Hashimoto’s Is an Autoimmune Disease, So Why Is Everyone Ignoring The Autoimmune Part?

 

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease and a thyroid disease. But the autoimmune part of the disease is often poorly understood and sometimes completely ignored.

There are many reasons for this, but the result is that there is a huge void in our healthcare model for treating, managing and, even, properly understanding this condition. In this post I will explore many aspects of autoimmune disease and why it should matter to you.

Autoimmune Disease is An Epidemic

There is a a global epidemic of autoimmune disease taking place right now. Its shocking how little attention it is getting. According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association’s current statistics: 1 out of every 12 men and 1 out of every 9 women have autoimmune disease.

This is especially shocking when you understand how autoimmune disease is defined. An autoimmune disease is officially recognized when about 70 to 90% of the target disease is destroyed. You don’t just go from 0% to 70% destruction overnight. How many people do you think have undiagnosed autoimmune disease? Millions and millions.

Why aren’t more people talking about this? Is it because its not life threatening? No. Actually, autoimmune disease is the one of the top 10 leading causes of death in female children and women in all age groups up to 64 years of age.

And the numbers are higher than other major diseases: the NIH (National Institute of Health) thinks that up to 23.5 million Americans have autoimmune disease. 9 million have cancer, 22 million have heart disease.

In the US, thyroid autoimmune disease is the most common of all autoimmune disorders, affecting 7 – 8% of the U.S. population. By some estimates, autoimmune disease accounts for approximately 90% of all hypothyroid disorders and these are mostly due to Hashimoto’s.

Autoimmune Disease Has No Cure

One thing that is important to understand about autoimmune disease is that it is incurable. The condition can go into remission, but it never goes away. Unfortunately, some healthcare practitioners and patients believe this remission is a cure.

Let me put it to you simply: Anyone who tells you that they can cure your autoimmune disease is either a liar, a con artist or they don’t understand what is going on.

To date, there is no “off switch” to the autoimmune process. Once you have crossed over into autoimmunity you can not turn back. You can learn to manage it effectively, you can calm the attack, but you can never reverse the loss of self-tolerance.

The immune system doesn’t work that way. Once something has been labeled as a bad guy by the immune system, you can’t miraculously change that.

Once You Have an Autoimmune Disease, Its Easy to Get Another

This is true of all autoimmune diseases. We are composed of tissue made of proteins. These proteins have specific amino acid sequences. There are only a finite number of amino acids, so there many places where sequences from one tissue to another have the same sequences.

If your immune system identifies one protein as a bad guy, its not hard for it to mistake another that looks pretty similar. And this is also a natural process, part of the job of your immune system is to get rid of old dead cells.

Let’s take a look at Hashimoto’s as an example:

According to a study from the UK, 14.3 % of Hashimoto’s patients had another autoimmune diseases, with rheumatoid arthritis being the most common. Here’s a list of other common autoimmune diseases that this population could have:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis  — an autoimmune disease that affects the lining of your joints
  • Addison’s disease — an autoimmune disease that affects the adrenal glands, which make hormones that help your body respond to stress and regulate your blood pressure and water and salt balance
  • Type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disease that causes blood sugar levels to be too high
  • Graves’ disease — an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone
  • Pernicious anemia — an autoimmune disease that keeps your body from absorbing vitamin B12 and making enough healthy red blood cells
  • Lupus — an autoimmune disease that can damage many parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, blood vessels, and other organs
  • Vitiligo  — an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells that give your skin its color

Autoimmune Disease is a Progressive Disease

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, DC, autoimmune disease is a progressive disease that goes through 3 stages. While these are not recognized by the general medical community, they are very useful clinically.

As I stated above, autoimmune disease is not officially recognized until close to 70 to 90% of the target tissue is destroyed. Wouldn’t it be better to have some other way to identify these diseases before they destroy the target tissue? For my way of thinking the answer is YES!

3 Stages of Autoimmune Disease

Stage 1: Silent Autoimmunity

In this stage, the body has lost tolerance to its own tissue, but there are no symptoms yet and it doesn’t really affect the way that the system functions. This stage can, however, be identified by lab tests that show elevated antibodies.

People can stay in this stage for years. This is the best place to begin some sort of treatment because your odds of getting good results are highest.

Stage 2: Autoimmune Reactivity

In this stage, the destruction of the target tissue has begun. There are elevated antibodies and some symptoms. However, the destruction is not significant enough to actually be labeled autoimmune disease because 70 to 90% of the target tissue has not yet been destroyed.

This stage is where a lot of Hashimoto’s patients are. They may or may not have been placed on thyroid replacement hormone and that may or may not have normalized their thyroid lab results. However, the destructive autoimmune process is active and is progressing.

