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- The term “hormone” is a relatively new term coined in the early 1900s.
- Hormones are chemical messengers that communicate behavior and action to cells.
- Cells have receptors for hormones within them or on their surface.
- Hormones are critical for processes like nervous and immune function, growth, metabolism, and reproduction.
- Distinct hormones only affect specific target cells.
- Lyme disease and its co-infections mimic many other conditions, and can also simulate hormone disruption.
- Lyme disease causes cellular inflammation.
- Cellular inflammation damages cell receptors so that a hormone cannot communicate with them. This condition is called hormone resistance.
- Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses can affect endocrine system function, leading to hormone imbalances.
- Lyme disease sufferers often do not have enough of magnesium. Magnesium is needed to maintain hormone balance.
- The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland team up to control the endocrine system.
- Chronic infections and Lyme disease inflame the brain and damages the vital hypothalamus/pituitary endocrine control system
- Lyme disease and chronic infections have profound adverse effects on proper thyroid gland functioning.
- Most Lyme disease patients have depleted adrenal glands.
- People with chronic illness or chronic Lyme disease often develop hormone imbalances and deficiencies of the reproductive glands.
- “Endocrine disruptors” are chemicals that are found just about everywhere in our modern environment.
- Once chronic infections like Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses are cleared, hormones often regulate without further effort.
- The guidance of a Lyme-literate doctor can be an essential component to clear tick-borne and other chronic infections. My At-Home Program provides recommendations of supplements and protocols to help eradicate Lyme disease and chronic illnesses.
What’s the Connection Between Hormones, Lyme Disease, And Chronic Illness?
“Hormone” is a relatively new term. In the 1800s, scientists observed that some kind of chemical communication must take place between different organs and tissues in the body. Later, they noted that certain disorders could be successfully treated with endocrine tissue extracts. English physiologists Ernest Starling and William Bayliss coined the term “hormone” in the early 1900s.1
Bayliss and Starlings’ new term incited intense research on the endocrine system. In the first half of the 20th century, inspired scientists worked diligently to understand and identify the diverse hormones in the body.
Hormones Communicate Action
The cells in the body need messages from hormones to tell them what to do. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate cell behaviors. All cells have a receptor site for hormones. Hormone receptors can be found on the surface of the cell or within the cell.2 Hormones are critical for processes like growth, metabolism, and reproduction. They can alter behavior through the nervous system. They can affect immune function, too.
The brain signals hormone release. Most hormones travel in the blood, although some are secreted into the extracellular fluid. Although they come in contact with all cells, a distinct hormone usually affects only specific target cells. Target cells contain a functional receptor for that distinct hormone. The target cell responds to that hormone because it has receptors for that hormone. Hormones can exert immediate or delayed effects on their target cells.
Hormones are secreted by glands in the endocrine system. Endocrine glands are tightly regulated. Their job is to ensure that hormones and their effects remain at the ideal level for optimal function. Feedback loops within the body help the endocrine glands maintain precise hormonal balance.
Lyme Disease and Hormones
- Lyme disease and its co-infections mimic many other conditions, and can also simulate hormone disruption. Some symptoms of Lyme disease are the same as symptoms caused by hormone imbalance.
- Lyme disease is a chronic infection that causes inflammation, and more specifically, cellular inflammation. Any time there is cellular inflammation hormones will have difficulty communicating with their target organs and tissues in the body.
Hormones need to bind to a cell’s receptor to communicate their presence and readiness to perform their functions. Cellular inflammation damages these cell receptors so that the hormone cannot communicate with it. This condition is called hormone resistance. The hormones can be getting to their targets, but the cell receptors struggle to recognize them due to the inflammatory damage.
- Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses can affect endocrine system function. A poorly functioning endocrine system creates hormone imbalances typified by too much or too little of a hormone. Abnormal hormone levels could come from the endocrine gland over or under producing the hormone.
Or, hormonal imbalance may result from difficulty breaking down the hormone. Most hormones are metabolized in the liver. Lyme disease patients who have impaired liver and/or gallbladder function and/or impaired liver/bile duct drainage may not be able to break down hormones properly.
- Lyme disease patients very often have depleted magnesium levels. Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for hormone balance. Consequently, Lyme disease sufferers likely do not have enough of magnesium to maintain hormone balance.3
The Endocrine Control System
The hypothalamus communicates to the pituitary gland. The pituitary communicates to the thyroid gland, reproductive organs (ovaries) (gonads, testes), adrenal, and other endocrine glands. So, it’s crucial to ensure the endocrine control tower consisting of hypothalamus and pituitary gland, is functioning normally or the endocrine glands in the body won’t receive the correct messages for their own normal functioning.
