Welcome to week six of my 10-week series – 10 barriers to recovery from Lyme disease. Following up from last weeks discussion on the adrenals, today we’re talking about thyroid health.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits across the neck. It produces the T4 hormone, which circulates around the body and is converted to T3, the active form of the thyroid hormone. The pituitary gland, which snuggles up under the brain, sends TSH to the thyroid to tell it to produce hormones, which then works on a reverse feedback loop. The lower the thyroid hormone levels are in the blood, the more TSH will be produced by the pituitary, because it’s desperately trying to give instruction to the thyroid gland to up it’s production. Hence when you see a high TSH level on labs, it actually reflects low thyroid function, and vice versa.
The thyroid regulates metabolism amongst other things. Low thyroid function will make one very sluggish and fatigued, foggy brained, constipated, depressed and a poor sleeper. It can produce dry skin, dry course hair, brittle nails, thinning eyebrows on the outer parts, and a dull complexion. Many Lyme patients experience weight gain with their illness and the thyroid is partly to blame for this.
I often associate thyroid dysfunction with the co-infection Babesia. In fact, I associate most hormonal shenanigans with the co-infection Babesia. So this refers back to point #1 – treat all co-infections adequately and that can help hormones get back in line
Given most Lyme patients experience fatigue, poor sleep quality, night waking, depression and weight gain – having a close look at thyroid function makes sense. However, unfortunately, many primary care docs do a quick TSH check, and so long as it’s in the broad range of 0.45-5, they consider everything normal and move on. Two problems here – the first is that the ideal range of TSH is actually 0.45-2. Anything above 2 and I’m getting suspicious. Secondly, a TSH alone is not enough of an indicator – we at least need a free T3 and free T4, and preferably a reverse T3, to get a good picture. I also order the auto-immune thyroid markers – anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin – as many Lyme patients have auto-immune processes going on in their bodies, which can be assisted by compounds such as Low Dose Naltrexone and a gluten-free diet. If T3 and T4 are low-normal, and the clinical picture fits, I will consider supplementing with thyroid hormone, and I’ve found that it makes the world of difference in many of my patients.
The thyroid can be supported with natural supplements such as iodine, kelp, selenium and even thyroid glandulars. There are also prescription “natural” thyroid medications like Armour and Nature-throid. Both of these are from a porcine source (yes, piggy thyroid). By far my favorite is bio-identical, compounded T3 and T4 taken in a 1:4 ratio to mimic the body’s natural production. Bio-identical means it is produced to match the biochemical structure of human hormone exactly. It’s not “natural” per se, because it is synthesized in the lab, however because it matches our own thyroid hormone the body can assimilate it much better (and the “natural” thyroid medications are only really “natural” if you’re a pig, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there!).
Starting low and building up gradually until the right dose is attained, thyroid supplementation can lead to more energy, a clearer brain, better quality sleep and a happier outlook. Aren’t they things all Lyme patients desire?!