Is Your Thyroid Autoimmune?
While the exact cause of autoimmunity is still being sought, researchers claim that many factors may lead to this immune system misfire
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Do you know any thyroid patient around you? Or are you yourself on a thyroid pill since the last few years? Until a decade back, one used to know 1-2 odd persons in the family or acquaintance as a thyroid patients. And now, it's all around us. Nowadays, a malfunctioning thyroid gland is the most common, yet the most baffling & vaguely understood health conditions. On average, 80% of the weight-loss cases I get are on thyroid pills and this is the first reason they attribute to being overweight. The most common forms of thyroid problems are:
- HYPOthyroidism: under-functioning of the thyroid gland (makes you gain weight)
- HYPERthyroidism: over-functioning of the thyroid gland (makes you lose weight)
- And wait, AUTOIMMUNE forms of under and over active thyroid (Hashimoto's and Graves disease, respectively).
Most of the times, my clients, who are on thyroid pills, are completely unaware and ignorant about the autoimmune element of their malfunctioning thyroid gland. And once they discover that after the requisite tests, what follows is confusion and paranoia. So, what exactly is AUTO-IMMUNITY? It is a misdirected immune response where your immune system starts attacking your own body.
Now before you start scratching your head, I will try and make it simpler for you. Since Hypothyroidism is more common, I will talk in that context. Hashimotos' Thyroiditis(the "autoimmune" hypothyroid ) is a disease, whereas Hypothyroidism is a condition. Hypothyroidism is commonly caused by Hashimoto's thyroidism, but the two terms are not interchangeable. OR your hypothyroid may develop into an autoimmune version later due to factors that trigger that. The tests that are essential to diagnose Hashimoto's are THYROID ANTIBODIES besides the regular thyroid profile. The 2 thyroid antibodies are TPO(Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody) & Thyroglobulin antibody. You may be ignorant of the autoimmunity at the time of diagnosis because your physician never prescribed getting these antibodies checked.
While the exact cause of autoimmunity is still being sought, researchers claim that many factors may lead to this immune system misfire. These include:
- AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE REACTIONS: These can attack tissues anywhere in the body including the thyroid gland.
- UNDIAGNOSED FOOD SENSITIVITIES & intolerances: Though many are aware of sensitivity to dairy as lactose intolerance, issue about wheat sensitivity is still met with frowns and disbelief, specially in north India, where wheat is a dominant staple grain. Lack of diagnosis and acceptance along with continued consumption elevate the level of inflammation in the body which may trigger an uncontrolled immune response.
- ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS: Pollution, increased usage of insecticides & fungicides , presence of BPA (the much talked about toxic compound in plastic bottles and bags)all affect the thyroid function adversely. It is also shown that the TPO antibody levels increased with increased BPA exposure.
- NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES: Nutrients essential to thyroid health are, particularly, iodine, which is required by the thyroid gland to produce the thyroid hormone, and also vitamin D, selenium, zinc, & iron. However, most of us are not deficient enough to develop the most serious symptoms doctors would notice (such as a goiter in the case of iodine deficiency). Instead, we have nutritional "INSUFFICIENCIES", which are missed under the radar of a diagnosis but can still cause subtle symptoms.
- EMOTIONAL STRESS: The thyroid doesn't operate in a vacuum. Excessive stress and regular trauma can result in high amount of the cortisol hormone in the body which further accelerates hormonal imbalance and may inhibit thyroid function.
- DIGESTIVE TROUBLES: Leaky gut( intestinal permeability) and an imbalance in the gut flora, both are known to contribute to autoimmune conditions. Common causes of leaky & gut dysbiosis include undiagnosed food intolerances and prolonged intake of processed foods, artificial sweeteners and antibiotic overexposure.
Besides the above triggers, some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others. These include:
- Women: Women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men.
- Middle age: Majority of people with autoimmune thyroid are between 20-60 years of age.
- Pregnancy & post-partum: pregnancy affects thyroid hormones and in some cases, production of antibodies is kicked off on its own right after delivery.
The symptoms of this autoimmune condition are not much different to the regular ones associated with hypothyroid. In some cases, the onset of Hashimoto's and elevation of antibodies will be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, weight changes, depression, hair loss, muscle/joint aches and pains, and fertility problems, among others. Ultimately, however, the autoimmune attack on the thyroid typically makes the gland slowly less able to function, and eventually, the thyroid becomes underactive.
To be continued……….Part 2 of Autoimmune Thyroid will discuss about holistic measures that van help reverse autoimmunity.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.