What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
According to The National Institutes of Health, Hashimoto’s Disease is defined as “an autoimmune disorder that can cause hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid.” In other words, your immune system attacks your thyroid, causing significant damage. This results in the inability to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. The thyroid is a significant part of energy use throughout the body, affecting nearly every organ. An absence of thyroid hormone causes many of your body’s natural functions to slow down.
You may also hear Hashimoto’s Disease referred to as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or autoimmune thyroiditis. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States, with 5 out of every 100 people affected.
Who Is At Risk for Developing Hashimoto’s Disease?
Women are eight times more likely than men to develop Hashimoto’s, generally ages 40-60, although some teens and young women occasionally develop the disease as well. Individuals with other autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, vitiligo, and rheumatoid arthritis are also at a higher risk. Learn The Truth About Thyroid Disorders from FMP, Regan Archibald.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s
At first, many people do not experience symptoms. As the disease advances, the thyroid gland becomes enlarged (goiter) causing the neck to appear swollen. As previously mentioned, hypothyroidism is a result of Hashimoto’s Disease.
Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold
- Joint and muscle pain
- Dry, thinning hair
- A slowed heart rate
What causes Hashimoto’s?
Many researchers are unsure of the causes of Hashimoto’s disease. There are speculations that these disorders result from a combination of genes and an outside trigger, such as a virus. Another widely accepted theory within the functional medicine realm is gluten as the cause, or trigger. Since Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder, the immune system targets amino acid protein sequences in the body. Unfortunately, the thyroid happens to have protein sequences that are similar to other areas that have previously been under attack, thus causing the immune system to attack this new area (the thyroid) as well.
When looking for the cause of this, generally we look to the gut, and the way in which it is functioning. The gut is a selective membrane, so if it is working properly, it will only allow certain things through. When that membrane is compromised, we begin to see substances passing through the gut that are getting into the system. Your body recognizes these foreign materials, and begins to attack them.
Understanding how the gut works is key in understanding Hashimoto’s. It is also important to address family history and genes, and what that can mean for you. If you have a family history of Hashimoto’s, autoimmunity, gluten sensitivity, and anything related, you will want to keep a close eye on this for yourself.
Natural/Alternative Treatments and Therapies for Hashimoto’s
With a Hashimoto’s diagnosis, it may be challenging to find natural treatments that do not involve surgery or a lifetime of medications. As mentioned before, it is important to address gut functioning to develop a clear picture of the root cause, then decide how to treat and manage the condition. Initially, your provider may order labs and testing to determine if you are experiencing leaky gut – a condition where an unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it – or other conditions/toxins in your system that can lead to autoimmunity.
There are also new types of testing that can provide an understanding of foods cross-reacting or acting similarly in the protein sequence to gluten proteins. If we can identify and remove the unfavorable immune response and look at the areas where the thyroid hormone metabolism may be compromised by looking at liver and gut function, we can yield significant results in improving thyroid symptoms and thyroid hormone function. This includes evaluating large categories of inflammatory foods such as corn, soy, dairy, sugar, and gluten, and how the cessation of consuming these foods affects Hashimoto’s, autoimmunity, and the thyroid overall.
Natural ways to treat Hashimoto’s often include a combination of diet, supplementation, and botanical medicine. Visit our Go Wellness site to listen to our latest Go Wellness Podcast: Gain Control of Your Hypothyroidism & Hashimoto’s Disease with Curcumin, by Regan Archibald LAc.
There is no one diet for Hashimoto’s that is best, but there are common diet characteristics that many people have found success with. Diets high in unprocessed foods (including high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains), healthy fats, and lean proteins are generally most effective.
- Lean proteins: Healthy proteins with limited or no saturated fat include chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, beans, tofu, and nuts.
- Fruits and vegetables: Aside from any sensitivities you may have, choose an array of colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal to ensure you’re getting plenty of essential vitamins and minerals.
- High-fiber carbohydrates: Fiber is important for weight management, a healthy heart, and controlled blood sugar. Foods high in fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
- Healthy fats: Salmon, albacore tuna, nuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and avocados all have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3s, which decrease inflammation in the body.
Like all of our glands, the thyroid needs supportive nutrients from food or supplements to act as raw ingredient precursors for its proper function. Common nutrient deficiencies associated with Hashimoto’s are Vitamin B12, Selenium, and Zinc.
- Vitamin B12: vital to thyroid production. It boosts energy production in cells to help with fatigue and other symptoms associated with hypothyroidism-related Hashimoto’s, and helps improve cellular response to thyroid hormone.
- Selenium: supports thyroid synthesis and metabolism. It has also been found to reduce thyroid antibody levels in Hashimoto’s patients.
- Zinc: helps improve thyroid function and hormone levels. Has also been shown to have a positive effect on thyroid function in overweight females.
Overall, addressing diet and lifestyle is the most holistic and whole-body approach to healing Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune disorders. At East West Health, our number one priority is finding and treating the root cause to get you back to feeling younger as you grow older.