Hypothyroidism, Autoimmunity & Investigating the Root Cause

What is Your Thyroid & What Does it Do?


The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of the neck. It is part of your endocrine system and is undoubtedly the master gland of your body. The job of the thyroid is to regulate every single metabolic process within you. It not only keeps you alive but also allows you to thrive.


And yet, most of us aren’t even aware of its existence.


If you don’t know what your thyroid is or does, that probably means that it is damn good at its job!


The thyroid releases hormones that look after vital bodily functions so that we don’t have to think about them. These include; breathing, heart rate, central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature, cholesterol levels, blood sugar regulation, and much more.

Figure 1. The thyroid gland (3)

Sounds pretty important right?


You should think of your thyroid like a bee. Yep, a cute, little bumble-bee, who has dedicated itself solely to you, the Queen Bee.


You see, your thyroid doesn’t just show up when it’s needed. It doesn’t take sick days or even want holiday loading. It never wants to stop working because it knows it’s the only bee for the job. It soldiers on in the background to keep you functioning as you should.


Where It Starts to Go Astray… 


Unfortunately, our lives today are not as simple as those of a bee. We can’t just make a little honey and have all our problems solved. 


As modern humans, the chronic stress we endure tends to be a lot more than what our biologies can handle. Though adaptation is a strength of our species, maintaining good health is, unfortunately, no longer our default state. 


You see, we’ve saturated our systems with highly processed foods and toxic chemicals; the byproducts of ease and convenience in our busy lives that place unnecessary stress on our systems. It seems that almost every second person is suffering the consequences of chronic stress including; fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, memory loss, dry skin, muscle weakness or wasting, cramps, infertility, and even heart failure. 


What if I told you that all of these conditions have one thing in common? 


You guessed it… your thyroid. 


Hypothyroidism and Autoimmunity


Hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine disorder worldwide, with a greater burden of disease in women. 


When your thyroid is compromised (in this case, under-active), it is unable to release enough of the hormones your body needs to keep your metabolic processes functioning at optimal speed and efficiency. 


In other words, everything slows down. 


You might not even realise you have it (and many people don’t), because the symptoms can be so elusive and could be related to anything! To put it bluntly - you might just feel like shit


Signs and symptoms (familiar and atypical) associated with hypothyroidism

So, What Causes Hypothyroidism?


Hypothyroidism and other thyroid problems arise from many different causes. Some of these include iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease, viral and bacterial inflammation, and hereditary disorders. 


In Australia and other Western countries, the majority of hypothyroid cases are linked to autoimmune disease. So, what is autoimmune disease? 


We all know what our immune system is, and that a strong immune system reflects the capacity of a well person to fight off illness to preserve their health. 


Now let’s imagine that there are millions of microscopic soldiers who live inside you. For years, their job has been to identify and fight the bad guys (pathogens) that have managed to sneak past your exterior defence system into your body. 


One day, something happens to these soldiers. An unknown trigger has caused them to become colourblind and they can no longer distinguish green from red. Most of the time, this doesn’t affect them in doing their job because the bad guys come in many different colours that the soldiers can still recognise. 


But when a red pathogen comes into your system, the soldiers have no way of distinguishing it from the green cells. So, the soldiers destroy all cells that appear red, including the green ones. 


Here’s the catch though. The green cells are not the bad guys. They are YOUR cells - vital parts of your body that your loyal soldiers should be protecting, not destroying. 


Your body literally gets attacked by itself in the crossfire.


For example, Hashimoto’s is a type of autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks your thyroid, while Coeliac Disease is a type of autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks the intestinal wall of the gut. 


So How Do We Investigate the Root Cause?


You don’t necessarily have to be labelled with a diagnosable condition to be susceptible to autoimmune reactions. If you’re suffering from fatigue, weight gain, infertility, irregular blood sugar levels, or any other symptoms listed in the table above, it is possible that you have a sluggish thyroid. 


Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to take charge of your own health and investigate what’s causing the damage. 


Begin your journey with a functional medicine doctor who can order comprehensive testing and provide you with appropriate medical supervision. Some important blood tests to have run include; TSH, T3, T4 and thyroid antibodies. 


The causes of hypothyroidism vary in severity and complexity, so don’t feel like you should have to tackle it alone.


The Importance of Recognising Bioindividuality 

We are all incredibly different inside and out. What works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for you. We truly need to recognise and celebrate our own unique health journeys. 


So, whether your goal is to lose weight, increase energy, optimise fertility, look younger, or simply feel better, you need to explore strategies that are going to work for you.


Common Triggers of the Autoimmune Thyroid Response 

Let’s take a quick look at some common triggers of the autoimmune thyroid response, as well as potential healing strategies you could enlist, alongside individualised testing and advice. 

Chronic Stress 

This stress could be emotional or physiological, and thanks to cortisol imbalances, may have you feeling like you are “tired but wired”. You’ll most likely also be suffering from poor sleep. 


A dietitian or nutritionist can help with strategies to get your diet on track, while you may also want to add some yoga or meditation to your routine to assist those stress-levels in coming down.


Food Intolerances

You may be suffering food intolerances that you aren’t even aware of. Some common food intolerances include gluten, grain, and dairy. The immune response from a single exposure to your intolerance can last several days, weeks and in the case of gluten, months! 


If you think you may be suffering from food intolerances, it’s a good idea to have a food allergy test done and consult your dietitian or nutritionist on how best to move forward with your diet.


Nutrient Deficiencies 

The autoimmune thyroid response can also be triggered by problems with nutrient absorption, retention or dietary insufficiency. Most commonly, individuals will find themselves iodine, iron, selenium, or vitamin D deficient. 


A blood test will be able to determine whether or not you are suffering from nutrient deficiencies and they should be easily fixed through diet and supplementation. 


To Sum it Up...


You know your body better than anyone else, so think about what it is in your life that is throwing fuel on the fire! What is triggering your immune system to malfunction? 


Attending to one, two, three, or all of the above aspects in your life may be the key to healing your immune system to replenish the health of your thyroid. 


It’s time to say good-bye to those underlying symptoms that have been ruining your life for too long!


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If you're interested in reading more about where the points in this article came from, here is a list of our references for your convenience. Happy reading!


References:

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  9. Malik A, Saleem S, Basit Ashraf MA, Qazi MH. 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, a potential role player in the development of thyroid disorders in schizophrenics. Pakistan journal of medical sciences. 2016;32(6):1370-4.

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