thyroid

Is medicine failing you? How I healed myself from subclinical thyroid autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s) with food and a bit of curious enquiry

thyroidIf you are a woman in your 30’s or 40’s, I have written this story for you. You might have thyroid auto-immune disease and not even know it yet. In October last year, I presented to my doctor with bloating and a low grade sickly feeling in my stomach which had persisted for four weeks. I began to use the sofa to take little cat naps during my lunch break and by three in the afternoon I felt like clocking off work altogether. I was jolted when I got a recall notice from my doctor and she revealed I had a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone levels of 5.63 with a normal range of 0.40-4.00. Consistent with hypothyroidism, the doctor advised it’s too early to medicate and would retest me in a month. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, it would also explain the dry hair, fogginess in my head and increased weight gain round my middle. She did say that “lots of women develop thyroid problems at your age” and tried to reassure me that it was easily treated with thyroxine, a synthetic hormone replacement that I would need to take for the rest of my life. Not content to just accept this fate, I set out to educate myself about the thyroid. A friend loaned me a somewhat controversial book “Take Control of Your Health and Escape the Sickness Industry which opened my eyes to the ways the medical profession used thyroxine to solve the problem of the sluggish thyroid. I was shocked but also took the information with a grain of salt. However, curiosity led me to delve deeper.   I consulted with my naturopath who started me on Metagenics Thyrobalance and iodine supplements to boost my thyroid and correct my gut digestion. She also told me that the normal range for TSH in Australia is higher than in countries like America, meaning that a TSH above 2 should start to ring alarm bells. My naturopath recommended I get a food intolerance test from Dorte Peterson at Coolalinga. It is the best $80 I’ve ever spent on my health. The test revealed my gut could not digest wheat, full cream dairy products, caffeine, white sugar, honey, table salt, tap water (unfiltered), as well as pork, the odd fruit or vegetable and 23 different food additives. It was painstaking as I went into Christmas with a reduced list of foods I could eat. But I‘m proud of the fact I was able to give up things I really loved like coffee. And I was starting to feel much better for it. Dorte then put me onto Sandra Cabot’s book “Your Thyroid Problems Solved”.

My second blood test in November revealed a lower but still abnormal TSH of 4.69 and this time my doctor tested Antithyroglobulin with a result of 175 (normal range <61). I had the early stages of autoimmune thyroid disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland mistaking it for an alien body. With more knowledge about what I was dealing with, I advocated with my doctor to treat it naturally. Although my metabolism was being affected, I could still function reasonably well.   The doctor told me it was only a matter of time before I would have to go on thyroxine.

I started sharing my diagnosis with my friends. It seemed every second person I told said “I’m on thyroxine”. I was alarmed. Why were so many women being struck down with underactive thyroids? There has to be a reason and I wanted to find out what it is so that I can treat the cause.

These are just a few of the things I learnt about the thyroid from Sandra Cabot that seemed to be most relevant to my health.

