“Hashi-what? Never heard of it”. This is a very typical refrain from someone when their lab test results reveal they have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroid disease. Yet this condition is rife in the UK and on the increase. So much so that three of our NatureDoc practitioners live with this condition. Oftentimes it is not diagnosed as Hashimoto’s since, in the UK, antibody testing is not offered at the GP level on the NHS. You may be told you have hypothyroidism but not know you have the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis occurs when the body’s immune system turns against the the thyroid gland, causing inflammation and dysfunctional thyroid hormone output. The under production of thyroid hormone produces symptoms similar to hypothyroidism and symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
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- Dry skin
- Fatigue (persistent and especially on waking)
- Weight gain
- Dry, thinning hair
- Heavy or irregular periods
BUT Hashimoto’s also causes more wide-reaching symptoms which might not typically be attributed to an under-active thyroid gland. These may include:
- Elevated cholesterol
- Muscle cramps/pain in calf, thigh, upper arm
- Arthritis (including muscle pain and swelling)
- Weight loss
- Easy bruising/clotting defects
- Food intolerance, especially to gluten and dairy
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Anemia (low iron) or low ferritin (storage of iron)
- Emotional lability
- Missing outer third of the eyebrows
- Yeast overgrowth
- Slurred speech or stumbling over words
- Low stomach acid and low pancreatic enzyme production leading to poor digestion and malabsorption of important nutrients.
All too often straight forward hypothyroidism is diagnosed and the standard treatment of replacement thyroid hormone fails to produce total improvement, and some symptoms simply worsen over time. Levothyroxine is the replacement of choice in this country and is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone T4 or thyroxine. This should improve the hypothyroid nature of the illness but is not the answer for the auto immune aspect of this disease. It will not lower the antibody production and the attack on the thyroid continues unabated.
Because Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a problem with the immune system, full management of the condition needs to concentrate on this immune aspect as the cause, often alongside replacement hormone treatment. Or if caught early, the antibody attack can be dampened down before much damage has been done to the thyroid gland, and patients can avoid the need for lifelong replacement thyroxine.
Causes of this condition are not fully understood but rising numbers point towards the standard western diet, nutrient deficient soils due to over farming, chronic stress, leaky gut due to overuse of antibiotics among other things, hidden infections, toxins including plastics, pesticides, fertilizers and dioxins (that can mimic our endogenous oestrogen and disrupt the endocrine system causing hormone imbalance and autoimmunity). Heavy metals also interfere with thyroid function particularly mercury (whether from eating fish or from dental amalgams) and aluminium in antiperspirants might also be a contributing factor.
I have had much success with my own Hashimoto’s through a variety of lifestyle and nutritional protocols and there are many studies on the benefits of these strategies to stop the autoimmune attack in its tracks, lower inflammation and bring resolution to many of the diverse and difficult symptoms.
These protocols are too long to list on this blog but include following a nutrient dense diet, supplementation with vital nutrients (including selenium and iron) to support thyroid function and autoimmunity, addressing gut dysfunction and hormone imbalance. In addition, addressing adrenal function is vital as the thyroid and adrenal health is interlinked and vitamin D sufficiency is crucial.
Emma Davies DipNUT, BANT, CNHC is one of our NatureDoc Nutritional Therapists who specialises in supporting auto-immune conditions including those related to the thyroid. She practices out of the NatureDoc clinics in Sloane Square, Stockbridge and via Skype.