Thyroid School// Issue 7: Discussing Autoimmunity
This past week, I polled the audience about what I should cover in this Thyroid School e-mail and the popular vote was to review the two MAIN categories of hypothyroidism— autoimmune and not autoimmune. So, I’m going to back-track a little bit and discuss more about root causes.
Previously I had been discussing disruptions in thyroid hormone production, but will pick back up after I clarify more about identifying your root cause of hypothyroidism— either autoimmune or NOT autoimmune).
Alrighty, let’s dive in, shall we?
When you’re trying to identify the biggest contributors to WHY you developed hypothyroidism, it is important to first determine whether it is autoimmune in nature.
You may be asking, “what the heck is autoimmunity?”
I’m so glad you asked! 🙂
Autoimmunity is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs, bacteria, viruses, and other potential threats. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them. With autoimmunity, for a variety of reasons, the immune system attacks innocent bystanders including organs, tissues, foods, etc. In the case of Hashimoto’s, the immune system is attacking your thyroid.
Simply put: autoimmune = confused immune system.
Why should you care? Because MOST cases of hypothyroidism are due to autoimmunity!
If it’s so common, then why isn’t it screened for more? The most common reason is that, medicinally speaking, the go-to treatment with thyroid replacement medication doesn’t change, regardless of whether your hypothyroidism is autoimmune in nature.
However, knowing whether you have autoimmune can empower you to make diet and lifestyle adjustments accordingly. Seem too good to be true? It’s not! Part of our immune system is called the “adaptive immune system” which means it adapts to the messages we send it via our food choices, stress levels, toxic exposures, etc. I’ll dive into this more in future issues, but for now, let’s first check out your labs to see if you may fall into the autoimmune camp. Diet and lifestyle factors influence our genetics (called epigenetics) and our immune system. While making changes may not always mean complete remission, you DO have more control over disease progression than you may think!
Got your labs? Okay, good!
To determine whether immune system dysregulation is the primary contributor to your hypothyroidism, you will look for the presence of antibodies on your full thyroid panel.
The keywords to assess are:
TPO: “TPO antibodies”, “anti-TPO”, “Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody”
Anti-TG: “thyroglobulin antibody”
If you see these out of range in your labs, you can discuss with your provider about what this means for you specifically.
Pro tip: you may need to dive into your past labs when you were initially diagnosed with hypothyroidism to see whether or not there are antibodies present. Often, antibody screening is only done once and then not assessed again. If you were one of the fortunate few to have a full thyroid panel run BEFORE an official diagnosis of hypothyroidism was made, consider that early detection as autoimmunity is a progressive condition.
Lots to dive into in future issues, but for now, whip out those labs and play detective! Let me know what you learn in our private group chat!
Until next time!!