I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July! This is one of my favorite holidays. Something about cookouts, being around friends and family, the unity between Americans celebrating independence, and soaking up the summer sun. And the food. I mean, what’s a better way to celebrate American liberty? I personally had more potato salad and hamburgers than I care to admit, but that’s the beauty of the Fourth! Like the majority of the U.S., I’m pretty beat from the busy weekend’s festivities, and from being a newborn’s mommy! So I figured it was a good day to rest and to pick up writing where I left off.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Exploring the Thyroid and Autoimmunity
In my last post, I discussed the rise of autoimmune diseases in America and how autoimmunity is the common factor between over 100 diseases. I introduced the known causes of autoimmunity and explained how diet is one of the key variables in developing autoimmunity. For more on this, read my blog post The Autoimmune Connection where I explain how diet can trigger autoimmune diseases or be used to heal the gut and reverse autoimmune symptoms.
If this is your first time visiting my blog, my interest in autoimmunity started when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis a few years ago. I didn’t feel that medication was the only treatment option. My thyroid imbalance was more than just hypothyroidism, it was an autoimmune disease. Medication could replace the hormones my thyroid was too damaged to produce, but it wasn’t going to stop my immune system from continuing to attacking my thyroid. I wanted to understand the root cause of this disease and heal my body, so I sought treatment from a naturopathic doctor. For more on this, check out Where My Journey Began. Since then, I have incorporated various natural interventions into my lifestyle and continue to read and research topics surrounding the thyroid and autoimmunity. I’m on a mission to heal my body, and I feel so much better now than before when I relied on medication as my only treatment. Along the way, I have developed a huge interest in health and wellness and enjoy sharing what has helped me recover!
Today I want to explore Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, particularly what it is and how it can vary from person to person. I have had so many of you reach out to me and voice that you also are experiencing thyroid issues, are dealing with an autoimmune disease, or care about someone who is. So in response, I’ll share some information on this topic that I would have found helpful several years ago.
What is autoimmunity and how is the thyroid affected? First, let’s visit the thyroid.
So what does the thyroid do anyways? This was my first question when my primary care physician pointed out my thyroid goiter. The thyroid is an organ that produces hormones which affect virtually every other organ in the body. Izabella Wentz, Pharm D, author of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause, explains thyroid function further by writing “thyroid hormones are responsible for the very important role of stimulating the metabolism of the foods we eat, and extracting vitamins and producing energy from food. They are also vital to the production of other hormones as well as the growth and development of our nervous system” (p. 7). In addition, the thyroid maintains our body temperature, indirectly affecting all of the reactions inside our body. So if the thyroid is not producing hormones correctly, this results in an imbalance causing havoc on any number of body systems.
Thyroid disorders can range from the thyroid not making enough hormone (hypothyroidism) or the thyroid making too much (hyperthyroidism). Symptoms of hypothyroidism include depression, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, infertility, cold sensitivity, weight gain, muscle weakness, muscle aches, joint stiffness and pain, among others. Hyperthyroidism can cause anxiety, heart irregularities, difficulty sleeping, weight loss, irritability, thinning skin and brittle hair in addition to a variety of other issues.
After receiving my diagnosis, understanding the function of the thyroid and what results from a thyroid disorder was my first step in taking control of my health. Learning about the immune system’s role in my thyroid disorder was my next step. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where the thyroid gland is destroyed by the immune system, eventually resulting in inadequate thyroid hormone production (hypothyroidism). I was shocked when I found out how common this disease is. “Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States, and accounts for 90% of cases of hypothyroidism” (Wentz, 2013, p. 25). Hashimoto’s predominately affects women and up to 10% of the U.S. population.
As in my case, many people start having symptoms of a thyroid disorder before their thyroid hormone levels are in the “abnormal” range. This happens because the body can compensate by producing more hormone in the early stages of hypothyroidism. It is also possible to have symptoms of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Izabella Wentz explains this is possible because “as the thyroid cells are destroyed, stored hormones are released into the circulation causing a toxic level of thyroid hormone in the body” (2013, p. 27). In addition to this issue, thyroid disorder symptoms are very non-specific and vary so greatly from person to person, resulting in misdiagnosis and further potential harm on the body.
When left untreated, Hashimoto’s results in total destruction of the thyroid gland and it’s ability to produce thyroid hormone. The great news is, once autoimmune attack ceases in the body, the thyroid has the ability to regenerate (Wentz, 2013, p. 33). If you are concerned that your thyroid is not functioning properly, your physician can order lab testing.
Dr. Izabella Wentz recommends the following lab tests to measure thyroid function for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis diagnosis: TSH, TPO Antibodies, Thyroglobulin Antibodies, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3.
If you find that you do have Hashimoto’s, your doctor will work with you to restore proper thyroid hormone levels. This usually involves continued lab monitoring and depending on your symptoms and the lab results, taking a supplemental hormone medication. This is where I got “stuck” with the conventional medicine approach. My endocrinologist acknowledged that my symptoms matched hypothyroidism and that my thyroid goiter and lab results were indicative of Hashimoto’s, but could only offer medication to balance my thyroid hormone levels – no insight on the autoimmunity.
You may be benefiting from a thyroid replacement hormone medication but would like to further explore what is contributing to the autoimmune destruction of your thyroid. Approaching treatment holistically will allow you to identify the root cause of your condition, eliminate thyroid antibodies and autoimmune symptoms, and reverse autoimmune thyroid disease. Next step? Finding YOUR root cause.
Wentz, Izabella. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause. Wentz, LLC, 2013.