Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why pregnancy can trigger Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and other autoimmune diseases

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Some women find they end their pregnancy with not only a new baby but a new hypothyroid condition as well. That’s because normal immune shifts during pregnancy can trigger an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, depending on genetics and other predisposing factors.

The immune system can be looked as having two primary roles, one that reacts immediately to an invader (such as pus surrounding a splinter), and one that reacts later to produce antibodies (such as to build immunity to a virus). The part of the immune system that reacts immediately is TH-1 while the delayed response is TH-2.

When one of these arms of the immune system becomes overly dominant it can trigger an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s disease. Researchers are increasingly finding factors that lead to immune imbalance and trigger autoimmune diseases. They can include not only a genetic predisposition, but also food sensitivities (gluten and dairy being the most common offenders), environmental chemicals (such as those found in plastics), leaky gut, viral or bacterial infections, brain injury or degeneration, and, when a woman’s immune system is already likely at the tipping point, pregnancy.

How pregnancy can trigger Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases

Pregnancy and the postpartum period naturally polarizes the immune system. In the third trimester the TH-2 immune response is dominant. Postpartum the TH-1 immune reaction is stronger. If a genetically predisposed woman goes into pregnancy with an existing immune imbalance, these natural immune shifts could trigger Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune diseases.

For 90 percent of Americans with hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, is the cause.

Pregnancy and hypothyroidism

Pregnancy can also trigger hypothyroid symptoms that are not autoimmune. A common cause of low thyroid function is chronic stress. Common stressors include leaky gut and gut infections, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances (hypoglycemia or insulin resistance), and hormonal imbalances. These stressors can depress the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland controls hormone function in the body.

When this happens the pituitary fails to signal the thyroid to produce enough thyroid hormone. For many women this manifests not only as low thyroid function, but also postpartum depression.

Because so many women enter pregnancy dealing with immune imbalances and chronic stress, the increased demands of pregnancy overwhelm the body, which can lead to hypothyroidism. Ideally, a woman will address health and immune imbalances before conceiving to reduce her risk of hypothyroidism.

A preconception health overhaul may also lower the risk of her infant developing eczema, asthma, food allergies, and even autism,  which has been found to be caused by brain autoimmunity in many cases. When the mother’s immune system is healthy and balanced, there’s a stronger possibility her baby’s will be too.

Is your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism protocol making you crazy?

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Managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and improving your health can require some drastic lifestyle changes. Although most people report feeling and functioning better on such a protocol, some obsess over the minutiae, spend days on the internet hunting for answers that don’t seem to exist, and worry constantly about their health and whether they’re “following the rules.” The end result? A heap of health-sabotaging stress.

For those prone to anxiety, type A behavior, eating disorders  or wanting to do everything right, a change in diet and lifestyle habits can feel like an endless pop quiz you can never get an “A” on. Additionally, some people have very complex illnesses no one can figure out, so they must hunt down solutions themselves, yet they risk getting bogged down in conflicting information, their own lack of knowledge about basic physiology, or a problem that science simply has not yet solved.

Although strictness is vital in some areas –- a person with gluten sensitivity or a chemical sensitivity needs to vigilantly avoid those substances –- the truth is perfection is an unreasonable goal. For the vulnerable person, trying to follow a Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism protocol perfectly can become a trap that only compounds their illness through constant stress and worry.

Recognizing this tendency, clever marketers and bloggers use fear-based writing to deliver the latest health news. It seems every week a new article is warning you that a particular food, habit, or medication is going to cause dementia or an early death, and that their new supplement or device is the cure.

Health and nutrition have become like religious wars, with gurus and zealots each proclaiming their diet is the only path to good health and anything else will kill you. It’s as if people don’t follow a diet so much as join a cult.

For the chronically ill person with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism who is fatigued, vulnerable, and desperate to get well, forays onto Google in search of help are riddled with such land mines.

It’s a tricky balance to educate yourself and commit to a Hashimoto’s protocol without letting it consume you. It’s important to understand that good health extends beyond physiology to include emotions, beliefs, attitude, and support.

How to keep your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism protocol from making you crazy

True, managing Hashimoto’s may require some drastic diet and lifestyle changes. But this doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your sanity. Instead, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Studies show a positive attitude is a powerful facet of good health. If you constantly feel negative about your health protocol, it’s time for an attitude adjustment.
  • Research on the placebo effect demonstrates how powerfully our belief systems can influence our success. Put one of the positive visualization tools out there to work for you instead of fretting over every little detail.
  • If you’re coping with an eating disorder, constant anxiety or worry, or a need for perfection, consider one of the many techniques to help reconfigure your subconscious beliefs, such as hypnotherapy, EFT, or EMDR.
  • Studies have shown that stress is toxic and pro-inflammatory. Check in with yourself and see whether you are stressing out over your health protocol. If so, take action to reduce stress and increase relaxation.
  • Find the right kind of support. Research shows healthy socialization is vital to good health. Be careful not to get caught up in a non-stop pity party with other sufferers. Find those who are positive and have helpful information to share.
  • Understand that modern science has its limits and there is still much about human health yet to be discovered. There simply may not yet be an answer to your question or dilemma.

Working with the guidance of someone who understands physiology, functional medicine, and health and nutrition, and who has experience of working with chronic illness can help relieve some of your burden. Ask our office for information on how we can help support you in your journey managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Why your doctor can’t always help you when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

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You notice you’re feeling worse and worse. You suffer from chronic fatigue, pain, digestion issues, depression, anxiety, insomnia …. the list goes on. Yet when you go to your doctor, you’re told your lab tests are fine, it’s just age, or perhaps you need an antidepressant. If you press for more tests or keep returning with complaints, you’re labeled a problem patient or told it’s all in your head.

