Why Treating The Adrenals Matters In Lyme Disease

When I got knocked down by Lyme disease nearly four years ago, before I knew what in the heck was wrong with me, I instinctively felt as though my problem, whatever it was, had something to do with my adrenal glands being “burnt out”, and was perhaps even caused by this. At the time, I didn’t know a lot about chronic illness, but I was aware that it was possible for adrenal function to become compromised by environmental stress. And I had just about any and every kind of stress weighing heavily upon me during that time of my life.

Now that I have stuffed nearly four years of medical research into my brain, along with the knowledge that I have Lyme and its accompanying messes, I still believe that adrenal dysfunction as a result of stress may have been the trigger for all my woes.

Yes, Lyme disease causes adrenal insufficiency, but for some, like me, I believe that the adrenal insufficiency came first, weakening my immune system so that my body could not stand against Lyme disease.

And lately, I have been wondering if Lyme disease is more difficult to cure in those whose adrenal glands were severely compromised prior to infection.

Why? Well, for starters, the adrenal glands play a vital role in fighting illness, and are heavily involved in many of the body’s metabolic processes. They also help to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Cortisol is one of the body’s three major hormones; that is, it is involved in and governs the production of other hormones and is responsible for a multitude of activities in the body. Without cortisol, we would not be alive.

Also, Dr. Gerald Poesnecker, a naturopathic physician who specialized in adrenal fatigue and who treated patients with this condition for many, many years, believed that if a person’s adrenal fatigue were severe enough, then the body wouldn’t mount an immune response to any treatments that were given to it. In his book, Mastering Your Life,, he writes, “The bodies of patients with a low adrenal adaptive ability (a state found in most CFS patients) have lost much of their ability to create the needed reaction to produce a cure. On the contrary, when the body is not able to use the energy of these therapies (his) constructively, they actually tend to produce a worsening of the underlying condition because, to the body, they become a stress and not a cure. This is especially true of drug therapy, with its well known side effects.”

Hmmm. Kind of makes me wonder whether some people aren’t healing from Lyme disease because their adrenal glands aren’t able to mount an appropriate response to the antibiotics or the herbs that are being given to them? After all, it’s not the drug that heals the body; it’s the immune system, and without cooperation from the immune system, of which adrenal gland hormones play a vital role, then it doesn’t matter what kind of treatment you throw at the body. It simply won’t work.

What’s more, if you had adrenal insufficiency prior to Lyme disease, killing the bugs probably won’t get rid of all of your symptoms, as some of these are likely to be directly attributable to adrenal insufficiency, and not infections.

Dr. Horowitz, LLMD, at the LIA Conference last month, mentioned that supporting the adrenal glands is important for recovery from Lyme disease. He has treated over 10,000 patients with Lyme disease, so I’m sure the guy knows a thing or two about the subject! Another good friend of mine contends that he would not have recovered from Lyme–indeed, that he would have died–had he not supported his adrenals during treatment.

Nobody is totally deficient in cortisol. Unless you have Addison’s disease (and believe me, you would know), your adrenals produce enough cortisol to keep you alive and even puttering about a little every day. But do they produce enough to mount a sufficient immune response against Lyme disease?

That has been my question lately. And the more I chew on it, the more I think that some of us won’t heal unless our adrenal glands are adequately supported.

Healing the adrenals is a tricky endeavor, however, because they like a lot of TLC. A multi-faceted approach to treatment is required, including changes to diet, lifestyle and thinking patterns. Nutrition that is specifically geared towards the adrenals is also vital, in the form of vitamins, minerals, and adrenal glandular formulas. And quite often, doing everything “right” is still not good enough. I know because I have tried and yet I feel that adrenal insufficiency remains my biggest obstacle to full recovery. At least that’s what my gut and my god seem to be telling me.

So since I am not “there” I can’t offer you a wonderful magic formula for healing the adrenal glands. Just know that adrenal insufficiency may be one of your road blocks to healing, and then treat them the best you can.

Lest you think that I am thinking myopically here, I do realize that a full recovery from Lyme requires that all of the body’s organs and systems function in an optimal manner. But as a diverse group of people with different Lyme symptoms, some of us will have greater problems in certain areas than others, and experience will lead us to focus on those areas that are most problematic for each one of us. For me, it’s my adrenals and since it’s what I know about, it’s what I write about.

As an example of how adrenal insufficiency can hinder healing, I surmise that one of the reasons why the vitamin C and sea salt protocol did not work well for me was because the body needs aldosterone, an adrenal hormone produced from cortisol, in order to uptake salt into the body (along with renin, a kidney hormone). My low levels of aldosterone (evidenced by my inability to stand for long periods and low cortisol levels) have meant that I can take copious amounts of salt, and the critters won’t die, because my body isn’t using much of that salt.

If you suspect that you have adrenal insufficiency and that this might be affecting your treatment outcomes, I suggest you check out Dr. Poesnecker’s work, as well as the book Adrenal Fatigue, by Dr. J. Wilson. In other posts, I have provided suggestions for supporting the adrenals, in the form of nutrition, lifestyle changes and supplements. Since the list is long, I won’t mention what those are here.

I have been tempted to think that supplementing with synthetic or natural cortisol is necessary for those with moderately severe adrenal insufficiency, but not everyone responds well to cortisol. Dosing it is tricky and too much can actually suppress the immune system. I am currently experimenting with ACE, a natural adrenal corticol extract containing active cortisol but not adrenaline, which is found in other hormonal supplements. I have also tried products such as Isocort in the past, with mixed results. My adrenals are capricious, and whereas my body once responded extremely favorably to Isocort, the second time around they responded to the hormone by lowering their own production of cortisol, no matter what dose I fed them.

Also, if you already take thyroid replacement hormone, this can exacerbate your adrenal fatigue if your adrenals aren’t being supported, because hypothyroidism is often a direct result of adrenal fatigue and treating the thyroid before treating the adrenals often “pushes” the adrenals to work harder. Also, it may obscure the effectiveness of adrenal hormone replacement, as having too much thyroid may make the body hyper-sensitive to additional cortisol, or may, at the very least, render other adrenal strategies less effective.

Finally, to help ascertain whether adrenal insufficiency may be compromising your recovery from Lyme disease, get a saliva cortisol test and clinical diagnosis of symptoms. An adrenal fatigue expert, such as Dr. Neville at the Clymer Healing Research Center, can help you to discern whether your adrenals need help, and what can be done for them, if so.

Seriously, don’t neglect your adrenal glands! They are important players in your recovery from Lyme disease.