by Dr. Marianne Beck
By now, most everyone has heard of, or is familiar with, Hashimoto’s Disease. Hashimoto’s Hypothyroid Disease is an autoimmune disease meaning that your own body’s immune system is attacking and killing your thyroid gland. As thyroid cells are “killed off”, they are dumped into the bloodstream, releasing their thyroid hormones (T4 and T3). When this happens, a person may experience hyperthyroid symptoms such as heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, etc. However, over time, as more and more of the thyroid is attacked and dies off, hypothyroid symptoms such as hair loss, cold hands and feet, fatigue, depression and mental sluggishness become the norm.
Just for reference purposes, other autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, where your immune system is attacking your nervous system; rheumatoid arthritis, where your immune system attacks and disfigures your joints; and lupus, where your immune system attacks your body’s connective tissues, etc. There are many more autoimmune conditions and the list grows longer every day.
There is no easy fix for any autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions can only be managed. It is very important to understand all the factors that can trigger Hashimoto’s and manage these factors. These are what I have found to be the biggest mistakes women make when trying to manage Hashimoto’s:
1. Focusing Only on Taking Thyroid Hormone Replacement
When first being diagnosed, a thyroid hormone may be given to bring TSH levels into a “normal” lab range. However, Hashimoto’s is a multifaceted condition and thyroid hormone medication does not fix the autoimmune component of this disease. Also, many thyroid medications contain gluten as a capsule filler. This can lead to a worsening of Hashimoto’s. Once on thyroid medication, it may be difficult to keep TSH in a normal range whether meds are synthetic like Synthroid or “natural” like Armour Thyroid, or bio-identical T3 or T4 because the autoimmune attack has not been managed.
2. Not Eating Totally Gluten-Free
It is now scientifically proven that gluten is the major trigger for Hashimoto’s patients. Everyone with Hashimoto’s must be 100 percent gluten-free without cheating! Even one bite of a gluten containing food can set a Hashimoto’s patient up for a flare-up in symptoms. This is because gluten is inflammatory to the body and your immune system will produce inflammatory chemicals call cytokines that will stay in the body for many months after ingesting gluten. Eating gluten-free when it is only convenient is not a gluten-free diet.
3. Not Avoiding Gluten Cross-Reactive Foods
Many other foods are “cross-reactive” with gluten, meaning that their protein structure resembles gluten to your now hyper vigilant immune system. These foods then trigger the same immune response as if you have eaten gluten. The foods that commonly cross-react are dairy, corn, rice, soy and gluten-free oats. Other grains may also cross-react, and because of this, many Hashimoto’s sufferers have adopted an Autoimmune Diet Protocol. Cyrex Labs can easily test for cross-reactive foods.
4. Not Dealing Properly with Stress
We all have mental and emotional stress. Our jobs, family and financial strains all add stress to our lives. Chronic stress, however, is inflammatory to the body. During stress the body produces many inflammatory chemicals which cause an increase in the autoimmune response causing a flare up in autoimmune symptoms. If women are under chronic stress they should practice de-stressing techniques such as meditation, walking on the beach or just being out in nature. Yoga and Pilates are also very helpful in reducing stress. Finding out the levels of your stress hormones, cortisol and DHEA, through a salivary Adrenal Stress Index test is very helpful to identify the health of your stress glands—your adrenals! Since the thyroid and adrenal glands influence each other, this is very important in overall endocrine health.
5. Not Treating “Leaky Gut”
Researchers pretty much agree that you can’t acquire an autoimmune disease without first having a leaky gut. With leaky gut, undigested proteins from inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, etc. get through the gut lining into the bloodstream where they do not belong. Your immune system (white blood cells) attacks these “foreign invaders” causing an immune response anywhere in the body. We know gluten ingestion triggers Hashimoto’s disease and other autoimmune diseases. Also, many of us harbor gut infections in the form of candida, parasites and pathogenic bacteria which may also get through the leaky gut along with their toxic waste. This all causes systemic inflammation which causes autoimmunity and flare-ups in Hashimoto’s symptoms. Ongoing gut infections must be treated and the leaky gut must be healed and sealed before you can achieve improved health.
6. Not Supporting the Immune System
In dealing with Hashimoto’s, you must support the immune system, for Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, not a disease of the thyroid gland. Such supplements as vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system, Omega 3 fish oils, which reduce inflammation, and glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant and detoxifier in the body, are a good way to start. Do not purchase a whole bunch of immune supporting supplements such as echinacea, licorice, reishi mushrooms, acai, etc. Each Hashimoto’s patient’s immune system is uniquely their own and some supplements may flare-up the autoimmune response making symptoms worse! A great way to support your immune system is to stop indulging in sugary drinks and foods. Sugar triggers inflammatory chemical (cytokine) activity in the body causing autoimmune flare-ups.
7. Not Seeking out a Functional Medicine Physician to Assess Hashimoto’s
As stated before, your primary M.D. or endocrinologist will only give thyroid medications for Hashimoto’s and do nothing for your autoimmunity. This will not stop thyroid gland destruction. Functional Medicine practitioners are trained to enhance your immune system, test for various food intolerances, chronic infections, toxins, heavy metals and adrenal stress and help you decrease systemic inflammation and heal your leaky gut.
Marianne Beck, DC is the director of BestHealth, 601 East Sample Road, Suite 104, Pompano Beach. She has been in active practice for 34 years and is a clinical nutrition and functional medicine practitioner. You can reach her at 954-782-4855 and WomensBestHealth.com. See ad page 35.