What is an autoimmune disorder?
Simply put, an autoimmune disorder is a condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. In Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, the immune system attacks and kills thyroid cells. This "attack and destroy" can cause wild symptom swings from hypothyroid to hyperthyroid, and back. Each attack destroys more and more thyroid cells, until ultimately the patient becomes hypothyroid and starts a lifelong dependence on thyroid hormone medication.
Where there's one . . .
Autoimmune disorders don't travel alone. About one in six patients with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis have at least one additional autoimmune disorder. Celiac disease, vitiligo, and multiple sclerosis are just a few of the autoimmune disorders that are often found in conjunction with Hashimoto's disease.
How do I know if my thyroid is under attack?
In addition to the standard thyroid function tests such as the TSH, Free T4, and Free T3, your doctor should also check for increased levels of specific antibodies to thyroid proteins. The "red flag" antibodies to check are thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin. Antibodies are proteins used by the immune system to detect and respond to threats. Thus, if you have a thyroid-related autoimmune disorder, blood tests could potentially indicate increased anti-thyroid antibodies.
However - and this is important - even if your labs do not show elevated antibody levels, you could still have Hashimoto's Disease. Undiagnosed Hashimoto's disease is particularly common in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. So, if your labs look normal, but your thyroid is inflamed and you are experiencing symptoms, you might see your symptoms improve with thyroid treatment.
Why is my immune system battling my thyroid?
We don't know for certain what causes Hashimoto's disease. But there are theories. Genetics can definitely play a part. If your mother or grandmother had Hashimoto's disease, there's an increased likelihood that you will develop the disease. It's also thought that low iodine, as well as certain minerals like selenium, zinc, and iron, can lead to thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid.
Hashimoto's disease sometimes comes on after pregnancy, due to the increased activity of the immune system. A wide range of chronic infections can also cause Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, including viruses such as Epstein Barr and HHV6, as well as Lyme disease and mycoplasma. These chronic infections cause an imbalance in the immune system that makes it less able to fight attacking organisms but more likely to attack the body, causing a number of autoimmune diseases.
So, what do you do if you have Hashimoto's disease? It's critical to start treatment as quickly as possible so that you can stop the damage to the thyroid. The first line of treatment is thyroid hormone replacement therapy. But there are other additions, both medical and nutritional, that can have a positive impact on the disease.
Patients with Hashimoto's disease often have low levels of DHEA and testosterone. Restoring these levels to normal can actually decrease antibody levels, decreasing the attack on the thyroid gland.
Selenium, an important trace mineral in our bodies, plays a primary role in immune function. Selenium deficiency has been linked to thyroid inflammation and possibly the development of Hashimoto's disease. By supplementing with selenium, not only can you strengthen the immune system, but can often reduce antibody levels.
Since chronic viral or bacterial infections can often be the underlying cause of immune dysfunction, identifying and treating these infections can reverse the disease.
Immune System issues
It might seem illogical to think that you can fight an autoimmune disorder by strengthening the immune system. But it's true. As most of our immune system is in the gut, treating intestinal inflammation, or "leaky gut," can be helpful. In addition, Immune boosters such as Low Dose Naltrexone and gamma-globulin, can be very beneficial by balancing the activity of the immune system.
If you feel like your energy levels are on a rollercoaster, are experiencing episodes of fatigue and anxiety, or feel like your thyroid is swollen, it's worth talking with your doctor about running tests for possible Hashimoto's disease. Early detection and treatment can possibly prevent full-blown hypothyroidism and save your thyroid gland from destruction.