By Corri Peterson
Hashimoto thyroid disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, aka chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the U.S. This condition tends to run in families and it’s most common in adult females, but anyone can develop it.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease targeting the thyroid, causing inflammation. This inflammation causes the thyroid to leak excess hormones causing hyperthyroidism. As the disease progresses, the inflammation causes thyroid cells to die, causing hypothyroidism. (If you purchase through the links in this post, we may receive a commission.)
It is common for those diagnosed with autoimmune thyroid disease to experience hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) symptoms, followed by hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) symptoms as the disease progresses. Many patients diagnosed with Hashimoto’s describe it as being on a huge roller coaster ride.
In the early stages of Hashimoto’s, many are misdiagnosed with depression. In addition, fatigue, along with adrenal gland imbalances, often accompany Hashimoto’s.
Misdiagnosis Is Common With Hashimoto Thyroid Disease
Early symptoms of Hashimoto’s have also been confused with several conditions, including:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS
- An anxiety disorder
- Cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder
Being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease increases the risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison’s disease
- Graves’ disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Pernicious anemia
- Thrombocytopenic purpura
What Causes Hashimoto thyroid disease?
It’s an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to make antibodies that attack your thyroid gland. Although doctors don’t know the exact cause, some think a virus or bacterium may be a trigger; others believe genetics may be involved. Heredity, sex, and age may also factor into the likelihood of developing the disease; plus, many researchers link environmental toxins, poor diet, and chronic stress to the rise in thyroid disorders.
As the disease progresses, the hypothyroidism symptoms become more and more apparent. However, many times symptoms are not noticeable until the condition has advanced or a goiter is noticed.
Here are a few of the symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin
- A puffy face
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Enlargement of the tongue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Memory lapses
Diagnosing Hashimoto Thyroid Disease
After a physical exam, blood samples are drawn to test the levels of thyroid hormone. Your doctor may also test for thyroperoxidase antibodies if there is a suspicion you may have an autoimmune thyroid disease.
TPO antibodies’ presence suggests that the cause of thyroid disorder is an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s disease or Graves’ disease.
Thyroid peroxidase (TPO) is an enzyme typically found in the thyroid gland. TPO plays a vital role in the production of thyroid hormones. A TPO test detects antibodies in the blood. If you have a thyroid disease diagnosis, your doctor may request antibody tests combined with TSH, Free T3, and Free T4 to help find the cause.
Five Tests for Hashimoto’s:
1. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
2. Free liothyronine (T3)
3. Free thyroxine (T4)
4. Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb)
5. Thyroglobulin antibodies (TGAb)
You may undergo a Radioactive iodine uptake scan to measure the rate at which the thyroid absorbs iodine. This test reveals if the thyroid is overactive or underactive.
Your doctor may also request imaging tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) to help confirm the diagnosis.
Conventional doctors will prescribe Synthroid or its generic version, levothyroxine. However, since most don’t believe or aren’t taught that diet and supplements help with recovery, they will tell you not to bother with either of them. Because Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid, treating just the thyroid will not resolve all symptoms. You have to treat the autoimmune disease also.
If you see a naturopathic or a functional medicine physician, they may switch you to desiccated thyroid hormones like Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid containing T4 and T3 and calcitonin. Some patients with thyroid disease have trouble with the conversion of T4 to active T3, desiccated thyroid hormones have active T3 ready for the body to use.
Also, many patients who have had their thyroid removed or damaged by RAI report having better symptom control with natural thyroid hormones.
Naturopathic doctors will also test vitamin and mineral levels in the body to set up a recovery plan that focuses on healing the whole body, including supplements like vitamin D3, vitamin A, selenium, and amino acid L-tyrosine that support thyroid function.
Some medications and supplements that may affect levothyroxine absorption include:
- antacids- that contain aluminum hydroxide
- calcium supplements
- iron supplements and multivitamins that contain iron
- cholesterol-lowering drugs like cholestyramine (Questran)
- sodium polystyrene sulfonate is used to treat high levels of potassium in the blood
Some foods can also affect absorption, including soy products and very high-fiber foods.
Cholesterol and Thyroid Hormones
Your body uses thyroid hormones to make cholesterol and remove the excess it doesn’t need.
Hypothyroidism slows bodily functions making it more difficult for your body to break down and remove LDL cholesterol, causing a build-up in your blood.
People with slightly low thyroid levels or subclinical hypothyroidism may have higher than normal LDL levels. Conversely, studies have found that high TSH levels can directly affect and raise cholesterol levels, even if thyroid hormones aren’t low.
FYI- Conventional doctors will advise you to start taking a statin if your cholesterol levels are high. If your thyroid hormones are slightly low, they may not give you thyroid hormone, but they advise you to take a statin or cholesterol-lowering drug while ignoring the thyroid connection.
Holistic or functional medicine doctors work with you through diet and lifestyle changes to improve your thyroid function, so hormone and cholesterol levels balance out naturally. They try to avoid prescriptions if possible.
Hashimoto Thyroid Disease Can Cause Reproductive Problems
Without treatment, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can lead to several reproductive complications. These include:
- infertility issues
- birth abnormalities
In addition, severe Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can result in several serious health conditions, including heart failure, seizures, or a coma.
Untreated, the disease may have links with Hashimoto’s encephalitis, inflammation of the brain that causes confusion, seizures, and jerking of the muscles. However, it’s unclear whether there is a direct link or how the two may be related.
Diet Choices Help Ease Symptoms
Research does not suggest that dietary changes can cure or prevent Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. But research shows that diet and lifestyle changes can significantly affect the severity of your symptoms.
