Before I was (finally) diagnosed with Lyme disease, I was diagnosed with an under-functioning thyroid. Low thyroid hormones or hypothyroid symptoms overlap with those of Lyme disease, complicating diagnosis. I was cold all the time and exhausted. I fought virus after virus. My menstrual cycles were akimbo. Taking a thyroid supplement helped me, but it didn’t address Lyme, the root cause. It wasn’t until I began treating Lyme and my thyroid together that my symptoms began to really improve.
Your thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland curled around your trachea at the front of your neck, governs metabolism. Lyme disease can contribute to a hypothyroid condition, where not enough thyroid hormones circulate, or the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where immune cells attack the thyroid gland and limit function. Low thyroid hormones contribute to a myriad of symptoms, including:
- Weight gain
- Memory loss
- Feeling cold
- Dry skin
- Joint pain
- Irregular menstrual cycles
If you have Lyme disease, and especially if you suffer from chronic fatigue, test your thyroid hormones to see if they are part of your symptom profile. If necessary, your Lyme-literate doctor can help you support your thyroid with medication.
Lifestyle Support for Your Thyroid
Beyond medications, there are natural tools you can use to support thyroid health and function on your own. They take some effort, but are relatively inexpensive, and can greatly improve health and wellbeing.
1. Detoxification is critical for a healthy thyroid.
According to Dr. Klinghardt of the Sophia Institute, a large contributing factor to thyroid dysfunction is toxicity, in particular from glyphosate. (Klinghardt believes this is true whether or not Lyme is present.) Glyphosate is a chemical found in RoundUp, the most widely used herbicide in the world. Glyphosate contamination has become ubiquitous, found even in organic produce, at up to 80% of levels found in conventionally-raised produce.
Though it is impossible to eliminate glyphosate and other toxins from our lives completely, we can support our body’s ability to detoxify. In the modern world, regular detoxification has become critical to optimal health, especially if you are dealing with Lyme disease symptoms.
One relatively easy detoxification tool suggested by Dr. Klinghardt is incorporating broccoli sprouts or their extract into your diet. The sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts has been clinically proven to improve the liver’s ability to detoxify pollutants. You can sprout broccoli seeds at home or buy the extract as capsules or powder. I stir the powder into smoothies, even for my kids (they never notice). It has a mild taste, not pungent or bitter. As part of Lyme disease treatment, Dr. Klinghardt suggests taking a binder such as zeolite clay daily as well, to ensure toxins are carried all the way out of your body.
Another essential tool for detoxification is sweating. Whether by exercising or in the sauna, sweating takes the burden off your liver and kidneys by flushing pollutants out through your skin. Dr. Klinghardt suggests using an infrared sauna if possible. He claims the small intestine, with a surface area of two tennis courts, sweats pollutants into the gut when heated with infrared light. Again, take a binder before using an infrared sauna, so those toxins are not reabsorbed.
Using these detoxification practices regularly will improve health across the board by lessening whatever toxic load you carry. Not only will it leach glyphosate from your body, but it will also remove toxins from Lyme bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants. The less toxicity in our bodies, the easier it is to heal and stay well.
2. The Autoimmune Paleo Diet restores thyroid function.
The Autoimmune Paleo Diet, or AIP, eliminates all allergens from your diet in an effort to lessen systemic inflammation – a component of any chronic illness. AIP excludes grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, and nightshades from your diet. Quite a list—but if you are feeling really sick, it’s well worth trying.
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A recent 10-week study showed a dramatic improvement in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis symptoms and inflammatory markers for people on AIP. Some were even able to lower their doses of supplemental thyroid hormones. It is worth measuring your thyroid hormones before you make the switch to a more supportive Hashimoto’s disease diet, and again after several months, to measure how well it works for you. Over time, AIP can be finessed to suit your individual body.
I tried AIP in desperation when my Lyme infection was still undiagnosed. The results were amazing. Within two days, my symptoms had been cut in half. I didn’t need to know the root cause of my illness to know this diet was worth it for me.
3. Gentle yoga supports thyroid health.
Gentle yoga is terrific for encouraging lymphatic drainage – another critical way the body detoxifies. Immune cells in lymphatic flow kill microbes, making healthy flow important for anyone with Lyme disease. Lymphatic fluid doesn’t have its own pump—we have to move our lymph through deep breathing and exercise.
There are many lymph nodes gathered close to the thyroid gland, under your jaw and along the sides of your neck. If your microbial load is high, this fluid can get sluggish. Here is a simple stretch to move fluid through these nodes, flushing it away from your thyroid and back toward the heart, where it is reincorporated into blood flow:
Sit up tall, facing straight ahead. Tilt your head to the side slowly, until you feel a gentle stretch along the side of your neck. Then gently lean your head backward just a bit, until you feel the stretch along the front-side of your neck, where the lymph nodes lie. If you are tight or your lymph is congested here, you may feel the stretch all the way through the side of your face and even into your skull. Keep the stretch light and gentle, breathing deeply, for about 30 seconds. Then try the other side. (Of course, if you feel any sharp pain, stop.) When you are done, shrug your shoulders up to your ears and then drop them a few times, continuing to breathe deeply.
Healing Lyme disease and thyroid dysfunction is a long road. Getting and staying well becomes the path of our lives. Hopefully, these gentle tools can help you take care of your health daily, in ways that are pleasurable, becoming part of a lifestyle of self-care, and deep wellbeing.
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.
AIP Hashimoto’s Medical Study Results. Autoimmune Wellness website. https://autoimmunewellness.com/aip-hashimotos-medical-study-results/
Dr. Joseph Pizzorno ND. The Toxin Solution. New York, NY: Harper Collins. 2017