What’s Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease and is the most common form of hypothyroid disease, affecting more women than men. Being an autoimmune condition, the body’s immune responses attack thyroid cells, leading to inflammation, destruction and reduced function of the thyroid gland. As a result, the thyroid gland may enlarge or shrink in size, depending on the person. Nodules may also develop, which is technically called a multi-nodular goitre. Hashimoto’s also runs in families with a specific pattern of inheritance and therefore can be passed from one generation to another.
Subacute thyroiditis is another type of thyroiditis that may coincide or be confused with Hashimoto’s disease. It is usually a self-limiting disorder and is thought to be caused by a viral infection that causes acute painful inflammation of the thyroid gland with the destruction of thyroid cells and the release of excessive quantities of thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. Initial symptoms are a painful swollen thyroid gland and symptoms of hyperthyroid. This gradually gets better over a period of weeks or months but the damage done to the thyroid gland may cause hypothyroidism that can last for months. Most patients recover but some do not and may need ongoing thyroxine replacement therapy.
In Hashimoto’s disease, with reduced thyroid hormones circulating, many metabolic processes are affected, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, hair loss, intolerance to cold, constipation and mood changes. Charting the body’s basal metabolic temperature is an easy screening tool to use for understanding the general functioning of the thyroid, with low thyroid function being indicated by consistently low temperatures (below 36.4 degrees Celsius for 3 to 5 consecutive days). Taking a holistic approach by managing the following components may successfully reduce these common Hashimoto symptoms.
There are 5 main areas that your natural health practitioner may address, including…
Improving gut health
It is thought that compromised gut function is involved in most autoimmune conditions. Inflammatory responses may enhance the permeability of the lining of the intestines leading to a leaky gut. This may be caused by stress, gut infections, antibiotic use or taking the contraceptive pill. The increased permeability allows for food particles, bacteria, viruses and toxins to enter the bloodstream, with gluten being one of the major causes. As gluten’s chemical structure is similar to thyroid tissue, the immune system begins to attack the thyroid. Increased inflammation also leads to nutrient deficiencies and malabsorption. A vicious cycle escalates with detoxification pathways being compromised, food sensitivities developing and increased vulnerability to gut infections. Treating intestinal permeability through removing inflammatory foods and toxins, treating bacterial or parasitic infections, re-inoculating with probiotics, repairing gut function with enzymes, nutrients and amino acids can lower immune reactivity.
There are five types of infections often found in people with Hashimoto’s, being the Herpes virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Hepatitis C, Yersinia enterocolitica and Helicobacter pylori. These can all be tested and treated for, which is important as often infections invade the thyroid gland or hide in its cells, causing an immune response that may lead to damage to the thyroid gland itself.
Reducing exposure to toxins
The toxins posing the most significant threat to the thyroid include mercury, perchlorate, nitrates, aluminium hydroxide, cobalt and nickel. Mercury, perchlorate and nitrates are similar in structure to iodine and therefore taken up by the thyroid gland instead of iodine. With reduced iodine uptake, the thyroid is unable to produce enough hormones, leading to increased symptoms of Hashimoto’s. Nitrates have also been linked to thyroid cancer. These toxins can be found in water, air, vaccinations, pesticides and cosmetics. Supporting the liver and its detoxification pathways with antioxidants and herbal medicines can help break down and eliminate these and other toxins from the body.
Understanding which foods to eat and to avoid is important in Hashimoto’s as foods such as dairy, legumes, eggs, corn and soy could all be contributing to increased symptoms, e.g. casein found in dairy has a similar chemical structure to gluten exerting the same inflammatory effect in Hashimoto’s. Ensuring adequate intake of nutrients, particularly for the thyroid gland is important, i.e. Iodine, Selenium, Zinc and Iron are all required for the conversion of thyroid hormones to their active state. Other important nutrients include Vitamins A and D and Inositol which provide antioxidant support. Taking a quality multivitamin supplement may be required to maintain adequate levels.
When the body is under stress, vital functions such as digestion and immune response become sub-optimal. Thyroid hormone production slows leading to a reduction in the conversion of T4 and T3. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal insufficiency contributing to intestinal permeability and inflammation. There are many techniques to help and manage stress including yoga and regular exercise, meditation or regular massage to help relax the body.
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