Today, I want to talk to you about the big picture of thyroid disease. Whether you have it or you think you have it, I want to help clarify the very basics of what we know as Hashimoto’s disease. That way, you can get to know a little bit more about your body and you can start taking some action steps to feel your best right away.
The Thyroid Pantheon
When we think about thyroid disease, we can think of it in three distinct ways. This is going to help form the foundation of our knowledge of thyroid disease, and the ways in which our thyroid gland might begin suffering. The three “conditions” we need to know about are:
- Hypothyroidism - where the gland is underactive
- Hyperthyroidism - where the gland is overactive
- Thyroid Cancer - where the cells in the gland are growing in unhelpful ways
Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism
How does your thyroid gland being underactive relate to Hashimoto’s disease? Let’s start by working towards some definitions for both of these terms.
- Hypothyroidism - where the gland is not making enough hormones to meet your body’s needs. This leads to changes in health, blood values, symptoms or a combination of each.
- Hashimoto’s Disease - basically, we can view Hashimoto’s disease as one of the root causes of hypothyroidism. If there was some sort of magic trick that made your thyroid disappear, it would look a lot like Hashimoto’s.
I find it very peculiar, and troubling, when people tell me that their doctor told them that they have hypothyroidism, but that they do not have Hashimoto’s disease. While their doctor may think this is true, because I do not think they would lie to their patient, it does mean that there may have been an error in testing.
This is because of what I mentioned before: if there was a little gremlin named Hashimoto’s disease, it’s main mission would be to steal your thyroid and to make it underactive.
Key Insight: Doctors often perform testing in order to rule out diseases. The important thing we need to know about this, especially when it comes to testing, is that thyroid antibodies do not rule out Hashimoto’s disease.
In fact, there are studies which suggest that those with Hashimoto’s disease do not have high thyroid antibodies at all times (1). This could mean that, at the point of testing, you do not have any measurable antibodies - which could lead your doctor to assume, wrongly, that while you may have hypothyroidism, that you do not have Hashimoto’s.
Bottom Line: Please know that when someone says that you do not have Hashimoto’s, and they are basing it on the antibodies, that they might not have the full picture when it comes to your thyroid health. Unless it falls under a rare case, this is typically an error in testing that needs to be remedied.
If you are hypothyroid, how do you know if you got it from Hashimoto’s? The fact of the matter is that when there is not another obvious reason, we can safely assume that it is Hashimoto’s. There are a few obvious reasons that could creep up, though, and they are:
- Thyroidectomy - having your gland removed due to some sort of surgical concern.
- Medications - there are certain medications which can actually shut off your thyroid completely.
- Radiation - not as prevalent nowadays, but in the 50’s radiation was used to treat sore throats and can cause damage to the thyroid gland.
All of these reasons might mean that your thyroid is underactive because it does not exist, it is being purposely shut down by medication, or because radiation has compromised your thyroid to the point that it no longer works.
Key Insight: The wrinkle in each of these reasons for being hypothyroid without Hashimoto’s is that they can each precipitate Hashimoto’s disease. While Hashimoto’s might not have been there from the start, it can quickly begin creeping along due to any of these causes.
What causes Hashimoto’s?
When it comes to your genes, it might be that your genes are simply susceptible to developing thyroid disease. Given the right circumstances, this might just be an inevitability. These circumstances could be with regards to iodine levels in your thyroid or the level of toxicants built up over time. The gene actually determines how selective our thyroid is in “pulling in” iodine. So, when your gland is less selective it has a higher chance of absorbing “junk” into your body.
Hashimoto’s is born from a balance of susceptibility and exposure. If you are susceptible and exposed, you are bound to get it. At the same time, if you’re not that susceptible, but you are super exposed you are also at risk. This combination makes Hashimoto’s prone to occur, but then what we know as an immune stressor actually makes it start.
I would like to think of an immune stressor as that ultimate trigger which brings out Hashimoto’s in full force. That immune stressor could be something as simple as:
- Hay fever
- Liver infection
- Epstein Barr Virus (2)
- Pregnancy’s effects on your immunity
Bottom Line: One of these immune stressors, amongst others, immediately precipitates the beginning of Hashimoto’s in your system. But, we cannot forget that it all comes from that dire combination of gene susceptibility and the burden of environmental toxicants that our body was already dealing with to start.
Do you have Hashimoto’s disease?
Unless you can rule in one of those “obvious reasons” that we talked about before, the chances that you have Hashimoto’s disease - when you are dealing with hypothyroidism - is highly likely. Some more things that actually rule in Hashimoto’s disease are:
- Thyroid Antibodies - if you have positive thyroid antibodies, then you have Hashimoto’s - but just because you do not, does not mean that you can rule Hashimoto’s completely out (it is tricky like that)
- Ultrasound Results - there are also some signs that can be found during an ultrasound which can tell if you have Hashimoto’s disease.
Am I stuck with Hashimoto’s disease?
There has actually been some really interesting research done into this topic, and whether or not Hashimoto’s has a “lifespan” that can end. I like to think of this in this way, and it’s all about “the rule of quarters.” It works like this:
- For about 1/4 of people, Hashimoto’s will simply go away. This means that people will move out of Hashimoto’s, and into normal thyroid function. It does not matter what they do, eventually it will simply go away.
- For another 1/4 of people, Hashimoto’s will stay pretty stable and steady. For this group of people, your thyroid will slow down a little bit and stabilize right there.
- Another 1/4 of people will slowly creep down, until their thyroid ultimately shuts down entirely.
- The last 1/4 of people will slow down a step, and then slow down another step, and then stabilize long term.
We need to remember though, that this is just the default behavior of Hashimoto’s in our system. This has nothing to do with eating right, detoxifying our bodies, or anything like that.
Bottom Line: If you do the things that are helpful to your body while having Hashimoto’s really improves your odds of getting past this disease. They successfully push your odds towards these milder outcomes, and that is definitely something we should be focusing on.
How do you improve your odds?
Now, we want to know how we can improve our odds and get past Hashimoto’s successfully. There are definitely some things we can do, and they are:
- You need a clear understanding of what you are dealing with. Be sure that you are just dealing with Hashimoto’s, and not the potential overlap which can occur with Graves’ disease.
- You want to have good control over your TSH scores. There is a “sweet spot” that you can definitely work towards to give your gland the best odds of fixing itself.
- You need to avoid harmful supplements, such as iodine and folic acids.
- You need to make sure you are getting those helpful supplements in your system, like selenium, methyl folate and manganese.
- You will want to heal your digestive tract, and go with the best foods for that.
- You need to detox your body.
- Fix your daily rhythms.
- Manage those immune stressors, like allergies and chronic infections.
Bottom Line: The better you are at handling these root causes, the better chances you give your thyroid of simply healing itself and reversing the effects of Hashimoto’s altogether.
Heal Your Thyroid
How much do you know about your thyroid? Now that we have spent so much time really digging into the basics of Hashimoto’s, now is your chance to learn more about this pivotal part of your body. Take the thyroid quiz today (3), and start feeling better by learning more about your body right away.
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, cure diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.