By Josh Redd, DC on June 18, 2018
When addressing Hashimoto’s low thyroid, it's important to include caring for your brain health and function. Hashimoto’s low thyroid can profoundly affect the brain and you may need to include brain support in addition to autoimmune thyroid care. Every cell needs thyroid hormones to function properly and as a result low thyroid hormones can worsen brain health. Also, the inflammation of Hashimoto’s if you're not managing your immune health can inflame and rapidly age the brain. Your brain depends on sufficient thyroid hormones to keep brain inflammation in check, for communication between neurons (plasticity), and to make brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). This is why many people with unmanaged Hashimoto’s low thyroid have depression, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, worsened cognition, and other brain symptoms. One of the most important roles of thyroid hormones is to dampen brain inflammation. Thyroid hormones affect the brain’s immune cells, called microglia cells. Unlike the body, the brain does not turn off inflammation when it's no longer needed. It depends in part on good hormone function, including from the thyroid, to prevent runaway inflammation. Unchecked inflammation ages and degenerates the brain too quickly. Many people with Hashimoto's still need to take thyroid hormone medication but you must still address your autoimmune Hashimoto’s by eliminating inflammatory triggers, dampening inflammation, and balancing the immune system as much as possible. Ninety percent of Hashimoto’s cases in the United States are caused by Hashimoto's so the immune system must be included in care. One important reason why is to lower the risk of developing autoimmunity elsewhere in the body, such as the brain. One autoimmune disease often begets another, and many people have more than one autoimmune disease. In fact, a number of people with Hashimoto’s low thyroid also have brain autoimmunity in the cerebellum, an area that plays a role in movement and coordination. If you have Hashimoto’s and also have balance, dizziness, or nausea, you may want to be screened for brain autoimmunity. A worst-case scenario is Hashimoto’s encephalopathy (HE), also called autoimmune dementia. HE is caused by the same immune antibodies that destroy thyroid tissue — thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, which attack the brain in HE. In addition to memory loss, symptoms can include tremors, seizures, impaired speech, confusion, partial paralysis, fine motor problems, and poor coordination. However, HE is not common and you should not assume you have it. This information about autoimmunity and the brain is important because many doctors tell their patients to wait until their thyroid burns out to surgically remove it. Meanwhile, their overzealous immune system continues unchecked causing autoimmune attacks against the thyroid and possibly elsewhere, including the brain. If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s low thyroid, ask my office how functional medicine can help you recover and optimize your brain health.