It is estimated that one in five Americans has some form of autoimmune disease. The two most common autoimmune disorders relating to the thyroid are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Although both conditions involve mutual factors, they impact the thyroid in different and distinct ways.
The Impact of Autoimmunity on Thyroid Function
The thyroid is a small but powerful gland that regulates the activity of nearly every cell in the body. Therefore, even minor malfunctions can cause waves of disruption through important systems including the brain, gut, HPA axis, and more – find out how the thyroid affects the entire body here.
Autoimmune thyroid dysfunction is caused by a malfunction in the immune system. This type of thyroid disease can be difficult to resolve. The two most prominent forms of autoimmune thyroid disease are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a leading cause of hypothyroidism, and Graves’ Disease, the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. Without resolving underlying immune issues, these conditions can cause significant and permanent damage to the thyroid.
The immune system works by recognizing threats such as bacteria and viruses and then mobilizing antibodies to attack and eliminate the offenders – learn more about the inner workings of the immune system here. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the immune system incorrectly identifies proteins in the thyroid gland as a threat. This prompts the release of thyroid antibodies in the form of thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin. These militants attack the thyroid, which causes irreparable damage and inhibits thyroid functionality. As the assault progresses, symptoms of hypothyroidism including fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, constipation, cognitive difficulties, and memory loss, may develop and continually increase in severity.
Unlike typical hypothyroidism where bodily function slowly degrades, Hashimoto’s can cause temporary increases in thyroid hormone levels. When thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid tissue, the damaged cells release stored thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. Such events cause abrupt hormone spikes that produce symptoms similar to those seen in hyperthyroidism. This is known as Hashitoxicosis and is often accompanied by symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, racing heartbeat, sweating, jitteriness, diarrhea, and sudden weight loss.
Graves’ disease, like Hashimoto’s, is an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid. The condition is caused by an overproduction of thyroid antibodies, specifically thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) and thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI). These substances mimic thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thereby accelerating thyroid activity and increasing the level of circulating thyroid hormone in the blood. This triggers an unsustainable hastening of virtually every bodily process that ultimately results in a system-wide crash.
Excessive thyroid activity triggered by Graves' causes symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, insomnia, weight loss, heat intolerance, diarrhea, and erectile dysfunction. Perhaps the most identifiable trait of Graves’ is a bulging of the eyes known as Graves’ Ophthalmopathy. Antibodies released due to the influence of Graves’ can damage TSH receptors and tissues within the eye socket as well as the eye muscles themselves. The result is significant discomfort, an inability to move or close the eyes, inhibited visual capacity, and bulging eyes.
Is It Possible to Have Both Graves’ and Hashimoto’s?
Because they have opposing impacts on the thyroid it is not possible to experience both Graves’ and Hashimoto’s at the same time. However, due to the increased prevalence of certain thyroid antibodies, one may be diagnosed with both conditions. The occurrence of symptoms and their impact on thyroid function depends on the balance of different antibodies promoted by each condition. Graves’ related antibodies stimulate activity while Hashimoto’s related antibodies inhibit it. Although they may not be present at the same time, the effects of these conditions may cause a patient to alternate between symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
It is common for individuals to develop additional autoimmune conditions following the first. Thyroid autoimmune disorders are no different. Research shows that an estimated 15 to 20 percent of those with Graves’ disease develop hypothyroidism caused by subsequent Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Although it is significantly far less common, patients may also develop Graves’ Disease after Hashimoto’s.
Treating Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Regardless of the specific autoimmune condition, treatment of thyroid and autoimmune disease must be tuned and optimized for each patient. In treating any form of autoimmune thyroid disease, natural treatments typically provide the best results. This is because such approaches often attend to a greater selection of contributing factors. Without balancing the many different aspects of immunity, it is highly unlikely that individual autoimmune dysfunction can be alleviated.
Is Low Dose Naltrexone the Answer?
An increasingly popular, and perhaps one of the best approaches to treating autoimmune thyroid dysfunction, is low-dose naltrexone (LDN). This treatment is a popular method for resolving various forms of immune dysfunction including chronic infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other types of chronic diseases such as Graves’ and Hashimoto’s.
LDN balances the immune system by inhibiting factors that trigger an overactive immune response and limiting chemicals that promote inflammation. LDN can also help regulate antibody production which is a key component of Graves’ and Hashimoto’s. Furthermore, LDN helps regulate tissue T3 levels, thyroid resistance, thyroid transport, and leptin resistance. These factors can help improve thyroid function in both Graves’ and Hashimoto’s patients.
Some practitioners are wary of bolstering immune function if a person is suffering from Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s. This is because both conditions involve overactive immunity. However, the method of immune support prompted by LDN actually balances immune function rather than simply increasing its activity. Immunity is dictated by Th1 and Th2 responses. When these systems fall out of balance the body suffers from significant inflammation often resulting in the development of chronic disease. LDN alleviates this issue by bringing both Th1 and Th2 into greater balance regardless if the individual components are elevated or deficient.
Watch as Dr. Holtorf explains LDN treatment for autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Getting Your Health Back in Balance
Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are incredibly impactful autoimmune thyroid disorders. Even though both affect the thyroid and developing one frequently results in the occurrence of the other, they cannot be present at the same time.
Regardless of the intensity and frequency of symptoms the underlying issue of autoimmune dysfunction must be resolved. One of the best approaches to doing so, specifically relating to thyroid issues, is low-dose naltrexone. Utilizing this treatment method can help balance both the immune system and thyroid function. Restore your thyroid by resolving underlying issues of immunity with the aid of low-dose naltrexone.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to find the answers our patients deserve and a personalized treatment plan. Contact us today to see how we can help you!