Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, has become the “disease du jour” for good reason…thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s and its close relatives: hypo and hyperthyroidism, are rampant in the United States population, particularly for women, and are highly under-diagnosed by conventional medicine.
What’s worse, if you’re “lucky” enough to receive an accurate diagnosis, it is likely you have been suffering from the damaging autoimmune effects for some time.
The key to preventing and beating this insidious disease, is to learn to recognize its symptoms and causes, and get to the right functional medicine practitioner (like us) as soon as possible to address the root cause.
Despite the fact it is considered an “autoimmune condition”, Hashimoto’s (as with most type of autoimmune diseases) often can be resolved using a combination of natural medicine and lifestyle changes.
Today’s post will teach you the little-known triggers which aggravate or “turn on” the condition (including what we call “gateway conditions”), how to recognize the early symptoms, exactly what lab tests to ask for (because most doctors are not running the right tests), and show you what nutritional changes you can make to accelerate your healing process.
What Triggers Hashimoto’s In the First Place?
The nutritional, environmental, and emotional triggers behind Hashimoto’s, and closely-related conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, go a long way in explaining its prevalence in modern society.
The following triggers can either initiate or aggravate the condition:
- Hypo or hyperthryoidism a.k.a. “Gateway Conditions”—these often subtle conditions typically begin before Hashimoto’s sets in, triggering the autoimmune condition over time.
- Heavy metal toxicity—this is more common than most people realize, and can come from dental materials, environmental factors, certain foods, and water.
- Insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome—aggravated by too much sugar and refined carbs in the diet.
- Nutrient deficiencies due to a diet high in processed foods—selenium, vitamin D, and iodine deficiencies are prevalent in those with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s.
- Chemical overload—radiation and other common toxic chemicals.
- Chronic sub-acute infections—wear down the body and cause inflammation.
- Pregnancy and postpartum—the hormonal shifts and stress can trigger a problem in some women.
- Major stressful life events—usually tax your adrenals which can trigger the disease.
- Severe infections.
- Antibiotic therapy.
- Over-training and over-exercising.
- Food sensitivities—specifically to gluten.
- Genetics—genes do play a role, but environment is a bigger causal factor.
How to Recognize the Early Symptoms
As discussed above, Hashimoto’s doesn’t appear over night. Rather it typically develops over years, and begins with one of two “gateway conditions”:
- Low-thyroid function, known as “hypothyroidism”, or…
- Overactive thyroid function, known as “hyperthyroidism”
This is where you want to be wise so you can catch the symptoms before they develop into the full-blown autoimmune condition.
Here is a list of early “gateway-condition” symptoms everyone should be aware of:
Low-thyroid function/Hypothyroidism Symptoms:
- Bloating or puffiness in your face, hands, and feet.
- Brain fog and memory issues.
- Brittle nails.
- Chronic acute infections like colds or flu.
- Difficulty losing weight-gain.
- Dry skin.
- Elevated cholesterol levels.
- Eye tics.
- Feeling cold all the time, or cold extremities.
- Heavy periods or a shortened menstrual cycle.
- Low blood pressure.
- Low heart rate.
- Low sex drive.
- Muscle weakness.
- Neck pain.
- Thinning hair or eyebrows.
- Trouble sleeping.
Overactive thyroid/Hyperthyroidism Symptoms:
- Anxiety and panic attacks.
- Bulging and/or dry eyes.
- Digestive disorders like loose stool or diarrhea.
- Excessive hunger or thirst.
- Fine, thin hair.
- High blood pressure.
- Hives or itching.
- Low blood pressure.
- Neck pain.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Shortness of breath.
- Very light periods.
- Weight-loss/inability to gain weight.
With so many possible symptoms how do you know if you are at risk?
We all feel tired sometimes, have mood swings, and bad hair days. So…does this mean you are experiencing a thyroid condition or just an off-week?
A good rule of thumb is, if you have two or more of these symptoms, or just one severe symptom—like your hair is falling out in clumps, you have a serious aversion to the cold, or a chronic skin condition—it’s a good idea to get checked out.
Also, it is worth emphasizing that thyroid conditions often develop after a trauma or very stressful life event (including having a baby for women), so keep that in mind as you scan through your list of symptoms.
