thyroid doctor austin-tx

Is Hashimoto’s Disease Really a Thyroid Disease?

By Ruthie Harper, MD | Austin, TX

If you are experiencing symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, constipation, hair loss, or difficulty getting pregnant, it may be time to check your thyroid gland to see if you have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism, is a condition where the thyroid gland produces insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s disease is a relatively common diagnosis, with up to 14 million people in the United States alone affected by it. And while there are different causes of hypothyroidism, with increasing frequency this condition is caused by Hashimoto’s disease.

When Hashimoto’s disease is the cause of low thyroid function, the body is making antibodies against the thyroid gland that slowly destroy the gland over time. This leads to under-functioning of the thyroid gland and low levels of thyroid hormone production. So, while on the surface, Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease appears to be a problem with the thyroid gland, it is actually an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the root cause lies within the immune system.

Causes of Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease

Hashimoto’s disease is the now most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States typically affecting women more than men and is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 50 years and above. Stress, dietary imbalances and hormonal shifts such as perimenopause or menopause are believed to be contributing factors to the development of this condition along with a family history of autoimmune disorders. 

While people may focus on Hashimoto’s disease as a thyroid disease simply requiring thyroid hormone replacement, it is equally important to focus on the underlying autoimmunity that causes this condition. This becomes important because people with Hashimoto’s autoimmunity are at increased risk for developing a second or third autoimmune condition. And while low thyroid function can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement, autoimmune conditions that destroy other vital organs such as the heart, liver or kidney become much more serious conditions if the immune system remains out of balance.

Treating Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease

Managing Hashimoto’s disease therefore requires a more comprehensive approach than simple thyroid hormone replacement and an integrative approach including dietary and lifestyle changes should always be included.

Dietary changes that reduce or eliminate the consumption of gluten, dairy and soy  have been shown to be beneficial in managing the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease. The proteins in these particular foods are considered foods that are relatively new to the human diet and for this reason can trigger autoimmunity in susceptible individuals.  When the body doesn’t recognize food as fuel, and instead recognizes it as a foreign substance, autoimmunity can result.

Because stress can exacerbate the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease, taking steps to reduce stress  by practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can be useful. In addition, getting enough sleep and creating a peaceful home environment are key.

Supplementation with key vitamins and minerals can help to reregulate the immune system and allow the thyroid function to improve. People with Hashimoto’s disease often have deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, vitamin D, zinc and iodine. Testing for deficiencies of these nutrients with replacement through a qualified professional can be valuable.

People with Hashimoto’s disease are more sensitive to environmental toxins, so switching to natural cleaning products, eliminating plastics, and avoiding exposure to pesticides and chemicals in your everyday life can support healthy immune function and rebalancing of the immune system.

Thyroid Hormones and Hashimoto’s Disease

Having an adequate amount and balance of thyroid hormone is also essential for maintaining optimal health and managing Hashimoto’s. The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is T4 replacement therapy, but some experts suggest that adding T3 may be a better option for certain patients. T3 and T4 are hormones produced by the thyroid gland that regulate metabolism in the body. T4, or thyroxine, is the primary hormone produced by the thyroid gland and is responsible for converting to T3, the biologically active form of thyroid hormone.

Despite the success of T4 replacement therapy, some experts believe that adding T3 therapy may be an important option for certain patients. A small subset of patients with hypothyroidism experiences persistent symptoms despite normal levels of T4. Some studies have suggested that a combination of T3 and T4 therapy may improve symptoms in these patients.

Compounding pharmacies can now help physicians personalize thyroid hormone replacement for individuals by combining just the right amount of T4 and T3 into each person prescription leading to resolution of low thyroid symptoms and balanced blood levels of thyroid hormone. The best course of action for each patient should be determined by a healthcare professional based on their individual symptoms, medical history, and lab results.

Specialized Thyroid Disease Doctor | Austin TX

So, is Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease really a thyroid disease? On the surface, it might seem that way, since the thyroid gland is the primary organ affected by this disorder. However, since the root cause is due to the immune system attacking the thyroid, it is really an autoimmune disease. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, it’s important to realize that it’s not just another thyroid disorder.  Seeking out a specialist who can comprehensively address rebalancing the immune system as well as replacing thyroid hormone becomes important to help individuals regain the health of both the thyroid and immune systems and reestablish optimal health.

At Ruthie Harper MD, our practice takes an integrative or complementary approach to medicine that considers the whole person, including their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. We offer a personalized approach to healthcare that treats the whole person rather than just their physical symptoms.

Unlike traditional medicine, which often relies on the use of pharmaceuticals or invasive procedures to treat symptoms, integrative medicine encourages individuals to take control of their health and wellness by promoting natural solutions that incorporate lifestyle changes, nutrition, and complementary therapies.

As a board-certified internist, Ruthie Harper MD combines the best of conventional Western medicine with alternative therapies, allowing patients to receive a tailored treatment plan that addresses their individual needs. By asking the “why” of symptoms and disease rather than simply the “what disease do you have” we are able to get to the root cause of your problems and achieve better overall health outcomes with reduced side effects.

Our goal for each patient is to provide a more customized and effective approach to healthcare that can improve the quality of life for all individuals.