I see a lot of patients who have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – an autoimmune disease where they are producing antibodies to parts of their thyroid gland that make thyroid hormone. It is much more common than people might think, and can lead to total destruction of the the thyroid gland if not diagnosed and treated properly. The problem is though, that doctors are not very good at diagnosing it, and even if they do, their standard answer is “There is nothing we can do. Let’s just monitor your thyroid levels, and when they drop too low because your thyroid gland has been destroyed, we can put you on thyroid replacement hormone for the rest of your life.” It sounds ridiculous, and it is.
The problem starts when a patient presents with thyroid deficiency symptoms such as fatigue, depression, weight gain that is difficult to lose, puffy eyes and face, low body temperature, thinning hair and eyebrows, and dry skin – just to name a few of the hundreds of symptoms that can be related to thyroid disorders. The doctor may order a panel of thyroid tests, namely TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), as well as T3 and T4 which are two thyroid hormones. If the results come back within the normal range, no tests are done to screen for antibodies. The irony is that many, many patients can have normal TSH levels, but still have antibodies to their thyroid gland. Which is why if I have a patient that appears to have a potential thyroid problem, I will always order antibody tests, as the TSH test is just not reliable enough to be the sole indicator of a thyroid dysfunction.
Even if a doctor does order antibody tests, they do not have any treatment options other than replacement thyroid hormone. And that is normally Thyroxine (T4) which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone in any case. If there are other dysfunctions in the body such as adrenal fatigue, liver congestion, low progesterone and certain nutrient deficiencies, T4 cannot be converted properly into the active hormone T3. Prescribing Thyroxine will leave a patient with their antibodies being untreated, and usually still with all their thyroid symptoms. At times the T4 medication will help a patient’s symptoms for a period of time, before they fall ill again. Then their dose will be increased to try and combat the symptoms, all the while their thyroid gland is slowly being destroyed underneath.
When I see a patient with high antibodies, the area that I am aiming to treat is not the thyroid gland itself (although we can support the gland) it is the immune system that I am wanting to treat. The body is attacking itself and we need to halt that attack. If we can catch it early enough, it can be reversed and the thyroid can function normally again. If the antibodies have been active for decades, then there is a possibility that the thyroid gland may have been destroyed. Like a boiled egg, once it is boiled it cannot be ‘unboiled’. Same with severe thyroid damage. Once the gland has been destroyed past a certain point, it cannot be recovered. In that case the only option is replacement hormone for life, but there are much better options than Thyroxine.
One of the first areas to treat when aiming to stop an autoimmune attack is to eliminate gluten from the diet. Gluten is the protein found in wheat as well as other grains such as rye, barley, oats and spelt. Today’s wheat has been grown to contain much more gluten content than it ever had in the past. In a digestive system that has leaky gut syndrome (which can be due to stress, diet, toxins and poor digestion), large, undigested gluten particles can enter the bloodstream where they cause an immune response. In susceptible people, this immune response also triggers an attack against the thyroid gland. There is a large amount of evidence showing that gluten plays a significant role in the development of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The first stage of healing is to remove all gluten from the diet for at least six months, whilst on a gut-healing and repair program, as well as a protocol to heal the immune system and lower the immune system attack. As the antibodies come down, symptoms should lessen and the thyroid has an opportunity to function properly again. These conditions can be decades in the making, so healing can take from six months to two years, depending upon the severity of the condition and the compliance of the patient with the healing protocol.
Don’t let the medical profession tell you there is nothing that can be done. There is a lot that can be done to halt, slow down, and even reverse autoimmune thyroid disease. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or has a suspected thyroid condition, you are welcome to book in to see me in clinic for a full naturopathic consultation. See www.embracinghealth.com.au/naturopath for details.