Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with Hashimoto’s disease, you may have only a few symptoms or everything that was on the list in my earlier post. Obviously, it’s easier to manage if you have only a few, but it’s really important that those first symptoms are managed properly, so that your condition doesn’t worsen.
In my case, as I mentioned before, symptoms were ignored for literally decades until, finally, a thyroid antibody test (which no one had ever thought to do prior to that time) returned a positive result. People are now starting to talk about the fact that by the time you are actually diagnosed with this condition, it may have been around for a very long time and you may already be in a pretty severe stage of the disease.
When you’re diagnosed with this condition, you are diagnosed as being hypothyroid (underactive thyroid). Conventional doctors will inevitably prescribe medications such as Synthroid or its generic equivalent Levothyroxin. Unfortunately, this approach simply attempts to support the thyroid gland without addressing any component of the autoimmune problem. This is why we all get sicker over time. For more on this issue and some alternatives, click here.
Digestion is a huge issue with a lot of people who have Hashi’s. Many of us have never had good digestion for whatever reason and some of us have created a hostile digestive environment through bad eating habits. In either case, the end result is usually leaky gut. There is still skepticism about this condition among many conventional doctors, but I am definitely a believer. Given my own struggles with digestive issues my entire life, I now firmly believe that this was the shaky foundation that helped to set me on a path to Hashimoto’s. Simply put, leaky gut allows food particles that would normally stay in your digestive tract to escape into your blood stream. This not only causes problems with nutrient absorption, but it causes your body to become sensitive to a wide variety of foods, since it is no longer being protected by the usual barrier between your gut and your bloodstream. This results in becoming allergic to a long list of foods and not being able to absorb nutrients from food, so you literally become malnourished. At my lowest point, my hair was falling out, I had become very thin, and my muscles were basically just hanging off of my bones because I was on a horribly restricted diet and I was absorbing very few nutrients from my food. For a detailed discussion of leaky gut, you can go here.
As if this weren’t enough, many people also struggle with Candida, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) and/or parasites. Any of these can cause brain fog and fatigue, along with digestive issues. You can find more info and resources on this topic here.
All this leads to the question: What can I eat? I used to joke some years ago, when I was gradually eliminating first one food and then another and another and another, that by the time I was 60, I would be subsisting only on saltines and water. Well, that turned out not to be true, because I can’t even eat saltines!! All joking aside, this is a serious issue, given the above-mentioned problems with malabsorption and malnutrition. For my take on this, go here.
Supplements become a primary concern for those of us struggling with this condition, usually because of malabsorption problems in the gut which can ultimately lead to malnutrition. However, you need to be very careful about the quality of the supplements you use and the extra ingredients that may be included. Sometimes these can worsen your condition, especially if you have multiple allergies and sensitivities. I have a post detailing the supplements and medications I use here. Please remember, these choices are very personal and I am listing mine simply to show you what has worked for me, not as medical advice.
Sleep…or the lack thereof
Most people with Hashimoto’s will deal with insomnia at some point. This can present in several ways. Sometimes people have difficulty falling asleep, sometimes it’s hard to stay asleep, and sometimes it can be both. Issues with falling asleep very often point to a badly regulated thyroid gland and issues with staying asleep can be related to adrenal, kidney, or liver issues. When you have both of these, then trying to get any decent sleep at all becomes a real challenge. Food sensitivities also play into this because if you’re eating foods that your body is having difficulty processing, then your body is probably going to wake you up in the middle of the night to let you know it is not happy. You can find an in-depth discussion of this problem here.
Chronic Pain (and Attempting to Exercise)
I didn’t know this until well after I was diagnosed, but chronic muscle and joint pain is also a common symptom of Hashimoto’s. For me, this presented as knots and spasms in my muscles which were incredibly painful, so much so that I have had to walk away from several jobs as a result. For now, my pain is pretty manageable, but I have found that removing stress is critical to keeping the pain at bay, along with taking copious amounts of magnesium and getting a prescription for low dose naltrexone (LDN). Read more about this here.
One of the most frustrating things for me about the muscle pain has been the inability to do much physical exercise. There are people out there who will advise certain things about Hashi’s and exercise, but the bottom line is, you can only do what you can do. So don’t push yourself to do exercises that are going to worsen your condition, regardless of what anyone says. I talk more about this here.
Another common complaint among Hashi’s people is brain fog. If you’ve experienced this, you know. You can’t concentrate, you forget easily, you really feel like you can’t do anything but just sit in front of the TV, and, even then, you can’t concentrate on what you’re watching. It’s a horrible feeling and it’s scary, especially with increases in diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. There seems to be a very strong connection between brain health and thyroid function, as well as a healthy gut. You can learn more about this here and here.
Depression and Anxiety
And lastly, I have to mention the emotional toll this condition takes on everyone who has it, because it is a large one. Depression and anxiety are common not only because you are constantly battling the various facets of this disease, but also because they are a physical part of this condition. Hashimoto’s screws mightily with your hormones and your hormones have a fundamental part to play in endocrine health, which regulates your emotions. So, it’s important to remember that these are symptoms, not some personal failing because you “can’t handle” your condition.
As I mentioned before, I have walked away from numerous jobs due to my Hashi’s and when/if you have to do this, it can bring all sorts of questions to your mind: What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I work like a normal person? Will I ever have a normal life again? How will I live? and the biggie, especially if you’ve been doing work you identify heavily with: Who am I now? Am I this disease?
On top of this, you will inevitably encounter people who won’t believe you are struggling as much as you are because “you look fine”. This can be infuriating and hurtful, but just expect it, because it will happen. I will be devoting considerable resources to a discussion surrounding the psychology of Hashi’s.
So, this gives us a start at identifying core features of Hashimoto’s and a few resources with which to begin the journey of educating ourselves about this condition. More soon.
Vanessa Gunter, D.M.A., M.A.