Lyme disease can have devastating effects on the body and can trigger autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. The bacteria borrelia burgdorferi has been found to cross-react with thyroid tissue which triggers the autoimmunity by what is known as molecular mimicry. This basically means that your immune system tags an infectious agent but also attacks self-tissue that has a similar protein structure.
Hashimoto's affects 28 million Americans and is the most common autoimmune disease in the world. It can lead to the symptoms of hypothyroidism which include: fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, insomnia, dry and brittle nails, cold hands & feet, hair loss, arthritis, brain fog, andnumbness/tingling.
Many of these symptoms are similar to Lyme disease and its co-infections. When treating a Lyme disease patient with Hashimoto's we also have to take into account what we do to the patient's immune system and pay careful attention to what treatment methods are utilized. Herbal medicines can have a stimulating effect on different parts of the immune system and can thus make the autoimmunity worse.
Other factors that must be looked at with autoimmunity include:
Vitamin D status, gluten, toxic metals such as mercury, intestinal barrier function, gut infections, rickettsia, and iodine.
I have found that many people with Lyme have not had their thyroid adequately evaluated for autoimmunity. Many of the factors listed above are also very important in the treatment of Lyme disease. Vitamin D is extremely important for immune system function and, more specifically, immune system balance which is usually off in Hashimoto's and Lyme. Hashimoto's patients have been found to have abnormal vitamin D receptors which requires much higher doses of vitamin D for effective results.
Gluten-free diets are nothing new for Lyme patients but we also know that gluten is a possible trigger of many autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto's. Patients with Lyme and Hashimoto's must follow a gluten-free diet indefinitely.
Toxic metals, especially mercury, can play a significant role in both these disorders. Mercury has been shown to trigger Hashimoto's. In fact, Czech studies have found that when mercury-containing dental amalgams are removed from patients with Hashimoto's, their antibody levels significantly drop. Dental amalgam removal can play a powerful role in Lyme disease as well as Hashimoto's. I do not aggressively chelate mercury from all Lyme patients as this can cause setbacks since their detoxification pathways are already heavily taxed
The intestinal barrier has been found to contribute to Hashimoto's which plays into gluten intolerance and gut infections. Many Lyme patients have GI infections such as yeast, parasites, bacteria and molds.
One particular infection known as yersinia enterocolitica has been shown to trigger Hashimoto's via molecular mimicry. Infections in the intestine can make it very difficult to treat Lyme patients since 70% of the immune system resides in the gut. Co-infections such as bartonella love surface areas such as the gut lining and can be difficult to eradicate due to biofilm formation. Enzymes that break through biofilms as well as potent herbal antimicrobials are vital in these cases. Flooding the GI tract with beneficial bacteria helps to boost the immune system and "crowd out" harmful bugs.
As the intestinal barrier breaks down, patients develop leaky gut which leads to more and more food sensitivities. The major players here are gluten, corn, soy, and dairy. Most patients with Lyme feel much better avoiding these foods.
Rickettsia is a co-infection that seems to be involved with Hashimoto's as well. Rickettsia also loves the adrenal gland and can cause unrelenting adrenal problems and complete adrenal fatigue. The adrenals are vital for immune system function, sleep, thyroid function, energy, blood sugar and they produce the natural anti-inflammatory cortisone. Adrenal support is usually necessary in Lyme and Hashimoto's patients since they are intricately involved in most aspects of these disorders. Licorice root is an example of an herb that stimulates the immune system and supports the adrenals. Unfortunately, it can also make Hashimoto's much worse by overstimulating the immune system. I do not recommend Licorice for most cases.
High doses of iodine are being used by some practitioners to treat Lyme disease and thyroid disorders. Iodine is an excellent anti-microbial but it can also have devastating affects on autoimmune disease including Hashimoto's. The Japanese have found that Hashimoto's patients who ingest iodine actually increase lymphocyte attack on the thyroid gland. This happens because iodine increases the enzyme thyroid peroxidase activity thus increasing inflammation within the gland itself. If iodine is going to be utilized in Lyme disease, the patient must first be evaluated for Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Next time you see your doctor for treatment of Lyme disease, request a blood test for thyroid peroxidase and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies to see if you have Hashimoto's. If you have Hashimoto's, make sure your doctor does the necessary detective work to find out why you have it in the first place. It could have been caused by borrelia burgdorferi, but it may be something else as well. A properly diagnosed and treated thyroid problem can significantly help you in your path to overcoming Lyme disease.
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The Cowden Support Program
A do-it-yourself Lyme treatment developed by Dr. Lee Cowden, MD