  • gluten is capable of stimulating the immune system to produce autoantibodies. Research shows that a high proportion of people with autoimmune thyroid disease are gluten intolerant. I believe there are women walking around today that don’t even realise they could be gluten intolerant and potentially in the first stages of this disease, as sometimes there are no digestive symptoms at all. I had already given up wheat about two years ago so now I cut out rye, oats, barley and spelt.
  • Casein, the protein in cow’s milk is known to be irritating to the immune system. It promotes excessive mucus production and histamine release and should be avoided if you have a thyroid condition. This was consistent with the symptoms I would have after drinking milky coffee. It just sat on the bottom of my stomach and didn’t feel right. I started listening to my body and realised this felt like subtle heartburn symptoms. Now I use almond or rice milk.
  • Many people are consuming fluoride in quantities that is known to suppress the production of T3 and T4 hormones in the thyroid gland. Fluoride also inhibits the secretion of TSH by the pituitary gland, thereby affecting the thyroid’s ability to secrete thyroid hormone. Chlorine (widely used in water purification) and bromine (contained in a number of consumer products and used in manufacturing industry) also cause similar effects in the body. I’ve made the switch to filtered water.
  • Several pesticides have the ability to disrupt normal thyroid gland function and even cause thyroid cancer. These include chlorpyrifos, amitrole, pyrethrins and pyrethroids, dioxins, PCB’s, EBDC’s and perchlorate. Luckily, I started eradicating chemicals I used in the home and garden quite a few years ago and I try to eat organic foods wherever I can to reduce exposure to pesticides.
  • A toxic build up of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead in the body can also have a detrimental effect on the thyroid gland. Ironically, I discovered I had a crack in an amalgam filling in my mouth in February. Some believe that amalgam fillings even when undisturbed slowly leak mercury into the blood stream over time.   Was this a coincidence or catalyst? I decided not to take any chances of further unnecessary exposure and flew to Brisbane in February to have all my amalgam fillings removed. Only a holistic dentist, like Dental Wellness can ensure that you are not exposed to toxic mercury gases when the old amalgam is drilled out of your mouth. Most dentists will try to convince you there is no harm involved in having amalgam fillings removed in the dentist chair. Yes, it’s true that science has not proven a danger, but they said the same thing about asbestos years ago.
  • Adrenal hormone imbalance can often coincide with thyroid disorders. Adrenal exhaustion occurs after prolonged periods of stress. Symptoms that I could relate to included fatigue, feeling most energetic in the evenings, low blood pressure, feeling faint, loss of libido, sensitivity to cold, difficulty concentrating and a foggy brain. The last six months at work had been a particularly difficult time causing physical and emotional stress. I knew it and I was taking action to address it including making a decision at the end of 2013 to step down from my FIFO job.
  • Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. If you eat seafood three times a week and use iodised sea salt you should consume the required amount of 150 mg a day. A deficiency in selenium can also contribute to the development of autoimmune thyroid disease.   In Australia, the depletion of selenium from our soils, means that it is almost impossible to get an adequate amount of selenium in your diet from our crops.
  • Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system. Zinc deficiency has been shown to cause low levels of T3 and T4 in the bloodstream. I have been zinc deficient for many years and with supplements still struggle to maintain healthy levels. It is very easy to test if you are zinc deficient, with a zinc tally test.

These are only a few of the factors that might contribute to the onset of autoimmune thyroid disease.

A lifestyle and diet change made all the difference to my thyroid.

I was hoping that the changes I’d made to my diet and lifestyle would start to pay off. I was rewarded in February when my TSH returned a normal result. I tried to engage my new male ‘science-is-the-only-thing-that-works’ doctor in a conversation about natural treatments for hypothyroidism, only to feel like I was beating my head against a brick wall. I would prove him wrong. In May I advocated to retest my antibodies. The level had dropped to 79 (almost within normal range). I was ecstatic. My doctor remained unconvinced. ‘Where is Cabott’s evidence?’ he asked. The evidence is in the number of patients Cabbot has assisted. For whatever reason, addressing diet and improving digestive function appears to work.

So if you are in your 30’s or 40’s and you have never had a thyroid function test (TFT), I would urge you to ask your doctor for one, especially if you have the slightest symptoms of feeling tired, have put on weight, feel yourself slowing down and feel foggy in your head. The are many other symptoms too. If your doctor says your TSH, T4 and T3 are normal, and tries to convince you there is nothing wrong, look at the results yourself. If your TSH is above 2, ask for a Antithyroid peroxidase and Antithyroglobulin test. In the early stages of thyroid autoimmune disease, your TFT may still ‘appear’ normal but your antibodies may be raised. This will be the optimal time to prevent and treat the disease.  With a bit of curious persistence and addressing your diet, maybe you can also heal yourself from the onset of serious thyroid disease requiring medical intervention.

UPDATE December 2014:  My last blood test revealed my thyroid auto-antibodies are now back within normal range.  There is now no evidence of thyroid disease.  I feel blessed to have healed myself by taking my health into my own hands!

References:   2006, ‘Your Thyroid Problems Solved’, Dr Sandra Cabot & Margaret Jasinska ND.

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Chasing the Dream

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Travelling remote every week takes its toll

So this is my first post and probably my most important.  Some of my closest friends and colleagues are probably wondering what I’ve been doing in the last month?  To understand how I’ve come to be doing what I am today, it’s best to begin this story in November last year.   Unexpectedly, I had a positive thyroid antibodies blood test returned from my doctor.  The comment “Positive for auto-immune disease” struck me at my core.  Hashimoto’s disease as it is affectionately known was causing my immune system to attack my thyroid and affect my metabolism.  That would explain why I was struggling to get through a week without feeling drained.  Travelling every week to remote communities was tiring enough without having this disease to fight against, so I told my boss I couldn’t keep doing my job as a Children’s Counsellor and Community Worker in the Tiwi Islands in 2014.  This was the most difficult decision I have had to make professionally but I had to deal with my health.  Thankfully it seemed I had caught it early and there was hope of treating it naturally before having to resort to taking synthetic hormones.
I desperately didn’t want to leave Relationships Australia NT as I loved community work and I had established a great team of Aboriginal colleagues.  So I put a proposal to them.  Keep me employed for a three month term to find the funding to establish a new program we had been developing called ‘Healing Our Children’.  This would allow me to keep working with the Tiwi communities but without the heavy demanding schedule of travelling every week.  It would also allow me to move into an area of work I’ve become very passionate about – PREVENTION OF TRAUMA.

