Hashimoto’s disease of thyroid gland
Hashimoto’s disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It was first described by a Japanese doctor, Hakaru Hashimoto, at the beginning of 20th century.
Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). About 90% of all underactive thyroid issues are autoimmune. It means that the immune system attacks the thyroid gland by mistake. With time, the thyroid tissue is destroyed and it cannot produce enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly shaped gland located at the base of your neck, tucked under the Adam’s apple.
Signs and symptoms of Hashimoto’s
Despite the small size, thyroid hormones control virtually all of the body’s metabolic functions. They control how fast your heart beats, how fast you burn calories so essentially it helps the body make and use energy. Every cell in the body responds to thyroid hormones, so when the thyroid is being destroyed and it produces less and less hormones, the metabolism slows down and symptoms of slow (underactive) thyroid start to creep up. These can include:
- Weight gain
- Hair loss & thinning eyebrows
- Feeling cold
- Having cold hands and feet
- Memory problems, “brain fog”
- Feeling low and depressed
- Dry skin
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Muscle weakness
- Infertility or miscarriage
- Reduced exercise or activity tolerance
- High cholesterol
- Goiter, or swelling of the neck
Who is at risk from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s disease is more common in women between the ages of 30-50. It tends to run in families, which means you have a higher risk of developing Hashimoto’s if someone in your close family has it.
Additionally, if you already have 1 or more autoimmune conditions such as Celiac, Type 1 diabetes or Rheumatoid arthritis for example, you are more likely to develop another one. Therefore, it’s important to take steps to address the underlying root cause of the autoimmunity and to balance the immune system so that it doesn’t attack different tissue in the body.
What causes Hashimoto’s?
Although the causes of many autoimmune diseases remain unknown, a person’s genes in combination with infections and other environmental exposures are likely to play a significant role in disease development. It’s understood that three things are required for Hashimoto’s to develop:
- Genetic predisposition
- Environmental factors which are the triggering events (e.g. bacterial or viral infections, food intolerances, toxins)
- Intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut)
Is Hashimoto’s disease treatable?
Although replacement hormones are available for underactive thyroid, autoimmunity and so Hashimoto’s is not curable. The hormones will restore normal thyroid hormone levels, often resulting in improvement of symptoms, but that’s not always the case. Finding and addressing the root cause, balancing the immune system and calming down the inflammation are approaches that will results in improvement or even resolution of symptoms.
My approach to Hashimoto’s
Even though Hashimoto’s is not curable, there is a lot you can do to improve the situation, regain better quality of life and take back control of your health.
There are multiple variables that will need to be looked into and addressed, including:
- Chronic stress
- Sleep issues
- Food intolerances and sensitivities, reactive foods
- Nutritional deficiencies
- “Leaky gut” and gut health
- Viral, bacterial, yeast and parasitic infections
- Toxins, pollutants, heavy metals, moulds
- Hormonal imbalances
What to do if you suspect underactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s?
I’m happy to support you holistically so that we can get to the root cause of your autoimmunity. At the same time, it’s important to speak to your doctor if you suspect any issues with your thyroid. Your doctor will run some basic blood tests to check your levels of TSH and FT4 and prescribe thyroid hormones if necessary. Thyroid hormones affect every cell in the body so it’s important to correct the low levels.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): It’s a hormone produced by a pituitary gland located in the brain. It tells the thyroid how much thyroid hormone (T4) to produce. If TSA is high, it usually means the thyroid is not producing enough T4 hormone, and your thyroid is underactive.
Free T4: It’s a thyroid hormone found in the blood stream. If it’s low, it means the thyroid is not producing enough hormones (it’s underactive).
Anti-thyroid antibody: Antibodies to the thyroid found in the blood point to an autoimmune condition. They allow for the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s as the cause of the underactive thyroid. Antibodies are usually not checked by the doctors as it doesn’t change the way the condition is managed in the conventional medicine framework.
It is however important to know whether the immune system is turning against your own tissue. Without addressing the root cause of the autoimmunity and calming the immune system, there will be more damage done by the accompanying inflammation. And there is a higher risk of the immune system attacking different tissue and causing another autoimmune disease.
Private thyroid blood testing
If your doctor refuses to check for antibodies, there are private lab tests you can use to have them checked. One of the most comprehensive blood test for thyroid health that I use checks for up to 109 blood markers. It gives not only a comprehensive picture of thyroid heath, but also other organs and systems in the body. Thyroid health affects everything else in the body, including cholesterol, sex hormones, and blood pressure, hence it makes sense to have a comprehensive check done.
Moreover, many nutrients are needed for the production of the thyroid hormones, including iron, selenium, iodine, magnesium and B vitamins, so checking and optimising those can improve the function of the thyroid and general health. Additionally, it’s important to know the state of the immune system as any autoimmune condition is the condition of a misfiring, dysregulated immune system. So, in Hashimoto’s case, even though it’s the thyroid that’s affected, the problem lies with the immune system, not the thyroid itself. The same applies to any other autoimmune conditions. In MS, the immune system is attacking the nerve cells in the central nervous system. And again, there is nothing wrong with the nervous cells, it’s the immune system that gets confused and it’s the immune system that needs addressing.