By Josh Redd, DC on February 4, 2020
You felt crappy for weeks, months, or possibly even years before your hypothyroidism diagnosis. Thyroid medication made you feel a little better and normalized your labs, but symptoms persist. Perhaps you were told you have autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease, but there is nothing that can be done for it.
If this sounds like you, you may be wondering why you have this condition, and whether your doctor is right that nothing can be done beyond thyroid hormone medication.
First of all, yes, something can — and should — be done for Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. It is ultimately a dysfunction of the immune system more so than the thyroid gland.
Ninety percent of hypothyroidism cases in the US are caused by Hashimoto’s, so if you are being treated for hypothyroidism chances are high you have Hashimoto’s.
And while thyroid hormone medication may restore thyroid levels, it does not address the ongoing immune attacks, inflammation, and symptoms caused by autoimmune Hashimoto’s.
If you do not take action to manage the autoimmune disease and dampen the inflammation it’s causing, your risk for developing more autoimmune diseases is substantially higher.
For instance, in our practice, we find 50 percent of our Hashimoto’s patients also have autoimmune reactions against the brain and nerve tissue, it just hasn’t been diagnosed yet.
If you have already know you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, you may be wondering why.
Although science yet has much to learn about autoimmunity, researchers have discovered quite a bit about what may lead to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that in most cases, it doesn’t appear that just one thing can trigger autoimmunity. Usually predisposing health imbalances and an increasingly burdened immune system make it more vulnerable to autoimmunity.
First of all, while some common factors have been identified that can raise the risk of autoimmunity, genetics play a role too. Many people with Hashimoto’s have family members with the disease. Another family may be more prone to a different autoimmune disease, while a third family may not be prone to autoimmunity at all, despite immune imbalances.
Here are some common factors that can make you more prone to developing an autoimmune disease:
Also known as intestinal permeability, leaky gut is a scientifically recognized condition in which the gut walls become damaged and overly permeable. When this happens, undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens escape into the sterile environment of the bloodstream. This raises inflammation throughout the body and can cause any number of symptoms depending on your genetic predisposition. Chronic pain, joint pain, skin issues, brain fog and depression, fatigue, and gut problems are just a few.
Leaky gut significantly raises your risk of developing an autoimmune disease due to the chronic inflammation and immune imbalance it causes.
Certain foods can cause an immune reaction in some people. In other words, eating those foods triggers inflammation throughout the body and often leads to leaky gut. The most common food intolerance to trigger Hashimoto’s is gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. Gluten also often leads to leaky gut in those who are sensitive to it.
People with Hashimoto’s also tend to react to dairy, and many Hashimoto’s patients significantly improve their symptoms on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. Others may also react to various grains, eggs, legumes, soy, or other foods.
This happens partly because they have lost their “oral tolerance,” or the ability to tolerate foods. In addition to helping you customize an anti-inflammatory diet, at RedRiver Health and Wellness Center, we can guide you through the process to restore your oral tolerance so you can enjoy more foods.
BPA, the chemical found in plastics, store receipts, and plastic water and soda bottles has been linked with thyroid autoimmunity. People can also begin losing their ability to tolerate the chemicals in the environment around them. This means they have lost “immune tolerance,” or the ability of their immune system to appropriately respond to the environment around them or their own body tissue. This significantly raises the risk of autoimmunity.
Americans generally eat diets that keep blood sugar consistently too high. Processed carbohydrates such as breads and pastas and sugars are staples in many people’s diets, causing chronically high blood sugar. High blood sugar is very inflammatory and damages tissue in the body, the gut, and the brain. It also triggers hormonal imbalances that contribute to immune imbalances. Together these factors increase the risk of developing autoimmunity.
Piggybacking on blood sugar imbalances are hormonal imbalances. In women, chronically high blood sugar is linked with conditions like estrogen dominance and high testosterone that we see in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Perimenopausal and menopausal difficulties, and other troubling symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalances. Healthy immune function depends on appropriate levels of hormones and hormone activity to avoid over zealous and inflammatory, thus raising the risk of autoimmunity.
The immune system naturally goes through dramatic shifts in the third trimester and postpartum. While this does not raise the risk of autoimmunity in a healthy woman, a woman who goes into pregnancy with immune and metabolic imbalances is at more risk for these periods triggering an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s.
While infections may not be the sole cause of autoimmunity, researchers have identified infections directly related to triggering hypothyroidism. Again, predisposing factors are likely already at work in these scenarios. Managing the virus may be key in dampening the autoimmune response in these cases. Infections associated with hypothyroidism include rubella, rubella, Epstein-Barr virus, retrovirus, influenza B virus, coxsackie virus, and yersinia bacteria.Stress hormone imbalances from chronic stress. Underlying most of the factors above is one common denominator: Chronic stress. The adrenal hormone cortisol is released to help us cope with stress, however it was not designed to take on the perpetual onslaughts of modern life. Cortisol imbalances from chronic stress, whether cortisol is consistently too high or low, promotes leaky gut, throws the hormones out of whack, makes it difficult to balance blood sugar, and is very inflammatory. People think stress is related to things like being too busy or in stressful life circumstances, and those things certainly matter, but metabolic stressors also call on the adrenal hormones. This means, for instance, that if you eat foods that cause an immune reaction or spike blood sugar, are sensitive to chemicals, or have leaky gut, your body perceives all these as chronic stressors. In fact, it could be argued that chronic stress is the most potent threat to your immune balance and Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism condition.
If you think you may have Hashimoto’s and you’d like to learn how to feel and function better, contact my office for more advice.
Josh Redd, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, is a chiropractic physician and author of the Amazon bestselling book The Truth About Low Thyroid. Dr. Redd owns seven functional medicine clinics in the western United States and sees patients from across the country and around the world who are suffering from challenging autoimmune, endocrine and neurological disorders. Dr. Redd also teaches thousands of health care practitioners about functional medicine and immunology, thyroid health, neurology, lab testing, and more.