Please note: this is not medical advice, only my own experience. You should consult with a knowledgeable practitioner as you go through this journey. I am listing the supplements I use only as reference. I am not being compensated for this information.
In one of my previous posts, I discussed how Hashimoto’s affects emotions in general. I stated that I wanted to spend a lot of time talking about the psychological ramifications of this condition. This post will be the first of many dealing with this topic.
Depression comes in a huge variety of forms. Some of the ways it presents itself are obvious: if you don’t ever want to get out of bed, or if you are thinking you would be happier if you were dead, then you probably are already aware that you are struggling with depression. If you are, in fact, dealing with symptoms this severe, it’s important to contact a practitioner right away.
It’s also important that your practitioner understand the impact of thyroid autoimmunity on emotional states. If your thyroid gland is not properly supported or regulated, depression is often the end result. So before agreeing to take any psychiatric medications for your depression, you should insist on a thorough screening of your thyroid gland. At the very least, TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies should be checked. Adrenals must also be checked because, if they are weak, this can also cause depression.
Sometimes the symptoms of depression can be a lot more subtle. If you feel unmotivated or irritable, or if you tend to have negative views on practically everything, these can also be signs of depression. Losing a sense of hope is always a clear indicator.
Depression in the context of Hashi’s can be long term or it can be intermittent. If it’s intermittent, this can make it difficult to attach the label “depression” to it, at least in your mind, because it may not feel like a severe problem to you.
My personal experience with depression has been largely a situation of feeling unmotivated a great deal of the time and also having days where I wished I could just fall asleep and not wake up, because the struggle of this condition just gets to be too much to bear. Looking back, I believe I have dealt with depression pretty regularly since my teenage years. My body became totally unsettled during puberty, which isn’t that unusual. But, it never really found itself again after that. By my mid-20’s, I was already dealing with a lot of fatigue…and when you’re tired all of the time, you’re going to be depressed.
I also think depression was a part of my home life growing up. Depression does tend to run in families, but then, so do thyroid problems.
People in the world of psychology often think of depression strictly in emotional terms. I’m here to tell you that, at least in the context of Hashi’s and other thyroid conditions, it is a biological problem, not an emotional one. While thinking positive thoughts may help folks who are basically physically sound deal with depression from a specific life event, the only real place to start when you have Hashi’s is proper regulation and support of the thyroid and adrenal glands. Until you have that implemented, it will be very hard to talk yourself out of the way you’re feeling.
It’s really important to recognize the fact that depression is a part of the Hashimoto’s package – you are not at fault.
Hashi’s wreaks havoc on the regulation of your thyroid gland because it’s always under attack from those nasty antibodies. Once the thyroid gland becomes unstable, this produces almost a domino effect with the rest of the endocrine system because all the members of this system depend on each other in order to function properly.
To review from my post on emotions, here’s a list of all the glands in the endocrine system:
- hypothalamus – regulates hunger, metabolism, body temperature
- pituitary gland – produces the following hormones:
- growth hormone
- thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones
- adrenocortocotropin hormone (ACTH) – stimulates the adrenals to produce hormones
- luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone – control sexual function and production of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone
- prolactin – produces breast milk in females
- antidiuretic hormone – controls water loss by the kidneys
- oxytocin – contracts uterus during birth and stimulates milk production
- thyroid – helps regulate metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, muscle tone and reproductive functions
- parathyroids – help regulate calcium levels in the blood as well as bone metabolism
- adrenal glands – produces corticosteroids which regulate metabolism, salt and
- pineal body – secretes melatonin which helps with sleep
- reproductive glands (which include the ovaries and testes) – the main source of sex hormones
- pancreas – secretes digestive enzymes and hormones which regulate blood sugar
Most of the time, we find ourselves talking mainly about the thyroid and adrenal glands because our most obvious symptoms seem connected to these 2 amazing organs. It’s incredibly important to work with a practitioner who understands how to best regulate these 2 glands, if you’re having problems.
If the adrenals are not properly supported, the thyroid gland will need more support. I spent a lot of years with an over-medicated thyroid gland because I didn’t understand this and most doctors still do not believe that adrenal insufficiency exists! I was constantly tired and irritable and the only way I could get more energy was to increase my thyroid medications and drink coffee. It was only after I finally found a functional medicine doctor that my adrenal glands were properly addressed.
I am currently on Pure Encapsulations adrenal cortex and hydrocortisone for my adrenals. I also make sure I take adequate amounts of vitamin C daily: I was up to 3000 mg a day, but as a result of my NAET treatments, I have been able to reduce that to 1500 mg a day. Many people use adaptogens to help the adrenals. I have yet to find one that I can tolerate, but you may have better luck with that than me. For more info on adaptogens, click here.
When I was first diagnosed with Hashi’s, I was put on Synthroid by my doctor. This was a huge mistake, in my opinion, even though it’s standard protocol for conventional medicine. If you are on Synthroid, it is vitally important that you do something to support your adrenals, because Synthroid can actually make your adrenal problem worse! The prescribing instructions given to doctors with Synthroid plainly states that doing so in the presence of adrenal insufficiency can worsen the adrenals. If you have a doctor with an open mind, you might consider using natural desiccated thyroid instead. Many people do better on this.
