In this multi part series, I will be outlining and discussing what thyroid antibodies are, why you should care about them and how to naturally lower them in your body- allowing your thyroid gland to function more optimally! This post will focus on the explanation of thyroid antibodies, why they develop and 7 common triggers that can cause the development and perpetuation of the antibody attack on the thyroid gland.
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and you have not yet checked your thyroid antibodies- I would highly suggest doing so. Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, the most common cause of thyroid disease, is an illness in which antibodies generated from your body attack the thyroid gland, causing it to swell and slow down. In fact, antibodies are present is approximately 80% of woman that suffer from hypothyroidism, and most woman don’t even know they have them. Further- if you have symptoms of hypothyroidism but have always been told that your thyroid blood tests are normal, it is worth checking your thyroid antibodies. Many people have elevated antibodies for years before their other thyroid blood tests show up abnormal and there is some data to suggest that lowering antibodies may help prevent the progression to full blown hypothyroidism!
You may be asking yourself- why should you care if you have antibodies?
Well, if you do have antibodies to the thyroid gland, it means that an autoimmune disease is at the root cause of why your thyroid gland is not functioning optimally. And, if this is the case for you, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the antibody attack. When antibodies are lowered, it helps to reduce the stress on the thyroid gland and in turn may significantly help reduce the symptoms of hypothyroidism and may even lessen the need for medication in some people.
What exactly is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body, and in this case, the thyroid gland. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack and destroy them. However, due to changes in the body and risk factors (like genetics) the body can begin to attack it’s own self instead of just viruses and bacteria.
What causes an autoimmune disease?
There are 3 main factors that lead to the development of autoimmune disease: genetic predisposition, leaky gut and exposure to triggers. Genetic predisposition simply means that your genetic makeup, inherited from your mother and father, puts you at an increased risk of the development of an autoimmune disease. A “leaky gut” (also referred to as intestinal permeability) is a main component in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases. When a person has leaky gut, teeny tiny particles such as food and bacteria from inside of the intestines can escape through the intestinal lining and activate the immune system to produce inflammation. If the leaky gut never heals, the inflammation becomes ‘chronic’, and can eventually result in tissue damage and autoimmune disease. And finally, there are 7 primary triggers that can lead to the progression of autoimmune disease, including autoimmune thyroid disease.
7 Triggers for the development and progression of autoimmune diseases include the following:
1. Eating a Western diet, including high fat and cholesterol, high protein, high sugar, and excess salt intake, as well as frequent consumption of processed and fast foods.
2. Exposure to toxins and heavy metals.
3. Certain infections and parasites like recurrent strep throat, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and yersinia enterocolitica.
4. Stress; in fact some studies show that over 80 percent of patients report an incidence of high stress before the onset of the disease.
5. Exposure to radiation
6. Certain medication use, such as antibiotics and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
7. Elevated iodine intake in foods and other supplements
What are the antibodies that are important for thyroid disease?
In addition to the common TSH and T4 blood test that are run for hypothyroidism, the common antibody tests are:
Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) Antibody: Over30 kIU/L indicates that the body is making an abnormal number of antibodies against TPO. TPO is an enzyme found in the thyroid gland and helps to produce thyroid hormones. TPO antibodies are the most common elevated antibodies seem in Hypothyroidism.
Thyroglobulin (Tg) Antibody: Over40kIU/L indicates that the body is making an abnormal number of antibodies against Tg. Thyroglobulin is a protein made by the thyroid gland.
I have tested positive for antibodies- what do I do?
If your blood tests have come back positive for thyroid antibodies, there are a variety of things that can be done. First and foremost, the 7 triggers (listed above) that can cause the progression to autoimmune disease but be removed or limited and leaky gut needs to be addressed. We will save the leaky gut discussed for part 2 of this series, and focus on the triggers.
Removing autoimmune disease triggers from your life:
1. Ditch the western diet. Focus on whole foods that are high in nutrients and low in sugars, trans fats and other additives and preservatives. Think lots of green vegetables, wild caught fish, grass fed beef, organic pastured chicken and starchy vegetables like squash, beets and sweet potatoes. Gluten, dairy, legumes and grains can be problematic for people suffering with thyroid antibodies. In the fall of 2020 my book will be released focusing on a Thyroid Healing Diet and is a step by step guide on how to easily adopt a the Thyroid Healing Diet as well as addressing all the other factors needed to heal the thyroid naturally!
2. Assess your chemical exposure and reduce as much as possible. Do you use conventional cleaning products? Switch to DIY natural cleaners or cleaning products found at the health food store. Does your shampoo, soap or laundry detergent contain perfumes or other chemicals? Find natural alternatives at stores like Whole foods, your local health food store or online. Do you eat conventional meat, dairy and produce? Check out the Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen (www.ewg.org) and focus on choosing the organic option for the heavily sprayed foods. If you don’t have access to organic meat and dairy, limiting your intake of these foods will significantly reduce your toxic body burden.
3. If you have suffered with chronic strep throat or have had trouble fighting off infections and often feel sick, consider meeting with and ND or functional Medicine Doctor to explore if a chronic low grade infection could be at the root cause of why you have developed an autoimmune disease.
4. Do you feel like you are always worrying? Are you “wired but tired?” or feel like you cannot turn off? Stress can be a major factor in the development of autoimmunity and needs to be addressed to fully heal. Optimizing sleep can be life changing (aiming for at least 7 hours a night). Other simple stress busters can be deep breathing, mindfulness meditation and spending time outdoors.
5. Exposure to radiation can come in many forms, however EMFs (Electromagnetic Fields) are a major source of radiation these days. If you haven’t heard of EMFs, it is the radiation that comes from telephone wires, smart phones, computers etc. By simply keeping TVs, smart phones and modems out of our bedrooms we can reduce our exposure but there are many other ways to lessen the load. Check out https://www.emfscientist.org/ if you are interested in learning more.
6. If you have used Advil or other NSAIDs for years for pain management, or if you have been on the birth control pill for many years- if may be contributing to the development of antibodies. Other types of medications, used long term can also cause leaky gut-and perpetuate the autoimmune response. Speak to your doctor about alternatives or find a doctor that is willing to have a discussion about this with you.
7. Although most thyroid supplements currently on the market contain iodine, once antibodies have developed in the body, iodine can increase their levels. Iodine is often referred to the “goldilocks” nutrient. Not enough can cause hypothyroidism, but too much iodine may also cause autoimmune hypothyroidism. If you have antibodies (unless you are pregnant) I generally suggest limiting iodine until your antibodies are significantly reduced and then slowly adding it back into your diet or supplement regimen.
In the next part of my series on lowering thyroid antibodies naturally, I will discuss key steps of healing leaky gut- including addressing Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
Please feel free to comment with questions below!