Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: An Autoimmune Threat?

I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and have read that it could lead to another autoimmune problem. True? If so, what can I do to prevent it?

– May 25, 2009

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs when the immune system targets the thyroid gland. Because this attack interferes with the production of vital hormones that regulate metabolism, it often results in thyroid deficiency  (hypothyroidism). Symptoms include weakness and fatigue, weight gain (because your body isn’t burning calories at its normal rate) and increased sensitivity to cold. Your skin may become dry, rough and pale, and you may notice some hair loss. Other common symptoms are muscle or joint aches, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles with heavy flow, and decreased sex drive.

Since autoimmune diseases tend to flare up and subside in response to emotional ups and downs, I recommend experimenting with some type of mind/body treatment – hypnosis, psychotherapy, or guided imagery therapy. You might also consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine in addition to working with a conventional endocrinologist. In most cases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis eventually “burns out,” leaving you with an underactive thyroid and the need to continue with thyroid hormone replacement indefinitely.

It is true that persons with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are at increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders. For that reason, I suggest following my anti-inflammatory diet, and the recommendations below, which are helpful for anyone who has experienced autoimmunity:

  • Decrease protein intake toward 10 percent of daily calories; replace animal protein as much as possible with plant protein.
  • Eliminate cow’s milk and all cow’s milk products, substituting other calcium sources.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables regularly and make sure that they are organically grown.
  • Eliminate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogenated oils, and all foods (such as deep-fried foods) that might contain trans-fatty acids. Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take ginger (start with one capsule twice a day) and turmeric supplements (follow the dosage directions on the package).
  • Protect yourself from harmful effects of stress, start by learning and practicing the 4-7-8 breathing exercise I recommend.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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