Whenever I meet a new person, and tell them about my mission of spreading awareness about lifestyle interventions and innovative treatments for Hashimoto’s, people always say, “Wow, that must be a really rare condition”, to which my response is, “It’s actually the leading cause of low thyroid function in Western countries, and most people who take thyroid medications actually have Hashimoto’s”.
The conversation always turns to, “Wow, I take thyroid medications,” or “My mom takes thyroid medications” or “My sister takes medications,” “Is this Hashimoto’s?” (As a side note, did you know that Synthroid was the bestselling medication in the United States in 2013??)
My answer: If you live in the United States, the UK, Australia, Europe and most developed countries that add iodine to the salt supply and take thyroid medications, there’s a high probability that you do have Hashimoto’s. Depending on the source, estimates are that between 90-95% of those with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s.
But most doctors will never tell people that they have Hashimoto’s, or that their immune system is attacking their thyroid. People are told that their “thyroid is sluggish,” and that these things happen with age and “Just take this pill, you’ll be fine.”
Because the conventional medical model treats autoimmune thyroid disorders in the same way as they would treat someone with a nutrient deficiency induced thyroid disorder, someone who was born without a thyroid or someone who had their thyroid removed or treated with radioactive iodine. But there is SO MUCH MORE to care for autoimmune induced hypothyroidism.
The Development of Autoimmune Induced Hypothyroidism
Based on my research over the last four years, here’s a general outline of how the mechanism behind Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism develops.
- The gut, which is the “home” of our immune system becomes imbalanced, (the early warning signs of autoimmune disease are often gut related, and may include gut distress, acid reflux, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation). This may also be the beginning stage where fatigue will be seen as the body stops absorbing nutrients properly due to the gut imbalance. The TSH test will likely be normal, but thyroid antibodies will be present. This is the best time to act on lifestyle interventions as it’s so much easier to prevent damage at this point!
- The immune system starts to attack the thyroid more aggressively (symptoms of anxiety, palpitations, irritability as the damaged thyroid releases hormone into the bloodstream). At this point, thyroid antibodies will likely be detectable, and a slight change in TSH may be seen.
- The thyroid becomes severely damaged and scarred and can’t produce more hormones, and thus the person becomes hypothyroid (symptoms of hair loss, fatigue, cold intolerance, depression, brain fog, inability to lose weight, a.k.a. the “typical” low thyroid symptoms). At this point, a change in TSH is more likely going to be seen.
Unfortunately, most people are not diagnosed until about the third stage of Hashimoto’s, that is, if their thyroid problem is uncovered at all!
At age 25, I was told that the extra weight, my forgetfulness, hair loss and fatigue were likely a result of “just getting older.” This seemed to make sense to me at the time, and I took my doctor’s word for it, and thus did nothing while my thyroid was under severe autoimmune attack. I don’t want you to make the same mistake, as it’s much harder to regenerate thyroid tissue than it is to prevent damage.
In the person with the right genetic susceptibility, there are triggers or root causes, that cause an immune system imbalance, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, many symptoms, and results in the destruction of the thyroid gland so it can no longer make enough thyroid hormones.
Opportunities for Intervention
There are three main opportunities for intervention. Giving supplemental hormone when the thyroid is no longer able to produce its hormone is the most common type of intervention. Of course, this intervention is crucial in those cases when the thyroid is so scarred that it can no longer make enough hormone on its own, as the body REQUIRES thyroid hormone for everything!
Taking hormones, in the right combination and at the correct dose, (read about Which Thyroid Medications are Best and What to do if Your TSH is Normal and for even more detailed information, you can download my eBook Optimizing Thyroid Medications for FREE) will help many of the hypothyroid symptoms such as hair loss, fatigue, cold intolerance, and losing weight, but will not get to the underlying cause of the condition.
Taking thyroid hormones should not be the only interventions for Hashimoto’s. I compare taking thyroid hormones to pouring more water into a leaky bucket but failing to plug up the leak. There’s a lot more to Hashimoto’s than just low thyroid function!
Thyroid Medications Aren’t Enough for Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism!
Now trust me on this one- I’m a pharmacist, and I fully support appropriate medication use, but thyroid medications do not get to the underlying cause of Hashimoto’s.
So What Is the Underlying Cause?
The underlying cause is an imbalance of the immune system, and that will persist even when people get on thyroid medications, and even when the thyroid is taken out surgically or treated with radioactive iodine.
Many people will get on thyroid medications, thinking that’s all they need to do or will have their thyroids surgically removed, and years later will develop new autoimmune disorders such as Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
The immune system just finds a different target 🙁
We need to rebalance the immune system to prevent this -sometimes the autoimmunity can be reversed as well!
The second opportunity for intervention in Hashimoto’s, and in my opinion, the most important approach, is going after the root cause(s).
The gut determines your immune system. Food sensitivities and hidden gut infections are two of the most common causes of an imbalanced immune system. I often hear miracle stories of people who treated one infection (like Yersinia) or got rid of gluten and completely reversed their Hashimoto’s- their thyroid antibodies go away, and some are even able to regenerate thyroid tissue and get off medications.
These are easy cases, and everyone loves this kind of story, but the truth is, that it’s not that easy for most people. In my experience, most people with Hashimoto’s have a combination of nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, adrenal issues, infections and an impaired ability to get rid of toxins. Some also suffer from emotional issues that keep their immune systems on guard.
Most People Will Need to Make Multiple Changes to Feel Great Again
I often get messages from people who say they’ve tried everything, but still feel terrible. My answer is usually that you haven’t tried everything.
So if you are someone who has gone gluten free, but hasn’t seen improvement, perhaps you may want to try an elimination diet or food sensitivity testing to see if you have any other food reactions. If you feel worse going gluten free, perhaps you need to think about your blood sugar balance. If you are already eating a super clean diet, and have seen no improvements, perhaps it’s time to think about your gut… could you have a gut infection that is keeping your immune system confused? If you’ve done the gut thing and the food thing, perhaps it’s time to think about your detox capabilities or nutrient deficiencies. These interventions are the interventions that address the root cause of the condition. Read my post about 6 Different Hashimoto’s Root Causes. For additional root causes, please take a look at my Dig-At-It approach and my book, Hashimoto’s: The Root Cause.
Immune modulation is the third type of approach to Hashimoto’s… chemicals, nutrients, herbs medications and even our thoughts can modulate our immune system. Sometimes the triggers may be gone, but they immune system may still be imbalanced…
If you are doing all of the root cause things, but not feeling better, you may want to consider immune modulation like LDN (Low Dose Naltrexone)… And remember, in the end, your goal should be to feel your best. If you are stressed out about having the perfect numbers and ignoring your emotions, perhaps it’s time to evaluate the contribution of your emotions on your immune system. Are your emotions putting you in a sympathetic mode- stress, fight or flight- or are they putting you in a parasympathetic mode of rest, digestion, and healing?
Some of you may be thinking… Why do all of this, why go through all of this trouble… why not just give up? My answer is… because you are worth it! Please know that there are many things that you can do to make yourself better.
You can also download a free Thyroid Diet Guide, 10 Thyroid friendly recipes, and the Nutrient Depletions and Digestion chapter for free by going to www.thyroidpharmacist.com/gift. You will also receive occasional updates about new research, resources, giveaways and helpful information.