Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that is situated below your Adam’s apple in your neck and is responsible for the production of hormones that are involved in many of the body’s functions, including metabolism.
With Hashimoto’s disease the immune system attacks the thyroid gland which can cause inflammation and usually results in an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s is most common in middle-aged women, but it can also occur in men, women in other age groups and children. It can easily be detected by doing a blood test to check thyroid function as well as whether antibodies are present. Initially the thyroid hormones may appear to be within normal ranges, but this does not necessarily mean that it is functioning optimally. The reference ranges are particularly broad so sometimes the thyroid should be treated or supported based on the presentation of symptoms.
In some cases Hashimoto’s disease can cause inflammation or enlargement of the thyroid gland. This is called a goiter. It may be a visible lump at the front of your neck, but sometimes it grows towards the back of the throat so may not be as noticeable. If you experience any difficulty breathing or swallowing, a goiter could be obstructing your airways.
Hashimoto’s progresses slowly and the thyroid becomes less and less active over time as the thyroid damage increases. Typical signs of an underactive thyroid include:
- Cold sensitivity
- Dry, pale skin
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Weight gain
- Muscle and joint aches and pain as well as muscle weakness
- Mood disorders
- Memory problems
- Puffiness of the face
Hashimoto’s disease should not be ignored or untreated as it can lead to several health concerns including heart problems, mental health disorders, myxedema, and birth defects.
People with an underactive thyroid may have higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and untreated hypothyroidism can cause enlargement of the heart or even heart failure.
Depression and slower executive function can be side effects of an underactive thyroid.
Myxedema is a rare, but life-threatening condition related to an untreated underactive thyroid. It causes drowsiness, intense lethargy, and unconsciousness. Stress, the use of sedatives, infection, or exposure to cold can trigger this condition, which requires emergency medical intervention if it occurs.
Women who have untreated hypothyroidism have a higher risk for having babies with birth defects. Women may also experience infertility due to poor thyroid function.
Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is typically treated with pharmaceutical medications so it will be necessary to see your doctor, but there are some specific nutrients that are particularly supportive for the thyroid gland. These include:
- Ashwaganda – helps to increase thyroid hormones and improve thyroid function
- Selenium – selenium contributes to the antioxidant defense in the thyroid
- Zinc – necessary to produce thyroid hormones
- Iron – hypothyroidism can cause low iron and low iron can trigger hypothyroidism
- B vitamins – B vitamins are important for hormone regulation and thyroid function
- Iodine – iodine is necessary to make thyroid hormones, but it is not always advisable for everyone to use it. Some people may have an allergy to iodine, but in Hashimoto’s disease there is evidence both for and against the use of iodine so please check with your practitioner before using it.
As with other autoimmune diseases diet plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation and modulating the immune system. Most people with autoimmune diseases would do well to avoid gluten and dairy products as these can cause systemic inflammation and exacerbate autoimmune conditions.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 2 December 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am