Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that eventually leads to a poorly functioning thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s can affect people of all ages and genders, but most commonly occurs in middle-aged women. It is the most common hypothyroid disorder, and therefore it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms early to get ahead of more damaging symptoms.
Autoimmune disorders are a collection of conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. This can lead to a variety of different conditions in different parts of the body, including eczema, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and others. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is a crucial component of the endocrine system, the system responsible for producing hormones that coordinate the execution of bodily functions. Thyroid hormones affect how the body utilizes energy, and therefore can affect every organ.
In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid gland becomes enflamed, and eventually is unable to make enough thyroid hormones. If inadequate amounts of thyroid hormones are present, then many bodily functions happen at a slower rate, and this has negative effects on our health overall.
Hashimoto’s can be difficult to diagnose because initially you may not have any symptoms at all. Some of those symptoms include:
- Tiredness, fatigue, and sluggishness
- Loss of lateral 3rd of the eyebrow
- Unexplained weight gain
- Joint and muscle pain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry and thinning hair
- Brittle nails
- Puffy face
- Enlarged tongue
- Decreased libido
- Fluid retention
- Lowered heart rate
- Memory problems
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Brain problems
- Heavy or irregular periods/ trouble becoming pregnant
The causes of Hashimoto’s (and autoimmune disorders in general) are not completely understood. However, based on the available evidence, multiple factors may play a role, including poor nutrition, infections, poor lifestyle choices (regarding sleep, exercise, and stress levels), infections, and an overabundance of toxins all play roles.
If you think you may have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, it is especially important to get the proper testing so you can come up with a viable treatment plan. If you want to get a full picture of your thyroid health overall, it is important to complete a full thyroid panel, including TSH, free T4, free T3, thyroid antibody, and reverse T3 levels.
If TSH levels are high, it could mean your thyroid gland is not functioning properly, and this is usually due to hypothyroidism. On the other hand, if TSH levels are low, your thyroid could be overactive, and you could be dealing with too many thyroid hormones. Low TSH levels could also mean there is a problem with your pituitary gland. Generally, if TSH levels are normal, it means the thyroid gland is functioning properly.
In the case of Free T4, elevated levels tend to be consistent with hyperthyroidism, and low in hypothyroidism.
Free T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone, also known as triiodothyronine. Reverse T3 binds to free T3 receptors when it wants to slow metabolic processes down. When you need more energy the body converts T4 into free T3 to boost the speed of important metabolic processes. If this conversion processed is hindered, it can lead to hypothyroidism. Additionally, high levels of reverse T3 can lead to hypothyroid symptoms.
Finally, it is crucial to test for the two main classes of thyroid antibodies: thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb) and thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb). TPOAb targets enzymes that are responsible for creating thyroid hormones. TGAb attacks thyroglobulin, which the body needs to produce thyroid hormones. When it comes to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, TPOAb, TGAb, or both are typically elevated.
There are other tests that can be helpful in determining thyroid function as well. For example, low magnesium levels are associated with poor thyroid function. Homocysteine and/or C-Reactive Protein (CRP-hs) are elevated when inflammatory processes are taking place, including autoimmune conditions. Additionally, low vitamin D3 levels are commonly found in those with hypothyroidism.
Dealing with Hashimoto’s
First and foremost, address what you eat is key, and considering an autoimmune diet is key. In a nutshell, an autoimmune diet consists of eliminating all food allergens and inflammatory foods (like fried foods, processed carbohydrates and grains, conventionally-raised meats, vegetables, oils, and fast foods), while increasing anti-inflammatory foods. Some foods to focus on include organic vegetables and fruits, grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products, avocados (and oil), berries, green tea, non-starchy vegetables, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, ginger, garlic, onions, bone broth, vegetable broth, fermented vegetables, coconut oil and other coconut products, healing herbs, and olive oil.
When it comes to food, the gut plays a crucial a role in all autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If your gut is in bad shape, and there is a microbiome imbalance, it can lead to an inflammatory response, triggering the immune system. In fact, those with autoimmune conditions tend to have more food sensitivities than those who do not. The most common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, and corn, to name a few. Additionally, food additives and preservatives can have negative effects as well. Avoiding these foods can lessen the inflammatory response, and decrease the symptoms when eliminated.
In order to achieve optimal thyroid health, and health overall, it is important consume enough nutrient dense foods. There are certain micronutrients that play key role in the inflammation process, and insufficient amounts of them can promote chronic inflammation. Again, this can have far-reaching consequences, affecting everything from hormone balance, to immune system function, to properly managing stress. Deficiencies in antioxidants (like zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E), vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and certain B vitamins most common.
In fact, leaky gut plays a role in all autoimmune conditions. Leaky gut can occur when the gap junctions that connect the intestinal cells to each other widen, which allows larger particles to slip through and enter the bloodstream. These include undigested food particles and toxins that would not be able to pass under normal conditions. Once in the bloodstream, the immune system creates antibodies to attack these foreign invaders, triggering an immune response. This is how the body tries to fend off chronic inflammation.
