Do you take thyroid hormone medication but still suffer fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, constipation, depression, cold hands and feet, or other thyroid symptoms? Have you been told there is nothing more that can be done for your thyroid symptoms because your lab tests are normal?
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, affects millions of Americans. Many people continue to suffer from hypothyroid symptoms and a worsening of their thyroid condition despite taking thyroid hormones. This is because 90 percent of hypothyroid cases in the United States are due to Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Although thyroid medications may be necessary to maintain thyroid function, they do not address the immune system’s relentless attack against the thyroid gland.
To identify Hashimoto’s, it’s important to screen for TPO and TGB antibodies on a blood test. If either of these is positive it indicates the immune system is attacking and destroying the thyroid gland, causing symptoms. In this case, the main strategy is not necessarily to treat the thyroid gland (although thyroid hormone medication may be necessary), but to balance the immune system in order to tame autoimmune attacks against the thyroid.
As outlined in the book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Datis Kharrazian, this is a multi-faceted approach that includes:
- Going on a strict gluten-free diet. Numerous studies from several different countries show a strong link between Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and other wheat-like grains. Interestingly, studies show those with a gluten intolerance are genetically more prone to Hashimoto’s disease. Gluten also promotes inflammation and leaky gut, which exacerbate autoimmune disease.
- Adopting an autoimmune diet. For some people, going gluten-free is not enough to manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and they need to follow an autoimmune diet that eliminates common inflammatory foods, such as dairy, eggs, or other grains. A whole-foods diet that emphasizes plenty of produce and eliminates processed foods is important to manage an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
- Repairing a leaky gut. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, often plays a role in autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, damaged, and porous, allowing undigested foods, bacteria, fungus, and other foreign invaders into the sterile environment of the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream these foreign invaders trigger inflammation and autoimmunity. (see my previous post, Ten Things That Cause Leaky Gut)
- Stabilize blood sugar. Stabilizing blood sugar is vital to managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. A diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates (such as breads, pastas, pastries, and desserts) creates inflammation and hormonal imbalances that make it difficult to tame an autoimmune condition. Energy crashes, fatigue after meals, excess belly fat, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, and sleep issues are all signs you may have a blood sugar handling disorder, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or insulin resistance (high blood sugar). (See my previous posts on blood sugar, Control Insulin Resistance to Prevent Chronic Disease and Wake Up at 3 a.m. and Can’t Fall Back Asleep? Consider Low Blood Sugar)
These are just a few of the basics of autoimmune management for conditions such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. It’s important to manage your autoimmune condition to lower your risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, such as pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, or Type I diabetes.
Dr. Mark Flannery