Living with an autoimmune disease isn’t easy, but according to the National Institutes of Health, a significant amount of Americans live with one—up to 23.5 million, in fact. The same report also found that they disproportionately affect women and that (for unknown reasons) their prevalence is rising. So, before we dive in to tell you more about this specific one, let’s spend a little time on what autoimmune diseases are.
Simply put, these diseases occur when your immune system begins to attack the organs, tissues, and cells in your body. It can be because of genetics or other underlying causes. And while some of these, like Kawasaki disease, are pretty rare, others are more common. Type 1 diabetes, Graves’ disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Celiac disease are some you may recognize.
Because autoimmune diseases affect everything from blood glucose levels and thyroid glands to insulin levels and obesity, it’s worth spending some time understanding the specifics of a few common autoimmune conditions. We’re going to start with one that affects thyroid function, called Hashimoto’s disease.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or Hashimoto’s disease, is an autoimmune condition that affects your thyroid health. Just in case you don’t already know: your thyroid is a gland that’s part of your endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of glands that control hormone function.
Hashimoto’s disease is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of hypothyroidism. When you have hypothyroidism, the secretion and production of thyroid hormones in your body begin to decrease. Your thyroid eventually begins to under-produce and release these thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. Essentially, if you have a form of hypothyroidism, you have an underactive thyroid.
Hashimoto’s leads to white blood cells and antibodies attacking your thyroid and healthy tissues instead of defending them like it is supposed to. This causes inflammation in the thyroid. If left untreated, Hashimoto’s may damage your thyroid health enough for you to develop a more permanent form of hypothyroidism. Your thyroid then begins to cease producing enough thyroid hormones for your body to function, and you will need medication to make up for that lack.
Although endocrinology and functional medicine researchers are still studying the autoimmune condition, there’s currently no cure. So healthcare providers will usually focus on disease management here as they do for most thyroid disorders. In some (rare) cases, Hashimoto’s disease can also lead to hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid.
Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism can cause many, many symptoms. Every case is different, which is why hypothyroidism is often misdiagnosed. One of the overarching issues of thyroid dysfunction is that it affects adrenal glands, causing everything from fatigue to brain fog and cravings. It can also increase cortisol levels in your blood. Here are some of the most common symptoms found in those suffering from Hashimoto’s disease:
Hashimoto’s is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism in the U.S. But, if you detect it early enough, you can prevent the development of symptoms that accompany the condition. If you think you may have Hashimoto’s symptoms, your next step is to consult with a healthcare professional and run some blood tests.
The blood tests that need to be run examine the TSH levels and your TPOab [or thyroid peroxidase antibodies] in your bloodstream. When Hashimoto’s begins to progress, the thyroid peroxidase antibodies are the ones that attack your thyroid gland. If the antibodies are found in your blood along with high TSH levels and low thyroid hormone levels, you likely have Hashimoto’s disease.
The leading causes of developing Hashimoto’s are pre-existing autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease. Some genes may also be risk factors for the autoimmune condition.
Are there risk factors? Are some people more likely to develop this thyroid condition than others? Here’s what you need to know:
There is no known cure for Hashimoto’s disease, but some treatments prevent worsening symptoms and treat current symptoms. Once a healthcare professional has reviewed your symptoms and bloodwork, they may prescribe a hormone replacement pill that must be taken daily on an empty stomach. There are different strengths of these medications, and what you’re prescribed will depend on your blood levels, age, the severity of Hashimoto’s, your weight, and other health conditions that you may have.
Even after you are diagnosed with this autoimmune condition and prescribed medication, you will need regular blood work. Monitoring your symptoms and visiting your doctor regularly to discuss your treatment is also a good idea, as you may have to change the dose of your hormone replacement several times throughout your life. Remember that it will take time for your body to readjust to having the right level of hormones to work with, and you will need to be patient as your symptoms begin to subside.
Blood sugar imbalances are associated with thyroid disorders, and chronically high blood sugar levels can lead to inflammation. Abnormal inflammatory responses have been associated with many autoimmune diseases. Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia may also occur.
Your diet is an excellent way to help regulate and manage the symptoms of Hashimoto’s. While everyone’s body is different and diets to treat Hashimoto’s can vary from person to person, some of these dietary changes can help improve your condition.
Because blood sugar levels and diet have been found to help treat autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, you may want to consider using a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to collect data on your blood sugar levels. The programs from NutriSense provide you with CGM sensors as well as an innovative app that helps you track and monitor your blood sugar levels in real-time.
You also have access to continued support from a team of licensed dietitians who will be able to help you interpret that data and make healthy changes to improve your blood sugar levels and optimize your health. Remember that it’s a good idea to continue working with your doctor while making healthy lifestyle adjustments when managing a condition like Hashimoto’s.
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