Addressing Toxin Overload
We live in a world where it is virtually impossible to avoid toxins completely. They can be found in the food we eat, air we breathe, skin care products, shampoos, conditioners, makeup, lotions, and even our water. Heavy metals, plastics, molds, and glyphosates can all add drops to our “stress bucket,” and once that bucket is full, disorders can manifest in different ways. A toxic overload is one of the major reasons autoimmune disorders can develop in the first place.
Infections can play a role as well. Epstein Barr virus, H. pylori, and Blastocystis hominis infections can trigger autoimmune reactions. These all can increase the toxic burden on the body.
Poor sleep and high-stress levels have been linked to thyroid dysfunction. Increases in cortisol, the main stress hormone, can interfere with thyroid hormone production, leading to altered thyroid health. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are depriving your body of crucial time it needs to repair itself for the next day. Diminished cell health can lead to poor cell function not only in the thyroid, but other parts of the body as well.
Addressing stress levels is crucial as well.
Emotional stress is key. In fact, a 2014 study found that “pro-inflammatory cytokines, can in turn elicit profound changes in behavior, which include the initiation of depressive symptoms such as sad mood, anhedonia, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, and social-behavioral withdrawal.”
Stress can trigger autoimmune reactions and alter immune system function negatively. Therefore, if you want to address chronic inflammation, you need to be at peace with yourself as well. You can find that inner peace a number of different ways. Here are just a few things you can do at home:
Practice meditation. Try to recall times you felt loved and appreciated. Reflect on them. Recall how you felt when you were loved and appreciated at that time. Look back on this at least once a week, and cherish the times you were happy with others. Reflecting will help you appreciate all the great people and moments you have had in your life.
Relax and let go. Life is hectic nowadays, and there’s not much you can do to avoid all the commotion. Even when you might think you are relaxed, other things might be on your mind. Things like work, family, friends, and other commitments tend to creep back in. Do yourself a favor and allow yourself some time to really unplug. Ditch the cellphone, computer, and TV completely for a bit. Even if it just for five minutes a day, make sure you spend it completely free of distractions.
Spend time outside. Whether it is going for a walk, meeting up with friends, playing sports, exercising, or taking a break from work, just get outside. Also, spending time out in the sun for fifteen minutes a day with exposed arms and legs in warm weather environments will help you get vitamin D, which is crucial to your health.
Try stretching in the morning and at night. Staying limber and loose will allow you to maintain proper range of motion in your joints and muscles. It also is a great way to wind down and relax before bed.
Reduce your usage of social media. While it may not seem like it, social media is more likely stressing you out than calming you down. Stress levels go up when you are on social media for a few reasons.
First off is the blue light exposure, which is more of an issue when scrolling through social media or favorite news outlets at night. Secondly, you may get into arguments, fights, or read upsetting posts without another means to process your information. It is fine to go on your social media once or twice per day. Use this time instead to actually spend time your friends and family in real life. This is a great way to reduce stress levels, as you will gain a sense of security and connectedness with people in the real world.
There are certain micronutrients that play key role in the inflammation process, and insufficient amounts of them can promote chronic inflammation. Again, this can have far-reaching consequences, affecting everything from hormone balance, to immune system function, to properly managing stress. Deficiencies in antioxidants (like zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E), vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and certain B vitamins most common.
Antioxidant vitamins and minerals include vitamins A (and carotenoids), C, and E, as well as selenium, manganese, zinc, glutathione, and phytochemicals like lutein, quercetin, and lycopene. These antioxidants might be found in many of the foods you are already eating. The best sources of antioxidants are found in plant-based foods. Foods high in antioxidants include: apples, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, lentils, and big leafy greens, just to name a few. Other anti-inflammatory compounds like curcumin (found in turmeric), can combat chronic inflammation.
We know vitamin D supports immune function because deficiencies lead to increased rates of the flu and colds. It also regulates inflammation, decreases the rates autoimmune diseases and cancer, and promotes cellular maturation. There is a large (and growing amount of evidence) showing vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, affecting at least 50% of adults and up to 80% of all infants. The optimal range is between 50-80ng/mL (125-200nmol/L). Most practitioners agree somewhere between 1,200 IU and 2,000 IU is the optimal range to increase vitamin D levels to normal levels long-term. Doses up to 2,000 IU have been researched to be safe for long-term use.
Many Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, which can result in a relative omega-3 deficiency. Omega-6s can be found in many vegetables oils and meats. Consuming high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids (and not enough omega-3 fatty acids) is associated with an increased risk of over 60 different conditions, included heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, stoke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, skin diseases, and other chronic illnesses. An imbalanced omega-3:6 ratios can lead to increased inflammation, altered immune function, increased insulin resistance, and increases susceptibility to cellular damage via free radicals. When this ratio is corrected (and the correct ratio ranges from 1:1, which is ideal, to about 1:3), the opposite effects occur.
With proper testing, you can identify and effectively manage Hashimoto’s. It is possible to even put the disease into remission, as we discuss on our podcast episode with here.
Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. The information is designed for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Botanical medicine and nutraceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained, licensed health care practitioner before proceeding.