If Hashimoto’s is an Immune Disease, then why does it affect my Thyroid?

Hashimoto’s disease progresses slowly over the years. It causes chronic thyroid damage and leads to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood. The symptoms are mainly those of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). These symptoms include fatigue/sluggishness, increased sensitivity to the cold, constipation, pale/dry skin, a puffy face, hoarse voice, unexplained weight gain, muscle aches, stiffness to your joints and depression. Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disorder in the U.S., and affecting between 7-8% of the whole population.
Something we need to understand about Hashimoto’s, is that it is not a thyroid disease but an immune disease. It is the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism. A compromised immune barrier in the digestive tract is often a factor as a trigger for autoimmune disease. When the gut lining thins due to poor diet, infections and blood sugar swings the immune system is called to action on a constant basis. This leads to an immune system imbalance and the development of an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s. With this being an autoimmune disorder, it is the immune system that must be addressed. Starting to understand the immune system is the first step to prevent future autoimmune diseases, successfully amend Hashimoto’s, and enjoy a better quality of life.

Triggers for an Autoimmune Response

Gluten Intolerance
One of the main functions of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign invaders. There are times when it begins to recognize a frequently eaten food as a dangerous invader. This keeps the immune system in constant battle. In time, this over active immune system can behave erratically and begin attacking the body tissue. With people who have Hashimoto’s, this involves gluten, the protein found in wheat and wheat-like grains such as spelt, kamut, rye, barley, triticale, and oats.
The molecular structure of gluten closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gluten slips through the protective barrier of the gut (through leaky gut) and into the bloodstream, the immune system responds by tagging it for destruction. This is because gluten doesn’t belong in the bloodstream. These antibodies to gluten also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means that if you have autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) and you eat foods that contain gluten; your immune system will attack your thyroid because it is protecting itself.
Gluten itself weakens the intestinal tract, and gluten intolerance causes inflammation in the joints, skin, respiratory tract, or brain.

Vitamin D Deficiency
Having enough vitamin D helps keep the immune system balanced so it does not spiral out of control and turn into an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s.

Stress
Stress is the biggest factor when cooking up a recipe that makes up an autoimmune disease. Stress does many things to upset the immune regulation: It promotes immune imbalances, suppresses immune function, weakens the thymus gland, and it also thins the gut, lungs, and brain barriers.

Written by: Colbi Judd

Sources:
Datis Kharrazian, DHSc,DC, MS: Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests are Normal (2010), pg 21-65.
Chris Kresser: Basics of Immune Balancing for Hashimoto’s (2010). www.chriskresser.com
Chris Kresser: The Most Important Thing You May Not Know About Hypothyroidism (2010). www.chriskresser.com

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