When diagnosed with an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis you will probably want to find out as much as possible to try and answer all the questions spinning around in your head. I’ll outline the questions that I had when I was diagnosed, together with the answers and their sources to save you a lot research.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, located just below the Adam’s apple in the neck. It regulates a number of body functions, including those that can affect heart rate, protein production, energy consumption and sensitivity to other hormones by releasing two primary hormones T3 and T4. The regulation of the thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland secreting thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
Over time the destructive process of the autoimmune attack results in decreased thyroid function, producing symptoms that are similar to hypothyroidism (under active thyroid). However, when cells of the thyroid gland are destroyed it can release a surge of the stored thyroid hormones, temporarily producing symptoms of hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid).
What are the Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Unfortunately the list of symptoms with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is long, with many symptoms common with other diseases. This results in patients being misdiagnosed with various other ailments when they actually have a thyroid condition. Fortunately, simple blood tests are available to check thyroid function and the presence of Hashimoto’s related antibodies.
At the early stages of Hashimoto’s it is quite possible that no symptoms present themselves, because the destruction of the thyroid has not progressed to the point where thyroid hormone production is inadequate.
The common hypothyroid related symptoms are:
- Dry, sometimes itchy skin
- Dry, thinning hair
- High cholesterol, especially LDL
- Lower than normal heart rate
- Temperature sensitivity, especially to the cold
- Weight gain
- Cognitive degeneration or brain fog (memory loss, inability to concentrate, slower thought processes)
- Swelling of the thyroid gland or goitre
- Heavy or extended menstrual bleeding
- Fertility problems
- Joint and muscle pain
With Hashimoto’s it is also likely that the patient can temporarily switch to having hyperthyroid symptoms, such as:
- Weight loss
- Rapid heat beat, to the point where you feel your heart is pounding
- Increased appetite
What Causes Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
According to the official medical line, there is no conclusive evidence to point to any particular cause. A large number of people do believe that diet plays a huge role in triggering the disease, but that some environmental factors such as pesticides and heavy metals could also play a part. The latter can be consumed through our diet too, but some people do have direct exposure to specific toxins.
The strongest argument for the diet related angle as a cause for Hashimoto’s is with regards to Coeliac disease and general gluten intolerance. There is evidence of a reasonably strong correlation between people having coeliac disease and Hashimoto’s. Since both are autoimmune diseases it is definitely interesting to see this correlation. People who have adopted a “clean” diet without gluten, often based on a paleo diet, have had improvements in their symptoms and a small number of people report that they have stopped the progress of Hashimoto’s.
There is another theory on the cause of Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases: bacterial pathogens. This field is new, but growing in recognition, with The Economist magazine even dedicating an edition’s cover story, Microbes Maketh Man, to the field. One researcher in particular, Professor Trevor Marshall and his Marshall Protocol, will likely come across your radar if you are researching this theory.
Excess iodine and radiation exposure can also trigger the disease.
It is most probable, like so many things health related, that a number of different triggers actually cause Hashimoto’s. Therefore, what can cause it in one population with near certainty may not affect another population. The most important thing is to try and determine what caused it for a particular individual and to minimise that factor.
Why did I get Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Apart from the possible causes listed in the previous section there are a few other factors that can contribute to an increased risk of getting Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Genetics play a part with the disease often found in families with a history of Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases. This means that is it very important to contact immediate and even extended family members to notify them of the disease and their increased risk profile. In my case my mother has a hypothyroid condition, but has not been tested for Hashimoto’s. Given my own diagnoses it is highly likely that my mother’s condition is the same as mine.
Women are far more susceptible (5-10 times) to Hashimoto’s than men. Perhaps I should purchase a lottery ticket since I am male and managed to get the disease!
Age is also a factor, with the disease often diagnosed in middle age, but it is still possible for teenagers to suffer from Hashimoto’s too.
How can I Treat Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
The conventional treatment plan provided by the majority of general practitioners and endocrinologists alike is to replace the thyroid hormone T4 with a synthetic version in the form of a pill to be taken every day for the remainder of the patient’s life. The only variant in this plan is the dosage of T4, which depends on a number of factors such as age, sex, weight and progression of the disease.
Given that the body takes time to react to the new source of T4 it can take months to fine tune the exact dosage an individual requires. Therefore patients are typically started on a fairly low dose of T4 with follow-up tests scheduled to check on TSH and Free T4 levels at regular levels until the correct dosage is determined.
While this approach can work for many people there is a large group who do not respond well to the standard treatment plan. Some patients find that they still suffer from hypothyroid symptoms even when their TSH and T4 numbers are within the acceptable range.
This has resulted in frustrated patients writing blogs, posting on forums, Facebook groups, and even the creation of a dedicated site called “Stop the Thyroid Madness” with an associated book.
Thankfully some doctors, endocrinologists, holistic/integrated medical practitioners and nutritionists are offering alternative treatment plans that do help these people. The plans often include the following:
- Comprehensive thyroid tests that look at all aspects of TSH, T4 and T3
- Dietary advice to avoid gluten, grains and eat whole foods, often using a paleo diet.
- Lifestyle changes to increase exercise, improve sleep, reduce stress, etc.
- Supplements for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially vitamin D which is typically very low in Hashimoto’s patients.
Another treatment option is the Marshal Protocol, based on the theory of bacterial pathogens as the cause for Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases. People do claim to be having a great deal of success with this protocol, but there is not much official evidence to support the programme from what I have seen. Given that Professor Trevor Marshall’s theories go against conventional wisdom there are plenty of people who easily write him off as a crazy man.
I’m taking the middle ground on the Marshall Protocol. There is not enough evidence to disprove it, nor is there enough evidence to prove it. Therefore, if you have tried the recommended methods to regain your health and they have not worked then it may be worth giving the Marshall Protocol a try. It is an unconventional treatment plan, so it does seem that most people on the forum have followed a similar decision path, trying it as a last hope because they are long suffering many ailments. Do note though, that a key component of the Marshall Protocol is also diet related, so there is some commonality with other approaches too.
Can Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis be Cured?
While there are some people online who claim to have cured their Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I have not seen anyone who has demonstrated proof of sustained remission through documented medical records. When pushed most people say they have halted or controlled the disease, which is a very different outcome than a cure.
Based upon my own research, I’m going to stick to the official line that there is no available cure for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I’ll happily be proved wrong if someone can show me that they have medical records proving their remission.
Like many other chronic autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a complex and frustrating disease. Trying to understand the cause and the appropriate treatment plan can involve a lot of time and effort for patients who do not respond to the conventional “here is a pill to take every day” approach.
I hope that by putting this information together that you have understood more about Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and have some new ideas on how to change your treatment plan if you are still suffering from the symptoms.
Given that I’m not a medical practitioner please do take the time to review the information on this page with your doctor. However, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion (or change doctors) if you think the information here reflects your situation, but your doctor doesn’t want to change your treatment plan. After all, you are the customer and the doctor is providing a service that you are paying for.
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis on Wikipedia
- A patient to patient site called “Stop the Thyroid Madness”
- Australian state government of Victoria’s information page:
- WebMD’s article
- USA government site dedicated to women’s health
- The difference between Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism from About.com
- Mayo Clinic’s Hashimoto’s page:
- Marshall Protocol and Trevor Marshall’s main starter site with links to other content