Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks and destroys its own thyroid gland. Piece by piece your body chews up and destroys your own thyroid gland as if it is the enemy. In a healthy immune system, antibodies act as the body’s army to detect and destroy invaders not normally present in the body, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. In the case of Hashimoto’s disease, a defective immune system wreaks havoc on the body by directing antibodies against its own thyroid gland as if it is a foreign invader.
Although Hashimoto’s disease is considered a leading cause of hypothyroidism around the world, it is a tragically overlooked disease in mainstream medicine. You might be thinking, “My doctor has never diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s disease. This post is not about me.” Are you sure?
You may have Hashimoto’s disease and not even know it.
Have you gone to your doctor complaining of common hypothyroidism symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, muscle weakness, constipation, irregular menstrual cycles, frequent infections, dry skin, and hair loss? Has your thyroid lab test come back “normal” and your doctor tells you your thyroid is perfectly fine, yet you walk out of the office without relief from these common symptoms? Have you had your thyroid antibodies tested? Are you sure?
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and The American Thyroid Association, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism on a worldwide basis. In areas of iodine sufficiency, such as the United States, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.1 Despite the prevalence of Hashimoto’s, thyroid antibodies are often NOT tested. You may have Hashimoto’s and not know it.
With Hashimoto’s, your body attacks and destroys the thyroid gland piece by piece eventually rendering your thyroid gland incapable of producing the hormones your body needs eventually leaving you with full blown hypothyroidism. This process of destruction can take years even decades, all the while you begin developing more and more hypothyroid symptoms yet your doctor’s thyroid lab tests come back “normal”.
Traditional mainstream doctors rely on a thyroid blood test called TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone, to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism. The problem with Hashimoto’s is that your TSH can turn up ‘”normal” while your body is quietly destroying your thyroid gland and your doctor has no clue because the level of destruction hasn’t YET triggered an abnormal TSH reading.
The number one issue is that many traditional doctors do NOT test for thyroid antibodies. In mainstream medicine TSH rules, leaving millions of Hashimoto’s patients around the world undiagnosed and untreated. You must be an advocate for yourself and insist on the following two thyroid antibody tests:
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)
We are more than our lab numbers. The case of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis makes this abundantly clear. While the majority of people with Hashimoto’s will test positive for one or both thyroid antibodies, there are some people with Hashimoto’s who actually test NEGATIVE for thyroid antibody levels, yes negative (suggesting normal antibody levels). Author of the book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains in his article Unraveling thyroid antibody tests:
Some people with Hashimoto’s test negative because their overall immune health is weak and they do not produce enough antibodies. Their immune systems have been so stressed for so long that their total white blood cells and B-cells are too low to be able to make antibodies.
Doctors refuse to treat Hashimoto’s when TSH is normal.
Another major problem is that many traditional doctors refuse to treat patients who test positive for thyroid antibodies, even when they suffer debilitating symptoms, all because their TSH level is “normal”. Unfortunately TSH rules above all else in mainstream medicine when it comes to hypothyroidism. You may have Hashimoto’s disease with elevated thyroid antibodies, yet all because the destruction of your thyroid gland has not YET destroyed enough of your gland yet to trigger an abnormal TSH reading, you are refused treatment and forced to cope with your symptoms.
It is also possible that the thyroid hormone levels circulating in your blood show up “normal” on your blood tests, however the problem is they are not getting into the cells of the body to take their effect. Your blood tests turn up normal yet you have symptoms of hypothyroidism.
There are a multitude of people with Hashimoto’s disease who suffer low thyroid symptoms even though their lab tests are normal. Doctor’s trained in the mainstream protocol that “only patient’s with TSH higher than X should be treated” leave their patients with thyroid antibodies but normal TSH level untreated. They use this medical protocol to justify why their hands are tied. There are countless Hashimoto’s sufferers around the world feeling helpless right now because their doctors refuse to help them.
TSH alone does not give a full picture of thyroid health. Thyroid lab testing at minimum should include these 6 tests as described by Yale-trained physician Dr. Aviva Romm in her guest post for Hypothyroid Mom Hypothyroid Testing: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies, and Thyroglobulin Antibodies.
