the body to function optimally.
The thyroid gland regulates specific functions of the body, like metabolism, weight, body temperature, fertility, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and more.
There are many reasons Lyme patients may experience an under-functioning thyroid. A few of those include: environmental toxicity, damage to endocrine tissues as a result of Lyme; medication side effects, an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Grave’s disease, adrenal insufficiency, mineral imbalances, and more.
What are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may be vague, confusing, and imitate those of Lyme disease. When the condition goes untreated, symptoms may increase in severity. According to the patient-centered website, Stop The Thyroid Madness, some of the symptoms patients reported experiencing included (but weren’t limited to):
- Less stamina than others
- Feeling weak
- Long recovery period after any activity
- Chronic low-grade depression
- Major depression
- Often feeling cold
- Cold hands and feet
- Less perspiration than others
- Tendency to put on weight because of low metabolism
- Hair Loss
- Dry skin in general
- Inability to concentrate
- Excruciating pain during period
- Brain fog
How is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?
To help differentiate thyroid problems from Lyme disease symptoms or the associated coinfections you might be exhibiting, a doctor may order blood tests like a TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies, vitamin D, and iron levels. But thyroid lab tests aren’t always accurate. Some physicians and functional medicine practitioners will consider your symptoms along with test results to determine if you’re showing signs of subclinical hypothyroidism (this is where your labs fall within the normal range, but you still have symptoms of a thyroid that’s not performing up to par).
How is Hypothyroidism Treated?
Typically, a standard course of treatment for hypothyroidism may involve a daily dose of replacement thyroid hormones like natural desiccated thyroid (Armour Thyroid, Nature-Throid, or Westhroid) or synthetic versions of the hormones (levothyroxine or liothyronine). Not all medications work for everyone, especially pure T4 hormone preparations, as many with Lyme can’t convert T4 into active T3 hormone, which is what the body needs to function, — so it may take some trial and error to determine which product and dosages work best for your particular thyroid problems.
What Herbs or Supplements Can Support my Thyroid Gland?
To support your body’s thyroid production, some physicians may recommend the following herbs and supplements (As always, please talk to your doctor before adding any of these supplements into your protocol):
1) Multi-vitamin: A multivitamin provides an assortment of vitamins and minerals (like iodine, Vitamin A, B vitamins, selenium, iron, and zinc) to form a foundation of necessary nutrients for thyroid production and overall hormonal health.
2) Adrenal Support Supplements: The thyroid and adrenal glands work in tandem with one another to supply several hormones to your body and give you energy. To adequately address hypothyroidism, your doctor may need to look at treating adrenal insufficiency as well. When the adrenal glands are weak, they can contribute to an underactive thyroid. Although it can be hard to treat chronic Lyme disease symptoms and strike a balance between treating the thyroid and adrenals adequately, doing so can be a critical step to seeing improvements in your health or resolving some of your symptoms.
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3) Vitamin D: A 2013 study showed a correlation between hypothyroidism and low vitamin D; the lower the vitamin D levels, the higher the likelihood the survey participants had either hypothyroidism or an autoimmune thyroid condition. Vitamin D needs to be present in adequate amounts to modulate the immune system and for the thyroid hormones to affect the cells of the body. For some Lyme patients, reaching the desired vitamin D level could result in a better functioning thyroid.
A word of caution regarding vitamin D: Many healthcare providers have differing ideas about what the appropriate dosage range is for Lyme patients, so please discuss this with your doctor before using it.
4) L-tyrosine: L-tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid; meaning, your body must obtain it through food, which supports thyroid function. The thyroid gland utilizes both tyrosine and iodine to make thyroid hormone. L-tyrosine may help to support an underactive thyroid, but is not often used as a stand-alone supportive supplement. If you’re taking prescription thyroid medication, you should only include L-tyrosine according to your doctor’s recommendations. Too much of this supplement can trigger anxiety, irritability, insomnia, or other side effects.
5) Omega 3 fatty acids- Omega 3’s, like those found in fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds, have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation in the body, balance hormones, improve immunity, and promote a healthy thyroid. Omega 3 fatty acids can thin your blood, so consult with your doctor before taking them if you’re already on a blood thinner.
Since the thyroid gland is involved in many processes of the body, such as energy production, immune function, and cognitive function, getting your thyroid levels into a desirable range may be key to reducing some of your symptoms and aiding in your recovery from Lyme disease.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on July 24, 2017 and was updated on February 20, 2020.
ProHealth Editor and Content Manager Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and certified Pilates instructor whose life was transformed by Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and interstitial cystitis. She is creator of the DVD, A New Dawn Pilates: pilates-inspired exercises adapted for people with pelvic pain. Jenny is a health journalist who writes about her journey on The Lyme Road as she continues to pursue her personal healing with the support of her husband and two rescue pups. You can find her on Instagram: @jenny_buttaccio or Twitter: @jennybuttaccio.
Long and Pathetic List of Hypothyroid Symptoms. (n.d.). Stop The Thyroid Madness. Retrieved from https://stopthethyroidmadness.com/symptoms/
Mackawy, A.M., Al-Ayed, B.M., Al-Rashidi, B.M. (2013). Vitamin D and Its Association With Thyroid Disease. International Journal of Health Sciences (Qassim). 7(3): 267–275. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3921055/