8 Questions To Ask If You Suspect You Have An Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder
- Are you cold all of the time?
- Are you chronically constipated?
- Do you have difficulty losing weight?
- Do you suffer from bouts of depression or anxiety?
- Do you have difficulty sleeping?
- Have you experienced heart palpitations for seemingly no reason at all?
- Have you noticed dry skin or increasingly brittle hair?
- Do you have a history of other autoimmune disorders?
Thyroid disorders are more common than you’d think. About 20 million Americans — more of them women than men — are affected by a thyroid disease or disorder, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA). If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you may be at risk for having an autoimmune thyroid problem.
Identifying New Causes Of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Thyroid disorders are one of the most complex health problems facing Americans today. Despite such a high prevalence of thyroid problems, conventional healthcare has had limited success in managing them.
Your thyroid gland actually has functions in multiple systems of your body. Making matters even more complex, problems with the thyroid can be triggered by fluctuating factors in your environment such as food allergies and exposure to toxic heavy metals.
Because of these factors, testing is not always as simple as looking at “normal” blood levels of TSH, T4, and T3. So if you’ve answered yes to some of the questions above, you may benefit from addressing some of new wellness targets discussed below.
One of the most commonly overlooked thyroid disorders is an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.
Typical treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is medication with synthetic thyroid hormones like Synthroid, as well as more advanced treatment with drugs such as Prednisone or Prozac. Natural treatment typically involves supplementing with B vitamins, selenium, thyroid glandulars, tyrosine (an amino acid), and iodide.
Problems With Current Thyroid Treatment Options
Conventional treatments often overlook the causes of thyroid conditions, and instead, focus on keeping thyroid lab values within certain ranges, and managing other symptoms with medications. More advanced treatment options may involve thyroid ablation, where the thyroid gland is destroyed with radioactive iodine, or a full thyroidectomy, where the thyroid is surgically removed.
If an autoimmune process is involved, symptoms can still remain even after thyroid removal. This is because some thyroid tissue will inevitably remain for the immune system to react with. In many cases a cause has not been identified, or worse; it has been ignored. Unfortunately, sometimes symptoms can be so severe, that patients have no choice but to seek more aggressive treatment options.
Other practitioners simply do not know how to read results or pick up on nuances of a panel.
Other doctors still do not routinely screen for autoimmune disorders simply because identifying them does not usually change the treatment plan they have to offer their patients.
Unfortunately, natural treatments meanwhile have offered mixed benefits as well.
For example, iodine deficiency is the most common causes of hypothyroidism worldwide. But in the United States, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Supplementation with iodine can actually worsen autoimmune flare-ups in patients with an active autoimmune disease!
Other therapies tend to target the thyroid gland directly. This may help, but it overlooks the fact that in the case of an autoimmune reaction, the problem resides in the immune system and external triggers of flare-ups, not necessarily the gland itself!
The good news is that new natural wellness targets have now been identified as playing significant roles in autoimmune thyroid conditions.
7 Wellness Targets for Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
1. Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease: The immune system has a tendency to confuse thyroid tissue for gluten since they look similar on a molecular level. This means that if your immune system is primed against gluten, it may actually begin attacking your own thyroid tissue by mistake. Now this is not a huge concern if you are not sensitive to gluten. In the United States, however, gluten sensitivity is much more common than you think.
One percent of the population is estimated to have Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease caused by gluten from wheat). Of that one percent with Celiac disease, seven out of every eight individuals are not even aware that they have the disease!
Making matters worse, gluten sensitivity is estimated to be prevalent in some 35 percent of Americans. Up to 81 percent of Americans may also have a genetic predisposition to gluten sensitivity. Lastly, even in the absence of a true allergy or sensitivity, gluten can still cause leaky gut, activate your immune system, and increase your risk for other sensitivities.
Whether you have a positive test for gluten sensitivity or not, it’s not hard to see how you may still benefit from removing gluten-containing foods from your meal planning.
2. Estrogen Imbalance: Too much estrogen can affect your thyroid in a few indirect ways. One characteristic of estrogen is that it is broken down by the liver the same way other hormones are detoxified. If the liver is overloaded with estrogen, it is unable to clear out inactive forms of thyroid as quickly.