The hypothalamus is a small region in the brain. It is located on the underside of the brain, near the base, and above the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus works to keep the body in stable and constant balance, or homeostasis. It’s important functions include:
- Hormone release
- Body temperature regulation
- Daily physiological maintenance
- Appetite control
- Management of sexual behavior
- Regulation of emotional responses
In Lyme disease patients, the hypothalamus can be affected by neurotoxins produced by the infectious bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. The hypothalamus ultimately affects the production of thyroid hormones, sex, and adrenal hormones.
An endocrine supplement, like an adrenal or thyroid formula, can affect those glands directly, but it will not affect the control tower upstream from those glands. The supplement may balance the effects of those glands, but won’t address the source. Consequently, once the supplement is stopped or no longer in the system, the hormonal imbalance returns.
The pituitary gland is often called the “master gland” of the body. It is a small gland located below the hypothalamus and is attached to it by a stalk-like structure. The hypothalamus controls the activity of the pituitary gland. Pituitary hormones control many vital functions and processes including:
- Blood pressure
- Sexual maturation
The pituitary gland both produces and stores hormones that act on the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries and testes, which in turn produce their own hormones. The pituitary gland directs other organs and endocrine glands and keeps hormone levels balanced. It releases ‘stimulating’ hormones to bring about a change in hormone production elsewhere in the system.
Lyme disease is notorious for its adverse effects on the brain. It inflames the brain and damages the vital hypothalamus/pituitary endocrine control system located within it.
Lyme, Infection, and the Thyroid Gland
Chronic infections provoke the immune system to release inflammatory substances, called cytokines, which cause inflammation of the thyroid and other endocrine glands.
Lyme disease can cause decreased thyroid hormone production through:
- Directly damaging the thyroid, as in autoimmune, or Hashimoto’s, thyroid disorders. (Mercury toxicity and Epstein-Barr virus are implicated in autoimmune thyroid, as well).
- Indirectly, by exerting an adverse effect on the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland
- Producing a functional hypothyroid condition, such as impaired conversion of T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 form.
Lyme, Infection, and the Adrenal Glands
In adrenal insufficiency, also referred to as adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands fail to produce enough hormones to sustain the body. Or, it could be a condition in which the adrenal glands either over or under produce hormones, which is common in Lyme disease.4
Adrenal fatigue symptoms mimic those of Lyme, so it can be difficult to differentiate their true source. Common signs of adrenal fatigue include:
- Mood issues like anxiety and depression
- Feeling “wired and tired”
- Low stamina
- Digestive problems
- Difficulty standing for long periods
- Brain fog
- Weight gain or loss
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Low blood pressure
Chronic infection is a stressor and can cause adrenal insufficiency. Most Lyme disease patients have depleted adrenals, which need to be addressed before focusing on other hormonal depletion.
The adrenal hormones (and sex hormones, as well) tend to have anti-inflammatory actions. A deficiency of these hormones in Lyme disease patients is a substantial impairment, and these people may present with chronic pain.
Adrenal formulas may help patients with Lyme and chronic infection-induced adrenal fatigue feel and function better. However, the minute the supplement is stopped, they can crash because the adrenal insufficiency is only a symptom, not the source of the problem.
Lyme, Infection, and the Reproductive Organs
People with chronic illness or chronic Lyme disease often develop hormone imbalances and deficiencies of the reproductive glands.
Estrogenic hormones promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body. Both hypo and hyper levels of estrogen have been linked to chronic and acute infections and illnesses.
Low estrogen symptoms include:
- Increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches or migraines
- Depression and mood swings
- Low sex drive or painful sex
- Reproductive problems
Estrogen dominance is an overproduction of estrogen. Symptoms include:
- Fibroids and ovarian cysts
- Decreased libido
- Fibrocystic breast
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Higher perceived stress
- Slowed metabolism
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.5 It is characterized by hormonal imbalances and metabolism problems that typically affect overall health. Women with PCOS may have irregular or prolonged menstrual periods and an excess of male hormones. The ovaries can develop fluid-filled follicles and fail to release eggs normally. Symptoms of PCOS:6
- Weight gain (mostly abdomen and thighs)
- Irregular or absent periods
- Abnormal hair growth
- Blood sugar imbalances
Low testosterone levels provide an opportunity for opportunistic infections to take hold.
Symptoms in men include:
- Decreased libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hair loss
- Muscle/strength loss
- Weight gain/increase in body fat
- Brain fog
- Mood-related problems
From perimenopause through menopause and beyond, women get about half of their testosterone from the conversion of an adrenal hormone, called DHEA, as opposed to only about 10% in men.7 Consequently, menopausal women with Lyme disease may suffer even more than men with low testosterone.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals can be found just about everywhere in our modern environment. Also called “endocrine disruptors,” hormone-disrupting chemicals can act at any point on the endocrine pathway.
