I have received a few questions on my instagram regarding my recent autoimmune and thyroid diagnosis. Rather than typing my little phone keyboard away- I figured it would be easier to lay it all out on here for people to reference and see the answers to all the questions asked. I said anything goes…. so here it all is!
Let me preface this with: I am by no means a doctor or specialist in autoimmune/thyroid. I am simply sharing my experience & what I personally have learned on this journey to wellness.
What happens when your thyroid slows down? Thyroid has everything to do with metabolism, hormones, temp regulations, energy, etc. So when it slows down… you can gain weight, get fatigued, get cold, lose energy, lose hair, get brittle nails, get a swollen neck…. so many things!
When did you know something was not “right”? Sometime in July I went in for a yearly physical. At this time I was working a new job 40+ hours a week at a hospital, doing photography on weekends, and house searching. I think “tired” was a norm considering all these factors… however, I felt unusually tired and a bit “off” in terms of energy and mood. With my physical and symptoms explained, my doctor wanted to run labs.
Once my labs came through, my doctor found that my TSH level was 5.45… The average TSH level is <2 (especially if you are trying to conceive or pregnant). However, they do not consider you to need medication until it is above a 5.5 level. I was 0.05 away from needing meds at this time. When that is the case they do a “wait and see” approach. They send you back in three months to see if your levels got worse, better or stayed the same.
In the time frame of July-September, my hair was thinning to the point that my hairstylist mentioned it. I was beyond tired. Fatigued. Only wanted to be in bed. Hard to wake up with an alarm. Wanted to go back to bed at 8pm every night. I had sore joints.& I was cold ALL the time. I gained 10 lbs in 3 months (with no diet or exercise changes).
Fast forward to September: My TSH levels stayed the same. Since I am in the phase of life where we may or may not be wanting kids in the near future… my endocrinologist (the person who deals with diabetes, thyroid, and adrenal issues) suggested I start medication now rather than waiting for it to tip over 5.5. I am thankful for this…. because most doctors won’t treat you until you are over a 5.5 level.
My doctor isn’t giving me answers, what should I do?: Regardless if you like your doctor or not… if you feel that you are not getting answers…. there is nothing wrong in changing doctors to get a second or even third opinion. It took me THREE doctors to get answers. If I would have stuck with the first doctor I would still be getting told I just need to watch what I eat and exercise more.
****(which I felt like I was doing and know that diet + exercise has a role in overall health and energy- but this was not the sole root cause of my issues… so thankful I finally got real answers!)
Can you control it with diet? I have heard success stories in improving overall thyroid function (TSH levels) with diet and specific nutrient intake … however… for me this was not an “immediate” option when I got diagnosed. Because it is so crucial to have TSH <2 when you are thinking of starting a family… I was not going to experiment with said diet and no medication for an unknown time frame of seeing how long it would take for levels to get below 2. Especially with how crappy I was feeling, I needed medication.
Even with medication, it is unknown how long it can take for your TSH levels to drop. But at least I know my body is instantly getting the help it needs right now with the synthetic TSH hormones. I have to go in every 6 weeks to get labs done to check my TSH levels.
Regardless of being put on medication right away—- I do believe proper nutrients and diet is so important in decreasing inflammation and helping with thyroid function. I want to learn more in this realm. I got a message today from someone in Finland (hi Tawni!) telling me to read this book— which I plan to! Here is the link for anyone also wanting to better understand autoimmune diets.
What about fertility and thyroid? Since it is risky to get pregnancy with TSH levels above a 2…. birth control in any form is recommended to prevent a risky, unsafe, unhealthy, pregnancy. I am following these recommendations. It is a waiting game. Definitely frustrating at times.
Where does autoimmune come into play with all this? So until my TSH level goes officially above a 5.5, I do not have an official diagnosis of “hypothyroidism”. Yes, my thyroid is in the high “normal” range. When TSH is above a 2, it is an indication that person may have symptoms related to hypothyroidism, however, the official “label” does not come into play until TSH goes above 5.5.
With that said, anytime TSH is above a 2 and there are “symptoms” …. it is important for that person to get lab work done related to antibodies.
Antibodies specific to thyroid auto immune disease are called “TPO antibodies”. You often have to advocate for yourself to get your doctor to run this specific lab work. This type of lab work often needs to be sent to a specialized place like the Mayo to be read.
Once you get your TPO antibodies lab work back, your doctor will have a clear indication if you have inflammation and/or antibodies attacking your thyroid…. also known as “thyroiditis” or “hashimoto’s autoimmune disease”.
The usual level of antibodies within a “healthy person” is <9 level. My level was above >125. This indicates my body was completely inflamed and made sense as to why I felt like such crap.
What is an antibody?
Antibodies are blood proteins produced within our body to counteract viruses, bacteria, foreign substances within our bodies. Antibodies specific to thyroiditis and hashimoto’s disease do not recognize the thyroid for some reason, and view it as a “foreign” substance. This results in the antibodies then attacking the thyroid and slowing the thyroid down. Eventually as my endocrinologist puts in, the thyroid will “die” which then results in a possible increase of synthetic TSH.
Antibodies are present in other autoimmune diseases too! For example, in Lupus… antibodies target the body’s own cells! & over time destruct the nucleic matter within the cells.
Can you treat the autoimmune disease?
There are diets that support autoimmune diseases and decreasing inflammation for sure. I am not an expert on those- but maybe one day I will look into it more! My endocrinologist indicated there are no medical treatments that decrease the antibodies present within your body.
With thyroiditis or hashimoto’s disease- if your doctor thinks your TSH levels are high enough…. they will prescribe you with synthetic TSH medication. The synthetic TSH replace the thyroid hormones you are lacking when your thyroid is not working the way it should be. So you can’t really treat the autoimmune itself- but hopefully the symptoms related to your slow working thyroid decrease with the medication.
It is also important to note: Stress increases inflammation. With autoimmune diseases- it is essential that you regulate and manage stress in healthy manners.
ALSO important to note: Once you have one auto immune disease, you are x4 times more likely to develop another. So taking charge of it and looking into how you can decrease inflammation with diet and nutrition is so important!