14 Dec Hashimoto’s, Hypothyroidism, and Why You Feel Like Crap
Your watch, or more likely iPhone, says 3 pm but you cannot, for the life of you, keep your eyes open. On top of the endless fatigue, you just don’t feel the same. The ambition that once flowed through you is absent and seems to be replaced with moodiness. Everything is a chore. It strains your relationships with your colleagues, your friends, and especially your family.
Your doctor says you have Hashimoto’s and that there’s nothing you can do except take hormone-replacement medication. These effects that you are feeling are all just “part of the disease” and should improve with the medication.
But the hormone replacement hasn’t helped much, if at all. So, you try different diets or supplements and maybe even see an alternative practitioner. These practitioners are all trying to help you, and you feel like you’re doing everything right, yet you still just don’t feel like you used to.
Why are these methods falling short?
Most treatment methods for hypothyroidism are built on a flawed understanding of why the thyroid is underactive. But before we get to the real reason why your thyroid is underactive, let me first explain how the conventional and alternative fields typically view the cause of Hashimoto’s.
The conventional crowd points the finger at autoimmunity as the cause. They think that bacteria, a virus, or a tiny food particle was attacked by your immune system, and your immune system then confused its own tissue (organ, muscle, joint, bone, nerve, etc.) for that microbe or food particle and began attacking it. In the case of Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacked your thyroid as opposed to other tissues, which they attribute to a genetic predisposition.
From this view, the autoimmune attack will never stop because your immune system will continue producing antibodies to its own tissue, which it now views as the enemy. So, all that can be done is try to replace the function of your thyroid with hormone-replacement medication.
The alternative folks will tell you that autoimmunity is what causes damage to your thyroid, like the conventional crowd. However, they suggest that autoimmunity stems from a gut problem called “leaky gut.”
Leaky gut, or gut permeability, occurs when an intestinal irritant (like gluten), stress, or various other factors weaken the cells of the gut barrier, allowing tiny food particles to get into the blood. They suggest that this process leads to antibody production against the food particles, which are then confused for our own tissue, causing autoimmunity.
From this view, the autoimmune attack ends if the gut is no longer “leaky,” so treatments center around reversing leaky gut and replacing thyroid hormones in the meantime.
Where did they get it wrong?
In both the conventional and alternative views, the immune system confuses its own tissue, specifically the thyroid, for bacteria, viruses, or food particles.
But, what if your immune system isn’t so easily confused?
What if, instead of accidentally attacking your own thyroid, your immune system is trying to protect you by cleaning up thyroid tissue that’s already damaged?
Then, both the conventional and alternative views would be looking at Hashimoto’s all wrong! And that is exactly the case. Our immune systems don’t confuse similar looking proteins for our own tissues, and our immune systems don’t attack our own, healthy tissues. Rather, our immune systems protect us. They may create antibodies to our tissues, but the antibodies are only there to clear damaged parts that would be harmful to us if they remained.
So what about the more important question: If my immune system isn’t attacking my thyroid, then why is my thyroid being damaged?
The answer: A lack of energy.
Energy drives the entire body – it allows every part of every cell to function. Our bodies’ production of energy, also called the metabolism, contributes to our energy supply, while the energy used for all our bodies’ functions makes up our energy demands. The balance between the energy we produce and the energy we use, or our energy supply and energy demand, is at the core of our health.
If our energy demands are too great for our energy supply, our bodies don’t have enough energy to function optimally. Instead, they have to conserve energy by reducing their energy production (metabolism) and usage. It’s kind of like “low-battery mode” for our bodies.
This process isn’t necessarily harmful. In fact, it’s protective in acute scenarios because it allows us to survive longer without as much energy! But, when it’s constant it becomes a problem.
Chronic “low-battery mode” leads to the breakdown of our tissues, because our bodies simply don’t have enough energy to maintain them. Which tissues get broken down may vary based on many factors, but in Hashimoto’s, it’s the thyroid that eventually gets targeted.
The thyroid is our bodies’ energy regulator, and it can’t function properly when it’s damaged. Chronic “low-battery mode,” coupled with reduced thyroid function, leads to disaster for our metabolism.
This is what is responsible for the symptoms – the moodiness, brain fog, fatigue, poor sleep, lack of sex drive, and poor skin, nail, and hair health. These symptoms are all a result of a lack of energy. Your body needs energy to think clearly, digest food, stay warm, sleep well, heal injuries, reproduce, breathe properly, and just about any other function you can think of! It’s no wonder it feels like crap!
Recognizing that a lack of energy, causing tissue breakdown, causing a further lack of energy, is the vicious cycle underlying Hashimoto’s is the first step towards improving your condition. The typical therapies miss this underlying cycle, and instead focus on the lack of thyroid hormone or “immune attacks.”
This has led to typical therapies involving the prescription of the thyroid hormone T4. In the next part of the series, I will explain why this often decreases your metabolism even more, making you feel even worse, and what you can do instead!
- Cunliffe, J. “Intentional Pathogen Killing – or Denial of Substrate?” Scandinavian Journal of Immunology 66.6 (2007): 604-09.
- Peat, Ray, Dr. “Immunodeficiency, Dioxins, Stress, and the Hormones.” Retrieved from http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/immunodeficiency.shtml.
- Elenkov, Ilia J. “Glucocorticoids and the Th1/Th2 Balance.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1024, no. 1, 2004, pp. 138–146.
- Peat, Ray. “Salt, Energy, Metabolic Rate, and Longevity.” Retrieved from http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/salt.shtml.
- Speakman, J. R. “Body Size, Energy Metabolism and Lifespan.” Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 208, no. 9, Jan. 2005, pp. 1717–1730.
- Rizzo, M. R., et al. “Resting Metabolic Rate and Respiratory Quotient in Human Longevity.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 90, no. 1, 2005, pp. 409–413.