I remember the day I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism - specifically, Hashimoto's (which is autoimmune). I'd been struggling for months with what I'd assumed was holiday weight. Always consistent with exercise, I couldn't figure out why I was experiencing unexplained muscle tightness & aches, and my endurance was suddenly nil. Then, the brain fog: I couldn't remember easy words, or the names of people I'd known for years. But the worst was the exhaustion - Even sleeping was exhausting! Functioning day-to-day was a battle, let alone figuring out what I could do about my thyroid.
Does this sound like you? Have you been recently diagnosed, or suspect hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's?
Between what you read in books, articles on the internet, blogs, and what Facebook will tell you, it is overwhelming trying to figure out where to start! By the end of this post, I hope you'll feel less anxious about your diagnosis and gain the confidence and energy to start.
So, here's everything I'd like to share if you've just learned you (or a friend) have a thyroid condition like Hashimoto's - or if you're considering the possibility that your hypothyroidism might be autoimmune.
1. More 90% of hypothyroidism cases are actually autoimmune, Hashimoto's.
Hypothyroidism is usually diagnosed with lab results showing TSH, T4, and T4 in the low ranges.
TSH: Thyroid stimulating hormone - high TSH indicates hypothyroidism. Optimal is between 1.0 - 2.0 IU/mL.
T4: Inactive thyroid hormone that gets converted to T3.
T3: The active, accessible form of thyroid hormone that your body uses.
But, if your doctor doesn't test for thyroid autoimmunity and you have only these lab markers above, you'd never know if you had Hashimoto's, the condition in which your immune system is tagging and killing your own thyroid cells. So how do you know if it's Hashimoto's? Ask your doctor to test for thyroid antibodies, or self-order the test yourself.
When they're elevated, this is generally a positive Hashimoto's diagnosis*:
TPO Antibodies: Thyroid peroxidase antibodies. Antibodies that destroy enzymes needed to make thyroid hormone.
TG Antibodies: Thyroglobulin antibodies. Antibodies that destroy the thyroid gland/tissue itself.
*In less frequent cases, Hashimoto's can still be present even if antibodies are not elevated.
2. You can reverse Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism.
Yes - it's absolutely possible to get thyroid function back, and many people can even wean off of medications (or not begin) altogether if they properly manage the things that triggered or caused Hashimoto's / hypothyroidism in the first place... with lifestyle changes.
With simple changes, you might be able to address the factors that contributed to the autoimmunity switch turning "on." Based on research, and even in my own personal experience and journey in bringing Hashimoto's to remission, there are some relatively common aspects that lead to autoimmunity (thyroid, and others, in fact!), including:
Food sensitivities - There are certain foods that are very common triggers that turn up autoimmune response.
Nutrient deficiency - Hashimoto's patients common have low stomach acid, and may not absorb as many nutrients from their food.
Heavy toxic load - The liver is critical for thyroid function, so when it's working over-time form toxins in our bodies, thyroid hormone is lacking.
Adrenal 'fatigue' - Which ultimately covers several types of physical stressors, like not sleeping enough
Viruses, infections, or parasites - We've all got critters living inside us! These can cause inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, or simply confuse our immune systems.
This simple fact that remission is even possible is HUGE!! And I hope it gives you hope that you're not stuck here forever.
3. It may be overwhelming, but know what? You've overcome challenges before. You are ready to tackle this!
How are you feeling? Being diagnosed with a thyroid or autoimmune condition can be a huge blow. Many people experience anger, because they've often worked with 5-15 doctors before receiving a diagnoses - and were usually told that it was all in their head.
Do you feel relieved? Relieved that there's a reason for why all of these things were happening? If you think back, there may have been a lot of related symptoms or warning signs you noticed, but never thought much of. You might want to make a mental note and we'll come back to those when we start prioritizing and personalizing your thyroid recovery plan.
You could be feeling runaway anxiety. Maybe you just realized that you'll be taking pills or dealing with "this thyroid thing" for the rest of your life. It's easy for overwhelm to set in, because there's so much to do and deal with, so much to read and understand, and since you're already battling with your thyroid, there's not enough energy and motivation in the world to do it!
Here's most important thing: you've already got it in you!
Can you think of a time when you were faced with a really big challenge and you succeeded? What were skills, knowledge, or personality traits did you use to get through it?
Example: Let's say you were challenged with giving a presentation at work for some big wigs and terrified... You might've used your strengths to organize and prep to deliver it flawlessly. Or perhaps you're a good team player and you collaborated with others to get feedback and succeed. Used in the context of healing your thyroid, organizing might help you to track & analyze your results. Team players may do best when they work with a health coach or doctor to put together a treatment strategy. You've done it once, and you can do it again -- Identify your special strengths and let's apply them toward giving your thyroid some love!
4. Find a Functional Medicine or Integrative Medicine Practitioner Who's a True Partner.
Functional medicine is a science-based method of approaching chronic illness by identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. By dealing with the root cause or trigger, we can stop the disease.
Example: Let's say we're hiking along a wooded trail, and you notice a sharp pain in the bottom of your foot. In conventional medicine, a doctor might ask you how severe the pain is, and perhaps prescribe you something to deal with the pain. Alternatively, a functional medicine physician would determine why the pain is occurring. He or she would investigate your shoe, your sock, and foot - and discover there's a rock in your shoe causing the pain. He or she would then recommend taking the rock out of the shoe. Problem solved, pain solved!
A functional medicine doctor and/or functional medicine-trained health coach could help you identify your root causes for Hashimoto's and/or hypothyroidism, and work toward reversing symptoms & illness.
5. Be Curious. Your Best Advocate Is You!
Don't take anything - including what I tell you, or what your doctor tells you - at face value. Look it up, research it, and learn it or form your own opinion. Can you imagine the volume of information that doctors have to learn in med school? And how much research is changing by the week? Or the number of patients your doc sees in a week!
If your doctor's reasons for why you should do something are "because this is the way it is," and you don't feel like the doctor-patient relationship is a collaborative one, run. Fast. (Or walk away briskly... save your adrenals. #nerdhumor) A good physician is one who keeps an open mind, and is willing to have a conversation with you about your health. In fact, some of the best physicians I know are ones who openly admit that they learn the most from their patients.
This is absolutely your health and no one can care more for your health than you; you're in a position to be the best and biggest advocate to make sure that you're getting the support you need... even if this means you need to do some homework on your own. When you sit with your doctor, make sure your voice is heard and that you feel comfortable with what's on your treatment plan, and especially why you're doing it.
Now, don't give 100% of your trust in Dr. Google, either. Get a few opinions, read a few books, or peruse some reputable and research-based websites. Consider working with someone who specializes in, or has personal experience, with the thyroid.
My favorite trustworthy thyroid resources are:
About the Author
Stephanie B. is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach & Nutrition Therapy Consultant at The Summit Coaches. Having tangled with nearly every possible root cause of Hashimoto's, hypothyroidism, and adrenal fatigue personally, she became her own health advocate and achieved Hashimoto's remission, now coaching clients toward the same goal.
"You're not stuck - you're yet to find your way forward."