When I meet people with Hashimoto’s or other thyroid conditions, I am often surprised at how little they know about their condition or possible treatment options. In fact, many thyroid patients end up in clinic, because they feel unwell despite their current treatment, not because they realise that it is important to treat the immune system, as well as the thyroid.
Read on to find out 5 things you should know about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis:
1. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in Australia.
In the past, most hypothyroidism was associated with iodine deficiency. However, in developed countries like Australia, where iodine is easier to obtain in the diet, Hashimoto’s is the main cause. Like most autoimmune disease, it is also more common in women than men.
2. Hashimoto’s is primarily an immune system disorder.
When you have Hashimoto’s, it means that antibodies from your immune system are attacking your thyroid. Overtime, this leads to more and more destruction of thyroid tissue. As the amount of thyroid tissue diminishes, there is less and less production thyroid hormone. It is not until a significant amount of the thyroid gland has been destroyed, that you will begin to notice symptoms of hypothyroidism. This is why naturopathic treatment seeks to rebalance the immune response.
3. Most doctors don’t test for Hashimoto’s.
In conventional medicine the cause of hypothyroidism is not considered important, because it doesn’t affect the patient’s treatment. The standard treatment is to provide a sufficient dose of thyroid hormone medication to bring thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) into the normal range. This approach is not always effective and does nothing to address the immune dysfunction. My previous article ‘Is your thyroid really normal?’ looks at why testing only TSH is not enough.
Also, if your doctor does confirm Hashimoto’s, then this opens the doorway to use other medication, such as low dose naltrexone (LND), which actually addresses the immune system. LDN is used to modulate autoimmune conditions and can be used to reduce the severity of autoimmune symptoms like fatigue and pain. This is definitely something worth speaking to your doctor about.
4. Gluten can make Hashimoto’s worse.
There is a lot of research that highlights a connection between gluten and Hashimoto’s disease. This appears to be due to molecular mimicry. Molecular mimicry occurs when there are different but similar molecules. When the immune system sets about targeting one of these molecules, it may become confused and begin attacking the other similar molecule.
In the case of Hashimoto’s, it appears that thyroid tissue shares some molecular similarity with gluten. Therefore, when the immune system is activated by gluten, it produces antibodies which mistake the thyroid gland for gluten and begin to destroy it. This doesn’t happen to everyone who consumes gluten and genetic susceptibility is thought to play a role. However, if you do have Hashimoto’s, then eliminating gluten from the diet is probably the safest choice.
5. People with Hashimoto’s have a greater risk of developing another autoimmune disease.
Statistics show that people with one autoimmune disease are more likely to develop another autoimmune disease. This highlights the importance of addressing the immune system when treating Hashimoto’s, as it is possible that you are reducing your risk of a further autoimmune disease.
Treating gut problems is always a good place to start, as we know that over 80% of the immune system is found in the gut and that certain foods can trigger abnormal immune responses leading to intestinal permeability, aka ‘leaky gut’.
Naturopaths and functional medicine practitioners seek to identify the triggers of autoimmune conditions, not just treat the symptoms, which in this case means treating the immune system, as well as the thyroid.
If you would like to find out more about how naturopathy can help you address your thyroid health more effectively, then book your initial consultation or a free 15min health strategy session today.
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Cindy Morris has been working as a naturopath for over 15 years, she is currently adding to her clinical skills with further study at Griffith University. Her clinical focus is around chronic fatigue, thyroid health and auto-immune conditions.