Autoimmune Thyroiditis or Hashimotos Syndrome
Hashimotos Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder, mediated by the T cells, that causes the body to produce antibodies which attack the thyroid. It is one of the most common autoimmune disorders. It is 10 times more frequent in women than men, and affects anywhere from 2 to 7 percent of the population. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Many people with Hashimotos are unaware that they have an autoimmune illness. This is because the antibodies to the thyroid are not commonly measured. These antibodies are known as thyroid Peroxidase antibody, commonly referred to as TPO and thyroglobulin, known as TBG, antibody. Since there is no known allopathic treatment for the illness most doctors, and insurance companies, feel there is no point in diagnosing the disease. WebMD puts it bluntly “There is no known way to prevent Hashimoto’s disease, and there is no cure.” That certainly sounds pretty bleak. However as we will explore, when you realize that the cause of Hashimotos is immune, not endocrine, there are a number of natural treatments that can prove helpful.
Typically Hashimotos patients have been identified by standard testing as being deficient in thyroid. This is not because the thyroid is not producing enough hormones. It is because the thyroid tissue is actively being attacked and destroyed by its own immune system. However they are being treated as if the problem was simply that they need more thyroid hormone. Typically they are put on thyroid replacement and sent away. Yet they experience no symptom relief and continue to remain tired, sluggish, cold, constipated, depressed and have difficulty losing weight.
A smarter approach to treatment is to modulate the immune system. The immunology of Hashimotos is complicated. It is caused by an imbalance of T cells known as T Helper 1 or T Helper 2. Sophisticated testing which measures cytokines, the hormones of the immune system can determine whether a person is Th-1 dominant or TH-2 dominant. Natural herbs can then be prescribed which enhance the weaker response. This can be important in customizing treatment and is best done with a qualified practitioner. However there are other supplements which regulate the imbalance and are good for anyone with Hashimotos syndrome. These supplements, which increase the ability of the immune system to regulate itself, are glutathione, fish oil and Vit D. 90 percent of Hashimotos patients have a defect in their ability to process Vit D. Their Vit D receptors do not work correctly and let enough Vit D into their cells. Therefore high doses of Vit D, from 5 to 10 thousand IU, are advisable. Gluten can also exacerbate Hashimotos. It has been noted that many people with Hashimotos also have another autoimmune syndrome called celiac disease, which is gluten intolerance. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and spelt. The problem may be that the protein gluten is very similar to the thyroid gland, so the antibody attack is essentially a case of mistaken identity. Eating a gluten free diet will often improve Hashimotos and reduce antibody formation.
Glutathione is the body’s most prevalent antioxidant. You need high glutathione levels to stay healthy and prevent autoimmune illness, infections, aging, cancer, heart disease and dementia. Low glutathione levels allow cell disintegration from oxidative stress and free radicals. Glutathione is so important that you can find more than 70,000 medical articles about it. Although your body does produce glutathione, poor diet, toxins and stress all deplete glutathione. Common ways to increase glutathione are by using a whey powder protein supplement, ingesting N Acetyl Cysteine, which is a precursor to glutathione, increasing the use of sulfur rich foods such as onions and cruciferous vegetables or by using liposomally delivered glutathione itself. Glutathione is not absorbed orally.
As in most autoimmune diseases there is both a genetic predisposition plus an environmental trigger required to initiate Hashimotos. Some known triggers are iodine, viral infection, pregnancy and heavy metals. Iodine treatment has become very popular lately, since most people have been shown to be iodine deficient. Iodine deficiency has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, and has been shown to help fibrocystic breasts and ovarian cysts. Iodine is essential for making thyroid hormone and is often prescribed for hypothyroidism. However there is substantial evidence from a number of studies that if you have Hashimotos taking iodine increases the rate of antibody formation effectively destroying more of the thyroid. Some authors have likened it to throwing gasoline on a fire. Since Hashimotos is common it is prudent to check for the presence of antibodies before starting iodine supplementation. Other immune stressors can be chronic viral infections such as Hepatitis B, Epstein Barr and Lyme disease.
Hashimotos is a common autoimmune illness. If you are hypothyroid it is important to know if the cause is Hashimotos. This is determined by having your TPO and TBG antibodies measured. By working with a practitioner who knows how to treat Hashimotos and by following some of the natural treatments I have discussed it is possible to decrease the antibodies and therefore decrease the destruction of the thyroid gland. Having your antibodies measured every three to six months can track your progress. Most patients who have felt frustrated that their thyroid treatment didn’t seem to be having any effect report greatly improved energy and mood under the new regimen.
Mary Ackerley MD, MD(H), ABIHM is a classically trained psychiatrist and homeopathic physician who specializes in the holistic treatment of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, digestive disturbances and hormone replacement therapy.
She can be reached through her clinic MyPassion4Health at 520-299-5694 or online at MyPassion4Health.com