12% of women experience low thyroid symptoms in their lifetime, and 80% of low thyroid problems are caused by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s.
In the early stages of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis your blood test from the doctor may seem normal, this is because your doctor is only testing TSH and if this is normal they do not test the antibodies. But it is very important to test your thyroid antibodies as they can be an early warning that something is going wrong.
Despite being in the early stages of Hashimoto’s, and your TSH levels coming back normal you can still experience low thyroid symptoms like difficulty losing weight, fatigue and hormonal problems. 60% of people with low thyroid function go undiagnosed because they are only tested for TSH, which is not a good indicator of low thyroid function.
Testing for thyroid antibodies is a good idea if you have low thyroid symptoms (you can check out a list of low thyroid symptoms here), have recently been pregnant or have a family history of low thyroid. If you can identify the early stages of Hashimoto’s when the antibodies start to rise you can often stop the disease from progressing further, avoiding the need for a life time of medication and all those unwanted symptoms of low thyroid function.
Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid arthritis and SLE occur when your immune system starts attacking tissues of your body. Usually these immune cells are used to attack bacterial or viral infections to protect you, but the immune system can get confused and start attacking different parts of your body.
This confusion of your immune system can be triggered by an infection like Helicobacter pylori (bacterial infection in your stomach), parasites, leaky gut or viral infections like Ross River, Epstein Barr Virus or Cytomegalovirus.
Recent research shows that autoimmune conditions always occur in the presence of leaky gut, diet and other treatment protocols to fix leaky gut can have a dramatic affect on the symptoms of autoimmune conditions. This is part of the reason that once you develop one autoimmune condition you are at an increased risk of developing another, as the underlying cause of leaky gut has not been addressed.
Another strong trigger for autoimmune Hashimoto’s is gluten intolerance, this makes sense as recent research shows that gluten triggers the release of a chemical called Zonulin which stimulates leaky gut and the immune response.
Leaky gut not only affects your immune system but can lead to aching joints and muscles, cardiovascular disease, brain fog, depression and other chronic health problems.
Thyroxine which is the standard treatment thyroid medication given for Hashimoto’s does not address the autoimmune component of this condition, this means that your immune system continues to slowly attack the thyroid. That’s why many people start on the minimum dose of 50 mcg a day and then have to slowly increase their dose as the thyroid function slowly reduces.
There are many natural treatments including diet, lifestyle and supplements to support digestion function, gut repair and your immune system which will help to make your thyroid medication more effective. These natural treatments are not a replacement for your Thyroxine but complementary to help you look and feel great.
Iodine which is a mineral that is especially important for thyroid function can actually make the symptoms of Hashimoto’s worse if taken in too high a dose, this is something to monitor and discuss with your practitioner so that you get the right dose, or if any Iodine is necessary. High Iodine levels can increase your risk of Hashomoto’s and there is a lot of recent research making this connection.
Hashimoto’s has a strong genetic link so that if you have a parent or a sister with Hashimoto’s or low thyroid function it would be a good idea to get a full thyroid test.
Other risk factors include infections, toxicity, low Vitamin D and even pregnancy can trigger an autoimmune thyroid condition.
If you have a family history of thyroid conditions or you have other low thyroid symptoms the first step is to have an extensive thyroid test to determine the health of your thyroid function.
If the thyroid test shows high antibodies but normal thyroid function the next step it to eliminate the autoimmune triggers and address things like diet and leaky gut.
Extensive thyroid testing is available at www.planetnaturopath.com and is available in Australia, North America and the U.K
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.
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