For a more detailed discussion of these things, please see my post on medications here.
Because the body is, in general, depleted with Hashi’s, it can be a real challenge to make sure you are maintaining adequate levels of a lot of things. If you have malabsorption issues due to leaky gut, you will have an even greater challenge ahead of you. As a result of these issues, people with Hashi’s are typically deficient in vitamin D and iron, both of which can contribute to depression. The levels of these 2 items should be checked regularly with labwork.
You will have to be vigilant about the foods you eat and notice if certain foods make you feel better or worse than others. Food can definitely cause depression. I have found that I always feel worse when I eat foods that contain sugar, too much histamine, or anything to which I have developed an allergy. I’m allergic to a long list of foods, so that leaves me with very little to choose from, hence my decision to begin NAET treatments in an attempt to address all these allergies.
Your situation may be simpler than mine. If you’re still able to eat a good selection of foods, I would advise sticking to organic as much as possible, getting rid of sugar, alcohol, grains, gluten, dairy, soy and making sure you are getting enough protein. If you suspect leaky gut, then beginning a regimen of probiotics, l-glutamine, digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid can be very helpful. You might also check out various leaky gut diets online or investigate the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) diet. You can find more information on these things in my posts about supplements and diet.
You may not realize that a particular food is affecting you, but a little detective work can sometimes help.
If you start feeling hazy or depressed, calculate how long it’s been since your last meal. Typically, you will react to foods either immediately or within a 5-6 hour time period. Sometimes it can take as long as 12 hours. Using this as a gauge, you can then sort through the foods you ate either 6 or 12 hours ago and do elimination trials on one food at a time to see if you can identify the culprit. I’ve used this method a lot and have found it very helpful.
If you’re doing all this and still having problems, it’s at this juncture that you may want to look at the rest of your life. Ask yourself the following:
Do you have supportive people in your life? It’s vitally important to have people in your life who care about you and are trying to understand what you’re dealing with. If people are telling you that “it’s all in your head” or “you’re too sensitive”, then it might be time to cultivate some new friends or try to have some very honest conversations with the people who are closest to you. In the future, I will be writing more extensively on how Hashi’s can and does impact relationships.
Is your work (if you’re able to work) satisfying? Work is what you make of it. It can either be perceived as completely tedious or odious, or it can be seen as an opportunity to be with people or a way to contribute to the world. However, if your workplace is extremely stressful and you’re not able to find a way to ease that stress, you might want to consider a change.
Stress is the #1 enemy of autoimmunity. It really is imperative that you keep it at a minimum for the sake of your health.
If you’re too disabled to work because of Hashi’s and therefore have a very limited life, it would be important to look around and see what you can do to change that. How can you reach out and be part of the world in a way that will work for you?
How do you spend your free time? Do you have hobbies or do you just watch TV? I’ll admit – I love to watch TV. I always have, from the time I was very small. But I know this about myself, and I put myself on a regimen so that I can still watch every day and also have time to do other things. I find that I’m happier, in general, if I’m using my brain for something, whether it’s writing a blog post or playing an instrument. If you don’t have any hobbies, it might be interesting to try something out. You might be surprised.
What kinds of TV programs or movies do you watch? Yes, I love to watch TV, and I used to watch horror movies and old vampire movies back in my younger days. But I’ve found that, as I have dealt with Hashi’s for a number of years, my ability to handle anything “scary” has diminished markedly. I’m sure this is attached to the fact that I have weak adrenals. Since I know this, I try to be kind to myself with what I choose to watch: no horror, very few tear-jerkers, just good drama or sci-fi with a mix of comedy in there to be sure I’m laughing a little. I think the comedy part is really important, especially when dealing with depression.
Do you listen to the news a lot or do you opt for music instead? I’ve almost completely stopped listening to news. It’s just too depressing and infuriating. Instead I check online for stories once or twice a day and keep my radio tuned to my favorite music station. Since making this change, I’ve noticed that I feel a lot better. It’s worth it to ask yourself if the stuff you’re listening to is actually making you more depressed or helping you to feel better.
Are there activities that you used to enjoy that you’ve stopped doing for some reason? You may be limited in what physical activities you can do if you’re dealing with muscle pain like I am. But establishing something physical like stretching, walking, light yoga can be very good for depression. It gets the endorphins flowing. It’s also really important to try to get 15-20 minutes of exposure to the sun every day, to the degree that this is possible. This is, by far, the best way to get your vitamin D.
If you’re a craftsy person and you’ve stopped doing whatever crafts you enjoy, this might be a good time to try again. Granted, you may not feel like it at first, but once you get engaged, you may start to feel better.
In fact, if you’re depressed, chances are you won’t feel like doing much of anything. You’re going to need to fight this and just will yourself to at least start something.
Many times, just the act of getting involved in something will help you feel better.
I hope you will find the information in this post helpful. Soon I’ll be writing a post about another emotional issue that often affects people with Hashi’s: anxiety.
To constant healing,
Vanessa Gunter, D.M.A., M.A.