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Is There A Connection Between Lyme Disease and Thyroid Conditions?

Published November 12 2012

Lyme Disease is a condition that is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). This organism is usually transmitted through the bite of a tick, although it can also be transmitted through fleas and mosquitoes.  I honestly don’t see a lot of people who have Lyme Disease, but I wanted to discuss this because over the years I’ve had some patients with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid disorders who have also been diagnosed with this condition.  Plus, from time to time I get emails from others asking whether getting Lyme Disease can lead to the development of a hypothyroid or hyperthyroid condition.

Before I discuss the possible connection between Lyme Disease and thyroid conditions, I want to briefly talk more about Lyme Disease itself.  Some of the symptoms associated with this condition include fever, headache, muscle pain, stiff neck, fatigue, itching, light-headedness, and/or a bulls-eye rash.  Not everyone has all of these symptoms, but whenever someone initially develops a few of these symptoms, especially in the absence of the rash, it is common to mistake it for the flu.  But when the symptoms persist then one usually will see their medical doctor, who might be suspicious of the person having Lyme Disease, although initially they might attribute it to something else.  Of course if the person was aware that they were bitten by a tick, flea, or mosquito then the doctor will be more likely to test the person for Lyme Disease.  But many times the person is unaware that they were bitten.

Testing For Lyme Disease Can Give False Negative Results

Plus, testing for Lyme Disease isn’t always accurate.  This is especially true in the first few weeks of the disease, as it takes time for the antibodies to develop.   The ELISA test is one of the first tests to be utilized.   The Western Blot antibody test is also used initially to help detect this disease, but about one third of people don’t show antibodies to B. burgdorferi, even though they are infected.  From time to time I refer to Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website, as it has some excellent information, and so I recommend checking out his website at www.mercola.com.  There is a two-part article entitled “Lyme Disease: The Unknown Epidemic”, which is very interesting, and talks about some breakthrough testing of this condition.

One of these tests is called the Rapid Identification of Bb (RIBb) test, which is used to quickly detect the presence of B. burgdorferi.  And since quick treatment of Lyme Disease is important, such a test could be very valuable.  Another test, developed by Lida Mattman, PhD, allows for someone to detect the organism in the tissues, since the antibodies are not always detected in the blood.  So these tests don’t look for the antibodies, but instead look for the actual organism.  Of course as of now neither of these tests are FDA approved, which makes it challenging to obtain such a test.

Can Lyme Disease Cause Problems With The Thyroid Gland?

I don’t know of any research studies which confirm that Lyme Disease can lead to a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition.  However, this disease can affect the endocrine system, as well as other systems of the body, and I know some people with Lyme Disease who developed thyroid conditions.  But whether they would have developed problems with the thyroid gland even if they didn’t become infected with B. burgdorferi is unknown.  With regards to autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, it is possible that Lyme Disease can trigger an autoimmune response.  But as you know, other factors can also lead to an autoimmune condition.

Either way, if someone has Lyme Disease and a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, I still recommend for them to follow a natural treatment protocol.  Eating a diet consisting mostly of whole foods and minimizing the refined foods and sugars is essential.  Extra immune system support is definitely warranted, as herbs such as Echinacea can help, as well as Boswellia,Turmeric, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to help with the inflammation.  Some people with autoimmune thyroid conditions are concerned about Echinacea exacerbating the autoimmune response, but unless the person is allergic to Echinancea, which is rare, then there usually isn’t a problem taking this herb.  The medical approach to Lyme Disease is administering antibiotics for up to 30 days, and in some cases even longer, and so if someone takes this approach, then one probably will need to address their gut health as well.  Taking probiotics and prebiotics will almost definitely be necessary, but other factors will probably need to be incorporated.

So it is questionable whether there is a direct connection between Lyme Disease and thyroid conditions.  While Lyme Disease can potentially affect the thyroid gland directly, or in some cases trigger an autoimmune response, other factors obviously can lead to thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions as well.  As a result, if someone has Lyme Disease and then develops a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, one can’t necessarily conclude that Lyme Disease was the cause of the condition.  Either way, when someone has both Lyme Disease and an autoimmune thyroid condition, natural treatment methods can usually benefit these people.