What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?

Hashimoto's Disease Up Close

hashimotos

Oprah Winfrey
Photo: Joe Pugliese/August

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder where a person’s immune system attacks their thyroid. It causes hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is underactive.

While many people who suffer from this illness may feel alone, they’re truly in good company. Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Kim Cattrall, Zoe Saldana, Mary-Louise Parker, Molly Sims, and Gigi Hadid also have Hashimoto’s.

My Experience with Hashimoto's

As a 23-year-old graduate student, I had been doing everything right, or so I thought...

Along with doing cardio five days a week, I ate a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding red meat and fats.

I was also in class between 12 and 14 hours a day (I took on the stress of getting my MS and doctorate at the same time), I was in an unhealthy relationship where I was totally catering to someone else, and I was living in upstate NY. That meant I was NOT focusing on my vitamin D intake or on the benefits of light therapy.

When I started college, I'd also started taking the birth control pill to combat acne. My biggest regret ever is not knowing what I know now about that!

While I had always been an athlete, it's clear from photos of myself at the time that I was inflamed and burning the candle at both ends.

My mom had a history of Hashimoto’s, and as I started to learn more about nutrition and functional medicine, I saw some things that probably set me up for a tendency towards autoimmunity:

  • The genetic component.
  • I probably wasn’t eating the way that was best for ME. Gluten-containing grains, in particular, are not great for Hashimoto’s, and within a few weeks of cutting all those grains out, I could see a drastic difference in the inflammation in my face and body.
  • I had never really addressed toxins that were building up in my body, and I likely had a lower threshold for my total toxic load than your average person (most of us with autoimmune issues do!)

Knowledge is Power

So I started doing some hard work. I did an elimination diet: cut out all grains for close to a year while my gut was healing. I switched to weight training over cardio, started re-evaluating relationships, and really focused on how my body responded to different things.

I did stool testing, antibody testing, toxicity testing to insights into how my unique biochemistry works and where my vulnerabilities are. I know now that I tend to do better with a lower carb nutrition approach with occasional refeed days. I have to prioritize sleep and doing things to support my body’s detox ability because mine isn’t great.

Remember, knowledge is power. Now I know what I have to do to make sure my body can function optimally, and you can too.

Risk Factors

hashimotosThis disease affects 5% of the population of the U.S. The group at greatest risk for developing this autoimmune disorder is women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. But younger women, as well as men, may be affected as well.

People who are exposed to excessive levels of environmental radiation are more likely to develop Hashimoto's disease. Those with family members who have autoimmune disorders are also predisposed to it. And if a person has other autoimmune disorders, they’re more likely to develop Hashimoto’s as well.

Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's

It’s important to point out that there is a difference between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.

Hypothyroidism is an issue with the thyroid gland. Meanwhile, Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder. Your immune system is attacking healthy tissue. With this disease, the thyroid gland is under attack which ends up destroying the thyroid tissue.

Wondering what your thyroid is and does? It’s a small gland in the front of the neck that produces thyroid hormones. Those hormones literally impact almost every organ in your body because they control how your body uses energy. When you have a dip in thyroid hormones, things get slower. Hashimoto’s damages your thyroid and then it can’t make enough hormones to sustain healthy functioning levels.

Symptoms of Hashimoto's

The symptoms that those with Hashimoto’s may experience include:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches
  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Dry skin
  • Enlarged thyroid which could result in discomfort in the area and trouble swallowing.

In many cases, simple lifestyle changes can help you eradicate many of these symptoms.

Managing your Hashimoto’s

Autoimmune disorders in general can be managed with important lifestyle changes.

Exercise is also vital to reducing inflammation, and your diet is key. Choosing foods that are inflammatory, like those in the Keto diet or the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce flair ups.

Cutting your exposure to toxins, from harsh chemicals to those in our food, water, and air can also help manage your symptoms.

The Emotional Factor

hashimotosThe biggest thing as a female with an autoimmune condition that I have recognized and had to work on? The emotional component. So many women are putting themselves last – caring for family, going out of their way to help friends and relatives, putting in long hours at work, staying in relationships where they are trying to “fix” their partner.

While I’m not a therapist, that stuff is a recipe for autoimmune disaster, and no dietary approach is going to address those things. Mind-body medicine means taking care of both, and you can’t fully heal if you’re not also addressing the toxicity in your brain and your interpersonal relationships.

I saw this firsthand in myself a few years ago when I was “doing everything right” but went through a very emotionally taxing divorce. I got shot straight into an autoimmune flare-up (complete with a BONUS diagnosis of Lupus), despite doing all of my regular nutritional/emotional/physical routines.

That emotional stressor component is real and it’s serious.  So if you’re still struggling with a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s or another autoimmune condition and you’re wondering why the healthy diet isn’t helping? Time to look upstairs and into the non-biochemistry aspects of your lifestyle.

Click here to set up a free consultation to find out more.

To your health,

Dr. Laura

The content on heartroothealth.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.