I’m always intrigued when I find thyroid experts who have thyroid disease themselves. How can you truly understand what a thyroid patient goes through if you haven’t walked in their shoes? Add to that this expert is a man, and yes men get thyroid disease too.
Written by Dr. Steven Geanopulos
My personal journey began nearly a decade before discovering I had Hashimoto’s autoimmune reaction. As a young doctor in NYC just getting started in practice and life the year 2000 was pivotal in my life. I had graduated from school in 1996 and was completing my graduate work in neurology over the next couple of years. I then purchased my own practice with a partner in upper Manhattan, got engaged, bought out my partner, got married, bought a house, and had a baby all in 18 months. It was a whirlwind of activity and excitement and stress.
At this time I was 32 years old and I started to notice my health dramatically changing. Up to 31 years of age, I practiced the healthy lifestyle that I preached in my practice. I was fit, active and enjoyed outdoor sports like rock climbing, mountain climbing, basketball, soccer and a vigorous regimen of going to the gym regularly. So what happened?
I experienced unexplained weight gain, I began to injure my joints with minimal activity, I experienced insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, irritable bowel symptoms. I had 3 knee operations, dislocated my left shoulder, suffered impingement syndrome in the right shoulder that lasted 8 months, 6 months of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), left Achilles tendonopathy that lasted 3 years. The brain fog was so severe that I felt if you were a patient of mine after 3PM you got a doctor with an IQ that dropped a few points. Yet I was living the exemplary lifestyle. I thought if I just kept on pushing and did more of what was “good for me” I would beat this. I would go to the gym on Saturday morning, come home and sleep for what seemed like the rest of the weekend. I had 2 small children who must have been wondering what was wrong with their dad. Why doesn’t he play with us?
Without going through the details, after discovering I was suffering from Hashimoto’s, I aggressively pursued an education in functional medicine combined it with my knowledge and experience as a doctor who practiced the principles of functional neurology, I was able to restore my health over a 12 month time period. Now at the age of 44, I am doing things physically with the same ability and energy I did when I was in my mid twenties. Brain fog is a distant memory and I am sharpest in the evening when I do my presentations in my community after a long day at the office.
As you read through my list of symptoms you will notice that these are the symptoms of hypothyroidism. However I did not have hypothyroidism. I had the autoimmune response that eventually results in hypothyroidism but my thyroid tests were normal. This may seem confusing so allow me to explain.
9 of 10 cases of hypothyroid symptoms are caused by autoimmunity (with or without hypothyroidism confirmed by blood tests). Autoimmunity refers to what happens when the immune system, which is supposed to go after foreign proteins in our blood, instead turns against our own proteins. In short we are attacking ourselves the same way the immune system would attack a virus or foreign bacteria.
If the immune system decides to attack the tissue of the nervous system we are given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and we are sent to see a neurologist (who manages the symptoms associated with the tissue being attacked) . If the immune system decides to attack the tissue in the intestines we are given a diagnosis of celiac or crohns disease and we are sent to a gastroenterologist who treats and manages the symptoms associated with the tissue being attacked. If the immune system attacks the tissue in our joints, we are given a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and we are sent to a rheumatologist, who treats the symptoms associated with the tissue being attacked. If the immune system attacks the proteins associated with thyroid tissue, we are given a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s and we see an endocrinologist who treats the symptoms associated with the tissue being attacked. The problem is, none of these doctors are immunologists and do not address what is driving the autoimmune response.
There are over 80 known autoimmune diseases and there are at least that many unknown autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases, if looked at as one single group, far outnumbers the cases of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke put together. The numbers have increased 400% over the past decade.
The points to take home here are:
- If you have autoimmune driven hypothyroidism, you still have to address the autoimmune component or your immune system will continue to attack your thyroid unabated resulting in unnecessary destruction of tissue. You have to learn what in your environment may be driving the autoimmunity and what can you do to protect your blood stream from the inappropriate passage of offending proteins.
- It is very rare for people to have one autoimmune condition. I happen to have 3 known autoimmune conditions. The longer you wait the greater the likelihood you will develop more autoimmune conditions.
- The symptoms of unabated autoimmune reactions can cause all of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, without hypothyroidism. Meaning your blood work is normal.
- If your blood tests are made normal by medication like synthroid or thyroxine you may continue to have hypothyroid symptoms because underlying metabolic processes are not being addressed.
- Men have thyroid conditions and symptoms too.
What has made the greatest difference to me in dealing with Hashimoto’s disease
I believe the turning point for me was when I realized that this was not a thyroid problem (only) and that it was autoimmune.
The next step for me was determining what was driving the autoimmunity. Autoimmunity is first initiated. Once initiated it is not reversible, however it does not have to be a destructive force or result in symptoms unless a catalyst drives it forward. Autoimmunity can stay in remission for many years if not a lifetime if you can discover and eliminate its driving force.
For me that catalyst (or driving force) came from one place, my gut or gastrointestinal system. Laboratory testing revealed I had 3 different causes of destruction to the lining of my intestines that resulted in a constant flow of large undigested proteins from food into my blood stream resulting in an ongoing, chronic, immune response causing high levels of tissue destruction.
I had to eliminate those sources and do the best I could to repair my gut and do so on a regular basis. My lifestyle changes were related to food, I tested for 24 of the most common IgG (immune) food sensitivities and discovered a ½ dozen or so that were causing a significant immune response. Many people trying to learn more about their autoimmunity are simply removing gluten and hoping for results. Sometimes we get results with just that, sometimes the results are temporary and sometimes there is no change. I believe a more thorough exploration into the food proteins that are a problem for each individual.
For me one of the most significant problems was egg protein. I also was not able to get my hormonal health under control until I addressed abnormal blood sugar regulation (not diabetes) and an anemic pattern (not anemia). It’s important to note that we may have a blood sugar regulation and anemic pattern building that is visible on a blood panel, and not have diagnosed anemia and diabetes. Our doctors need to recognize patterns before they are a diagnosed disease. Diseases are much more difficult and time consuming to deal with. Identifying a trend yields a much better outcome.
This may sound crazy but I feel fortunate to have personal experience with Hashimoto’s. I consider the time spent sick and not knowing what was wrong with me as tuition paid for my unique education. I am grateful for the opportunity to have 1st hand experience with a condition that so many of my patients have.
I tell all of my patients and clients. You must be educated in the process of restoring health and immune integrity. I do not expect you to become a doctor but I DO expect you to become an expert in YOU and what YOU need to express health.
About Dr. Steven Geanopulos
Dr. Steven Geanopulos is a Chiropractic Neurologist from the New York/New Jersey area, with a private practice in Manhattan. He attended Parker University in Dallas, Texas where he received both his undergraduate degree in Human Anatomy and Doctor of Chiropractic degree. With a post graduate education in Neurology, Dr. Geanopulos was awarded Diplomate status from the prestigious American Chiropractic Neurology Board, a rare distinction shared by fewer than 600 doctors worldwide. Immediately following his education in functional neurology, Dr. Geanopulos pursued an extensive education in functional medicine that is an ongoing passion. With his vast knowledge base on all-natural healthcare Dr. Geanopulos is a sought after public figure, frequently speaking for large groups, associations, and academic institutions.