Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hashimoto's Disease and The Path to Healing

It has been awhile since I've posted. I've been absorbing a lot of incoming information since being diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease about two months ago. Hashimoto's (aka, "Harry Schmoto's, as a friend of mine likes to call it) or thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease affecting thyroid function. It is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism and fortunately, quite treatable. Basically, the body attacks the tissues of the thyroid, causing symptoms of an underactive (depression, weight gain, fatigue) and overactive (anxiety, insomnia, weight loss, heart palpatations) thyroid intermittently. My diagnosis is a huge relief as I have been struggling with alternating periods of anxiety and depression over the past few years--a lot of peaks and valleys without much of an even ground. Now I realize that I'm not off my rocker, I'm just dealing with an endocrine system that is out of balance.

While, yes, it is a relief to know what's happening, it is also a bit overwhelming as there is so much information out there to sift through and many different treatment protocols, depending on what doctor you talk to or what research you read. The more I learn about the thyroid and the healing process of this disease, the more complicated it feels. But alas, I have a great team of healers on my side, guiding and encouraging me. I am seeing an ND, an MD, and recently sought advice from an Ayurvedic practitioner. I've also emailed several friends of mine who are naturopaths and they have been gracious enough to give me friendly advice free of charge. In addition, I am reading a very enlightening book by Dr. Datis Kharrazian called Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? While it does contain a lot of information--some of it confusing scientific terminology--it has helped my understanding of the disease and how to treat it naturally.

This onslaught of incoming information is certainly exercising my muscles of discernment. One doctor says this, another says that. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they disagree. Ultimately, what I've decided to do is try out different ideas and see which feels better. For example, my MD suggests that I eat six small meals a day to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, while my Ayurvedic practitioner says that eating three meals a day (a light breakfast, good-sized lunch, and healthy dinner) better enables my digestive tract to heal. I like the three meals a day plus a snack. My MD reiterates, at each visit, the importance of balancing my adrenals, while a chiropractor on the web prioritizes detoxing the GI tract of parasites and yeast. I'm focusing on both by eating regularly throughout the day, practicing deep breathing, and taking probiotics. Needless to say, it's easier and far more reassuring when the advice overlaps. My ND tells me to work on "stress management" and my Ayurvedic practitioner spends an hour teaching me deep breathing exercises. The advice I received from both my ND and MD was to go gluten-free. Likewise, my three naturopathic friends confirmed that they'd seen patients benefit from removing gluten from their diet. As an aside, supposedly the molecular structure of gluten resembles that of the thyroid gland. For those patients with Hashimoto's disease, eating gluten triggers an autoimmune response in the body which heightens the symptoms of the disorder (Kharrazian, 2010).

In a nutshell, what I've discovered so far, from my reading, my consulting, and my appointments with various healers is that the endocrine system (of which the thyroid is a part) is intricately connected and dependent on other systems in the body. An example of this is the the nervous system. A calm nervous system leads to healthy digestion and therefore, prevents overtaxed adrenal glands and an overactive inflammatory response. More specifically, when our sympathetic nervous system (aka, "fight or flight") runs the show, it actually subdues or shuts down digestion (after all, who needs to digest food when you're fighting or running away from a sabre tooth tiger) which causes the adrenals to pump out cortisol. This triggers the autoimmune (or inflammatory) response which causes the body to attack the tissues of the thyroid. An inefficient digestive system can cause all sorts of problems from neurotransmitter depletion to "leaky gut". In fact, the largest producer of serotonin is not in the brain but in the GI tract (www.drkaslow.com). "Leaky gut" happens when damage to the intestinal lining causes intestinal permeability which, in turn, allows partially digested food, bacteria, and waste to be released into the bloodstream. This triggers an inflammatory response in the body (www.drweil.com).

Phew! See? There's a lot of information to synthesize and make sense out of. It's been frustrating not having a clearly marked path of healing to follow. It's also been disheartening to feel crummy more days than not even though I've made dietary and lifestyle changes. But it's early in the healing process and, again, there is no black and white, "magic" path. I ran into a woman at the grocery store the other day who said it took her 14 months to feel better once she changed her diet. That's not to say it will take me that long, but it was comforting to hear her story because it reminded me to stoke the fires of faith and patience--two key ingredients for calming the nervous system! If I'm constantly worrying about what supplements to take, what foods to eat, how much to exercise, how often to rest, I'm going to create more anxiety and thus more stress in my body which will trigger the autoimmune response. It would almost be better to peacefully, quietly eat a chocolate chip cookie while breathing deeply afterwards than to worry about every little thing I put into my mouth and what it will do to my body. Eating the cookie sounds like a lot more fun and it doesn't cause the domino effect of the autoimmune response. Eh hem, to be clear, I am not suggesting that people eat more cookies. However, Ayurvedic philosophy suggests that how you eat (chewing slowly in a peaceful environment) is more important than what you eat. Hmmm....something to ponder.