Unfortunately, this happens to untold numbers of people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism each year. When you can barely muster the energy to get through life’s daily tasks and you have long since abandoned your hobbies, sports, or time with friends, hitting a brick wall at the doctor’s office can fill you with despair.

It isn’t that your doctor is an uncaring person, he or she simply works in a paradigm that is woefully outdated when it comes to the exploding incidences of chronic and inflammatory conditions today. There are instances when conventional medicine is like a miracle, but for the one in five people suffering from autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism (a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue in the body or brain), and countless others suffering from undiagnosed autoimmunity, chronic inflammation, severe pain, environmentally induced illnesses, food sensitivities, chronic viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, brain chemistry imbalances, hormonal imbalances, hair loss, unexplained weight gain, and more — being told your lab tests are fine and you simply need an antidepressant can feel like a kick in the groin.

For those with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, although thyroid hormone medication may be necessary, it does not address the gradual destruction of the thyroid gland from autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Medical schools don’t teach nutrition

Medical doctors receive very little nutritional training despite an ever growing body of evidence linking diet with the explosion of chronic diseases today. We know, for instance, that the high blood sugar that comes from eating standard American fare can ultimately lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease.

The standard approach to autoimmune disease, the occurrence rate of which far surpasses that of cancer and heart disease combined, is to wait until its advanced enough to either surgically remove the affected tissue or administer severe immune-suppressing drugs. Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism affects an estimated almost 24 million people, yet rarely does a medical doctor address autoimmune management, simply because it is not part of the standard health care model.

Gluten intolerance is still overlooked by many doctors. Standard testing for gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is limited and outdated, missing countless positive diagnoses. This despite the growing body of evidence that links gluten with autoimmune and neurological conditions. Studies also link gluten intolerance with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, something doctors rarely address.

Other dietary proteins can also provoke severe immune reactions, something many doctors are not aware of unless it’s a classical food allergy (which is a different beast than a food sensitivity).

Doctors are constrained by their medical education, which has yet to catch up with modern illnesses. Liability insurance, health insurance, peer pressure, lack of time, and other factors often keep them from investing in the education required to help the millions of people suffering from “mystery” symptoms which, when you look at the science, are not always that mysterious.

Functional medicine for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

Fortunately, functional medicine specializes in using nutritional, botanical, and nutraceutical approaches to manage chronic, inflammatory, and autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. We keep up with the latest science and the latest lab testing, which is integral to unraveling chronic symptoms and conditions. If you’ve hit a dead end with your medical provider, ask our office how functional medicine can help you manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and regain your energy, vitality, and well-being.

Is “silent” autoimmunity causing your thyroid symptoms?

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Autoimmune disease has become frighteningly common today. This degenerative condition, which can affect any tissue in the body or brain, happens when the immune system attacks and destroys the body as if it were a foreign invader. Chances are either you or someone you know has an autoimmune disease. Some of the more commonly known autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and psoriasis.

Although the statistics for autoimmune disease are alarming enough — it affects one in five people, the majority of them women — these numbers do not tell the whole story. The truth is the autoimmune process typically is underway long before the tissue damage is advanced enough for it to be diagnosed as a “disease.”

In fact, some people go an entire lifetime suffering from the symptoms of an autoimmune reaction that never progresses to the disease stage. This is because tissue damage and symptoms have to be quite severe or life threatening before conventional medicine can offer remedies in the way of steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgical removal.

This means untold numbers of people suffer from autoimmune reactions that cause symptoms but are not advanced enough to be diagnosed as disease. This creates confusion and frustration for the suffering patient.

For instance, someone with an autoimmune reaction to the pancreas may struggle with keeping her blood sugar stable despite eating a very good diet. This is because she is on the path to possibly developing type 1 diabetes. It’s estimated 10 percent of those with type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle-induced condition, also have pancreatic autoimmunity and thus markers for type 1 diabetes autoimmunity. Another example is autoimmunity that causes hypothyroidism — Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Patients are given thyroid hormone in ever increasing doses but are not instructed on how to dampen or halt the autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland.

People can also have symptoms that suggest multiple sclerosis, arthritis, brain disorders (depression, anxiety, loss of balance, loss of memory, etc.), poor adrenal function, irritable bowel, and others because their immune system is attacking the glands or tissues associated with those symptoms. However, the tissue destruction is not advanced enough to be labeled as a disease and hence medicine has little or nothing to offer.

Fortunately, functional medicine shines in this arena. Specialized lab testing can determine whether autoimmunity is affecting a number of different tissues. Testing can identify (or rule out) the source of chronic, mysterious, and undiagnosable symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, chronic pain, declining brain function, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, and more.

This information can validate patients who have long been dismissed or belittled by their doctors for “making things up.” Testing can also uncover autoimmune reactions that are not causing any symptoms. For instance, a person may be producing antibodies (an autoimmune marker) to the sheaths that coat the nerves. In its progressed stage, this becomes multiple sclerosis. Knowing this kind of information can give you more incentive to avoid inflammatory foods and pursue other lifestyle choices that may lower your risk of that silent autoimmune reaction becoming a disease.

In functional medicine we use a variety of strategies to dampen autoimmunity and relieve symptoms. These strategies include an anti-inflammatory diet that removes foods to which you are sensitive and stabilizes blood sugar, minimizing your exposure to toxic chemicals and metals, adopting lifestyle habits that minimize stress and maximize well being (socializing, exercise, play time, laughter, etc.), and the use of natural compounds that dampen inflammation and support the balance of immunity, stress, gut health, and blood sugar.

Ask my office for more information.