Handling Autoimmune Disease Naturally, Part II: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Reishi mushroom

January is Thyroid Awareness Month, so we are continuing our series about natural autoimmune disease protocols with a post about Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is one of the most common autoimmune diseases we hear about from our customers. Hashimoto’s is the main cause of hypoactive thyroid (also called hypothyroidism), accounting for about 90% of all hypothyroidism cases. Some of the most common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include weight gain, chronic fatigue, constipation, dry skin… if this sounds like you, read on and learn about natural remedies for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s

So how do you know if you have Hashimoto’s? Figuring it out can be a little complicated. The best way to tell is a combination of functional lab testing and checking your symptoms. A doctor with experience Thyroiddiagnosing and treating Hashimoto’s can help. One important thing to know is that standard lab tests for thyroid don’t always reveal Hashimoto’s. Typically, doctors look to TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) as the indicator of hypothyroidism, but that is really only one piece of the puzzle. To know if you have Hashimoto’s, you must get your antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO antibodies) (thyroid peroxidase is an enzyme normally found in the thyroid gland that plays an important role in the production of thyroid hormones) checked and see if you have the symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

If you have many of the following symptoms, you should ask a knowledgable doctor about testing for Hashimoto’s:

  • Anemia
  • Brain fog (trouble focusing, poor memory, sluggish thinking)
  • Chest pains
  • Cold intolerance and very cold hands and feet
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry, rough skin
  • Exhaustion/fatigue
  • Muscle soreness
  • Very bad PMS symptoms or increased menstrual flow

There are lots of books out now that discuss how you can still have Hashimoto’s even when the standard thyroid tests don’t indicate slow thyroid function. Hashimoto’s can still be at work before it impairs your thyroid function enough to show up in bloodwork.

Natural Treatments for Hashimoto’s

Herbs for Hashimoto’s

Ashwagandha

Photo by Steven Foster

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a type of herb that has seemingly contradictory effects- it could raise or lower the same thing, depending on what is out of balance in a person’s body. For example, ashwagandha is a great herb for thyroid function, as it can help support healthy thyroid hormone levels, whether they are initially too high or too low. It is also known for supporting healthy sleep patterns and low stress levels, both of which are very useful in autoimmune cases. Adaptogens are often used to provide adrenal support, and the thyroid and adrenals are closely connected.

Reishi

Reishi mushroom

Photo by Steven Foster

Reishi is good for most autoimmune conditions because it is an immunomodulator, which means it adjusts the immune system to the appropriate level. It can ramp up the immune system to fight against acute infections, but also bring down immune reactions in the case of over-reactive autoimmune responses. Reishi is also specifically useful against Epstein-Barr Virus, which can play a role in Hashimoto’s cases.

Licorice

Licorice alone is not a solution for Hashimoto’s, but it has qualities that may help, especially with symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It is anti-inflammatory, and inflammation tends to be high in autoimmune conditions. It also is a demulcent laxative, which can be helpful for the constipation that often comes with Hashimoto’s. Licorice, like some of the other herbs in this list, is also an adaptogen. Licorice can be helpful for people who have adrenal insufficiency in addition to (or as a result of) Hashimoto’s. However, not everyone should use licorice. Licorice can cause high blood pressure and water retention; it can also increase the effects of corticosteroid medications. If any of these are issues, avoid using licorice. Using licorice as a small part of a larger formula can help to avoid some of these side effects.

NettlesStinging Nettles

Nettles are a deeply nourishing tonic. They are naturally anti-inflammatory, mineral-rich, and high in vitamins. Incorporating nettle leaf powder into foods or making a nettle tea (steeped overnight) will provide essential nutrients for people with Hashimoto’s.

Eleuthero

Eleuthero is another one of those amazing adaptogens- it can provide energy and stress relief at the same time. It provides sustained energy without any rushes or crashes, can help you think more clearly, and helps your body adapt to stressors, including those you may not consciously notice. This herb could be a big help to people who are exhausted, foggy-headed, and depleted from Hashimoto’s.

Supplements for Hashimoto’s

Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels tend to be low in autoimmune patients. We are not quite sure whether vitamin D deficiency causes autoimmune disease, sufficient vitamin D protects against disease, or if the link is not causal at all, but it is clear that vitamin D supplementation is a good idea for people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Get your blood tested regularly and figure out the optimal level of vitamin D for you– it may be higher than the standard lab reference ranges.

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, while omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Contrary to popular belief, inflammation is not always a bad thing. Inflammation is essential for healing in the acute phase immediately following an injury. However, due to the widespread use of vegetable oils in many American foods and lower consumption of fish and greens, Americans’ fatty acid balances tend to be off. Most of us experience higher levels of inflammation due to diet and lifestyle, which contributes to chronic disease.

Autoimmune conditions are marked by high inflammation. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, such as a high-quality fish oil, could help manage the inflammation that accompanies Hashimoto’s. It can also help with the dry skin that sometimes accompanies Hashimoto’s, since pure oils act as internal moisturizers for the skin. If depression or anxiety accompanies one’s Hashimoto’s, fish oil might also help their mood.

Hashimoto’s Diet

Gluten Free Dietmaster.k.m.us.BI_kale-white-bean-soup-14

Avoiding gluten is one of the most important parts of a Hashimoto’s-friendly diet. It is common for people with Hashimoto’s to also have Celiac’s Disease. The gluten molecule happens to look similar to thyroid gland molecules, so the immune system can have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Chris Kresser explains the link between autoimmune thyroid conditions and gluten sensitivity:

“What explains the connection? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid.”

Going completely gluten free is the most important part of a natural Hashimoto’s protocol. Remember that gluten and gliadin are not only found in wheat, but also in barley, rye, and some other grains, as well as many food additives. Read labels very carefully and look for Certified Gluten-Free seals.

Allergen Free Diet

People with autoimmune conditions often have multiple sensitivities to things like food. To find out if you have food sensitivities, you can either get lab testing done (in the case of food sensitivities, stool tests are more accurate than blood tests), or you can try an elimination diet. To try an elimination diet, you want to start by removing the most common allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. After living without these foods for a while, you can taste a bit of one of the allergens and see how your body reacts. For severe autoimmune conditions, some people try an autoimmune paleo protocol. Once you have done an elimination diet or AIP protocol for a while, you should be able to reintroduce foods and see which ones you tolerate well. Everyone’s body is different, so there is no single right diet for Hashimoto’s. What works for you will depend on your unique chemistry, how long you’ve had Hashimoto’s, how severe it is, etc.

Low Inflammation Diet

vegetables by Rick Ligthelm

©Rick Ligthelm

A big part of managing autoimmune conditions naturally is keeping inflammation down. In addition to avoiding allergens as a way to reduce inflammation, you should eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods. Anti-inflammatory foods are things like fish, green leafy vegetables, fresh herbs, and produce of many different bright colors (those fun colors are signs that the plants are full of phytonutrients!). For more ideas about a low-inflammation diet, check out our blog post here.

As with any autoimmune condition, taking good care of yourself is essential for managing symptoms. Getting enough sleep, keeping stress to a minimum, spending time doing things you love, and taking the best care of your body you possibly can will all help you with Hashimoto’s or any other autoimmune disease!