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  • Writer's pictureEmily Lipinski

What Causes Hypothyroidism? (Some of the causes might surprise you).

Although this should be a simple answer- it’s not. And it is actually best answered if we pose a different question- what causes autoimmune disease?

Although there are a few causes of hypothyroidism including: treatment of hyperthyroidism (with medication or surgery), and radiation surgery, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is autoimmune disease (also known as Hashimoto’s thyroid disease).

Autoimmune disease happens when your immune system begins to function abnormally and starts to attack your own tissues. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, the body’s immune system begins to attack the thyroid gland. In turn, the thyroid gland cannot function properly and the production of thyroid hormones-most commonly T3 and T4, decrease and cause symptoms of hypothyroidism.


Autoimmune diseases affect over 50 million American people alone and are not just specific to the thyroid gland. They also include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. Although these diseases are quite different and unique in their own way, they all are connected by the fact that the immune system begins to malfunction, in turn causing inflammation in the body, and damaging tissues.

Your immune system is your internal defense team or personal “army” helping to distinguish against foreign invaders that could potentially harm you. For example, a healthy well and well-functioning immune system attacks viruses and bacteria that would cause an infection quickly and efficiently. After these viruses or bacteria are killed, the immune response should decrease. Autoimmunity happens with the immune system gets confused and your own tissues, or thyroid gland, gets caught up in the defense response. The longer the immune system is in high gear attacking foreign invaders, the higher the chances of autoimmunity.

This means that if your body is continually fighting something, such an infection, food, long term stress, a toxin or an allergen, it is more likely to redirect the attack your own tissues. This attack can be placed on your gut, joints, brain, thyroid, skin and sometimes multiple areas in your body.

So what does this mean for you?

If you have hypothyroid disease, I encourage to dig deeper and find out if you have autoimmune hypothyroid disease. This is easily done by checking thyroid antibodies via blood.

If you already know that you have autoimmune thyroid disease, it is time to get to the root cause of what is causing the autoimmune attack. As mentioned above, it could be a food, virus or bacteria that you may be reacting too. Personally, I found that my body had developed a strong response to certain foods including gluten, dairy, egg whites and peas. After taking these foods out of my diet for 3 weeks I noticed that my energy increase, my thyroid levels improved and my eczema completely resolved. Now, 3 years later, I can happily say that my thyroid antibodies are so low I am in remission from autoimmune disease! Removing these foods was only one piece of the puzzle, but it was certainly a big piece for me.

Working with a good Naturopathic Doctor or Functional Medicine Doctor can help assist you on this investigation. Remember- stress is often a big part of an autoimmune reaction and stress management cannot be ignored!

If you have autoimmune disease it is also imperative to look at your digestive health and “gut function”. So called “leaky gut” can be related to autoimmune disease and can be at the root of many autoimmune conditions. More on leaky gut in another post soon- but first I want to hear from you!

Have you been diagnosed with autoimmune disease? What have you done to get to the bottom of what is contributing to your symptoms? Leave your comments below- I would love to hear about your journey.

Dr. Emily

National Institutes of Health, 2012.

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