A little late but as promised, this is the second part of Thyroid 101. Today I would like to talk about autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system, which defends your body against diseases, decides your healthy cells are foreign. As a result, your immune system attacks healthy cells. An autoimmune disease can affect one or many different types of body tissue, depending on the type. It can also cause abnormal organ growth and changes in organ function. There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases, with many many symptoms that can very much go unnoticed. The tricky part is that whenever the organ being attacked by your immune system is completely damaged, the immune system then moves to attacking another healthy organ, and so it is a never ending circle of damaging healthy cells, organs, and tissues. Which also means a never ending series of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, digestive issues, heart disease, sleep disorders, weight gain, problems with memory and concentration…etc
Before we go deeper into autoimmune diseases, let’s first learn a thing or two about the immune system itself:
1-Your immune system protects against diseases, infection, and helps you recover after an injury. Having a fever and inflammation can be unpleasant, but they are signs that your body is doing its job. Fever releases white blood cells, increases metabolism, and stops certain organisms from multiplying. Inflammation occurs when each damaged cell releases histamines. The histamines cause the cell walls to dilate. This creates the redness, heat, pain, and swelling of inflammation. As a result, your body limits the effects of the irritant.
2- Your immune system and gut health are inextricably linked. Did you know that approximately seventy to eighty percent of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system? The gut is often the first entry point for exposure to pathogens (bad bacteria and virus’ that can cause disease). The digestive system comprises of cells, proteins, tissues and organs which work together in a complex way to defend the body against harmful bacteria, infectious diseases and toxins. A variety of illnesses can occur when these protective functions of the gut are compromised. So your gut immune system needs to be thriving and healthy in order to avoid illness.
3- Stress damages your immune system: Your immune system is ready for anything you can throw at it. But it can only handle so much. Stress has a significant effect on your immune system. During stress, a series of events release cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones from the adrenal gland. Together they help your body cope with stress. Normally, cortisol is helpful because it decreases the inflammation in the body that results from the immune responses caused by stress. But if a person is chronically stressed, stress hormones can affect the way the body functions over time. It can also cause different autoimmune disease, or make them worse if it is a preexisting condition.
Now let’s move to Hashimoto’s disease, which is one of the many wildly known autoimmune diseases. Hashimoto’s affects women more than men, suggesting that the progesterone and estrogen hormones may play a role. Furthermore, some women have thyroid problems during the first year after having a baby. Although the problem usually goes away, some of these women may develop Hashimoto’s years later.
It is very difficult to diagnose Hashimoto’s, because it takes years before your Thyroid gland is damaged and your TSH level is high enough to alarm your doctor. You might suffer silently for years, from chronic fatigue, depression, weight gain, paleness or puffiness of the face, joint and muscle pain constipation, inability to get warm, difficulty getting pregnant, joint and muscle pain hair loss or thinning, brittle hair, irregular or heavy menstrual periods, slowed heart rate, and many more ugly symptoms that can turn your life upside down.
While doctors can prescribe the synthetic version of T4, like Levothyroxine, and this will enhance your overall health, however, it will not solve the problem. Your immune system is busy attacking your own Thyroid gland, and so even though the prescribed medications are helping with the symptoms, the source of the problem is still there. Your immune system will keep on attacking your thyroid gland, till it is completely damaged, then it will move to another organ. That’s why Hashimoto’s is strongly linked with Addison’s disease, Graves’ disease, premature ovarian failure, type 1 diabetes, lupus erythematosus (a disorder that causes inflammation in a number of the body’s systems, including the lungs and heart), pernicious anemia (a disorder that prevents the absorption of vitamin B12), rheumatoid arthritis, thrombocytopenic purpura (a disorder that interferes with the blood’s ability to clot), vitiligo (a disorder that produces white patches on the skin due to attacks on skin pigment cells). So even if you are taking your medication religiously, you are still at risk.
If you want to know more about how to survive your Hashimoto, live a normal life, risk free (whether you have Hashimoto’s or another autoimmune disease), stay tuned to my next blog post, where I will talk about natural remedies, and simple changes you can do in your diet and lifestyle that can help you greatly.