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Note to Self: Stop Attacking Thyroid

Post Published: 30 September 2010
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Category: Autoimmune Thyroiditis and Symptoms, Guest Bloggers
This post currently has 8 responses. Leave a comment

Note to Self: Stop Attacking Thyroid

Many of us write letters to our thyroid that are nudging, cajoling, demanding explanation, pleading with that little butterfly gland to snap to it or meet us halfway. Turns out we may be addressing our letters to the wrong system. Often it’s the overactive immune system that is to blame and your thyroid is an innocent victim of the infiltrating immune infantry.

Really? How often are we talkin’?

Just read a study of women who came to an integrative medicine practice in Texas – 38% of them, many with no symptoms yet, had positive antibodies to their thyroid.

Yikers. We’re talkin’ common. If you’ve been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism that later normalized or have a TSH that is all over the map despite steady treatment, consider this possibility.  Having an elevation in your thyroid antibodies goes by many names – autoimmune thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s (after the Japanese dude who first described it), chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis (which sounds a little too close to lymphoma for my taste).

Break It Down for Me, Doc: What Does It Really Feel Like?

What I see most often among women with autoimmune thyroiditis is palpitations (due to their thyroid getting stimulated by the antibodies). Some women have a lovely yin/yang flip between depression/fat/exhausted/no libido/can’t crap to anxiety/can’t sleep/palpitations. Others have swelling of their thyroid – diffuse, mild enlargement as the gland fills with white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Gender Inequity

Like most autoimmune conditions, when your immune system gets into overdrive and starts attacking your own tissues as if they were the enemy, women are disproportionately affected.  This applies to celiac, lupus, Grave’s, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. In fact, we outnumber men with autoimmune disease by 3:1. Why is this so? First thing that comes to my mind is our estrogen/progesterone balance and estrogen dominance – turns out estrogen dominance, too much estradiol compared to progesterone, is a key cause of autoimmunity. Pregnancy also appears to put us at greater risk – perhaps because of our exposure of our immune system to our fetus’ cells.

Who You Calling Titer?

Do you know your antibody count (or titer, your level of thyroid peroxidase antibodies, known affectionately as TPO, and thyroglobulin antibodies)? Do you have a program either to keep the titer low or lower the elevated titer you have?

Say you have a TPO of 500… let’s explore ways to get the titer down, which will make your thyroid ride far more manageable and predictable.

Drop That TPO

How do you get your immune system to back off, which we can measure as decreased antibody count? Rather than stop it in its tracks, as we do in conventional medicine with big guns like steroids, I prefer to look at root causes and focus on reducing inflammation. Inflammation = bad.

One strategy that’s incredibly effective is simple: give thyroid hormone. In a study of folks with autoimmune thyroiditis and normal TSH, half got thyroid medication and the other half got nothing’. Those who got thyroid treatment had lower antibody counts after one year.

There are many additional strategies, many aimed at trying to get your immune system to chill the F out. Here’s how they roll.

  • Nutrition: go gluten-free & avoid other food allergens. Test for food allergens if you’re uncertain either in blood or with the poor woman’s test: the elimination diet. Gluten is a common allergen and causes autoimmune responses in many people. Here’s the data: 30% of folks with autoimmune thyroiditis have gluten sensitivity. To read more on this – google “Leaky Gut Syndrome.”
  • Hormones: guess what – endocrine probs lead to overzealous immune function. Correct estrogen dominance as the main strategy here.
  • Adrenals: I know you’re shocked to discover that high cortisol makes your immune system go into overdrive. Buffer your cortisol – get it in the normal range and stay there – and your muffin top improves along with your thyroid antibody titer.
  • Supplements: selenium at doses of 200mcg per day have been shown both to reduce antibodies and return them to normal in some individuals.

For more details on how to diagnoses Autoimmune thyroiditis, check out Mary Shomon’s superb books and website. Here’s one link.

Written by, Dr. Sara Gottfried

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8 Responses to “Note to Self: Stop Attacking Thyroid”

  1. Anna Bryant says:

    thanks for the great insight and info Dr. G!!

  2. unearthingem says:

    I’ve wondered about food allergies. I’m in the process of removing gluten from what I eat (cold turkey never works well for me) and have thought about getting tested for a gluten intolerance. Should I put it back in my system before I get tested?

  3. Melissa Travis says:

    Lovely post!! As always- on the schnoz and full information and helpful tips!!

    THANKS SO MUCH!
    x
    Melissa

  4. As you may know, if you avoid gluten before testing, often your antibodies are negative. For more details on how that works, check out my blog with a good slide on food allergies right here: http://drgottfried.blogspot.com/

    xoxox

  5. Amanda says:

    Wow. Love this. Remembering that my disease is “autoimmune” and not just “thyroid” would be smart. I tend to read about Graves Disease and Hyperthyroidism… but it is more than that… Thank you for putting it all together! Makes so much more sense than reading it in bits and pieces everywhere!

    Amanda

  6. lori says:

    Dr. G,

    I wonder if you could tell us why some of us are told the TPO will stay high and not come down, therefore, repeat antibody testing is not necessary? I was told this and I know many others are as well. However, I was also given good information on how to lower inflammation through diet, along with desiccated thyroid.

    Thank you for a great post,
    Lori

  7. Lolly says:

    DR G.

    I have never blamed my thyroid but the antibodies that decided to start an onslaught with my butterfly gland and me I was just the piggy in the middle.

    I have numrous Autoimmune diseases with Graves Disease and Thyroid eye disease just being part of it.

    Now if i could just take control back and stop these pesky antibodies from invading my body then I would be the happest person in the world. I have tried numerous things gluten free but couldn’t sustain it. LDN Low dose Naltrexone. I do watch what I eat avoid toxins but i know I can do more but it’s hard going.

    I want to be able to live.

    Lolly

  8. Bernadette says:

    Dr. G,

    I have been doing everything you listed here for over 6 months now! Getting better, but still very fatigued & bad brain fog (plus a weird internal buzzing feeling).
    My numbers have come down, but frees not high enough possibly.
    I have been gluten free for a very long time…no testing needed..I knew it made me feel bad when i ate it! I did have food allergy testing done thru my doc and avoided many foods while healing leaky gut. Some I still avoid due to how I feel when I eat them.
    I had several nutritional deficiencies…probably due to malabsorption. Doc tested my digestive system too…it was bad. :(
    I am on Cortef for my adrenals. They were very bad off. I became VERY ill 6 months after my last baby…I do believe hyper first & failing adrenals at the same time. I thought I was going to die…it was horrible.
    I am still working on calming the inflammation & getting everything balanced!

    It was nice to read your insight..kind of a validation that I’m on the right path! :)

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