If 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.
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.