Hot Off the Press! – Lyme Disease Update

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP– Women’s International Pharmacy

What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by infected deer ticks. The bacterium that causes the infection is a spirochete named Borrelia. Initial symptoms include a rash that may look like a bullseye, fever, headache, and fatigue. As the disease progresses, one may experience arthritis, heart problems, and nerve problems. A diagnosis is most often made based on symptoms and history of a deer tick bite. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic other diseases and lab testing is not definitive. Current treatment most often involves a two to four week course of antibiotics. However, a single round of antibiotics may not eradicate the infection and co-infections with other organisms may arise. Individuals with Lyme disease may find themselves in a situation where the condition becomes chronic and they are in a continuous struggle to restore their health.

International Lyme and Associated Disease Society
The International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) is a nonprofit, international, multidisciplinary medical society dedicated to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and associated diseases. They are advocates for helping people with chronic Lyme disease and other associated diseases restore their health. Over 600 people attended the annual ILADS meeting in Fort Lauderdale this year. There were many presentations and among them, there were several linking the symptoms of chronic Lyme infection with hormones and hormone treatment.

Pituitary Gland and Endocrine Dysfunctions in Chronic Lyme/Co-infections, presented by Eugene R. Shippen, MD 
Dr. Eugene Shippen is a family practitioner in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of The Testosterone Syndrome and a sought after lecturer on hormone replenishment. Dr. Shippen began his presentation by stating comprehensive hormone testing should be done for all patients with chronic illness. He recommended testing thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones, as well as pituitary hormones which normally stimulate the production of thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones. Pituitary hormones including luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, growth hormone, and prolactin may be used to evaluate pituitary function. If abnormalities are revealed, the function of the hypothalamus should also be examined.

Prolactin, a pituitary hormone known for stimulating breast milk production, tends to be elevated in chronic illness. Prolactin participates in a multitude of bodily functions and chronically high levels of prolactin can have far reaching effects. Symptoms may include decreased libido and mood, insulin resistance, and weight gain. Low thyroid function may also contribute to high prolactin levels, but a pituitary growth called an adenoma should be ruled out if prolactin levels are especially high. Proper treatment of hypothyroidism may restore prolactin to normal levels.

Impaired cognitive function can be a persistent symptom of Lyme disease and other associated diseases. Dr. Shippen described using a topical gel of selegiline, DHEA, and pregnenolone for cognitive dysfunction arising during chronic illness. Selegiline is a drug that inhibits the breakdown of dopamine in the brain. It is commonly used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and has favorable action on neuro-repair. The adrenal hormones, DHEA and pregnenolone, may also have neurosteroid or neuro-enhancing properties. Dr. Shippen presented case studies to illustrate the effectiveness of addressing some of these hormone deficits.

Changes of Thyroid and Adrenal Function in Chronic Infections/Lyme Disease, presented by Usha Honeyman, DC, ND
Dr. Usha Honeyman is a chiropractor and a naturopathic physician who practices in Corvallis, Oregon, and specializes in finding hidden causes to chronic disease and inflammation. She, too, focused on the presence of hormone dysfunction in patients with chronic Lyme disease and other associated diseases.

Patients with chronic Lyme disease and associated diseases tend to have low body temperatures. Normal body temperature is important in patients with chronic infection because white blood cell activity may be impaired under low temperature conditions. Healthy, active white blood cells are vital in helping the body fight infection. Low body temperature is also a symptom often associated with low thyroid function. Lyme disease and associated diseases may affect thyroid function in a number of ways:

  • Cytokines and inflammatory agents, which are often elevated in chronic infection, may affect thyroid function.
  • Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) is produced by the hypothalamus and activates cortisol in the body. CRH tends to be elevated in chronic infection. Excess CRH activity may interfere with thyroid function by inhibiting the conversion of the inactive thyroid hormone, T4, to the active form, T3.
  • Infection is a stress activator of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
  • The interaction between these three glands regulates many functions in the body, including thyroid.

Final Thoughts
The incidence of Lyme disease is on the rise in the United States. Some practitioners have recommended that anyone who is struggling with any type of chronic health issue be examined for Lyme disease. Hormone disruption is not usually the first thing considered by practitioners when a patient presents with a chronic disease; however, some of the ILADS practitioners are now urging all practitioners to examine the effects of high or low hormone levels and treat accordingly in patients with chronic Lyme disease and other associated diseases. Chronic Lyme disease may contribute to hormone imbalance, or, alternatively, hormone imbalance may be a source of the symptoms exhibited in chronic Lyme disease.

  • International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
  • Shippen ER. Pituitary Gland and Endocrine Dysfunctions in Chronic Lyme/Co-infections. Lecture presented at: Annual ILADS meeting; October 2015; Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • Honeyman U. Changes of Thyroid and Adrenal Function in Chronic Infections/Lyme Disease. Lecture presented at: Annual ILADS meeting; October 2015; Fort Lauderdale, FL.