A Functional Medicine Approach to Hashimoto’s Disease

It is estimated that over 14 million Americans have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, one of the leading causes of Low Thyroid function, and yet this number is only a small fraction of those who actually have the disease.   

 

Are you one of these people who experience symptoms including extreme fatigue, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, dry, brittle skin and nails, irregular or heavy menstrual periods, constipation, depression and/ or anxiety…and being told your thyroid is “just fine”?

 

Though some thyroid diagnoses go completely missed you may also be one of many who have been told they have just “low thyroid”, given a pill and sent on their way while symptoms persist and the body continues to attack itself.

 

In this article, we cover the fundamental causes behind thyroid dysfunction and what you need to know about treatment options.

 

What is Hashimoto’s?

 

In a nutshell, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which our immune system forms antibodies against the thyroid gland and over time gradually destroys it. Early on there may be no overt symptoms.  It is not just an endocrine disease but one that affects several systems in the body and is highly connected to many other autoimmune conditions as well. If gone untreated it can lead to or exacerbate many other health concerns as well. It is a multi-systemic disease and must be looked at from that perspective.

 

Why are so many people going under or un-diagnosed?

 

Simply put, most people are not being tested for it even though it is very common – it is like the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.  It is not because it is hard to diagnose, in fact it can be surprising simple. Initially it involves working with a practitioner who is insistent on running the right tests.

 

In addition to a TSH, a simple screening tool that is all too often the ONLY test many practitioners run, it is imperative look at a comprehensive panel including Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroglobulin (TG) and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies.  The presence of these antibodies in elevated numbers provides the definitive diagnosis of Hashimoto’s, yet in a truly integrative approach we must also look at other markers of autoimmunity and systemic inflammation; as well as Lipid panels, Vitamin D and even Genetic Profiles.

 

Once Diagnosed What Can You Do?

Many healthcare providers still erroneously believe that thyroid hormone replacement therapy is the only treatment available for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This however is far from the truth.  While thyroid medication is often part of a comprehensive treatment approach it does not treat the disease itself but rather the symptoms of low thyroid. A functional medicine approach is one that has the potential to heal the thyroid as well as the immune system.  By identifying and treating the root cause of disease, the body is given the opportunity to heal.

 

Possible underlying factors:  

 

There are many things that may be causing or contributing to Hashimoto’s disease. Usually it is not just one thing but rather a perfect storm that has left the body in a compromised state.

 

The 5 main areas to evaluate are:

 

1) Genetics:  Are there genetic factors such as MTHFR and others that prevent the body from synthesizing necessary hormones or detoxifying harmful substances from the body that may be toxic to the immune system as well as the thyroid gland.

 

2) Nutrition:  Testing for and then correcting underlying nutritional deficiencies can be tricky but is crucial. This may include minerals like selenium and zinc, amino acids like tyrosine,  and Essential Fatty Acids that modulate inflammation.

 

3) Environment: Past or ongoing exposures to toxins such as heavy metals, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, as well as solvents, plastics, and even pesticides such as Glysphospate (Round-up) which is found pervasively in our food supply. Such chemicals can put tremendous stress on our bodies detoxification systems as well as being directly harmful to our nervous and endocrine system.

 

4) Infection:  Viral infections or bacterial infections such as Epstein Barr or Lyme can create a situation called molecular mimicry in which the immune system, attempting to fight pathogens mistakenly identifies our own tissues as the foreign invader and mounts an attack on it.

 

5) Gut Health:  The gut is our barrier to the outside world as well as a critical mediator of our immune system.  If it is out of balance or damaged due to chronic exposure to medications such as antibiotics and acid blockers, pro- inflammatory foods such as gluten or lectins,  and even stress then it cannot do its job effectively. Ongoing stressors can lead not only to dysbiosis – too much “bad” bacteria and not enough “good”, but also to a chronic state of damage and inflammation in which the lining becomes damaged. This is often referred to as intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” and allows proteins into the bloodstream that may trigger inflammation and/or an autoimmune reaction.

 

Hashimoto’s Can Be Reversed!

Though these may all sound a bit scary, the good news is they can through some good detective work on the part of your Functional Medicine practitioner, Hashimotos can be identified.  With a comprehensive teamwork approach utilizing lifestyle modifications, diet, nutritional supplements, and other modalities, the root causes can be treated and it is possible for the body to return to a state of health and balance.

 

In Summary

 

  1. Get the right tests to find out if you have low thyroid vs Hashimoto
  2. Find a Doctor that accounts for all the complicating factors
  3. Don’t settle for just treating the symptoms, find someone who can help you heal

 

At Sage Med Clinic we specialize in a comprehensive approach to treating low thyroid and Hashimoto’s with an aim to solve the underlying conditions to promote healing.

 

To schedule your free consult, just call the clinic at 425.835.0359.  

 

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