Hypothyroidism and Autoimmunity
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis? Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis seems like an odd name so let’s break it down first. Hashimoto’s was named after Dr. Hashimoto, a Japanese surgeon, who discovered the disorder in 1912. Thyroiditis refers to inflammation of the thyroid gland. So, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland.
Hashimoto’s is also referred to as Lymphocytic Thyroiditis. This name references the infiltration of a particular type of immune cell, or lymphocyte, which occurs in the thyroid gland. This immune response results in inflammation and thyroid gland destruction.
In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, your immune system (or the thyroid cells themselves) are gradually damaging and destroying the thyroid gland. The process can start slowly, without any obvious symptoms at your thyroid gland, however, many people have extra-thyroidal symptoms like: fatigue, dry skin, thinning hair, constipation, and low libido.
As inflammation and the damage to the thyroid gland persists, your thyroid hormone production drops. Your TSH level will rise to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormone. The elevation of TSH can cause the thyroid tissue to grow, producing one or more nodules. When the thyroid gland is enlarged overall, it’s referred to as a goiter.
The inflammation, nodules, or the goiter can make it uncomfortable or difficult to swallow. Patient’s can also experience pressure or discomfort in their neck or throat.
What is causing Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
The answer to this question is complex and unique to each patient. However, there seems to be a few common threads underlying most, if not all cases of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis:
- Intestinal permeability, such as Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Various forms of physical, chemical, emotional, and microbial stressors
- Genetic susceptibility
Patient’s may have one or several factors triggering their Hashimoto’s. The challenge with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is that there is no single identified cause for all patients. However, current research has identified multiple factors that may be the trigger that initiates thyroid gland damage. Some of those things include: emotional stress, infections, food intolerances, and chemical stress. Because there are so many possibilities, allopathic medicine has focused on managing the disorder versus trying to chase down your individual root cause.
Depending on the medical model, you will likely get a different response as to what is causing your Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. In allopathic medicine you will likely be told that you have genetic susceptibility and that the case is idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. You will be put on T4 medication to support your thyroid hormone needs, as your gland slowly deteriorates.
How does Functional Medicine help Thyroid Autoimmunity?
In Functional Medicine the goal is to:
- Help you identify the root cause or causes of your autoimmune attack
- Reduce or remove the root causes
- Use supplemental protocols, diet and lifestyle modification to support healing of cells and tissues impacted by Hashimoto’s
- Manage health versus managing disease and lab ranges
What’s causing your Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is going to be unique to you. It could be emotional stress, disrupted sleep, toxins, food reactivity, nutrient deficiencies, hormone, or organisms. This is where Functional Medicine shines. By identifying root causes, you may be able to restore normal thyroid physiology.
Why Rejuvagen’s Functional Medicine Approach is Different?
Rejuvagen’s philosophy regarding thyroid physiology is a bit different than the typical Functional Medicine approach. Many Functional Medicine doctors look at Hashimoto’s as a mistake by the immune system and the goal is to reduce antibody levels. While Dr. Balcavage does believe this can happen in some cases, he looks at Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis as a protective mechanism by the body to slow metabolism due to some chronic cellular stress. Dr. Balcavage feels that for many, chronic cell stress is what triggers the calculated damage to the thyroid gland after weeks, months, or years of cellular stress.
Our approach at Rejuvagen is to identify what is causing chronic cellular stress and appropriately address the underlying factors contributing to the body’s stress. In over 20+ years of experience, Dr. Balcavage has fundamentally discovered that hypothyroidism is a spectrum disorder, and that the development of Hashimoto’s Disease is part of that spectrum.
In the majority of patients, Hypothyroidism typically starts in your cells and tissues long before your thyroid gland becomes dysfunctional. When your cells sense danger, they initiate a series of steps to slow down normal cell metabolism and increase cell defense.
Deactivation of thyroid hormone in your cells and tissues is part of the protective Cell Danger Response. If the danger is short lived, the deactivation of thyroid hormone is temporary and so are your hypothyroid symptoms. If the danger is chronic, deterioration of the thyroid gland is the next step. This results in inflammation of the thyroid gland and for some, nodules and antibodies.