Author of the book Living Well with Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You…That You Need to Know Mary Shomon wrote a great article at About.com Thyroid Disease about preventative thyroid treatment for treating antibodies when TSH is normal.
It’s a controversial subject, and many endocrinologists will simply dismiss you if you ask about it. But new research has been published that supports the understanding that autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease may be preventable, slowed, or even stopped entirely before it progresses to destruction of the thyroid gland and hypothyroidism.
You are taking thyroid replacement medication, but you still have symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Are you on thyroid replacement medication and your doctor insists your thyroid lab results are in the normal range, but you still don’t feel well? Your doctor increases your dosage, you feel better for a short while then the symptoms come back again. Why do you feel sick even though your thyroid lab tests are normal?
Or perhaps you are like many Hashimoto’s sufferers with TSH levels fluctuating high and low like a wild roller coaster ride with symptoms of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Your doctor happens to catch your TSH level during a low point and decides to reduce your thyroid medication as a result, even though you suffer terrible symptoms. Why can’t your doctor figure out why you are sick and tired?
First of all, many doctors fail to test for thyroid antibodies and they have no idea you have Hashimoto’s disease. However, even the ones that test for thyroid antibodies may not know how to help you. They rely strictly on your TSH levels and base thyroid replacement medication dosages strictly on these results and while your thyroid antibodies are high, their attention is focused on your TSH level.
The thing is Hashimoto’s is more than a thyroid condition. It’s an autoimmune disease.
What about addressing the underlying autoimmune issue? This is where conventional medicine fails to help patients. Often times mainstream doctors don’t test for thyroid antibodies because it won’t change how they treat you with Hashimoto’s – treatment with thyroid hormone replacement medication…period.
Now we know there is much that can be done to address the autoimmune issue in Hashimoto’s, but it takes a great thyroid doctor to think outside the box and investigate each patient’s case fully.
A person inherits particular genes that predisposes their immune system to misreact. During the course of a person’s life there are many possible triggers that can then turn those genes “ON” like the flip of a light switch. Once these genes are turned on, the body begins producing antibodies against their own body part, in the case of Hashimoto’s against the thyroid. If the triggers are left untreated, the attack continues. It is crucial to determine if one or more of these triggers are responsible for your condition.
- Food sensitivities
- Gluten sensitivity/intolerance
- Dairy sensitivity
- Leaky Gut
- Adrenal dysfunction
- Viral infections
- Parasitic infections
- Mold exposure
- Chronic inflammation
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Sex hormone imbalances
- Selenium deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Environmental toxicity
When you have one autoimmune disease, you are at high risk of developing other autoimmune diseases.
If nothing is done to calm down the autoimmune attack on your thyroid gland, the risks are high that your immune system will then begin attacking other parts of your body. In her guest post for Hypothyroid Mom Autoimmune Diseases Brew In Your Body FOR YEARS Before Diagnosis Functional Medicine nutritionist Tracy Konoske wrote, “Dr. Gerald Mullin from Johns Hopkins says statistically somebody with an autoimmune disease is at risk of a total of 7 autoimmune diseases in his or her lifetime.”
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Celiac Disease
- Addison’s Disease
- Cushing’s Disease
- Alopecia Areata
- Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Autoimmune Urticaria
- Ménière’s disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Pernicious Anemia
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- Raynaud’s disease
Although Hashimoto’s disease is a leading cause of hypothyroidism around the world, it is a tragically overlooked disease in mainstream medicine. Hashimoto’s sufferers often find little help from their doctors living decades with debilitating symptoms. If nothing is done to slow down the attack on your thyroid, you become vulnerable to develop other potentially life-threatening autoimmune diseases. Your whole body becomes fair game for attack, all while your doctor insists you are fine.
- ATA/AACE. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Hypothyroidism in Adults: Cosponsored by The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and The American Thyroid Association. Endocr Pract. 2012;18(No.6):989-1028 ↩