Your Doctor Is Running the Wrong Tests! What Lab Tests You Must Ask For
The main reason Hashimoto’s and other thyroid conditions are so under-diagnosed is because most doctors aren’t running enough tests.
Typically, a medical doctor will only run “the gold standard” test for thyroid dysfunction known as: “Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Test“ AKA “TSH”.
If your results come back “within normal range” or even “low-to-normal” range, they will likely tell you that you are fine or “we’ll keep an eye on it”.
The problem is, this test does not give the whole picture of what’s going on with the thyroid and the rest of the body. Yes, your TSH levels may appear “normal” which rules out a severe condition, but not a more subtle imbalance which may leave you feeling downright awful.
Plus, even if your levels are considered “normal” it may not mean they are “optimal”, and this makes a HUGE difference in how you feel and function.
Before we list out these lab tests let me be clear. You can have any doctor run these tests for you, BUT I highly recommend working with a functional medicine/integrative practitioner because:
A: We know how to interpret their levels and ranges from a preventative and integrative perspective. In other words, we are looking for more than just significantly low levels of one thyroid hormone.
B: We will be able to help you get your health back on track using natural remedies instead of relying on synthetic hormone medications.
That said, here are the tests we recommend to check for thyroid antibodies and hormone levels if we suspect Hashimoto’s or another thyroid issue:
- TSH—provides an overall picture of your Thyroid Stimulating Hormone levels which offers a window into your thyroid/pituitary health.
- Free “FT4”—checks T4, the more passive thyroid hormone.
- Free “FT3”—checks for T3, the more active thyroid hormone.
- Reverse “RT3”—can indicate hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid antibodies—to check for autoimmune disease.
We also may recommend testing for:
- Glucose, Insulin, A1c, and triglycerides for blood sugar management (since insulin resistance makes autoimmune conditions worse).
- And, Enterolabs anti-gliadin and anti-transglutaminase antibody stool test to confirm if you need to eliminate gluten from your diet.
Our Nutritional and Lifestyle Approach to Hashimoto’s and Other Thyroid Conditions
As we discussed above, food sensitivities can play a huge role in the activation and aggravation of autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, therefore nutrition plays a key role in healing the disease.
Though every person who comes through our door receives an individualized nutritional plan, some common foods, herbs, and supplements that heal the thyroid include:
- Brazil nuts or Cataplex E—to bring up selenium levels.
- Turmeric, fish oils, Boswellia Complex or Vitanox—to support healthy inflammatory levels.
- Thyroid Complex (includes bacopa, bladderwrack, and withania) —for overall thyroid support
- Thytrophin PMG (protomorphogen) —cools inflammation and allows healing.
- Seaweeds or Organically Bound Minerals—iodine and trace minerals may be introduced later in the healing process when Hashimoto’s is stable (as iodine can aggravate the condition if used too early on).
Most people with a thyroid condition of any type do need to eliminate gluten, and many will benefit from eliminating all grains, sugar, and dairy products.
These changes may need to be permanent or temporary depending upon the severity of the situation and what else is going on health-wise.
While movement is important for good health, it is also important not to over-exercise as thyroid function is often tied into adrenal health. Too much exercise can tax your adrenals.
Stress management also plays a KEY role
Stressful events can trigger the onset of thyroid dysfunction. Meditation, mild-to-moderate exercise, spending time in nature, socializing, and getting enough sleep are all important parts of the healing process
The Final Weigh-In on Hashimoto’s…
The truth is, I could have spent weeks writing about the subtleties, triggers, symptoms, history, and nuances of thyroid health and Hashimotos. And yes, they are absolutely epidemic despite the recent “hype” surrounding them in some circles.
This post was designed to cover the basics on awareness and what you need to know about early detection to prevent the disease and start the healing process.
Remember, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, and have been to the doctor and they have told you “your labs are normal” but you still don’t feel right (tired, moody, hair falling out, etc.), please get a second opinion from a functional medicine doctor who knows what advanced lab tests to run.
Given the scope of causes behind the “gateway conditions” of hyper and hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, if you are experiencing unwanted symptoms, it is likely your thyroid may need some attention…and better to address it sooner than later.
If you suspect you have a thyroid condition, we would love to help you on your journey to recovery. Contact us any time for information on in-office and virtual consultations.