Millions of people suffer from low thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism) brought on by a variety of factors. The most common cause is Hashimoto’s Disease. This month I’m doing a three-part series on Hashimoto’s, its possible root causes, symptoms and a functional approach to testing and treating it. This is Part One.
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune response where an individual’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, altering its ability to produce the hormones necessary for regulating, or helping to regulate, some of the body’s most vital functions. These include heart rate, energy levels (metabolism), digestion, and mood, among others, including many that are related to your appearance – such as the condition of hair, skin, and nails. We are seeing an influx of Hashimoto’s cases right now, as a reaction to the adrenal stress response to the current events.
Research shows that 90-95 percent of people with Hypothyroidism (low thyroid) also have Hashimoto’s Disease, but may not even know it because, when their low thyroid issue was discovered, the root cause for the problem wasn’t. Knowing the cause behind a dysfunctional thyroid is important because proper treatment protocols are determined by it.
In the case of Hashimoto’s, the problem is actually not a thyroid issue at all, but rather one of the autoimmune system, so it must be treated from an autoimmunity perspective. That’s because individuals who suffer from one condition of autoimmunity are more likely to suffer from others, such as arthritis, diabetes, lupus, and celiac’s disease.
Low thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s, have many common symptoms:
*excessive fatigue/low energy
*sensitivity to cold temperatures, particularly in the feet and hands
*low body temperature
*pale, dry skin
*brittle hair and nails
*excessive hair loss
*unexplained weight gain
*digestive issues including constipation and acid reflux
*nutritional deficiencies due to poor diet or low absorption rates
*muscle aches and joint stiffness
There is great crossover of symptoms among patients, but the combinations of symptoms and degrees of severity can vary so greatly from person to person that effective treatment of Hashimoto’s requires a highly individualized approach — one that often requires time, patience, and more than a little detective work.
Because functional medicine is designed around patient-specific treatment plans, it is the ideal way to not only treat Hashimoto’s Disease, but guide it into remission. Once diagnosed, the first step in tackling Hashimoto’s involves identifying and removing triggers of the autoimmune response.
Additional testing can reveal potential triggers related to diet, such as nutrient imbalances or deficiencies, systemic inflammation, and microbial imbalance in the small intestine from food sensitivities or leaky gut. Determining which foods nourish you and which ones cause you harm is one of the first — and most important — things you can do to improve your health.
Comprehensive functional medical tests can also reveal disfunction elsewhere in the body that might be contributing to low thyroid.
Along with testing, we like to have our patients establish a rough timeline of their health history to track seemingly unrelated events that potentially triggered the condition. These include viral and bacterial infections, extended use of antibiotics, antacids, or oral contraception, and overexposure to environmental toxins. Because symptoms tend to come on slowly and worsen over time, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly when the problem started, but it is often possible to guesstimate when you first noticed digestive issues like IBS or acid reflux, an abundance of hair loss (maybe your hairdresser commented or your husband noticed in the shower drain,) or you went from being a morning person to ….. not. All of these things together can reveal a lot about the onset and advancement of your condition.
After getting the results from comprehensive testing and a thorough review of changes in a patient’s health history, the foundation is laid for developing an individualized treatment plan for your Hashimoto’s Disease.