It’s been a difficult year for me. I spent the first half of it feeling terrible. Depressed. Crying. Gaining weight despite my best workout efforts. A zombie-like brain fog coated my thoughts and I was so exhausted I had to take a nap mid-day to make it. And then my doctor, after hearing my woes and testing my thyroid (at my insistence, because I have a strong family history of thyroid problems), told me to go home and rest because my TSH was “only 3.4.” That was the first time. The second testing was “only 3.8.” I wish I’d done more research or found a different doctor at that point. The way I felt, the fact it was over 3.0, and the way it was going up should have been an indicator of a problem. Oh, and he never tested my antibodies (nor did the endocrinologist, until I insisted). When my TSH finally jumped to 6.5, he decided I was “hypothyroid” and prescribed a pill. At follow-up appointments, my numbers decreased to 5 and then 4, so he thought everything was fine. It wasn’t. I still felt terrible. No change in the symptoms, despite the “normal” labs. I saw an endocrinologist who, at my request, tested my antibodies and then decided to slightly increase my prescription dosage due to how I was feeling.
At no time did any health professional recommend lifestyle changes or preventative measures; they only prescribed pills.
Here’s the thing–if I hadn’t changed anything except for taking a pill, I’d have normal TSH levels but my immune system would still be pummeling my thyroid all the time, and I’d just be pouring thimblefuls of water over a fire trying to put it out. I’d like to preserve my thyroid health as much as possible, so I have done (and continue to do) research to help my body feel better and heal. I offer some of those measures here for your perusal. This isn’t everything–I take gingko biloba, omega-3, and l-glutamine, for example–but these are the main measures.
These are NOT my recommendations for you, but I ask you to consult with your doctor, do your own research, and never, ever settle for feeling less than awesome. We only have this one chance at life and I refuse to go through it feeling “okay.” What has helped me personally:
1) A Diagnosis
Knowledge is power. Even though my doctor wanted me to just keep taking my levothyroxine (like Synthroid) and be content because my labs were normal, I still felt like crap. And feeling like crap is not okay with me. You can tell me I’m supposed to feel good, but that won’t make it magically happen. So I kept pushing, kept researching, and kept asking for tests. Now that I know what, specifically, is the problem, I can address it. I urge everyone that has been diagnosed as hypothyroid to also get their antibodies tested to see if you have Hashimoto’s.
2) A Gluten-Free Diet
This is non-negotiable for Hashimoto’s sufferers (and perhaps ALL autoimmune disease sufferers) and the lifestyle change that has made the biggest personal difference in symptoms. People think it’s a fad. People think it’s only for individuals with celiac disease. IT’S NOT.
It is believed that one of the ways gluten causes autoimmune diseases is that gluten resembles–that is, it has an amino acid structure, or name tag, that is similar to–many tissues in our bodies. And so, while your body is busy attacking the gluten, it also starts to attack the tissues of your small intestine, your thyroid, myelin (in your nervous system), and your joints, thereby damaging these other tissues…The immune attack resulting from this mixup is referred to as molecular mimicry. –Dr. Susan Blum
I noticed a marked difference in how I felt within 4 days of going strictly gluten-free*. Is it difficult? Sometimes. We just got back from a week-long road trip. Finding gluten-free options was tougher, but not impossible, and we packed lots of snacks. Do I want to eat gluten? Heck no–because I know I’ll feel like garbage if I do. As “Super Veggie Mom,” we already do pretty good with eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies (of course! 😉 ) and we also avoid dairy, soy, and refined sugars, which can be troublesome foods for autoimmune diseases.
* Please note–there is no such thing as a “mostly gluten-free” diet for the autoimmune sufferer since even a tiny amount of gluten will trigger the immune response. It’s strictly gluten-free, or not at all. Beware of hidden gluten–oats must be specifically labeled “gluten-free” and soy sauce has gluten as well.
3) Selenium supplementation
Most sources recommend ingesting 200 mcg per day of selenium, because selenium is needed for the thyroid cells to be healthy and make hormones. One study showed the 200 mcg of selenium per day decreased one of the primary antibodies of Hashimoto’s. Although I read in multiple sources that you could just eat two Brazil nuts a day to get that amount, it didn’t make a difference for me. Then I read Wentz’s book (see below) and she said that the Brazil nuts didn’t work for her, but the 200 mcg supplement did. Taking a 200 mcg supplement was also one of the top 3 recommendations in Dr. Blum’s book (the other two were eat gluten-free and reduce mercury). I noticed a difference after I’d been taking it for a while.
4) Reduce fluoride exposure
To put it simply, fluoride kills thyroid cells (which is why it is so troubling to me that it is added to our water supply!!!!).
While various studies have shown that fluoride reduces the incidence of dental cavities and tooth decay, fluoride is an endocrine disruptor and studies confirm that fluoride is directly toxic to thyroid cells and causes thyroid cell death, suppressing thyroid activity. –Izabella Wentz, Pharm D, with Dr. Marta Nowosadzka
I have switched to a fluoride-free toothpaste (with no adverse effects) and we want to move to a home with well water, rather than city water, in the future. Normal water filters do not filter our fluoride.
5) Reduce mercury exposure & consider additional testing
I don’t eat a lot of fish that contains mercury, but there are studies showing an association between silver dental fillings, mercury exposure, and autoimmune thyroid disease. Because of the thyroid’s location, it is very susceptible to toxins coming from your mouth. My Hashimoto’s surfaced about 18 months after I got five new silver fillings. Coincidence? Maybe. I’m seeking heavy metals testing to see if I have a problem with the levels in my body. If I do, I will slowly get all my silver fillings changed out for composite (white) fillings. In the meantime, I’m taking milk thistle, which supports liver health (your liver has to remove these toxins).
6) Vitamin D supplementation
Ain’t no amount of sunshine gonna cut it! Vitamin D is the most-studied nutrient with respect to autoimmune disease and good vitamin D levels help regulate your T cells so that they are more tolerant of your own tissues and won’t get turned on and attack. Amounts recommended vary–do some research to find out what will work for you.
I’m going to end here, but I would like to hear from you. Please share your experiences and what else you have done to deal with this disease in the comments.
I don’t want you to think I came up with all of this on my own. I’ve read hundreds of pages (online and in print) on hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmune disease at this point. Please, if these affect you, consider these books, some of the best I’ve read: