Hypothyroidism is pandemic in the United States. About 27 million people have thyroid disease, and because it is difficult to diagnose, millions more don’t know they have it.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck near the Adam’s apple. It is considered the master gland of metabolism, and produces several hormones. Thyroid hormone’s main role is to control metabolism
Risk Factors for Thyroid Disease
- Gluten and other food sensitivities
- Weakened immune barriers (leaky gut, lungs, and brain)
- Viruses, bacteria, and parasites, especially Y. enterocolitica bacteria
- Other autoimmune conditions
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Excess estrogen
- Insulin resistance
- Chemical and heavy metal toxicity
- Chronic infections and inflammation
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Excess iodine
- Genetic susceptibility
Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction
- Weight gain
- Inability to lose weight
- Dry brittle hair and nails
- Cold hands and feet
- Thinning outer third of the eyebrows
- Unintentional weight loss, even when your appetite and food intake stay the same or increas
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) — commonly more than 100 beats a minute
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Pounding of your heart (palpitations)
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor — usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Changes in bowel patterns, especially more frequent bowel movements
- An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck
- Fatigue, muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
Hashimoto’s disease, the number one cause of hypothyroidism in the world, is an autoimmune condition. Because it is an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s often goes undiagnosed, and typically symptoms are treated without addressing the autoimmune foundation of the disease.
In autoimmune thyroiditis, thyroid cells are attacked by the immune system, causing destruction of the thyroid gland and chronic inflammation. It can cause both Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, which is more common.
Graves’ disease: Autoimmune antibodies bind to the thyroid gland and cause overproduction of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism); it is most common in women, ages 20-40.
The Immune System and Hashimoto’s
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Antibodies react against proteins in the thyroid, causing gradual destruction of the gland itself, and its ability to produce the thyroid hormones the body needs (hypothyroidism).
Supporting the Thyroid in Hashimoto’s
- Avoid gluten and dairy as they are allergenic and highly inflammatory
- Choose organic foods to avoid thyroid-disrupting toxins
- Eat every 2-4 hours for balanced blood sugar
- Eliminate sugar, alcohol, and processed foods
- Eat 5-10 servings or more of vegetables daily
- Limit grain and fruit to 1-2 servings daily
Goitrogens are compounds in certain foods that inhibit the uptake of iodine into the thyroid, including kale, broccoli, turnips, peanuts and soybeans. Goitrogens can be neutralized by lightly steaming, fermenting, or cooking these foods.
Important supplements for Hashimoto’s:
B-complex: supports brain function and cardiovascular health, increases energy production
B12 (sublingual): often deficient with Hashimoto’s
Vitamin D: 1000-4000 IU; reduces thyroid antibodies
Selenium: 200-400mcg; helps make thyroid hormone
Vitamin C: 750-1000mg; potent antioxidant
Magnesium: 400-800mg; reduces TPO antibodies, supports thyroid hormone synthesis
Zinc: 30-60mg; boosts T4 to T3 conversion
Pre- and Probiotics: Promotes thyroid production in the gut
Ashwaganda: 500mg; supports thyroid function
Schisandra: 10-60 drops tincture; raises glutathione
People with Hashimoto’s often experience both hyper- and hypothyroid symptoms, typically with hyperthyroid symptoms emerging early on, and hypo- symptoms arising later as the gland loses function.
Most people with autoimmune thyroid disease end up with hypothyroidism – the thyroid is either underactive, inactive, or has been surgically removed. Hashimoto’s slowly destroys the thyroid, while treatments for Grave’s disease such as radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment and surgical removal also result in hypothyroidism.
The Thyroid and Gut Health
The health of the GI tract is extremely important for optimal thyroid function.
70% of the immune system resides in the gut. The immune system’s role is to recognize and destroy foreign invaders. Leaky gut is a primary cause of thyroid dysfunction, but there are other contributors as well.
The intestinal wall is designed to keep foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and undigested food particles out of the bloodstream. Factors such as stress, infections, certain medications, alcohol, poor diet, food sensitivities and others cause the tight junctures in the wall to loosen, resulting in leaky gut, or hyper-permeability of the intestinal wall that allows undigested food, microbes, and other toxins to leak into the bloodstream. This causes an immune response that leads to autoimmunity and can attack the thyroid. Leaky gut also causes many nutrient deficiencies that contribute to thyroid dysfunction.
Molecular mimicry occurs when bacteria and certain dietary proteins such as gluten and casein from dairy products have a very similar structure to the body’s own tissue. The immune system becomes confused, and attacks the body tissue as well as the foreign protein.
Since thyroid cells and gluten are structurally very similar, Hashimoto’s is always associated with gluten sensitivity. Gluten must be avoided!
20% of inactive T4 is converted to active T3 in the GI tract, and 60% is converted in the liver. This conversion depends on healthy colonies of beneficial bacteria. Dysbiosis, or bacterial imbalance, inhibits conversion in the GI tract and impairs the liver’s ability to activate T3 which can lead to low thyroid function even though the body is producing adequate T3 and T4. This is why many people with thyroid hormone imbalance also have digestive problems and normal thyroid blood chemistry levels.
The intestines are lined with lymph tissue known as gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT). Leaky gut, food sensitivities, undigested proteins, and infections can cause a major stress response, raising cortisol. Cortisol increases rT3, which blocks the effectiveness of T3 on metabolism.
Excess estrogen interferes with T4-to-T3 conversion, and suppresses thyroid hormone function by binding to thyroid hormone receptors. Beta-glucaronidase is an enzyme in the GI tract that reactivates estrogen that
has been metabolized, increasing estrogen in the bloodstream.
The Thyroid Alternative, Dr. Nikolas R. Hedberg
Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal?, Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS