Did you know Hashimotos is the main cause for underactive thyroids in Australia, with approximately 10x more women developing the condition compared to men?
Often we see women with a recent diagnosis of Hashimoto’s feeling confused about how to manage the condition and seeking a natural approach. In this blog I will teach you all about Hashimoto’s, what it is, how to test for it, common symptoms and natural treatment including nutrients and herbs to to help you thrive
What is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimotos is an autoimmune condition, whereby the body’s internal immune system is creating inflammation at the site of the thyroid gland. Due to this inflammation, the function of the thyroid becomes affected and slows down, becoming hypothyroid.
The difference between Hashimotos and a general underactive (hypothyroid) is that the immune system is involved.
The reason why someone develops Hashimotosis is unfortunately not completely understood, however, we do know that there are certain risk factors associated.
Risk factors for Hashimoto’s
- Approximately 80% of people with autoimmune conditions are female.
- Having other autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Coeliac Disease or Lupus increases your chance of developing another autoimmune condition.
- Genetics susceptibility means that if you have a direct relative with an autoimmune condition your risk increases.
- Certain infections such as Epstein Barr Virus or Strep throat are thought to potentially trigger autoimmune reactions in the body.
- Exposure to radiation or toxins from the environment such as BPA, radiation and asbestos.
- Gut dysbiosis from frequent antibiotic use, poor diet or long-term digestive issues.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front of the throat. This gland is often referred to as the “master gland” because it governs and controls so many functions in the body. One of the main roles of the thyroid is our metabolism and the speed at which the body’s internal systems function.
The way that the thyroid does this is by releasing hormones: T3 and T4. These hormones fluctuate according to what the body needs at that moment in time. When the thyroid makes a lot of hormones the metabolism and bodily functions speed up and when the thyroid makes less hormones things slow down. While slight changes are normal as we go about our lives, we do want these hormones to remain somewhat stable.
A hypothyroid is when the thyroid hormones are consistently produced in low numbers, therefore making the thyroid underactive. When there are less hormones available for the body to use, it must slow down some of its functions.
Hormones act like messengers in the body, bringing signals from the brain into our organs.
Less messengers means less signals which means less tasks getting done.
If you think of the body as a workplace, each organ works in a team that looks after a different job for the wellbeing of the collective. When one of the teams lags behind, it interrupts the productivity of the whole. This is why having an underactive thyroid for a prolonged amount of time can affect the whole body much more than just the momentary decrease in hormones we see from day to day.
Common symptoms of Hashimotos
In Hashimotos, many of the typical hypothyroid symptoms are exacerbated and may not respond as well to typical medical interventions. Thyroid hormones control the speed of many functions throughout the body and when the production of these hormones slows down we tend to see:
- Energy slows down creating an intense feeling of fatigue regardless of sleep quality
- Digestive function slows down and can result in constipation or reduced appetite
- Metabolism slows down increasing weight or making it hard to lose weight
- Cell turnover slows down leading to dry skin, shedding hair and eyebrow thinning
- Brain function slows down and is often described as brain fog or mental haze
- Connective tissue decline resulting in joint pain and muscle weakness
- Low mood, depression and ‘not feeling quite right’
- Feeling cold and/or reduced tolerance to cooler weather
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
How to know if you have Hashimotos?
If you have been experiencing these symptoms or if you have been diagnosed with a hypothyroid, perhaps it is worth investigating if you have Hashimotos. This can be done through a simple blood test looking at both the thyroid hormone markers and the autoantibodies:
- Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO)
- Thyroglobulin antibody (TGAb)
- TSH receptor antibodies (TRAB)
- TSH, T3, T4
The TSH in these blood results has come back normal and this person was dismissed for years, told that her thyroid was normal. It wasn’t until her T3, T4 and thyroid antibodies were tested that we could see she has Hashimotos. This is why having a full thyroid panel tested is so important.
What can you do if you have Hashimotos?
1. Go gluten free
Gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains, has been shown to have inflammatory effects in the body, particularly for those with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s. Research has found that following a gluten free diet for six months has shown a reduction in thyroid antibody levels, therefore, completely avoiding gluten containing foods is recommended as a long-term lifestyle change.
2. Supplement with selenium
Acting as an antioxidant in the body, selenium is an essential micronutrient needed for many functions throughout the body including thyroid health. The thyroid contains and uses the most selenium out of all the organs in the body. When there is a deficiency of selenium, the body is at a greater risk of developing Hashimotos or other thyroid conditions. Consuming just 5 brazil nuts each day can be a wonderful food-based way of increasing your selenium intake.
3. Reduce your toxin exposure
The thyroid organ is particularly sensitive to exposure to toxins. Long-term exposure to heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium), household toxins (cleaning products, pesticides, plastics), pesticides, workplace chemicals and radiation have been associated with thyroid diseases, including Hashimotos. We recommend doing a household audit to reduce the number of toxins you are exposed to on a daily basis and replacing them with home-made or natural alternatives.
4. Check your Vitamin D status
Deficiency in Vitamin D has been associated with autoimmune conditions and thyroid disease, including Hashimotos. Vitamin D also has a strong role to play in the body’s innate immune function by helping to process and eliminate infections which could exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. The best way to increase your Vitamin D is to directly expose your skin to the sun for 10-20 minutes every day. The amount of time you need in the sun will depend on the colour of your skin, darker skin needing more than lighter skin.
5. Supplement with Nigella sativa
Also known as black cumin, Nigella has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for many years for its use in improving energy levels and aiding in recovery from illness. Interesting research has also shown that Nigella can reduce TSH and thyroid peroxidase antibodies, two of the main markers found elevated in Hashimotos. This study also found a rise in T3 levels, the active thyroid hormone in our body. The seeds of this plant have also shown positive effects in blood pressure, the management of blood sugar dysregulation and cholesterol levels, three common comorbidities with thyroid conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with Hashimotos, an underactive thyroid or are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, please get in touch or book a base chat or initial session here.
Hi my name is Emma and I am a Naturopath with a passion for women’s health. During my four year degree I learnt the science behind plants, a deep understanding of the functions of the human body, and the relationship between lifestyle and how it impacts on our health. I use evidence based and traditional herbal medicine, nutrition, diet and lifestyle reviews to help bring balance into your life according to your individual needs.
Book a FREE chat with Emma here.