In the previous article we discussed that the main differentiating factor between Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is that Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and eventually causes an underactive thyroid. It is important to note that in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid gland is actually not the root cause of the problem. It is the immune system, which becomes too stimulated and starts attacking ‘self’ (thyroid gland) instead of ‘non-self’ (i.e. bacteria, viruses).
And why might that happen?
Genetics can certainly increase one’s susceptibility to developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, however, as we learn through epigenetics, it is our lifestyle factors, such as digestive health, stress, and nutrition that determine whether those genes will be switched on or off.
Digestive health plays a very important role in the development of most autoimmune conditions because 70-80% of our immune system is situated in the inner lining of our gut. Our intestines protect us from foreign invaders, such as bacteria, virus and fungus. When there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the digestive tract, it is termed dysbiosis and this microbial imbalance can cause immune system dysfunction. Thus, it is important to maintain a healthy gut flora.
A leaky gut can also cause immune system dysfunction. This intestinal permeability occurs when there is damage to the gut lining, causing undigested food particles, as well as foreign particles to pass through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream and trigger unwanted immune responses. Bacteria and gluten contribute to leaky gut formation by increasing zonulin, a protein that causes the tight junctions within the gut lining to open. Based on research studies and my clinical experience, there can be significant improvements, and for some even resolution of Hashimoto’s when gluten is eliminated from the diet. Gluten is one of the most inflammatory proteins consumed by North Americans.
Approach to Leaky Gut:
– Figure out what foods are contributing to the leaky gut by doing an elimination diet or better yet a food sensitivity test, which is more thorough, as there can be over 200 foods tested. These inflammatory foods can increase inflammation in the gut and lead to a ‘leaky gut’ or you can begin to react to more foods, as they pass into the bloodstream, if you already have a leaky gut syndrome. It can be a vicious cycle.
– Heal the gut lining by rebalancing the flora with a good quality multi-strain probiotic. It also helps to support immune health.
– L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps to heal the gut lining by reducing inflammation and sealing those micro-holes in the digestive tract.
– Drink a real bone broth on most days of the week to help heal intestinal permeability, as it contains collagen, which nourishes the gut lining and reduces inflammation. The therapeutic effect of a bone broth is increased the longer you simmer the bones (at least 6 hours), as more gelatin is produced.
– Incorporate fermented foods into your diet, as they are full of probiotics. Some examples: sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, tempeh.
Research suggests that there is a link between Hashimoto’s and nutritional deficiencies, specifically Selenium and Vitamin D. The thyroid gland has a high concentration of selenium, a mineral that also acts as a co-factor in the production and metabolism of thyroid hormones. It has been reported that supplementation with selenium can decrease thyroid antibodies, improve autoimmune-related infertility and decrease rates of postpartum thyroiditis.
Vitamin D helps to modulate the immune system. Studies show that those with Vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have Hashimoto’s and that oral supplementation with Vitamin D3 can decrease anti-TPO levels. Thus it is important to test your Vitamin D levels, especially if you have Hashimoto’s.
Chronic stress or a traumatic event can precipitate an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland. Although we do not always have control over the stressors in our lives, we can control how we react to stress. Thus, it is important to integrate stress coping mechanisms into our daily routines. Here are some suggestions; yoga, guided meditation, deep-breathing, relaxing walk in the park, a bath, a cup of calming tea with your favourite book, journaling, or an Epsom salt bath. Those are just some suggestions. Even 5 to 10 minutes in the morning and/or evening of a practice that works for you can help to shift your nervous system from sympathetic (stressed) into the parasympathetic (relaxed) state and decrease cortisol, your stress hormone.
Viral infections can trigger autoimmune activation and lead to destruction of the thyroid gland. There are a few theories on how viruses contribute to the development of autoimmunity;
- Molecular mimicry – when a virus has proteins that are structurally similar to the thyroid proteins, so the immune system ends up attacking both types of proteins – viral and thyroid.
- Bystander effect – if the virus is inside the thyroid gland, the immune system builds an attack against the thyroid gland, in hopes of destroying the virus.
Some of the most common viruses that tend to reside in Hashimoto’s patients are; Ebstein-Barr virus (‘kissing disease’), Herpes simplex 1 & 2, Hepatitis C and Cytomegalovirus.
Unfortunately, conventional medicine offers no solution to reverse autoimmunity and instead focuses on managing symptoms. However, I’ve seen those thyroid antibodies decrease and symptoms resolved when addressing the root cause of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The body has an incredible ability to heal itself; it just needs the right guidance.