Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease can be both frightening and a relief! It was what I experienced after I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2015. First, the relief that I finally had an answer to why I have been feeling so ill despite taking my thyroid medication. Second, frightening as I knew so little about autoimmunity and it sounded like I was never going to feel like myself again.
Since then, I have researched autoimmunity and specifically Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. In this post, I want to answer the question: what is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. The immune system is attacking and destroying the thyroid gland tissue, and over time, the thyroid gland is not able to produce the optimal amount of thyroid hormones that the body needs, and the thyroid gland becomes underactive.
Researchers don’t know yet why the immune system is attacking the thyroid gland. The current theory is that it is a case of mistaken identity.
A case of mistaken identity
The immune system protects the body from pathogens – toxins, bacteria and viruses. It goes into attack mode when there is a threat by either destroying the disease-causing germs and disease-causing changes or by filtering the blood and removing toxins from the body.
So why does the immune system attack the thyroid gland? It all has to do with what the thyroid gland absorbs.
The thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormones and takes iodine from food sources. The problem is that there are other chemicals that has a similar structure to iodine, and the thyroid gland absorbs these chemicals as well. It looks like iodine, but it is not iodine. Some of these chemicals include mercury, which is found in high fructose corn syrup and dental amalgam fillings, cadmium from second-hand smoke, herbicides and pesticides used in crops and even the plastic homeware we use to store and heat up food. All these elements build up in the thyroid gland, it becomes inflamed and releases free radicals in the body. The immune system is then activated!
The immune system now attacks the pathogens. But because the structure of the thyroid gland cells looks very similar to the structure of the pathogens, the immune system cannot distinguish between the pathogens and its own body (the thyroid gland) and destroys both the pathogens and the thyroid gland cells.
What happens when the thyroid gland is attacked
This is what happens when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland:
- Something happens that triggers the immune system. Maybe you ate something that you shouldn’t have, you are under extreme stress or you come into contact with a toxin.
- The immune system creates and activates the anti-bodies to destroy the invaders. These invaders look very similar to the cells of the thyroid gland, and when the antibodies work to remove these invaders, it also works to remove the cells of the thyroid gland. It is a case of mistaken identity!
- With the attack on the thyroid, thyroid cells are damaged, and the damaged cells releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.
- There is now a surge of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. This can lead to a period of hyperthyroidism – when there are too many thyroid hormones in your body. The increase in thyroid hormones can cause a racing and pounding heart and anxiety.
- As your body adjusts to the surge in hormones, the pituitary gland in the brain instructs the thyroid gland to make fewer thyroid hormones, and the level of thyroid production is lowered. Once the surge of hormones is stabilized, the impact of the damaged cells is clear: they cannot produce thyroid hormones anymore, and so the thyroid produces fewer hormones from now on.
- Now, the body needs a certain level of hormones that the thyroid gland just cannot produce. It’s like the body is screaming at the pituitary gland to tell the thyroid to make more thyroid hormones, but regardless of the increased instructions to the thyroid gland (a high TSH level), the thyroid just is not able to make the much-needed thyroid hormones anymore.
- Over time, as you have flare-ups in your immune system and attacks on your thyroid, your thyroid will become less and less effective. As the autoimmune disease progresses, you get to a state of chronic hormone underproduction.
- The result is that the thyroid becomes fatigued and depressed over time, as with each flare-up, the thyroid function becomes less and less and goes into a state of chronic hormone underproduction.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. The immune system attacks the thyroid gland, destroying thyroid gland cells, and over time the thyroid gland becomes underactive.
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