It is a story I hear nearly every single week when consulting with my naturopathic patients. “I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but the doctor tells me there is nothing they can do.” And that is true, the medical profession don’t have an answer for autoimmune thyroid conditions. As I wrote in my previous post Why Gluten Is The Enemy Of Your Thyroid Gland “…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.”
This problem stems from not understanding some of the fundamental, underlying causes as to why a person’s immune system decides to attack their thyroid gland. Essentially, there may not be anything “wrong” with the gland itself – it is the autoimmune attack against either the cells of the thyroid gland, or the enzymes that produce thyroid hormone, that is the problem. Which is why treatment needs to be targeted towards reducing or eliminating the immune attack, rather than just replacing deficient thyroid levels.
There are many reasons why the immune system can react this particular way, and it is the job of a good naturopath to seek those answers and find the root cause of the problem. For me, one of the first places that I start in my search is the digestive system. Leaky gut – whereby the junctures in the bowel open slightly under the effects of toxins, irritation or inflammation – allows small particles of undigested food to enter the bloodstream. These foreign particles, especially those of gluten in genetically susceptible individuals, can cause the immune system to attack – not just the “intruder” but in certain cases the thyroid gland is mistakenly attacked as well. Part of the healing regime is to correct any dysfunctions of the digestive system, repair the gut lining, and eliminate gluten. Just these steps can dampen the immune response and lead to a reduction of antibodies.
Normally there are other factors involved as well. Vitamin D, a vitamin which helps to regulate the immune system, is often found in quite low levels in autoimmune thyroid cases. Iodine deficiency has a relationship to autoimmune thyroid disease, although replacement iodine in these cases does need to be used with caution so as not to overstimulate an already damaged thyroid gland. Nutrients that support thyroid production such as selenium, vitamins A and E and the mineral zinc are often low as well, and quite often there is a lot of inflammation that can trigger immune system changes.
Rather than waiting for the thyroid gland to be destroyed by this immune attack as the medical profession is apt to do, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can be managed, and in many cases reversed, with the right naturopathic protocol. One that involves treatment of the digestive system, the immune system, nutrient deficiencies, allergies and intolerances, thyroid function, adrenal status, and inflammation.
It is not a “one size fits all” approach, but a multi-faceted investigation that looks at the body holistically, seeking out the root cause, or causes, of the underlying imbalance. By stopping the immune attack at its foundation, the potential for a full recovery is realised. Unfortunately the more typical scenario is the medical model, where antibodies are monitored, but not treated, and the underlying cause is never usually addressed. Over time – be it years or decades – the thyroid gland is slowly destroyed. Like an egg that has been boiled, once the tissue is completely destroyed, there is no resurrecting it and the patient will need to be on thyroid hormone support for life. Ideally, as soon as a person is given a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, they seek the care of a qualified and experienced naturopath for a more comprehensive investigative and treatment program.
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 or a fifteen minute Q&A session to have your questions answered. See www.embracinghealth.com.au/naturopath for details.