High amounts of estrogen also increase hormone-binding proteins. Imagine taking a taxi from the airport, and when you got to your destination, you were suddenly locked inside! This is what happens to your thyroid hormones when there are too many binding proteins hanging around.
High estrogen can often be a result of underlying blood sugar, adrenal imbalances, exposure to estrogen-behaving toxins found in plastics, as well as pesticides and other man-made toxins in our food supply. All of these factors converge and desensitize thyroid receptors – even if you’re producing healthy thyroid hormone levels in the first place!
3. Insulin Resistance, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and Adrenal Stress: Insulin resistance is commonly related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Insulin resistance also leads to immune imbalances seen commonly with autoimmune disorders. Insulin resistance also strains the adrenal glands responsible for responding to stress and may lead to a progression toward other hormone disorders. Long-term insulin resistance can lead to weight gain, especially around your belly & waist. This type of fat is not only highly inflammatory, but also leads to more estrogen production! High cortisol (our primary stress hormone) also contributes to weight gain, insulin resistance, and poor conversion of inactive T4 to T3.
4. Vitamin D Deficiency and Immune Imbalance: Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a vital hormone involved in every tissue of your body. Beyond its important roles in your calcium metabolism and bone health, vitamin D is actually a potent modulator of your immune system.
In addition to individuals with dark skin or people living at high latitudes, a large majority of people with autoimmune diseases have been found to have a genetic defect in their Vitamin D metabolism that makes them more susceptible to deficiencies.
Remember, one of the most overlooked factors of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is that it is an autoimmune reaction. Hashimoto’s is an immune imbalance that happens to be manifesting in the thyroid. Triggers of immune imbalance may come from outside of the thyroid. Our immune system can be coaxed back into balance with natural therapies as simple as shoring up our levels of Vitamin D, or more complex plans that address stealth infections such as Epstein-Barr Virus.
Depending on unique patient circumstances, the balance of the immune system can be promoted in certain directions to help overcome infections, foreign invaders, and stave off unnecessary immune reactions. Working with the immune system can be a delicate process, and as such, recommendations should be monitored by a qualified health professional.
5. Gut Health: A healthy gut is a critical factor in immune health, as well as in the production of thyroid hormones. T4 must be converted to T3 to be active in the human body. Some of the middle steps require healthy action of good bacteria in the gut in order to create active T3. The presence of good bacteria in your gut also helps direct your immune system. Sixty percent or more of your immune system actually resides in your gut!
The gut is also one of the most important protective barriers between the outside world and the inside world of your body. When the integrity of your gut lining is challenged and becomes “leaky”, such as with a gluten-sensitivity or infection with a nasty pathogen, the immune system mounts an aggressive attack.
Over time, the immune defenses can become exhausted, and the body may start reacting with its own tissues.
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6. Toxic Heavy Metals, Toxins in Food, and Autoimmunity: Sometimes when the body is trying to clear a toxic substance such as a heavy metal, from a tissue, it attacks the surrounding tissue as well. Additionally, your levels of certain toxins may be “normal”, but your immune system may be extra sensitive.
While most people understand that you can be exposed to toxins in food, air, and water, one hidden source of toxicity actually comes from within. As bad bacteria such as Candida yeast replace good bacteria in the gut (as a result of a weakened immune system and chronic low-levels of inflammation from food allergens), toxins are released into the bloodstream and also add stress to the liver and immune system. Other stealth infections can create harm in similar ways.
7. Genetic Predisposition: If you have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disorders, allergies, or sensitivities such as gluten (HLA DQ2/DQ8 genes), it can be difficult or nearly impossible to turn it “off”. After it has been activated, healthy lifestyle actions (such as staying away from gluten) may become absolutely necessary to keep symptoms at bay and prevent a disease from progressing.
Alexander Rinehart, DC, MS, CNS is a Certified Nutrition Specialist with a Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition, is the owner of the AZ Nutrition Center in Phoenix, AZ. You can learn more about Dr. Rinehart and read his articles at DrAlexRinehart.com
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