If you've been diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis you're probably experiencing numerous symptoms such as: chronic fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, digestion issues, constipation, insomnia, morning headaches, hair loss, joint or muscle pain, and many others. You may have been labelled a hypochondriac or chronic complainer by your doctor until your diagnosis was confirmed. And of course the frustration continues because the conventional course of treatment is to wait until the condition progresses - when your own thyroid can no longer produce enough of its own hormone - and then supplement with thyroid hormones . However, more research is uncovering some of the inner workings of our immune system and the development of Hashimotos. The good news: it is often a condition that can be managed and even reversed over time. So what isn't your GP telling you?
What We Need to Know About the Thyroid
The thyroid gland lies in the front of your neck in a position just below your Adam’s apple. It makes two hormones that are secreted into the blood: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone. These hormones are responsible for the most basic aspects of body function and impact on all major systems of the body: the brain, the G.I. tract, the cardiovascular system, bone metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, gall bladder and liver function, steroid hormone production, glucose metabolism, lipid and cholesterol metabolism, protein metabolism and body temperature regulation. It's clear that having a well functioning thyroid gland is important in maintaining good health. And it also explains the number and variety of symptoms that are experienced when the thyroid isn't working well.
Who Will Develop Hashimoto's?
More than 12 percent of people will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime, and many of them will be unaware of their condition. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. In fact, one woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder sometime during her lifetime. Many are diagnosed in their 40's or 50's but an increasing number are experiencing symptoms much earlier, especially post-partum.
Approximately 90% of the those showing symptoms of hypothyroidism are producing antibodies to their thyroid, meaning that their body's immune system is attacking and destroying the thyroid tissue. Therefore, Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition. This is an important distinction: the cause of thyroid dysfunction is not initially a problem with the thyroid. The problems are a consequence of inflammation and the resulting autoimmune response to it. Therefore, it would make sense to focus any treatment on the root causes, and not just on the resulting symptoms.
The conventional treatment protocols for Hashimoto's is either: do nothing, as mentioned above, or administer immunity-suppressing drugs to stop the immune system from attacking the thyroid or administer steroids in an attempt to reduce the inflammation that is stimulating the immune system. All of these methods can have serious side effects and none focus on the cause of the inflammation and resulting autoimmunity response.
How Hashimoto's Develops
Many experts agree that three conditions must be met before an autoimmune condition develops:
- There must be a genetic predisposition. Having the genes for a particular disease doesn't mean that you're going to develop it but it does result in a higher risk if other conditions are met. Consider it as a weak link to good health.
- There must be an environmental trigger to turn on the gene. This could be stress, food sensitivity, environmental toxin, heavy metal contamination, nutrient deficiency, parasites or gut infection.
- There must be increased permeability of the gut lining.
If these three conditions are met, how then does Hashimoto's develop?
First, let's consider the process of digestion. Food is ingested and travels through the mouth, esophagus, and stomach where is broken down into smaller pieces and eventually enters the small intestine. The intestine is a tube and the inside of the tube is covered with tissue that is similar to shag carpet. Each shag is responsible for absorbing a particular nutrient: vitamins, minerals, fats, etc. Under this shag carpet is a permeable membrane, similar to cheesecloth, that acts to keep out large or not fully digested molecules from being passed into the bloodstream with the other nutrients. Our body, along with various intestinal bacteria (the microbiome), produces enzymes that further break food down into particles small enough to pass through the cheesecloth. These nutrients are then absorbed and used throughout the body to grow and maintain muscles, bones, joints, hormones, nervous system, etc.
However, problems result when tears appear in the cheesecloth – the permeability of the membrane increases. This increased permeability can be a result of a number of factors: gluten consumption or an imbalance in the microbiome are only a couple. But when the permeability increases, larger molecules can pass through the membrane and enter the bloodstream. Our immune system doesn't recognize them and starts to fight back by creating antibodies to these large molecules. This is the start of inflammation.
In addition, something else may occur. One theory - molecular mimicry - is that some parts of the invading large molecule may resemble other body tissue. In particular, parts of a gluten molecule resemble thyroid tissue. So when antibodies are formed they can't differentiate between that and thyroid tissue and so attack the thyroid.
It makes sense that the steps to holding or reversing the progression of Hashimoto's must focus on the root cause of the disease. As a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach, I help my clients build strategies to better health by:
- identifying and eliminating (or reducing the effect of) the external triggers to autoimmunity
- healing the gut to reduce the permeability of the gut lining
I will outline some of these strategies in upcoming blog posts.
Do You have questions about your health and how to move forward to healing?
Book a free 20-min consult with me. We will discuss your health concerns and your options to taking steps to healing.