Autoimmune diseases affect nearly 24 million Americans, and thyroid diseases affect about 20 million. Many Americans are dealing with autoimmune thyroid disease. In fact, Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune thyroid condition, is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism.
The scary part is that a high percentage of those with autoimmune thyroid disease are completely unaware of their condition. If you have autoimmune thyroid disease, you don’t want to leave it untreated. Read on to learn more about autoimmune thyroid disease and how functional medicine can help you to treat your condition naturally.
What Is Autoimmune Thyroid Disease?
Your thyroid is shaped just like a butterfly. It’s a small gland located at the base of your neck. It plays an important part in your endocrine system, which produces hormones that are responsible for your metabolism, temperature regulation, heart rate, breathing, and mood.
Autoimmune conditions occur when your immune system attacks your own body, in the case of autoimmune thyroid disease, your thyroid. The most common autoimmune thyroid disease is Hashimoto’s disease, a form of autoimmune hypothyroidism. You may also develop autoimmune hyperthyroidism, such as Graves’ disease.
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune condition characterized by an underactive thyroid.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include:
- Muscle aches, stiffness, tenderness, or weakness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Unexplained or unexpected weight gain
- Pale, dry skin
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Puffy face
- Enlarged tongue
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Memory issues
- Prolonged menstrual bleeding
Early diagnosis and treatment of Hashimoto’s disease are crucial. Untreated Hashimoto’s disease may lead to a variety of health complications including goiters, heart problems, mental health issues, myxedema, and birth defects.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition characterized by an overactive thyroid.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Unexplained or unexpected weight loss, despite eating enough
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Heart sensitivity
- Increase in perspiration
- Warm or moist skin and increased body temperature
- Frequent bowel movement
- Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
- Thick, red skin on the top of the feet or shins (Graves’ dermopathy)
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Thinning or brittle hair
- Difficulty sleeping
It is important to diagnose and treat Graves’ disease early on. Untreated Graves’ disease may lead to a variety of health complications including heart problems; increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure; eye problems; brittle bones; red and swollen skin and thyrotoxic shock.
Diagnosis of Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Conventional, functional, and integrative doctors use similar tools for autoimmune thyroid disease diagnosis. You can expect a physical exam, a complete medical history and an analysis of your symptoms. Your doctor will also order some blood tests.
Many conventional doctors only check for your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level and inactive thyroid hormone (T4) level. However, in order to gain a full understanding of your thyroid health, most integrative medicine and functional medicine doctors find it important to get a complete panel. They check your TSH, free T4, free T3, and reverse T3 levels, as well as certain antibodies to understand the full picture.
What Conventional Doctors Don’t Understand About Autoimmune Thyroid Disease Treatment
Conventional doctors tend to look at your symptoms only, instead of looking at you from a holistic perspective, as a person affected by their diet, lifestyle, and environment. They miss digging deeper for the root cause of your issue and risk factors that may lead to autoimmune thyroid disease. The question of “WHY?” you developed autoimmune thyroid conditions most often remains unanswered.
Risk Factors of Thyroid Disease:
- Stress: Cortisol, the stress hormone, may also interfere with thyroid hormone production leading to all kinds of imbalance in your body.
- Leaky Gut: If you have increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome”, your gut wall allows undigested food particles to escape into your bloodstream leading to chronic inflammation, a compromised immune system, and potential autoimmune disease.
- Toxins: An exposure to harmful chemicals—in particular, the ones used in plastic may cause thyroid issues. Heavy metals is another big risk factor.
- Infections: Mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr virus), mumps and the flu virus have all been linked to thyroid problems. These viruses can stay dormant in your body for years then flare up when you are under great stress.
- Food sensitivities and inflammatory foods: Inflammatory foods and foods that you are sensitive to may lead to further inflammation and disease in your body. Gluten sensitivity, for example, may lead to the overproduction of antibodies, which may end up attacking your own body, including your thyroid gland.
- Autoimmune conditions: If you already have another autoimmune condition, then you are 10 times more likely to develop another one, including autoimmune thyroid disease.