Some endocrine disruptors mimic hormones by binding to their target cell receptors and sending a false signal. Others block the natural action of the hormone, preventing it from binding its receptor and producing its intended effect.
Endocrine disruptors can alter the amount of hormones that are synthesized. They can also alter how quickly hormones are degraded or the way in which their target cells respond. Some common endocrine disruptors include:
PCBs are found in pesticides and are a byproduct of combustion. They were banned decades ago but linger in the environment and concentrate in the food chain. They can alter growth and development in animals and humans and are known to disrupt thyroid hormones in humans.8
Flame retardants are found everywhere, from human breast milk to the fat layers of Antarctic penguins.9 They are used in clothing, plastics, paint, furniture, electronics, food, and more. They are known to interfere with the normal functioning of hormones. They can cause thyroid imbalances and alter the signaling of sex hormones.
Dioxins are known human carcinogens and some of the world’s most toxic chemicals.10 Long-term exposures can cause nervous, immune, reproductive, and endocrine system disruption. Short-term exposure to high levels of dioxin is known to impair the liver function and causes chloracne, an acne-like eruption of blackheads, cysts, and pustules. Infants and fetuses are very sensitive to dioxins.
According to the World Health Organization, “Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment. The highest levels of these compounds are found in some soils, sediments, and food, especially dairy products, meat, fish and shellfish.11
BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical found in plastics, food packaging, the lining of many food and beverage containers. It can readily leach from the container into food or beverage. It is produced in large quantities– millions of metric tons per year– primarily for use in the production of plastics and epoxy resins.12 It lingers in the environment as it leaches from plastic in landfills into soil and groundwater. More than 90% of the U.S. population is exposed to BPA,
Phthalates are found in food packaging, plastics, cleaning agents, cosmetics, and cleaning agents. Any product has a fragrance additive probably has phthalates.
BHA and BHT are toxic chemical preservatives added to processed foods and beverages, cosmetics, and gum. In addition to their hormone-disrupting effects, they are known to be carcinogenic.13
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances that have hormone-like activity. They are found in plant foods, most notably soybeans.
Pesticides, Perfluorinated chemicals, UV filters, Triclosan, Perchlorate, and Parabens are several more of the most common (and scary) endocrine disruptors, although many others exist.
Exposure to these hormone-disrupting chemicals is just one more challenging burden to people with multi-systemic challenges from Lyme disease and chronic infections. The same can be said for exposure to mold, environmental toxins, and heavy metals, fungi, and parasites in the body.
Clearing Chronic Infections Can Bring About Hormone Regulation
Once chronic infections like Lyme Borreliosis, coinfections, parasites, toxins, and heavy metals are cleared, hormones often regulate without further effort. The guidance of a Lyme-literate doctor can be an essential component to clear tick-borne and other chronic infections. If you’re looking for more help, follow the recommendations of supplements and protocols in my At-Home Program to eradicate Lyme disease and chronic illnesses.
- Castro, Joseph. “11 Surprising Facts About the Endocrine System.” LiveScience.com, 12 Oct 2013. Web
- “Hormones, Receptors, and Target Cells.” Vivo Pathophysiology, www.vivo.colostate.edu, n.d. Web
- Peterson, Carol. ”Hormones and Chronic Lyme Disease.” Women’s International Pharmacy, womensinternational.com, n.d. Web
- Strasheim, Connie. ”Solutions For Mitigating Adrenal Fatigue In Lyme Disease.” ProHealth.com, Pro Health Inc, 19 Sept 2016. Web
- ”Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” womenshealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 Oct 2018. Web
- Ross, SL. “Natural Support for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.” foodmatters.com, 12 Mar 2016. Web
- Morley, J and Mitchell, P. “Androgens and Women at the Menopause and Beyond. “The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 58, Issue 5, 1 May 2003. Web
- Brown, Valerie. “Blocking Brain Development: How PCBs Disrupt Thyroid Hormone.” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 113, No. 7, Jul 2005. Web
- Blum, Deborah. “Flame Retardants Are Everywhere.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 1 July 2014. Web
- Marinković, N et al. “Dioxins and Human Toxicity.” Arh Hig Rada Toksikol, Vol. 61, No. 4, Dec 2010. Web
- ”Dioxins and Their Effects on Human Health.” WHO.int, World Health Organization. 4 October 2016. Web
- Flint, Shelby et al. “ Bisphenol A Exposure, Effects, and Policy: A Wildlife Perspective.” Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 104, 2012. Web
- Kahl, R and Kappus, H. “Oxicology of the Synthetic Antioxidants BHA and BHT in Comparison with the Natural Antioxidant Vitamin E.” Z Lebensm Unters Forsch, Vol. 196, No. 4, Apr 1993. Web