Is Hashimoto a serious disease? Yes, it is quite serious because when left unaddressed, Hashimoto’s disease typically continues to progress and can cause chronic thyroid damage. This results in a decrease in crucial thyroid hormones, which can set off a cascade of other major issues including mental health and heart problems. (1)
Can Hashimoto’s disease go away? Yes, with the right treatment it is possible to return to normal thyroid function. In this article I’m going to share with you the most important steps you need to follow in order to overcome Hashimoto’s disease. I’ll go through the root causes of Hashimoto’s, common signs and symptoms, how to follow a healing Hashimoto’s/hypothyroidism diet, beneficial supplements, as well as other natural treatments to help treat symptoms.
What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease, also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or simply Hashimoto’s, is an autoimmune disorder, which means the immune system is producing antibodies that are attacking the body’s own healthy tissue, and in the process negatively impacting functions of the thyroid gland.
In developed countries Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. (2) An alarming fact: In developed countries like the United States, it’s estimated that 90 percent to 95 percent of cases of hypothyroidism are due to Hashimoto’s disease! (3) In the vast majority of cases hypothyroidism is not actually a problem of just the thyroid gland itself, but rather it’s a condition stemming from overreaction of the entire immune system.
The primary hormones that are produced by the thyroid are called T4 and T3. Their production depends on the brains “control center,” the hypothalamus, accurately sensing the need for more thyroid hormone in the bloodstream and signaling the pituitary gland to then release more.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is normally released by the pituitary gland in response to changing levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream, but with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism this system fails. There is either too little T4 being converted to T3; the hypothalamus is not signaling to the pituitary gland properly; or the pituitary gland is not releasing enough thyroid stimulating hormone after it is signaled to do so.
You may still be wondering, what is the difference between Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism? These two labels are not interchangeable even though both involve the thyroid becoming undertactive. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which antibodies react against thyroid gland proteins causing gradual destruction of the thyroid gland itself, resulting in reduced production of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is considered a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Signs and Symptoms
Some of the most common warning signs and symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include: (4)
- Depression and anxiety
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold easily, including when others do not
- Digestive issues like constipation and bloating
- Muscle aches and tenderness
- A swollen face, eyes and belly
- Stiffness and swelling in the joints
- Hair loss, changes in hair’s texture or hair thinning
- Rough, cracked skin
- Trouble breathing
- Frequent urination and excessive thirst
- Low sex drive or sexual dysfunction
- Changes in the menstrual cycle, including absent or irregular periods and problems with infertility
- More frequent colds, infections or illnesses due to low immune function
Aside from the noticeable symptoms of Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism you might experience, these disorders also raise the risk for long-term health complications. Studies show that people who have thyroid and autoimmune disorders that are left untreated can go on to develop health problems including: (5)
- Infertility, ovarian failure, pregnancy/birth complications and birth defects
- Thyroid goiter, caused by the thyroid gland becoming enlarged, which can then interfere with normal breathing and swallowing
- Addison’s disease or Graves’ disease (other thyroid disorders)
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol levels and increased heart disease risk
- Mental disorders including depression
- Brain and kidney problems
- Neurological damage
- Serious infections
Causes and Risk Factors
What is the cause of Hashimoto’s disease? Research shows that the development of autoimmune disorders is multifactorial. Genetics, your diet, environmental influences, stress, your hormone levels and immunological factors are all parts of the puzzle. (6)
What most doctors might not tell you is that the root causes of Hashimoto’s disease (and therefore hypothyroidism) include:
- Autoimmune disease reactions that can attack tissue throughout the entire body, including the thyroid gland
- Leaky gut syndrome and problems with normal digestive functions
- Common allergens, such as inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy
- Other widely-consumed foods that cause sensitivities and intolerances including grains and many food additives
- Emotional stress
- Nutrient deficiencies
Several risk factors make it more likely you’ll develop Hashimoto’s disease at some point in your lifetime. These include: (7)
- Being a woman: Many more women than men get Hashimoto’s disease, for reasons we aren’t exactly sure of. One reason women might be more susceptible is because they are more impacted by stress/anxiety, which can take a serious toll of women’s hormones.
- Middle-age: The majority of people with Hashimoto’s disease are middle-aged between 20 and 60 years of age. The greatest risk is in people over the age of 50, and researchers believe risk only increases with age. Many women over the age of 60 suffer from hypothyroidism to some degree (estimates show around 20 percent or more), but thyroid disorders might go undiagnosed in older women because they closely mimic menopause symptoms.
- A history of autoimmune disorders: If a family member has had Hashimoto’s or a thyroid disorder, or you’ve dealt with other autoimmune disorders in the past, you’re more likely to develop the disorder yourself.
- Having experienced recent trauma or a very high amount of stress: Stress contributes to hormone imbalances such as adrenal insufficiency, causes changes in the conversion of T4 thyroid hormones to T3, and weakens the body’s immune defenses.
- Pregnancy and being postpartum: Pregnancy impacts thyroid hormones in a number of ways, and it’s possible that some women will develop antibodies to their own thyroid during or after pregnancy. This is called postpartum autoimmune thyroid syndrome or postpartum thyroiditis and it’s said to be the most common thyroid disease in the postpartum period with incidence between five to nine percent.
- Smoking cigarettes
- Having a history of an eating disorder or exercise addiction: Both undereating (malnourishment) and overtraining reduce thyroid function and contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Autoimmune Disorders:
If you have a thyroid problem, a big part of its development was likely related to your gut. Autoimmune disorders commonly stem back to a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Hippocrates is famous for saying, “All disease begins in the gut”— and today many scientific studies are telling us he was right. If you’re going to fix your thyroid, you’ve first got to fix and heal leaky gut syndrome! As you’ll learn more about below, you can do this by adjusting your diet, using certain supplements, reducing stress and removing toxins from your body.
When you have leaky gut, holes in the lining of your intestines become larger, and particles like gluten can get through tiny openings where they enter the blood stream. This is why a lot of people with thyroid issues, if they go on an anti-inflammatory and gluten-free diet, will notice almost immediate results in terms of better thyroid functioning and reduced symptoms. We will go over treatments in more detail in the following sections. For now just keep this in mind: Diet-wise, the first thing you’ve got to do is remove the things that cause inflammation within your gut and autoimmune responses within your body.
Diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease is based on any signs and symptoms you’re showing, plus results from blood testing. A thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test is is typically used to identify Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism because it measures levels of thyroid hormone and TSH.
A doctor is also likely to order an antibody test to see if you test positive for thyroid antibodies that are typically present with Hashimoto’s. Some evidence of Hashimoto’s can also be detected during an ultrasound.
There’s some ongoing controversy about what levels are considered normal and abnormal, plus during the early stage of thyroid disorders blood tests might not reveal that anything is wrong because levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) might appear normal. This is when it can be very helpful to get more than one expert opinion.
Is there a cure for Hashimoto’s disease? Hashimoto’s is definitely treatable. What is the best treatment for Hashimoto disease? That depends on who you ask.
Conventional approaches to treating autoimmune disorders including Hashimoto’s disease usually involve “watching and waiting” and taking medications, such as the synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine (brand names Levoxyl, Synthroid, etc.). Sometimes surgery is even needed if the disease progresses enough.
Unfortunately, these treatments don’t solve the underlying problems that are causing autoimmune reactions to happen in the first place. Medications are often not a cure-all and if you do decide to use thyroid medications such as synthetic hormones or steroids, chances are you’ll need them for the rest of your life. (8)
Some patients can improve significantly when taking thyroid medications because the synthetic hormones duplicate those made naturally by the thyroid gland and have similar effects, but this still won’t resolve the issue of the immune system attacking itself.
Effectively treating Hashimoto’s disease includes making the following changes to your diet and lifestyle:
1. Remove Immune-Reacting Foods From Your Diet
You must let your system rest and your gut heal if you want to normalize immune system and thyroid gland functions. Here are the most important steps to controlling Hashimoto’s disease using your diet:
- Eliminate gluten: If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease, go gluten-free to start. This might seem tough, overwhelming and like a big change compared to what you’re used to, but it’s really important. I recommend going gluten-free, and overall grain-free, for a period of time — a total of about 90 days — and then following a gluten-free diet longterm.
- Consider going grain-free: Gluten is one of the biggest autoimmune and allergen culprits, but it’s not the only one. Look for other foods that can act like gluten in your body and contribute to gut inflammation. Dairy products that are pasteurized/homogenized, plus regular unsprouted grains, are two of these food groups. In centuries past, dairy foods were eaten raw and ancient grains were easier to digest and provided more absorbable nutrients because they were soaked, sprouted and fermented. Today this practice has mostly been lost, and refined or bleached flours are consumed in higher quantities than ever before.
- Avoid fast foods and too much added sugar: Excess sugar in your diet will undoubtedly cause inflammation of the gut, not to mention contribute to blood sugar fluctuations, weight gain, nervousness and other symptoms. Fast foods and packaged products made with refined oils (including vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, canola and corn oil) are also inflammatory and very low in nutrients.
2. Consume Gut Healing Foods
The best diet to follow if you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease is a healing diet that’s high in vegetables and fruits, as well as nutrient-packed foods like bone broth and organic meats. These are the foods that are easiest for your body to digest and least likely to cause allergic or autoimmune reactions.
Ultimately the type of diet you should follow is something very similar to the GAPS diet plan and protocol. This is an ancient diet that’s full of fruits, vegetables and organic meats that has been found to be effective for many people struggling with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and autoimmune disorders. Eating things like bone broth soup is fantastic, as well as eating probiotic-rich foods (such as yogurt that’s been fermented for 24 to 29 hours, as well as ancient, fermented dairy products like kefir).
Here are some of the top foods for a hypothyroidism diet to start the healing process:
- Fresh veggies and fruit: These are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and fiber. Fiber helps with digestive health, improves heart health, balances blood sugar levels and supports a healthy weight. Antioxidants and other nutrients fight inflammation and prevent deficiencies.
- Wild-caught fish: These provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA that are essential for hormone balance and thyroid function.
- Coconut oil: Provides medium-chain fatty acids in the form of caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid that support a healthy metabolism, increase energy, nourish the gut and fight fatigue.
- Seaweed: Natural sources of iodine (like edible seaweed such as kombu and wakame) that help prevent deficiencies, which disturb thyroid function.
- Probiotic-rich foods: Kefir, organic goat’s milk yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies are great, healthy examples of probiotic-rich foods. Probiotics help repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria and can really help support the healing of the gut and immune system.
- Sprouted seeds and beans/legumes: Flax, hemp and chia seeds provide ALA, a type of hormone-balancing omega-3 fat, while beans and legumes are high in fiber and minerals.
- Bone broth: Helps heal the gut lining by providing collagen, amino acids l-proline and l-glycine, and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and silicon. Try making some homemade bone broth to use in soups and stews or to just have by itself as a nutrient-rich snack.
The second step in helping to heal and repair your thyroid is acquiring specific nutrients and supplements that lower autoimmune reactions, help your body handle stress better and regulate activities of the immune system. These include: selenium, probiotics, vitamin D, ashwagandha and other “adaptogenic herbs.”
Selenium benefits the thyroid because it’s been shown to regulate the hormones T3 and T4 in your body. Selenium can also lower the risk for thyroiditis during pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis) and afterward (9). A diet low in iodine and selenium increases the risk for autoimmune thyroiditis because the thyroid gland needs both selenium and iodine to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormones. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that patients who treated selenium deficiency through supplementation experienced a 40 percent reduction in thyroid antibodies on average compared to a 10 percent increase in the placebo group. (10)
Probiotics help support gut health and stronger immunity by balancing microflora in the digestive tract. By repairing your digestive lining, inflammation is reduced, which helps your thyroid as well.
Some research has shown that more than 90 percent of patients with thyroid disorders are deficient in vitamin D! Vitamin D helps regulate your immune system and acts in many ways like a hormone. The best way to get enough vitamin D is to spend 15 to 20 minutes outside each day with your bare skin exposed to the sun (cholesterol in our skin converts “previtamin D” and makes it into usable vitamin D3). Supplementing with 600 to 5,000 IU/daily of vitamin D can also be beneficial when this isn’t possible.
Ashwagandha is proven to help reduce thyroid and adrenal issues by boosting your ability to cope with stress and balance hormones. Medical research shows that it also helps balance thyroid hormone T4, which is critical if you’re going to overcome hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease. (11) Other adaptogen herbs that work in similar ways include rhodiola, ginseng, maca and reishi mushrooms.
B vitamins, especially benefit-rich vitamin B12, are important for energy maintenance and many cellular and metabolic functions. Vitamin B12 is known as the “energy vitamin” and supports normal cellular functions that fight fatigue. In one clinical study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the majority of patients with Hashimoto’s given 600 milligrams per day of thiamine (a very high dosage for those with a rare thiamine deficiency) experienced complete regression of fatigue within a few hours or days! (12)
4. Improve the Body’s Ability to Detox
Detoxification and cleansing on a regular basis are beneficial for your thyroid gland to help lower inflammation. What exactly does it mean to detox? This includes reducing your exposure to hormone disruptors in the environment, chemicals in your home and heavy metals. Other ways to detox include:
- If you take birth control pills or medications regularly, consider trying a natural approach to contraception or speaking to your doctor about reducing your medication dosage.
- If you have amalgam fillings in your mouth, look at getting those removed by a DAMS-certified dentist and replaced with mercury-free fillings.
- Pay attention to the type of personal care products and cleaning product you’re using at home; consider replacing those synthetic chemicals with natural products such as those containing essential oils like lemon, peppermint, lavender and frankincense.
- Store food in glass and ceramic containers instead of plastic or aluminum.
- Quit smoking, using recreational drugs and drinking alcohol in excess.
5. Reduce and Manage Stress
According to research regarding stress and autoimmunity published by the Immunology And Allergy Clinic of North America, stress reduction interventions can have a positive therapeutic effect in autoimmune disease patients. (13) Studies have found that a high proportion (up to 80 percent!) of patients with autoimmune symptoms report uncommon emotional stress before disease onset.
Stress can trigger alterations in the production of neuroendocrine hormones and contribute to immune dysfunction by increasing cytokine production. Doctors are now warning patients that stress management should be considered in all multidimensional treatment approaches to resolving underlying causes of Hashimoto’s disease and other disorders (like other thyroid disorders and rheumatoid arthritis).
Different things work for different people when it comes to lowering stress. Taking detox baths with Epsom salts, regularly doing adaptive exercises (like barre, yoga, Pilates and weight-training), reading spiritual growth books, spending time outdoors, and fostering good relationships are all proven natural stress relievers.
It’s very important not to leave symptoms of thyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s disease unchecked and unaddressed. If you suspect that you have a problem with your thyroid, you should definitely have testing done as soon as you can. Sometimes second opinions can be helpful, too, to ensure a proper diagnosis.
If you’re looking for an endocrinologist in your area that specializes in thyroid issues, you can search for one according to your location here: American Thyroid Association.
Remember these key natural ways to help overcome Hashimoto’s and get your body back on track:
- Removing immune-reacting foods: gluten and other foods that cause sensitivities, etc.
- Consuming gut-healing foods like bone broth
- Supplementing with helpful nutrients, herbs and probiotics
- Boosting the body’s ability to detox
- Reducing and managing stress longterm