The most common cause of thyroid dysfunction in developed countries is immune dysfunction. When the immune system becomes dysfunctional the probability of it making a mistake and targeting your own body increases. This is called an autoimmune disease. There is no question that Americans live inflammatory lifestyles. In fact, the AARDA states that as much as 1 in 5 Americans have an autoimmune disease (1) and these numbers are on the rise. In fact, one study shows as high as 90% of people with hypothyroidism actually have what they call Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (2), which is when your immune system is actively targeting your thyroid related tissue. The target tissue your immune system attacks is what will determine the diagnosis. For thyroid related tissue, the autoimmune diseases are Hashimoto’s and Graves disease.
If you are seeing a doctor for thyroid related issues you need to get your antibodies checked. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (or have both mixed symptoms of hypo/hyperthyroidism) then ask to have your Thyroid Perioxidase (TPO) and Thyroglobulin (TGB) antibodies checked. Elevations in these antibodies indicate Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism, which is less common, ask for the enzymes listed above as well as Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulin or TSI antibodies. An elevation of TSI indicates Grave’s disease. If your doctor provides a little bit of resistance and doesn’t want to order the test it is usually because in conventional medicine, weather you have been diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid or just regular hypothyroid, the treatment stays the same. The doctor will just prescribe thyroid hormone and do very little for the underlying causes of your thyroid dysfunction. The reason why antibodies should be tested for is you will not have relief from your thyroid symptoms without addressing immune dysfunction.
How does inflammation affect your thyroid gland?
The rise in inflammatory levels can affect your thyroid in 4 different ways
- Disrupts the HP-endocrine axis
- Promotes further autoimmunity
- Decreases T4 – T3 conversion
- Decreases receptor function
What can we do to help modulate/calm our immune system?
Though this answer is different for each person, some general guidelines include the following:
Eat a diet that is very anti-inflammatory and address gut function
Our diet is absolutely essential to our health and can play a huge factor on raising or lowing inflammatory levels. If it’s our immune system that promotes inflammation and it is the immune system that we want to influence, it makes sense to look toward the area that houses the majority of our immune system. That is our gastrointestinal tract. About 70-80% of our immune system is located in our GI tract. It is constantly patrolling the GI tract and what we eat can cause the immune system to be more or less active. From experience in managing diets and running food sensitivity testing we find these foods to be on the top of the list of inflammatory foods: Grains, Dairy, Soy, Eggs, Nightshades. We generally recommend people to avoid these foods until symptoms improve and then to gradually reintroduce them one at a time to see if any are contributing to their symptoms. For people that want to know quickly and specifically which foods to avoid we utilize IgA and IgG food sensitivity testing. Note: A more in depth blog post about Gut Function and Thyroid Function is coming up later in the series
Reduce toxic exposure
Toxic exposure to various chemicals in our environment can trigger immune reactivity and therefore an increased probability of generating an autoimmune attack. Though it is impossible to avoid them all, if you are one who may be sensitive to chemicals then reducing your exposure can help. Look into the foods you eat for pesticides, the bottles and utensils you use for soft plastics and PCB’s as well as what you put on your skin.
Get your Vitamin D levels checked
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins when it comes to modulating immune system function. I won’t get too nitty-gritty into the details, but Vitamin D has been shown to help increase a certain type of cell called a T regulatory cell. Like an orchestra conductor, T-regulatory cells help keep different portions of our immune system in harmony with one another. When the immune system is in harmony there is less of a probability for triggering an autoimmune attack. There are two different forms of Vitamin D that we test for on routine lab work: 25-OH Vitamin D and 1,25-OH Vitamin D. The one that is a better indicator of nutritional status is 25-OH Vitamin D. We usually recommend people to be in the 60 – 80 range, with those who are autoimmune to be on the upper end of that range.
There is a lot that can be done to address the underlying causes of thyroid dysfunction. I hope that at the very least these thyroid related blog posts will inspire you and help you recognize that there is a lot more to the thyroid picture than just thyroid hormone.