The thyroid tends to be an underappreciated organ, but despite being a small gland it has massive implications for your health.
While thyroid disease can occur in various forms, one of the most common is called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the thyroid gland and diminishes its ability to create precious hormones—ones that impact every cell of the body. Hashimoto’s is the leading cause of hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) in the US and roughly 14 million people in the US are struggling with this diagnosis, with women at much higher risk, being 7 to 8 times more likely than men to get it.
I’m willing to bet you know someone dealing with this frustrating disease, maybe even yourself.
The thyroid plays a major role in metabolism, growth, and development, which is why so many different symptoms can ensue when hormone levels are off. Intolerance to cold, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, brain fog, constipation, depression, brittle and thinning hair, heart palpitations, irregular menstruation, and others, can all occur from an underactive thyroid. When Hashimoto’s is active (identified through antibody testing), the destruction of the thyroid gland continues and the immune system stays on overdrive.
Because of this autoimmune component, people with Hashimoto’s are actually at a higher risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and MS. The good news is that the right diet and lifestyle choices can work wonders when it comes to treating and healing the thyroid.
Removing gluten is one of many powerful actions that can benefit Hashimoto’s, which is partially due to something called molecular mimicry: the protein within gluten, called gliadin, is molecularly very similar to the thyroid gland. When gluten enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract (which happens due to leaky gut, another thing gluten contributes to), and the immune system is already primed to attack thyroid tissue, the body then reacts and attacks, worsening symptoms in the process.
This is why I always recommend a gluten-free diet to my patients with Hashimoto’s and why they often see dramatic results.
With a Functional Medicine approach, there are so many other steps for treating the thyroid, too. We need to address the gut, look at toxicity, deal with stress and sleep, and so much more. If you missed last week’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy I was joined by Dr. Cynthia Li to talk about her journey in healing Hashimoto’s and taking her life back. I hope you’ll tune in to hear more.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD