What Causes Hashimoto’s Disease and How Is It Treated?
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid. It encourages immune cells to mistakenly attack the thyroid gland, which means that it doesn’t produce the right amount of thyroid hormones. This can have a big impact on the rest of your body because thyroid hormones are super important for lots of functions. Not sure what causes Hashimoto's Disease or whether you might be affected? Here's what to know about the condition and what the outlook is if you're diagnosed.
Who gets Hashimoto’s?
Women are more likely to be affected than men. For both genders, there’s a bigger risk factor for developing Hashimoto’s Disease if anyone in your family has it too.
There’s an autoimmune link too, and you can be more likely to get Hashimoto's if you also have type 1 diabetes, lupus, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, Sjogren's Syndrome, autoimmune hepatitis or Addison’s Disease.
Technically, it can develop at any age, but it’s more common between the ages of 40 and 60.
What causes Hashimoto’s Disease?
For some people, the immune system attacks cells in the thyroid gland and white blood cells are able to build up in the thyroid.
Why does this happen? Genes can play a large part and it’s pretty common for people with Hashimoto’s Disease to also have family members with an autoimmune condition. Experts think that for people with a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease, something acts as a trigger. This could be a virus or specific types of bacteria, for example.
Also, a lot of people with autoimmune disease also have a “leaky gut”. This basically means that the intestinal walls aren’t as robust as they should be, and undigested food is able to find its way into the bloodstream. This can be attacked by the immune system, which encourages an immune response.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s Disease doesn’t always cause any obvious symptoms. As the condition develops, it can lead to the thyroid gland getting bigger. This is known as a goiter, and it can create a feeling of fullness in the throat. Sometimes, this may show up as a swollen looking neck, especially if the goiter is large. It’s not usually painful however, it can affect the ability to swallow.
Hypothyroidism is one of the more significant symptoms of longer-term Hashimoto’s. This means that your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough thyroid hormones. This can develop gradually without symptoms but later on, it can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, joint and muscle pain, constipation, sensitivity to cooler temperatures, dry and/or thinning hair, hair loss, memory issues, fertility issues and depression.
How is Hashimoto’s Disease treated?
A lot depends on how much the thyroid gland has been damaged. If there’s only a small amount of damage, it may not have triggered hypothyroidism. If the damage is more significant and hypothyroidism has developed, it’ll need to be treated.
This involves using synthetic or desiccated thyroid hormones to replace what the body isn’t producing by itself and balance hormone levels. When you first start taking thyroid medication, it’s likely that there will be a bit of adjustment to find the right dose for your needs. In between, blood tests can see how your thyroid levels are responding until you find a stable level.
Lifestyle factors to treat Hashimoto’s Disease
Lifestyle changes can alter the way that your immune system works, and this can have an effect on autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s Disease.
A few of the things that can help:
Cutting gluten from your diet can sometimes help with symptoms of Hashimoto’s. Gluten sensitivity is linked to a lot of autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s. You may not necessarily have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease, but it can be a factor in leaky gut. Removing gluten from your diet can be a big first step in healing your gut and keeping Hashimoto’s symptoms in check.
With Hashimoto’s, other foods can potentially make leaky gut worse too. These include dairy, eggs, quinoa, corn, rice and vegetables from the nightshade family (eggplant, tomato and peppers, for example). Whether or not you react to these can be very personal and an elimination diet can help to work out what your specific leaky gut triggers are.
It’s not just about taking things out of your diet; adding in fermented foods and bone broth can help to heal a leaky gut and improve thyroid function. Eating plenty of whole, nutrient dense foods is key too.
Reducing stress, getting plenty of sleep and gentle, regular exercise are also super important lifestyle moves for living with an autoimmune condition. Studies have shown that yoga can help to manage hypothyroidism symptoms. Taking a few steps now to improve your health overall can help keep the symptoms at bay.