Understanding Hashimoto’s

This post is the first in a series on Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, and the most common form of hypothyroidism in the United States in people over age 6.

Like most autoimmune diseases, conventional medicine lacks understanding about treating Hashimoto’s disease holistically. Once the genetic switch for Hashimoto’s flips on, and symptoms appear, conventional medicine manages the disease, rather than treating the whole person. Functional medicine, on the other hand, fills in important gaps in your Hashimoto’s treatment. Let’s start with a little background information….

Facts about Hashimoto’s

  • It is an autoimmune disease. Your body develops anti-bodies against your thyroid gland.
  • Hashimoto’s disease is genetic, it runs in families.
  • Women get it more often than men; some sources say 7:1, others say 10:1.
  • The most common time it develops is age 30-50.
  • Like other autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto genes often turn on in response to a trigger, or multiple triggers.
  • One elevated antibody is anti-thyroperoxidase (TPO), which attacks an enzyme that helps convert T4 to T3.
  • Another antibody that can be elevated is anti-thyroglobulin (TgAb), which attacks a protein called thyroglobulin.
  • The conventional treatment is thyroid hormone replacement, usually levothyroxin, a pharmaceutical T4 replacement.
  • Your thyroid gland can develop nodules. The conventional treatment for nodules is surgery.
  • Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease is associated with other autoimmune diseases.

It can sometimes take women a long time to get a Hashimoto’s diagnosis, as it may not be tested until she is highly symptomatic – which means the autoimmune process has progressed for a long time. It’s common for women to be told they are hypothyroid, and given thyroid hormone replacement, but not told they have Hashimoto’s disease!

Why aren’t you told you have Hashimoto’s?

MDs and endocrinologists are busy, and may assume you don’t want or need to know the type of  hypothyroidism you have. Also, the conventional treatment is the same for all types of hypothyroidism: Thyroid hormone replacement. Unfortunately, you may not get the vital piece of information that you have Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease.

How is Hashimoto’s different?

Iodine deficient hypothyroidism, the most common type in undeveloped countries, is a completely different condition than Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. The first is a problem with your thyroid gland, due to a nutrient deficiency. The second is a systemic autoimmune disease.

With this autoimmune type, antibodies slowly destroy your thyroid gland. In the process, you can have spurts of hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormones). As your thyroid shrinks from damage, hormones spill out into your bloodstream. You may experience hyperthyroid signs like anxiety or palpitations.

The predominant symptoms, after and between hyperthyroidism spells, are hypothyroid signs: fatigue, depression, weight gain, hair loss, and feeling cold. This flip-flop between hyper and hypo is part of why it can be hard to get your dose of thyroid hormone replacement right, because your needs can change drastically day by day.

Why treat your immune system?

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune process that happens to attack your thyroid, as well as creating generalized inflammation that puts you at risk for developing more autoimmunity. By treating your immune system, you can:

  1. Slow or stop this thyroid attack
  2. Preserve your thyroid function
  3. Reduce your need for thyroid hormone replacement
  4. Stabilize your dosage of thyroid hormones (with active thyroid destruction, medication doses can keep fluctuating)
  5. Reduce general inflammation
  6. Improve your immune health
  7. Prevent more autoimmune diseases!

The autoimmune diseases commonly associated with Hashimoto’s disease include:

  • Vitiligo, when some areas of your skin lose their natural color.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, which causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in your joints.
  • Addison’s disease, when your adrenal glands are damaged and cannot produce enough cortisol.
  • Type 1 diabetes, in which your pancreas is damaged and can no longer produce insulin, causing high blood sugar.
  • Pernicious anemia, a B12 deficiency anemia.
  • Celiac disease, when gluten damages the lining of your small intestine and prevent adsorption of nutrients.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis, or nonviral liver inflammation, a disease in which your immune system attacks liver cells.

Hashimoto’s disease increases your chances of the above autoimmune diseases, and unfortunately, these autoimmune diseases also increase your chance of developing Hashimoto’s.

Fortunately, there many things you can learn about in order to slow the progression of Hashimoto’s disease, and prevent additional autoimmune diseases from blossoming. Please read the next post to find out what to do!

Want help with your Hashimoto’s? Please reach out.

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