This post is on Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, and the most common form of hypothyroidism in the United States in people over age 6. We have come a long way in understanding and diagnosing Hashimoto’s disease. As a result, there’s a plethora of popular press about it. It’s a big topic, so I am spreading it out through several digestible posts.
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….
Some facts about Hashimoto’s thyroid disease
• 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.
An expanded perspective on Hashimoto’s disease
My focus as a Functional Medicine practitioner is on women’s hormonal health, therefore I see many women with thyroid disorders, the majority of whom have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Over 50% don’t know they have a thyroid disorder. Those who do know, and are on thyroid hormone replacement, have never been told whether or not they have Hashimoto’s disease.
Why aren’t you told whether or not you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
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 autoimmune disease 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.
Hashimoto’s disease increases your chances of developing many other 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. Unfortunately, these autoimmune diseases also increase your chance of developing Hashimoto’s. It has nothing to do with the specific glands, organs or tissues under attack, rather it’s an immune system dysregulation.
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.
With Hashimoto’s disease, why not treat the underlying autoimmunity, and not just your thyroid symptom? It seems like a no-brainer. Why let your thyroid gland die when there are ways to slow it down, or even stop it?
Please read the next post to learn how to tackle Hashimoto’s thyroid disease with a Functional Medicine approach.