Now I want to take you back four and a half years.   Since 2009, I’ve been providing counselling and follow up support for many Indigenous women and children who’ve been affected by family and domestic violence.  Indeed, some of the children we were counselling were going straight back home to an unsafe environment!  I picked up strong messages from Elders and women on the Tiwi Islands and in NE Arnhemland that they were worried about their grandchildren.  Much of their concerns related to children’s responses to witnessing domestic and family violence, alcohol and substance misuse in their families, intergenerational and personal grief and loss issues, child abuse or neglect and other traumatic events.  I started talking with a couple of Elders about how we could have conversations with women we knew were living with violence, but would feel shamed and blamed if we talked directly with them about their experience.

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Women’s group – Family Healing Bush Camp 2012

Around this time a number of other things were happening.  We were co-ordinating family healing bush camps, taking our clients out bush and co-facilitating narrative group activities such as the Tree of Life.  It was very obvious to me that being on their country improves the holistic health of the whole family – physically, mentally, socially, spiritually.  Their relationship with the land provided entry points to engage in difficult conversations!   There was also a growing interest towards neurobiological perspectives of trauma which we brought to our counselling work, and I began to teach our Aboriginal support workers some of these stories about what happens to the brain when young children are exposed to violence.  Out of this, grew a desire to collaborate and produce a resource, which would invite women into safe conversations to explore the effects of trauma on children’s development at four stages of the life cycle.  Elders felt that women must hear the ‘brain story’ to give them a proper explanation of why their primary school aged child might be “going off the rails” or their teenager harming themselves!  This was an opportunity for understanding, integration and healing.  The conversations would also provide food for thought about what women might do differently if they were pregnant or had a young baby.  An opportunity for prevention!  And so after an extensive period of consultation, trialling and development with communities in Tiwi and NE Arnhemland, the “It Takes A Forest to Raise a Tree talking tool was finally launched in August 2013.

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‘It Takes a Forest’ talking tool

Relationships Australia did keep me around until April 2014 to try to find funding to launch ‘Healing Our Children’, but despite my best efforts, funding for this new program was not found.  This program would employ, train and empower local people to run educational support groups using the resources we’d developed.  However, without the funds to keep me any longer, my employment ended.  So here I am, on the road to recovery from my own health challenges and chasing the dream.  I decided to set up …Metaphorically Speaking as a launching pad to make ‘Healing Our Children’ a reality.  I’m just not willing to give up just yet.

It’s time we started looking at preventing the long-term impact that exposure to violence has on the generation being born right now.  I know that I can’t stop the cycle of violence.  But I do believe I can make a great difference in stopping the cycle of trauma, through culturally sensitive education and support of Aboriginal women with children (especially unborn babies and toddlers) who are at risk of exposure to violence.   By stopping the trauma in the first three years of life, I believe we will start to see a decline in behavioural issues in older children, mental health issues including suicide in our youth, aggression and rage, and even criminal behaviour and incarceration, as these children instead grow up to be strong, healthy, functioning and proud Aboriginal men and women.

Relationships Australia NT has demonstrated their ongoing commitment to  ‘Healing Our Children’.  I also have the written support of a number of child and family services on the Tiwi Islands, ready to host this program.  All we need is a funding partner who wants to make a real difference in the lives of children in remote Aboriginal communities.  A small commitment for a pilot project would allow us in partnership to implement a 12 month trial and evaluation.  I am really excited about the potential of this work in other communities across the NT.  If you know someone who shares our passion to stop the trauma, just send them this five minute video clip.  Click here for further information about ‘Healing Our Children’.

And for those who are wondering, I’ll be sharing more about my own journey of healing from subclinical autoimmune thyroid disease in further posts.  I’ve made some amazing discoveries that may be of benefit to others questioning if there are alternatives to taking synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of your life.