What is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disease that affects the thyroid gland. It is characterized by insufficient production of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine (T4), leading to autoimmune hypothyroidism. Autoimmune disease happens when the immune system produces autoantibodies—literally antibodies that are programmed to attack self. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the attack of these autoantibodies causes inflammation and reduces the body’s ability to produce T4.
Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune condition in the United States today. It is estimated that as many as 10% of Americans have a thyroid disease, the majority of which are due to autoimmune factors. The disease affects up to 12.5 million people in America alone, striking women much more than men in a ratio of 20:1. Currently there are no medical treatments available to prevent or cure Hashimoto’s, but there are numerous lifestyle factors that can influence how the disease develops and that even offer hope of reversing disease progression. I know because I experienced it in my own life.
What Makes It Worse?
As with any organ of the endocrine system, the thyroid is particularly susceptible to outside sources that disrupt the internal balance of hormones. In this case, toxins taken in through food, water, and the environment act as hormone-like substances which contribute to destabilized levels. Stress, other lifestyle factors, genetics, food allergies, and food sensitivities also play critical roles in the progression of autoimmune thyroid disease. Viral infections (Epstein-Barr, HHV-6, Parvovirus) have also been known to incite the initial cascade of a Hashimoto’s autoimmune attack. Hashimoto’s and PCOS are linked, too, because the insulin resistance that leads to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) can trigger the autoimmune reaction, as can vitamin D deficiencies or genetic defects with the body’s vitamin D receptors.
Gluten is also a major trigger for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism because the physiological composure of thyroid hormone receptors are very similar to gluten. When the body tags gluten as an allergy, the thyroid often gets added to the mix, producing autoantibodies and auto-attacks. Celiac patients have ten times the rate of autoimmune thyroid disease than non-celiac patients, and it’s estimated that nearly 30% of those with Celiac disease also have or will have autoimmune thyroid disease. Avoiding gluten permanently is crucial to slow the progression of the disease for both Celiac and non-Celiac patients.
Iodine exacerbates the autoimmune attack of the thyroid and in America, the primary source of iodine is table salt. High-salt diets can trigger autoimmune thyroid disease, along with other factors. Other common triggers for Hashimoto’s include other autoimmune conditions (Type 1 Diabetes, Pernicious Anemia, Rheumatoid Arthritis), increasing age, pregnancy, bulimia, and crash dieting. These can all set off a series of events that can lead the immune system to target thyroid tissue for destruction.
Since the thyroid regulates the metabolism for the entire body, a thyroid hormone deficiency can affect every body system. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty losing weight
- Dry skin
- Memory problems
- Menstrual problems
- Recurrent infections
- Sensitivity to cold
- Thinning hair
- Swelling/fluid retention
- Increased cholesterol, triglycerides, C-reactive Protein, and homocysteine
- High or low blood pressure
- Low libido
- Menstrual abnormalities
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Low adrenal function
- Brittle nails
- Muscle weakness
- Joint stiffness/pain
What Makes It Better?
Hashimoto’s sounds like a real buzzkill, and it can have a very significant effect on a person’s quality of life. But a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s doesn’t mean that life can’t ever return to normal, and a person diagnosed won’t necessarily have to experience all of the above symptoms.
While many who currently eat Paleo are doing it because they are Crossfitters, or because it has helped them lose weight, Paleo is also a very therapeutic dietary plan that enables the body to heal itself and prevents further autoimmune attacks. In fact, Paleo is actually the ideal Hashimoto’s diet and hypothyroidism diet. It eliminates common allergens like grains, dairy, refined foods, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and soy while promoting high intake of vegetables, fruits, fiber, grassfed/pastured meats, eggs, wild-caught fish, and organ meats.
Paleo Saved My Life
Hashimoto’s can really wreck a person’s life—I know, because it sidelined me for years. I was so tired I could barely get out of bed. I had so much brain fog that I couldn’t think straight. I gained weight like it was an Olympic sport, all while living on an increasingly restricted diet. My hair fell out and I battled depression constantly. I thought my life was over in spite of the fact that I was in my early twenties.
When I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I began to research what could turn my life around. That’s how I came face to face with Paleo. Now, after years of living a Paleo lifestyle, I live a “normal” life. No one would guess that I have thyroid disease. Even though I still have to get regular thyroid checks and am on a natural desiccated thyroid medication (food alone can’t replace lost thyroid hormone), my energy levels are better than those of many healthy people. I lost all of the weight I had gained, and then some, and have maintained a healthy weight for nearly eight years. My sleep habits have normalized and my depression is nonexistent.
Paleo Lowers Antibodies
The real proof of how powerful the Paleo diet is can be found in specific blood markers: Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody (TPO) and Antithyroglobulin Antibody. Most with Hashimoto’s have elevated TPO numbers, ranging from 15 to several hundred. I didn’t have my TPO checked until I had been Paleo for many years, but even so they were elevated at 67 just one year ago. When I gave up all forms of sugar, even the Paleo-approved kinds, my TPO dropped down to 15 within one month, which is just 5 above the target range.
Paleo addresses Hashimoto’s so well because it completely eliminates all dietary factors that perpetuate the autoimmune reaction. Sugar and all forms of sweeteners, too, even the ones that are found in Paleo treats, need to be avoided as these will still cause a thyroid reaction and will prolong healing.
It can be difficult to cope with a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, but trust me when I say that there is hope. More than any other diet out there, Paleo arms your body with the necessary nutrients to calm the immune reaction and to halt progression of the disease. In my case, and in many others, it can also significantly reduce the autoantibodies that are present and wreaking havoc on the body.
Every person is different and Paleo isn’t an overnight cure. But committing to a Paleo lifestyle is a proven way to not only prevent autoimmune disease, but to reverse and heal from existing autoimmune and chronic conditions.