What is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s, Hashimoto’s Disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is medically defined as an autoimmune disease, where the body turns on itself and slowly destroys the thyroid. When the immune system does this, the thyroid makes less and less thyroxin, a hormone which controls metabolism in the body. This is called hypothyroidism.
Causes of Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s is seven times more likely in women than in men, suggesting there may be a human estrogen factor. However, it is also increasing in prevalence in our modern world and a finger has been pointed at xenoestrogens, as found in herbicides, pesticides and in home products, and toiletry and personal care products.
Radiation may well be a factor since it is known to affect the thyroid. Equally, low or high iodine levels have been quoted as causes, depending on the source.
However, being an ‘autoimmune disease’ research is now increasingly pointing the finger at infection and a damaged gut microbiome as a major cause.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease?
- Joint and muscle aches
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Slowed heart rate, or irregular heart beat
- Feeling of cold all the time
- Paleness or puffiness
- Inability to get pregnant
Hashimoto’s and infection?
A growing body of evidence(1) suggests a viral and bacterial involvement in Hashimoto’s. We list these below.
But it is now firmly established that the mix of bacteria – both commensal and pathogens – in the gut and stomach is linked to inflammation and an immune response. Attack by the immune cells can cause ‘similar tissues’ or tissues which also have the infection inside, to also be attacked.
One factor in Hashimoto’s seems to be SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This is not technically an infection, more a case of bacteria being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you have SIBO it can link to gas production, wind, diarrhoea, leaky gut, acid reflux, IBS and more. SIBO can also deplete iron and B-12 levels.
At the moment SIBO is known to be linked to Hashimoto’s but it is not known whether it is a cause or a consequence. One would feel it has to be the former. SIBO can be caused by antibiotic use and especially by Proton Pump Inhibitors like Omeprazole.
What we do know is that roughly half of people with low thyroid function have SIBO and there’s even some evidence that levothyroxine can make matters worse!
When you develop an infection, your immune system targets those specific microbes. However, in some cases, the immune system accidentally targets certain cells in your body that happen to look like the original microbe. Think of it as mistaken identity.
There seem to be at least 6 ‘infections’ that have been associated with Hashimoto’s.
- Yeasts – yeasts build up in the gut if you damage your commensal (good) bacteria. They are the cause of leaky gut, and can get into the blood stream and then pass round the body sticking to cells and colonizing areas of the body. Yeast infections can happen in several ways, for example, after you have taken drugs (PPIs, antibiotics, chemotherapy, steroids and others), if you eat badly, binge drink, smoke or get stressed. In some cases it might occur because of a parasitic infection. A simple fix can be found in the ‘Heal your Gut’ article; yeasts can be killed by taking oregano, caprylic acid, pau d’arco and/or artemisinin, for example.
- Helicobacter pylori – a bacterium that infests the stomach. This is associated with stomach ulcers, stomach cancer and acid reflux. It can be killed off naturally by taking bismuth (in, for example, the antacid brand gastro-bismol) along with the herb goldenseal, or the blend Para-Free Max. Oregano, fish oil, berberine and NAC are also helpful.
- Borrelia bergdorferi – is more usually associated with Lyme Disease, but has been found in brain tumours. Artemisinin, or sweet wormwood, has an action against Borrelia.
- Yersinia enterocolitica – a bacterium found in contaminated seafood (mussels and oysters especially) and meats like pork, chicken and contaminated water and dairy products. It occurs worldwide but is fairly uncommon. Antibodies to the bacterium have been found in 75% of patients with Hashimoto’s(2), as opposed to less that 8% of the general population. The surface proteins of Yersinia look exactly like thos of the thyroid. The immune system doesn’t distinguish between the two and attacks both.
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) – is a Herpes virus that is common in most of us. It is held in control by the immune system but some people have a genetic deficiency and cannot. The virus can then re-activate inside the thyroid. Natural treatments include curcumin, berberine, selenium, zinc, beta-glucan and medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi.
- Hepatitis C – there is a higher risk of Hashimoto’s if you have HepC, possibly because the virus can also be present inside the thyroid, not just the liver. There is little evidence for natural remedies for Hepatitis C.