Hashimoto's Thyroiditis - Gut / Thyroid Connection:
After age 6, the most common cause of hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) is Hashimoto's. Named after a Japanese doctor in the early 1900's, this condition affects about 1%-2% of the US population, with women affected more than men. Today, we can treat low thyroid levels with a variety of replacement medications to normalize levels in your blood, but of bigger concern is the process that initiated this event to begin with.
The development of hypothyroidism from Hashimoto's begins with the activation of the immune system against the thyroid gland. Known as autoimmunity, the body literally begins recognizing the thyroid as foreign and slowly can "attack" this gland for periods as long as 10 or more years before symptoms begin to develop. Individuals can manifest with symptoms of low thyroid that include fatigue, weight gain, menstrual irregularities, tissue swelling, mood changes, dry skin and hair, and overall reduced metabolism.
So why does our body attack itself and how can this process be turned on and off?
Like other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, eczema, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, etc. - multiple variables play a key role. A central role in the development of autoimmunity tends to be the GI system or our "guts." This remarkable system, like the skin, acts as a barrier to invaders from the outside world. The GI system possesses a unique role in it's ability to defend our internal environment, all while still retaining the capability to break down and effectively absorb water, food, and nutrients from the food we eat. However, in certain individuals, genetics, our inflammatory diets, stress, toxins, NSAID's, alcohol, certain Rx medications can cause the normally tight barrier found between the cells lining the gut to break down and a condition called "leaky gut" can develop. This condition allows larger food particles and proteins, bacteria, and toxins to cross into the body that might not normally be permitted. The end result is increased inflammation and antibodies being produced from our rich immune system found near the GI tract.
Increased circulating antibodies may, inappropriately, start attacking normal cells in our bodies, leading to more inflammation and destruction of the target tissue. In the case of Hashimoto's, enough destruction of the thyroid gland can lead to low thyroid hormone production. So how can we prevent, stop, or even reverse this process?
The key, as with most autoimmune conditions, is making lifestyle changes to help heal the GI system. It is important to calm down the immune system, avoid toxins and substances that increase our risk for leaky gut, and optimize vitamins and nutrients to ensure our hormone systems are working efficiently. Choosing the right thyroid supplement is also key to keep thyroid levels normalized as individuals make lifestyle changes to hopefully improve or correct this disease.