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Hashimotos Thyroid Disease

Dealing with autoimmune disease naturally

One of the freaky things about having an autoimmune disease is finding out that your immune system is attacking your body. Talk about sleeping with the enemy!

There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases, you may have heard of some of them – rhematoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), ulcerative colitis, crohns disease, type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, hashimoto’s, graves, psoriasis, even endometriosis has been recently classified as an autoimmune disease.

Even though there are over 80 different names, they are all doing essentially the same thing, that is, the immune system is attacking some part of the body.  They just have different disease names depending on which part the immune system is attacking. For example, if you had Lupus your body would be attacking multiple tissues whereas if you have Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease then your body is attacking your thyroid gland.

As you can imagine, it’s not much fun having an autoimmune disease – the symptoms can range from mild to debilitating with fatigue, joint/muscle pain, weakness, numbness/tingling, brain fog, hair loss, weight gain or loss, digestive issues, and infertility.

The Perfect Storm

Autoimmune diseases are on the increase, the incidence of MS alone has doubled over the past decade. So how does an autoimmune disease develop? One theory is there has to be the “Perfect Storm” of these 3 things coming together:

  • Genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease
  • Leaky gut
  • A trigger

Genetic Predisposition

Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families. You might be the first person in the family to be diagnosed hashimoto’s disease but you may have other relatives who have with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or coeliac disease for example. But you may also notice that other family members will not have any issues with autoimmunity. Just because someone might have inherited the gene it doesn’t mean that they will develop the disease. The gene is the loaded gun – it needs a trigger to be set off (the scientific field of epigenetics which explores how and when our genes get expressed explains this well).

Leaky Gut

A leaky gut is otherwise known as intestinal permeability. It just means that our intestines are letting foreign particles into our bloodstream – a recipe for an immune attack. The structure of our intestines needs to be like a screen door – only letting in the fresh air and keeping out the bad stuff like insects. When our intestines are working well they will secrete the nutrients from our food into our blood supply. When they are leaky, then things like food particles and intestinal bacteria can leach into our systems which just fires up the immune response. What causes a leaky gut? Generally, it’s things like stress, food intolerances, antibiotics, the oral contraceptive pill, or anything that can irritate the intestinal lining and disrupt our good bacteria.

Triggers

  • Stress and hormone imbalances (trauma, anxiety, puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the Pill)
  • Infections (bacteria, yeast, parasites, viruses, candida overgrowth)
  • Toxins (mercury, pesticides, plastics, bisphenol A) these damage our tissues so they look foreign to the immune system
  • Deficiencies (did you know that vitamin D is an immune regulator?)

The natural approach

Conventional medicine will treat the symptoms with things like steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants etc. With natural treatment we aim to “treat the fire, not the smoke” which means we don’t want to just treat the symptoms, we also want to find out what’s triggering the immune system and address that as well.

The natural approach that I take is to identify the triggers, deal with them and heal the leaky gut. This does require some testing (usually stool testing and some blood tests which I can order if they haven’t already been done by a GP). This is what I recommend:

  1. Reduce stress and identify and nutrient deficiencies. Start gut healing support with things like glutamine, slippery elm, bone broths, fermented foods, probiotics. Do not underestimate the important of reducing stress when you are living with an autoimmune disease. The adrenal glands which produce our stress hormones may also need to be supported during treatment.
  2. Identify and remove any infections in the gut (bacteria, parasites, fungal overgrowths). This involves a ordering a stool test which identifies any infections so that we can deal with them. This is also the time to identify and remove any food intolerances (gluten, dairy and sugar seem to be the main culprits). The liver will also need to be supported during this stage.
  3. Once any gut infections have been dealt with, we are then ready to clear out any heavy metal/toxicity/viruses if they are there. My preference is to deal with any toxins AFTER the gut has been cleared as it is important that the gut is working well to eliminate any toxins. The liver will also need to be supported during this stage.

My approach uses homeopathic remedies as well as healthy diet and supplementation to allow you to enjoy life without the debilitating symptoms of an autoimmune disease. This approach can also be used alongside conventional medication.

Recommended Reading

Susan Blum “The Immune System Recovery Plan”
Hashimoto’s Root Cause by Izabella Wentz

Iodine – adding fuel to the fire in Hashimoto’s

how-much-iodine-should-you-takeEveryone is so quick to assume that iodine supplementation is needed as soon as you mention you have an underactive thyroid but if you have Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, please note that iodine can potentially flare up your condition.

Most thyroid supplements on the market contains iodine. This is because iodine stimulates the activity of the thyroid peroxidase (TPO) enzyme, which triggers thyroid hormone production – which is what you want when your thyroid is underactive.

BUT when you have Hashimoto’s, TPO is the target of your autoimmune attack, so when you stimulate TPO production, your immune system perceives it to be a foreign invader and mounts an attack which will flare up your Hashimoto’s.

Dr Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal sums this up nicely:

“I simply believe, based on my research and clinical experience, that iodine is an unnecessary risk when managing Hashimoto’s, especially since we have safer and more effective ways to work with a improperly functioning immune system.”

You can read more about this on Dr Kharrazian’s blog here

The link between Hashimoto’s and gluten

A question that is often asked by people with Hashimoto’s:

“Do I need to go gluten free even if my test results for gluten issues are normal?”

The first thing my GP said to me when I was first diagnosed was “you have hashimoto’s disease and you need to avoid gluten”.  I took her advice seriously and went 100% gluten free and soon after my thyroid antibodies went into remission, my symptoms went away and I started losing that dreaded thyroid weight.

It was only years later when I decided that I was feeling great that I started eating gluten again. That was a huge mistake, my hashimoto’s flared up again and the only way I could get my thyroid antibodies back into the normal range was to go strictly 100% gluten free again.

This is not surprising when you look at the research – several studies have shown a strong link between autoimmune thyroid disease (both Hashimoto’s and Graves) and gluten intolerance. Even the Coeliac Society of Australia lists autoimmune thyroid diseases as a condition associated with coeliac disease.

Why is a gluten free diet recommended for people with Hashimoto’s?iStock Gluten Free

One of the main reasons is something called “molecular mimicry” which basically means that the molecular structure of gluten is very similar to the thyroid gland. Once gluten enters your bloodstream, the immune system targets it for destruction by producing antibodies to it and because the gluten molecule is so similar to the thyroid gland, the body will also start to attack your thyroid. So eating gluten = an immune attack on your thyroid gland.

Is a little bit of gluten okay?

Um, sorry, but no. You need to be 100% gluten free to keep your immune system from attacking your thyroid gland. This point really hit home for me once I learnt that the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months. So, to sum up, you have to be 100% gluten free to prevent the immune system from destroying your thyroid gland. You couldn’t pay me to eat it now, my health is way more important.

But my gluten test results were normal, doesn’t that mean I don’t have a problem with gluten?

Not necessarily, researchers are finding that there is a variety of gluten intolerance – from coeliac disease to non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – and that many people are intolerant but they are not testing positive with the usual screening tests.

The best way is to try a gluten free diet and see how you feel and get your thyroid antibodies re-tested 3-6 months to see if there is any improvement.

It may sound daunting to take gluten out of your diet, but it’s also exciting that you can take charge and do something to control the immune attack on your thyroid gland.

Check out Chris Kesser’s post on the thyroid-gluten link, as he explains the whole concept in more detail and with links to the research.