Understanding these risk factors is incredibly important when it comes to autoimmune thyroid treatment. Unlike functional medicine doctors and integrative medicine doctors, conventional practitioners don’t take dietary and lifestyle factors into account when it comes to autoimmune thyroid disease treatment.
The conventional treatment of autoimmune thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease, usually involves surgery and/or medication. Thyroid medications with synthetic thyroid hormones are one of the top sellers that patients usually stay on for life.
The problem is that these drugs don’t address the root cause of the problem and may lead to side effects and other health problems in the long run. Functional medicine doctors, on the other hand, have a different approach. Your functional medicine doctor will spend time with you to listen and understand why you may have developed an autoimmune thyroid condition. Instead of simply relying on thyroid medication or surgery, they look for the root cause of your autoimmune thyroid disease and offer natural treatment.
Functional Medicine Approach to Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
You will be happy to learn that you may be able to treat autoimmune thyroid disease naturally by following a functional medicine approach. This means addressing the root cause of your issues and following some dietary and lifestyle strategies.
Experiencing a lot of stress, sleeping very little, and eating junk food seems to be the norm in today’s fast-paced world. The problem is that such a lifestyle leads to inflammation and health issues, including autoimmune thyroid disease.
The functional medicine approach to autoimmune thyroid treatment requires dietary changes, adopting some lifestyle strategies, and appropriate supplementation to support your body. Visiting a functional medicine doctor is the first step for identifying the root cause of your autoimmune thyroid disease. Your functional medicine doctor can create an autoimmune thyroid treatment protocol that’s right for you.
Functional Medicine Strategies for Improving Your Thyroid Function
Take a look at some of the main functional medicine strategies for improving your thyroid function.
Repair Your Gut
Support your gut with a fiber-rich and nutrient-dense diet. Eat plenty of probiotic-rich foods, and take probiotic supplements to support your gut flora. Visit a functional medicine doctor to identify problems that may be compromising your gut health.
Clean Up Your Diet
Remove inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar, refined vegetable oils, processed foods, unhealthy fats, gluten, conventional dairy, and any foods to which you may be sensitive. Instead, eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, such as greens, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and clean protein.
Our modern world is full of toxins that create inflammation and disease in your body. Minimize toxic exposure by using organic and natural cleaning and body products, reducing the use of plastics, avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke and spending time in nature.
There may be infections lying dormant in your body ready to activate an autoimmune thyroid condition under stressful circumstances. It is important that you work with a functional medicine doctor to identify your hidden infections and develop a plan to fight them naturally.
Regular exercise supports your immune system and overall well-being. Aim to exercise 20 to 30 minutes five times a week and to move your body regularly. Get up and stretch at work. Go for a walk during lunch. Play outdoors with your kids or pets.
Managing your stress levels is absolutely essential for a healthy immune system. Avoid stress as much as possible. Learn skills that help you to react to stressful situations more effectively. Engage in relaxing activities, including yoga, meditation, journaling, breathwork, and nature walks.
Getting regular quality sleep is essential for your overall well-being. Make sure to sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. Support your sleep cycle by having a regular bedtime. Develop a relaxing night-time routine that works for you to calm your mind and ease your body before bed. Meditation, journaling, light stretching, and a calming cup of tea are great ideas.
Find a Functional Medicine Doctor for Autoimmune Thyroid Treatment
If you suspect or already know that you have autoimmune thyroid disease, it is important that you find a functional medicine practitioner to help you identify the root cause of your condition and prescribe a personalized autoimmune thyroid treatment.
I can help you to address the underlying causes of your autoimmune thyroid condition using a system-oriented approach, engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. As an experienced functional medicine doctor with an integrated expertise of both Western medicine and traditional Eastern practice, I can assess all the factors, including diet, lifestyle, stress, toxicity, allergies, sleep habits and medication that may affect your immune system in order to uncover the root cause of your autoimmune thyroid disease and prescribe a personalized and effective plan to improve your thyroid condition, repair your body and regain your health and well-being.
If you would like to get more information about autoimmune thyroid treatment or to schedule a functional medicine consultation, please call my office at 212-696-4325.