Have you been told you have hypothyroidism?
Do you take medicine for “low thyroid”?
Do you have an enlarged thyroid gland?
Do you have positive thyroid antibodies?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that results in damage to the thyroid gland – usually, but not always, causing hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). This is a result of a malfunction in the immune system so that the body is actually attacking its own thyroid gland!
In the US, about 90% of the people with hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s as the cause of their hypothyroidism, but I have found that most of these people don’t have any idea why their thyroid is not working. One in nine women have Hashimoto’s! And if you have one autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop a second, even a third or a fourth autoimmune disease. The good news is that if you have Hashimoto’s, we do know at least a few of the causes of this autoimmune condition, and there are definitely some options for dealing with those underlying causes to help stabilize your thyroid condition – and in some cases, put it into remission.
Causes of autoimmune problems
- A genetic predisposition: Autoimmune problems definitely run in families, but your genes are not the whole story in considering risk. Your genes are constantly being turned on and turned off by what you eat, your stress levels, your vitamin and mineral levels, your exposure to chemicals and toxins.
- Nutrient deficiencies: The thyroid gland uses many vitamins and minerals to make thyroid hormone: zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin E, iodine. The immune system needs adequate levels of vitamin D, vitamin C, and many other nutrients to work optimally.
- Stress: We live in a high pressure world. We are always busy, we stay up too late, we eat junk food, we multitask. These factors, in addition to any medical challenges you may face, any relationship problems, all add up to adrenal glands that don’t function properly. The adrenals make cortisol (and some other hormones), and cortisol is the fight or flight hormone. Great in short bursts to deal with sudden dangers, but not good in multiple bursts, day after day after month after month… you get the idea.
- Digestive problems: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, reflux, bloating are all signs your digestion is not working well. When your gut is not healthy, you don’t digest and absorb vitamins and minerals from your food efficiently, and that is yet another stress on your body.
- Chemicals and toxins: Soy interferes with thyroid function. Many people drink soy milk, eat soy in processed foods (vegetable protein), and eat soybean oil in many processed foods. Soy has been linked to the development of autoimmune thyroid problems. Mercury, BPA, fluoride, bromide, PCBs, phthalates, and parabens are all toxic to the thyroid gland. You can read more about endocrine-disrupting chemicals in my free e-book.
- Infections: I think sometimes an infection is the final straw, but there are specific infections that have been suspected of triggering an autoimmune attack on the thyroid: Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that is associated with stomach ulcers), Borrelia burgdorferi (a Lyme co-infection), and Yersina enterocolitica. Epstein Barr virus (this causes mono, or mononucleosis), hepatitis C, Coxsackie virus, and several other viruses my also play a causal role.
The final common pathway after a genetic predisposition and a variety of triggers, which are different for each person, is the development of intestinal hyper permeability, also known as a leaky gut. The intestinal lining is supposed to allow the good things into your body – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, water, etc., and keep out the bacteria that live in our intestines, the partially digested food, the waste products. However, when the intestinal lining is damaged and not properly repaired, then digestion goes haywire and all kinds of things can find their way across the gut lining into the body. The immune system is poised to decide if what is coming across is friend or foe, but can get overwhelmed and dysfunctional when the intestinal lining is damaged.
Sometimes, the protein structure of certain foods can be very similar to the protein structure of something normally found in the body. This is the case with gluten, which has a structure similar to thyroid peroxidase (an enzyme in the thyroid gland that is necessary to make thyroid hormone). If partially digested gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, crosses the gut lining, the immune system will recognize it as not belonging in the body and will attack it. The immune system sometimes mistakes the thyroid peroxidase enzyme for gluten, and the next thing you know, the immune system is attacking the thyroid gland – an autoimmune disorder!
What can you do?
- If you have hypothyroidism, ask your doctor what is the cause of your hypothyroidism. Ask your doctor to check for anti-thyroid peroxidase and anti-thyroglobulin, both available as blood tests. I also recommend you have your iron levels checked with a ferritin blood test, as something as simple as iron deficiency can cause hypothyroidism.
- Many doctors are too busy to read the newest research on autoimmunity – so you have to educate yourself! Great references include:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause by Izabella Wentz, PharmD, FASCP
- Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms by Datis Kharrazian, DC, MS
- Check out Hashimoto’s Awareness , an organization that educates, advocates and supports research on Hashimoto’s.
- This week, you can listen to a free summit on the internet called the Healing Hashimoto’s Summit . Running from June 13 through June 20, 2016, you can register your email address. Each day, you will receive a link for the free talks for the day. However, if you are reading this and find you have missed the event, you can purchase the recordings and still listen to them.
- If you would like a personalized approach to your particular situation, call me and we can talk! My office number is 434-947-3944.
To your health,
Patty Powers, MD