This is a very important stage for treating the immune dysfunction because you have a greater chance to slow or stop the destruction of that tissue and slow the progression to other autoimmune diseases.

Stage 3: Autoimmune Disease

This is the stage where Western medicine finally acknowledges that this is an autoimmune disease. And it takes this long because you need significant destruction of tissue in order to see the destruction with an MRI or ultrasound.

Other findings include elevated antibodies, serious and significant symptoms, lab results, and special studies that all confirm a loss of function.

Unfortunately, this is really late in the game. With Hashimoto’s, this is the stage where the thyroid is almost completely destroyed. Most people don’t reach this stage before they have been given thyroid replacement hormone because the symptoms have already become so serious that they will have sought out a doctor to help them before they got here.

Thyroid Replacement Hormone Can Be Helpful

Research on the effects of thyroid hormone therapy suggest that L-T4 (Levothyroxine) does reduce goiter size and autoantibody levels, however it does not seem to have an effect on specific immune cells that are known to be involved in autoimmune attacks.

That being said, there is evidence that taking thyroid hormone replacement in Stage 1 or Stage 2 may help slow the progression of the disease and this includes its progression to other diseases.

According the Mary Shomon, thyroid advocate, “The practice of treating patients who have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis but normal range thyroid function tests is supported by a study, reported on in the March 2001 issue of the journal Thyroid.

In this study, German researchers reported that use of levothyroxine treatment for cases of Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis where TSH had not yet elevated beyond normal range (people who were considered “euthyroid”) could reduce the incidence and degree of autoimmune disease progression.

In the study of 21 patients with euthyroid Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (normal range TSH, but elevated antibodies), half of the patients were treated with levothyroxine for a year, the other half were not treated.

After 1 year of therapy with levothyroxine, the antibody levels and lymphocytes (evidence of inflammation) decreased significantly only in the group receiving the medication. Among the untreated group, the antibody levels rose or remained the same.

The researchers concluded that preventative treatment of normal TSH range patients with Hashimoto’s disease reduced the various markers of autoimmune thyroiditis, and speculated that that such treatment might even be able to stop the progression of Hashimoto’s disease, or perhaps even prevent development of the hypothyroidism.”

Thyroid hormone may definitely provide some benefits, and there are also natural sources of thyroid hormone for those in stage 1 or stage 2 who may want to go the natural approach.

In my practice, we use a product that has thyroid glandular and a number of other herbs and supplements that support the thyroid gland, thyroid hormone function, thyroid hormone receptor binding and promotes healthy T3 and T4 levels.

For Many Just Taking Thyroid Replacement Hormone Is Not Enough

Even though the research mentioned above has shown that there may be some benefit to thyroid replacement therapy, for many people it is not enough. The reasons for this is simple, they are doing nothing to stop the triggers that drive flare ups of the autoimmune attack and they are not working to balance the immune system.

For example, there are many things that can be done to strengthen the regulatory part of the immune system (this is the part that slows the attack). It is also important to assess and treat the parts of the immune system that are responsible for the assault on your own tissue.

In future posts in this series I will go in depth about how this works and give you some real clinical examples for how we assess, treat and balance the immune system.

Bottom Line:

Autoimmune disease is on the rise. It must be taken seriously and anyone with hypothyroid symptoms should be tested for thyroid autoimmune antibodies to rule out Hashimoto’s. Thyroid hormone may help slow the destructive inflammatory process, but by itself it is not enough.

There is a lot you can do to balance your immune system and heal your Hashimoto’s. Because I have Hashimoto’s and another autoimmune disease (Ankylosing Spondylitis) myself I have had to focus on healing and managing autoimmunity.

I’m happy to speak without you about how you can do this effectively, as well. Click here to set up a time to chat: Click here to book a session with Marc

What are your thoughts, comments, questions about this issue?

Resources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20103030

https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/endocrj/52/3/52_3_337/_pdf

http://hypothyroidmom.com/hashimotos-your-body-is-not-supposed-to-destroy-itself-right/

http://thyroid.about.com/bio/Mary-Shomon-350.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16006728

http://www.thyroidweek.com/en/be-thyroid-aware.html

 

About the Author Marc Ryan

Leave a Comment:

Dana Trentini says

Great article Marc. Thank you for including Hypothyroid Mom in your resource section. I look forward to reading more from you on Hashimoto’s disease. So many hypothyroidism sufferers have never been tested for thyroid antibodies and that is tragic. They have no idea they have an autoimmune condition that if left unchecked can lead to other autoimmune conditions. It troubles me how little mainstream medicine understands about autoimmune diseases.