Most patients still have symptoms that affect their quality of life, even after treatment with medication. The medication may control the symptoms of hypothyroidism but doesn’t address the autoimmune disease, which is the root of the problem.
Researchers link inflammation to a wide range of Hashimoto’s symptoms, and inflammation is often tied to diet.
Diet and lifestyle changes will ease the inflammation within your body, and nutrition, combined with supplements, supplies your body with the support it needs to heal.
Since everyone responds differently to treatment, this disease is best treated with an individualized approach, including testing each person’s vitamin and mineral levels to implement the proper treatment plan.
Supplements That Support Hashimoto Thyroid Disease
Many with Hashimoto’s are deficient or will benefit from these supplements:
- Selenium. Selenium helps reduce antithyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and improves overall well-being.
- Zinc. Zinc is essential for thyroid function. When used alone or with selenium, taking this mineral every day may improve thyroid function.
- Curcumin. Studies have shown that this potent anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant supplement may protect the thyroid.
- Vitamin D. People with Hashimoto’s disease are known for significantly lower levels of this vitamin than most. Studies link low vitamin D levels with disease severity.
- B complex vitamins. People with Hashimoto’s disease tend to be low in B vitamins. Many benefit from taking a B complex vitamin to boost B12 and other essential B vitamins.
- Magnesium. Low levels increase the risk of Hashimoto’s disease and higher thyroid antibodies. Improving magnesium deficiencies often improves symptoms in those with thyroid disease.
- Iron. People with Hashimoto’s disease commonly develop anemia. Some may need supplements to correct the deficiency.
Supplements like fish oil, alpha-lipoic acid, and N-acetyl cysteine may also help ease symptoms for people with Hashimoto’s disease.
Be aware it’s common to develop more than one autoimmune disease.
Thyroiditis has been linked to celiac disease and lactose intolerance. However, many with thyroid disease find avoiding dairy and gluten helps their thyroid-related symptoms.
Patients with Hashimoto’s should limit sugars and processed foods. Processed food is high in saturated fats that increase cholesterol and preservatives that harm your gastrointestinal tract. Fast food is also full of preservatives and additives, plus the wrappers and boxes are coated with hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Those with Hashimoto’s run the risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, so eating a thyroid-boosting diet focusing on your specific needs eases symptoms and helps control weight.
Nourishing Your Thyroid
These foods support and nourish your thyroid for better health:
- Eggs: Egg whites are full of protein, and the yolks have iodine and selenium.
- Meat: Protein is vital to thyroid function, so include lamb, beef, and chicken in your diet. Avoid processed meats; they have chemicals that mimic our hormones.
- Fish: Including salmon, tuna, halibut, and shrimp; avoid fish high in mercury. This heavy metal leads to thyroid inflammation and hypothyroidism by slowing or altering hormone response.
- Vegetables: Consume as many vegetables as possible—they have the needed nutrients to heal and rebuild your body. You have more than likely heard not to eat cruciferous vegetables if you have thyroid disease. These vegetables have compounds that slow thyroid hormone production and reduce iodine uptake by the thyroid.
- Fruits: Including berries, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, etc. Just like vegetables, your body needs the nutrients found in fruits. Try to avoid pesticides, but that’s not always possible. I soak my fruits in a sink full of cold water with a cup of white vinegar for 10-15 minutes, then rinse well. It’s incredible (disgusting) how dirty the water gets!
- Gluten-free grains and seeds: Try rice, buckwheat, quinoa, chia seeds, and flax seeds. You can experiment with this food group to determine which ones you like, and which best nourish your body.
- Dairy: This category is somewhat controversial—dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc., supply many beneficial vitamins and minerals. However, many with hypothyroidism experience inflammation and excess mucus after consuming dairy. Most feel better after avoiding dairy altogether.
- Beverages: Filtered water and other non-caffeinated beverages. Try to avoid fluoride in your drinking water. A little know fact- fluoride was used until the 1950s to slow thyroid function in patients with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease.
If you have Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, you should focus on a diet based on vegetables, fruits, and lean meats. They offer vital nutrients, are filling, and don’t have empty calories.
Which Foods Should You Avoid?
- Soy foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc. There has always been concern over the harmful effects of the compounds in soy called isoflavones on the thyroid.
- Certain vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, etc. As mentioned earlier, these cruciferous vegetables have compounds that slow the thyroid and inhibit iodine uptake.
- Fruits and starchy plants: cassava, peaches, strawberries, etc. These are prone to raise blood sugar, so they are best limited or avoided altogether.
- Nuts and seeds: These are harmful to some, so take caution when consuming millet, pine nuts, peanuts, etc
These are not the only troublesome foods to avoid or limit; as you learn how to manage this disease, you will learn the foods that make you feel better and the ones to avoid.
As you work to regain your health, you may run across those who don’t believe that food and nutrition affect your thyroid and health, including most conventional doctors. Doctors are taught in medical school that thyroid disease is an “easy, quick fix. One test, one pill, and you’re done.”
The problem is for many; nothing could be further from the truth.
These doctors treat thyroid dysfunction but fail to address the root cause of the thyroid problem, the autoimmune disease.
As I mentioned before, many Hashimoto’s patients are deficient in magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D. Supplementing vitamin deficiencies helps fight the root cause of thyroid disorder, the autoimmune disease, and ease inflammation.
Hashimoto’s patients who still struggle with symptoms even while on medication can find relief following a custom treatment plan created for them by a holistic or functional medicine doctor. These doctors test vitamin and mineral levels to target deficiencies and are more likely to prescribe natural hormones than levothyroxine. In addition, these doctors focus on treating and healing the whole body, including clearing heavy metals and environmental toxins.