Deeper Dive into Thyroid Health & Hashimoto
By Dr. Alison Danby, ND
Brain fog that makes routine tasks a drag, unexplainable bouts of lethargy in the middle of the workday, and a metabolism that has officially gone M.I.A. – these are signs that an individual may be suffering from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that affects at least 14 million people in the United States of America alone! While both men and women suffer from the chronic condition, it is women who are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis than men. While Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of autoimmune disorders, many people are still not aware of its symptoms, causes, or possible treatments.
DETECTING HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS DISEASE
Most people suffering from Hashimoto’s do not detect any symptoms initially; it is when this disease slowly progresses and begins attacking the thyroid gland that patients take notice. If a patient notices that their neck area is looking swollen, it is a sure-fire sign that their thyroid gland has enlarged and is now a goiter. The goiter is evidence that the individual is now suffering from hypothyroidism. While the goiter looks painful, this symptom causes minor discomfort to the patient. Aside from a swollen neck, other symptoms that indicate the presence of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are:
- Cold Sensitivity
- Excessive Thirst and Frequent Urination
- Hair Thinning out or Noticeable Hair Loss
- Rougher, cracked skin
- Feeling cold while others feel normal
- Dealing with Digestive problems like Constipation or Bloating
- Difficulty in Concentration
- Unexplained Weight Gain
- Drastic Hair Loss
- Tingling in Patient’s Hands & Feet
- Puffy Eyes
- Slower than Usual Heart Rate
- Chronic Fatigue and Lethargy
- Brain Fog
There may be a marked increase in anxiety, stiffness in the joint area, and for women of childbearing age, fertility problems. If left undetected, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis may cause the development of Type 2 Diabetes, neurological damage, kidney and brain problems, other autoimmune disorders like Grave’s Disease, an increased risk of heart disease, and higher levels of cholesterol.
Despite the prevalence of Hashimoto’s signs and symptoms, thyroid antibodies are often NOT tested. You may have Hashimoto’s and not know it. The diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is only done with testing for thyroid antibodies, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb) and Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb). The challenge with Hashimoto’s is that the symptoms are so common and mild that most people do not get the right diagnosis until irreversible damage has occurred to the thyroid gland. TSH is typically the only lab run in conventional medicine and that will not provide the whole picture. To get the whole picture of your thyroid health the following labs should be tested:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)
WHAT CAUSES HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS DISEASE?
A feature of being an autoimmune disorder is that Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis disease is inflammation of the thyroid after immune cells attack the healthy thyroid tissue instead of guarding it. The pituitary gland usually releases thyroid-stimulating hormones after detecting a change in thyroid hormone levels (T4 and T3) in the bloodstream. When Hashimoto’s is present, this natural systemic flow of hormones fails in the body.
Autoimmune disorders, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, are a result of a genetic tendency that runs in families, can skip a generation but usually affects women more than men. Being genetically predisposed for a disorder like Hashimoto’s does not automatically mean that it will develop.
There are individuals whose autoimmune disorder never gets triggered, but for those who do, the trigger usually is viral, fungal, significant life stress, and some foods.
Research has found that there is no one factor that results in the development of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (and hypothyroidism, subsequently). There may be one, some, or all of the following factors at work to cause this chronic condition:
- Deficiencies of specific nutrients in the body
- Bouts of emotional stress
- Pre-existing issues with normal digestive functions or Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Intolerances or sensitivities to grains or grain by-products, and food additives
- Undetected food allergies such as gluten
- Autoimmune disease in other parts of the body that also attacks the thyroid gland
Cigarette smokers more likely to develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis disease compared to non-smokers. A complete list of behaviours or circumstances that increase the risk of being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s includes:
- Pregnancy and postpartum stage in women
- Having a family member who has suffered from autoimmune disorders or having suffered themselves in the past
- Being a woman
- Being middle-aged, especially above the age of 50. Researchers noted that signs of Hashimoto’s resemble symptoms menopause closely enough that it goes undetected in women above the age of 60.
- Dealing with an extraordinary amount of stress breaks down the body’s immune system and results in adrenal insufficiency.
- Over-training (or exercise addiction) and malnourishment (or eating disorder) can both result in hormonal imbalances and weaken thyroid function.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS
Those suffering from hypothyroidism or goiters are recommended to begin hormone replacement therapy by taking synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. While some people may find temporary relief through hormone replacement medication, it means a life-long dependency that suppresses a symptom and not a treatment of the disease itself. We need to identify if the immune system is involved in destroying the thyroid versus just treating Hashimoto’s as hypothyroidism.
There are better treatment options available, that address the ROOT CAUSE. Those can include changing your diet and taking replacing the nutritional deficiencies with supplements to stave off of the effects of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Those individuals concerned about controlling Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis naturally should take the following steps:
A. Revamp Your Diet: Doctors recommend removing all grains and all gluten from your diet for a minimum of 90 days to give the gut a chance to heal. After the first three months of going grain-free and gluten-free, you should stay on a gluten-free diet as much as possible. Removing grain is important as it mimics gluten and causes gut inflammation. Overly dairy products, refined flours, refined sugars, and fast food are low in healthy nutrients and are inflammatory to the gut.
B. Heal the Gut: It is recommended to eat foods that are less processed and in their raw forms, such as fresh vegetables and fruits. Bone broth made from organically-sourced meats is easy for the body to digest and is not a trigger for those suffering from a previous autoimmune disorder.
C. There are several supplements that have been shown to heal Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis here are a few:
Probiotics: repairs the lining of the digestive tract and overall improves gut health
Selenium: regulates the levels of T4 and T3 hormones in the body
Vitamin D: More than 90% of thyroid patients suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Some 15 to 20 minutes in the sun or a daily dose of Vitamin D is just what the doctor ordered.
Patients diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (or people who suspect they are suffering from Hashimoto’s) are encouraged to discuss thyroid treatments with their physician or Naturopathic Doctor before changing their diet or lifestyle.
Talk to Dr. Danby, ND to learn more about available testing and a natural custom approach to treating your thyroid condition.