Reply
Jennifer Armstrong says

I have gone from Hashomito to the following
Arthritis
Gout
Skin problems
Non aholic liver disease
Galocmia
Gasteroprisa
Reflux
Veins In stomach that bleed
Enlarged stomach
Coldl all the time
Tired
Fibromigal
Diabetic

Reply
    Marc Ryan says

    Thanks for your comment! That is a perfect example of the progressive nature of this disease.

    Reply
Michelle says

GREAT article! I have suffered thru Hashimotos…also have Lupus and Fibromyalgia.

Reply
    Marc Ryan says

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for your comments. Wow, that’s a lot to handle. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the potential seriousness of this.

    Best,
    Marc

    Reply
Julie Shenk says

My case was mistreated, I’m so sad to say. Everything was delayed for treating the thyroid as my Primary at the time was prejudiced and said it was ‘my depression’ despite having all the tell-tale signs of hypothyroidism. Finally, a female dermatologist listened to me (was there for other issue) about the symptoms & did a blood test. I was at a 7. So frustrating. Then years later, another female Primary (I left the other doctor) tested me & she came back with a sad expression on her face saying that I dd have Hashimoto’s Disease. This primary left the practice and I went through other females (who left practice for whatever reasons) & now have a male. He seems to be aggravated with me when I even talk about Hasimoto’s Disease and how hard it is for me. He says as long as blood work okay, I am okay and everyone has Hashimoto’s with hypothyroidism. So is that true. I was told that my system was no longer making any by the first female primary….I am a bit confused. For he record, I also do have OA, Fibromyalgia, high antigens for Celiac Sprue (on gf diet). The same male first primary tested me those many years ago & it came back that I had mixed connective tissue issues. What does that mean. He poo pooed that as well. Now I have no records of this & other tests (whatever they do do) isn’t coming up with anything else.

Reply
    Marc Ryan says

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks for sharing your story and sorry to hear that you have had such a hard time. Hashimoto’s is commonly undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or completely ignored in today’s healthcare system. Unfortunately, your experience is quite common.

    I offer a free 30 minute, confidential consultation if you’d like to talk with someone who gets it. There is a button on the home page to schedule.

    Best,
    Marc

    Reply
Tina says

Thanks for writing this. I have Hashimotos and at times feel really yucky. I just washed my hands and my fingers hurt when I did that. There are flare ups at times. HOWEVER, we cannot role over and play dead. You have to be your own advocate….research, educate yourself. FOOD has sooooooo much to do with how we feel. Get rid of the gluten. Maybe get rid of the dairy. I realized that dairy was really messing my body up, once I stopped it. Sugar can be harmful. Get moving. Take Omega 3, take selenium, etc. The worst part for me is memory and foggy brain, and I run my own business. Eating what I shouldn’t makes it worse, and I do cheat from time to time. Even red wine, which I really like, makes me feel bad the next day. It was not until I went on The Virgin Diet awhile back that I realized food choices are critical to good health with Hashimoto’s…It’s amazing how much better I felt after staying on that diet for awhile. Do not give up!!!!!

Reply
    Marc Ryan says

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, brain fog is a major issue for so many. I’m going to be offering a special program called Maintaining a Healthy Brain with Hashimoto’s this winter. Brain fog is inflammation of the brain. This is why when you cheat, your symptoms get worse. You have an immune response in your brain.

    Best,
    Marc

    Reply
Understanding Hashimoto's Antibodies - Hashimotos Healing says

[…] You can read more about these stages here. […]

Reply
My Top 5 Clinical Pearls From This Last Year - Hashimotos Healing says

[…] 3. The disease is progressive. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Datis Kharrazian and others have identified 3 stages. Read this post to learn more about this. […]

Reply
Why Is Diet So Important for Healing Hashimoto’s? | Welcome to the Hashimotos-Diet says

[…] does this happen? There are many factors involved (to learn more check out this post on our sister site, http://www.hashimotoshealing.com), but a common denominator with all autoimmune disease is a breakdown of the body’s barrier […]

Reply
» Blog Archive » More fun with thyroid says

[…] 35 units per milliliter, and yours are over 1000, you have a problem. My problem is most likely Hashimoto’s disease, a common chronic and progressive auto-immune inflammation of the thyroid gland. The reason […]

Reply
Hashimoto's and SIBO Treatment (Part 2 of 2) - Hashimotos Healing says

[…] like all autoimmune disease, is progressive. We have identified 3 stages of progression. (Read here to learn more […]

Reply
Celiac Disease and Hashimoto's - Hashimotos Healing says

[…] read more about this, check out my previous post that looks into this in […]

Reply
Add Your Reply