Overcoming and Treating the “Catch-22” of Hashimoto’s Disease
Most people have never heard of Hashimoto’s Disease (aka Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). The reason for the lack of recognition is that it is a slow-moving autoimmune and thyroid disease, with symptoms that gradually appear over time and are often attributed to one misdiagnosis or another. At one point, mainstream Western medicine simply ignored the reported symptoms that autoimmune diseases brought on; relating them to part of aging or expected hormonal situations. This lack of attention allows the disease to progress over the years, leaving patients frustrated and forced to live with the associated health problems. While the nasty side of autoimmune related disease states made people feel as though they weren’t being taken seriously, our physicians are finally waking up to the reality of the truth. According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Associations current information: 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, and we are beginning to see more specific data on Hashimoto’s Disease.
Autoimmune Disease Missed, Dismissed, and Not Tested
If you want to know how critical an autoimmune disease is, comparing it to high profile diseases will give you a perspective. The HashimotosHealing.comsite includes:
“the NIH (National Institute of Health) thinks that up to 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. 9 million have cancer, 22 million have heart disease.
In the US, thyroid autoimmune disease is the most common of all autoimmune disorders, affecting 7 – 8% of the U.S. population. By some estimates, autoimmune disease accounts for approximately 90% of all hypothyroid disorders and these are mostly due to Hashimoto’s”.
Autoimmune disease symptoms are not those that happen overnight, and the standard annual blood test that your doctor recommends is not set up to detect the deep level changes that are occurring in the thyroid. In fact, most blood tests don’t check for thyroid inconsistencies. According to the Kresser Institute:
“Countless patients with hypothyroid symptoms are dismissed because their lab values don’t fit within the narrow diagnostic criteria established by standard thyroid panels; others are given prescriptions for thyroid hormone replacement, a blanket approach that fails to address the underlying causes of hypothyroidism. Many of these patients suffer from patterns of thyroid dysfunction that don’t show up on standard lab tests and that are unfamiliar to conventional doctors”.
Being proactive in your conversations with your primary practitioner is one way that you can begin addressing the problem. The Mayo Clinic states:
“Diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease is based on your signs and symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced in the pituitary gland. These may include:
A hormone test. Blood tests can determine the amount of hormones produced by your thyroid and pituitary glands. If your thyroid is underactive, the level of thyroid hormone is low. At the same time, the level of TSH is elevated because your pituitary gland tries to stimulate your thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.
An antibody test. Because Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder, the cause involves the production of abnormal antibodies. A blood test may confirm the presence of antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO antibodies), an enzyme normally found in the thyroid gland that plays an important role in the production of thyroid hormones”.
Our Thyroid: What Happens When the Engine Malfunctions?
As patients, we are offered very little information on the importance of our thyroid, and yet it is a priority organ whose function cascades into so many other areas of the body. Our thyroid has been described as the important “engine” of our bodies, playing a role that has a domino effect on our health. Thyroid.org gives an overview: “The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should”.
If you reread the description, you may recognize that when the thyroid begins to malfunction, it can generate symptoms that can start slowly and are often attributed to other conditions. As your immune system attacks your thyroid, it will begin to reduce its hormone production which then affects many areas of the body causing symptoms that can include:
A feeling of exhaustion even after a full night’s sleep.
Poor memory, difficulty in concentration and overall brain fog.
Lack of ability to lose weight and even weight gain.
A coldness in feet or hands and a reduction in body temperature.
Brittle or thinning hair/hair loss.
Brittle nails and dry skin.
Snoring, neck swelling or hoarse voice.
A change in your bowel movements from regular to constipated.
Imbalances in hormones including irregular periods, PMS, and reduced sex drive to infertility.
Reduced heart rate.
Consistent mood swings and imbalances, including depression or anxiety.
Steps You Can Take To Help and Heal
Using conventional medicine techniques, physicians often don’t detect Hashimoto’s disease until it reaches the last stages. To treat some of the symptoms, many physicians will put a patient on various thyroid medications. However, this is just an initial attempt, and it must be noted that this disorder is not a thyroid disease, but an autoimmune disease. Addressing the causes of the attack on the thyroid can assist in reducing the symptoms. Prescribed thyroid medications are designed to be exact replacements of the chemicals that our thyroids produce and can be a method to offset the autoimmune attack, but there should be a more overall systemic approach.
As a patient, you can also take proactive steps to help your body to rebalance itself. Results will depend on how severe the disease state has progressed, but taking action can bring the possibility of weaning off of thyroid meds.
Gut Repair: The importance of a healthy gut has been elevated over recent years as science and medicine has recognized the relationship between our gut and autoimmune disease. A report in Frontiers and Immunology entitled “Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases” has brought this subject front and center. Your gut contains an incredible volume of viruses, bacteria, microbes, toxins and food particles. When they escape and enter the bloodstream, your body triggers an attack to combat them. Consistent attacks overstress the system until in error, your body attacks your thyroid. Reversing this process involves the removal of the foods that are inflammatory, as well as toxins and infections. There is a requirement of restoring the acids and enzymes that are needed for proper digestion and to achieve a balance, add probiotics that contain healthy bacteria. Amino acids and nutrients are required, and a primary source can be from collagen.
Dietary Changes are a Must: Consuming an inflammatory diet over the long term is the primary cause of a leaky gut. Two of the biggest culprits are dairy and gluten. The zonulin chemical in gluten can loosen the intestinal wall junctions. To add insult to injury, gluten’s chemical structure emulates many in the thyroid, and this misleads your body to a case of mistaken identity, allowing the attacks on the thyroid by your immune system to continue. Dairy has a similar protein, and when you combine the two in your diet, it carries a double punch for the attacks.
Balancing the Nutrients: A healthy thyroid requires the correct chemical building blocks. The most important include iodine, selenium, and zinc. To determine your unique status, you will need to ask your physician to request tests which will involve both blood and urine samples to get an accurate level of measurement for the essential antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fatty, organic and amino acids. The results will give you the complete picture for lifestyle and dietary changes. Both selenium and zinc levels can be checked using the standard blood tests.
Reduce Your Stress Levels: Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies in a variety of ways. One of the most critical is that stress allows our body to secrete hormones that reduce active state thyroid productivity. It blocks the good thyroid hormones so that they can’t get into the bloodstream to perform their job. Thankfully, stress reduction has been part of many integrative approaches, and we can choose what direction we want to take as we become more aware of the devastating effects stress has on our existence. We now have a variety of accepted and encouraged methods for stress reduction including meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, journaling, and exercising.
You know your body better than anyone and paying attention to some of the symptoms is the first step. Taking yourself seriously and requiring that your physician requests the proper tests is the second step. There isn’t a single root cause for Hashimoto’s Disease, and yet you can help to deter problems that could go unnoticed and untreated over the long term when you take proactive actions now.