It's funny, the behavior that got me into this mess in the first place was that Type A, high-achiever attitude that wants to "fix" things, perfect one's performance, please others, and do whatever it takes to win, succeed, be healthy, etc. What I'm realizing first hand from this diagnosis is that being (the term my yoga teacher uses often) is the door to health: taking baths, deeply breathing as I take my dog on a walk, feeling my body in the yoga poses instead of reciting my "to do" list, noticing hunger in my body and then eating slowly and chewing my food thoroughly, or feeling my chest tighten when I'm feeling angry or scared or sad. These kinds of activities are antithetical to the persona of "athlete", "heroine", "warrioress" with which I used to identify so closely. It's not easy to remember to "be" instead of "do", but when I do remember, I feel so much better.

One of the best pieces of advice I've received recently is from one of my naturopathic friends, "Be happy, focus on health and vitality and don't worry about...(insert a list of issues that I was concerned about)." Underline the word "be".

P.S. I'm realizing that while taking care of myself is really important, things like teaching my students, listening to my husband, reading and spending time with friends, also help me get out of my head and remember that there is a whole world out there! It's a fine balance between self-love and self-absorption. A dear mentor of mine taught me a very useful affirmation, "I am not my body." Right now, he is living with Parkinson's disease and, yet, he has not abandoned this affirmation. Go Matt! I have another friend who is fighting cancer. She manages to keep a sense of humor even when she's faced with one diagnosis after the next. Her body may be frail right now, but her spirit is still robust and strong. Go Kath!!! Caroline Myss is another inspiration to me. Her book, Anatomy of the Spirit, relates countless stories of people who live with physical disease in their bodies but their spirits are still going strong. Grieving and feeling are certainly part of the process, empathy and encouragement from loved ones is a necessity, but I'm re-realizing that also vital to the path to healing and vibrant health, is strength of spirit.

10 comments:

  1. I have lived with thyroid disease for 29 years and am healthy and happy. I’ve tried lots of different treatments, both natural and “unnatural", and find that it just takes time to figure out what works--a lot depends on your particular body and just how low your thyroid levels are. It’s a tricky gland—just when I think it’s balanced, it changes (for instance, my thyroid needs change during winter and summer). Over time, you'll learn your own symptoms of imbalance (whether it’s weight gain/loss, insomnia, hot/cold) so you can make adjustments. It forces me to pay really close attention to my body.
    I think of it as my own person reminder that life is a constant balancing act—with moments of complete peace, followed by lots of stumbling around.

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  2. Hi there! I found your site/blog while searching for Hashimoto's. I really applaud you for all you're doing! It's so great that you're being so proactive with your health! I actually had Hashimoto's myself and healed it using natural means. I now work as a Holistic Health Counselor, teaching others to heal themselves as well. There is so much hope for you! This does not have to be a lifelong illness! Would love to chat with you more about it! :)

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    1. Hi Could you share how you treated your Hashimoto's?

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  3. I would like to appreciate the great work done You.

    Best Regarding.
    Weight Loss

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  4. Kuddos to you. I've got a similar blog. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's in January 2010... I have four autoimmune diseases and I work with several practitioners as well on my healing journey. Your head can spin from all the advice and research. I know that feeling very well and sometimes we just need to take a vacation from all of that and get back to life that just seems normal even if it is just for a day or two here and there. My schedule of appointments with practitioners can make me crazy, though I love my practitioners and I feel each of them has helpful advise. They collectively make a great team. I just need a break from time to time. I'm dealing with getting rid of 4 parasites at this time in my healing journey. It is not a fun process, but I am hopeful it will be a big piece of the puzzle to achieving a feeling of well being. Feel free to check out my blog: http://autoimmunebattle.blogspot.com/

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  5. Hey,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I, too, am interested in healing naturally and have been learning more about how to do that lately. Digestion and regular physical activity are incredibly important to my health.

    I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's just 5 years ago (I'm 25). I was told my levels had stabilized, and for a few years everything seemed fine.

    Last June I was hospitalized with heat illness and since then I've had an incredible intolerance to heat. I have really been suffering with this. I've been to see an endocrinologist and she's indifferent. If anyone has had this heat experience and would be willing to talk with me, especially if (but not only if) you have found a solution to it, I would greatly appreciate it!!

    Thank you!
    M.

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    1. Thats really interesting, I have had hashi's since 2008 following my 3rd child and have recently become sensitive to too much heat as well (as cold where it takes hours to heat up again). our bodies just take longer to catch up, and we should try stay between 18 and 24C for maximum comfort. I really think it means being super kind to ourselves, if we have to limit some of our lifestyles than we have to just do it. I have found particular joy with yoga and walking, and I have a feeling strenous exercise (and possibly) heat creates too much lactic acid that we can't cope with as our metabolism is too slow

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  6. Hi Margaret,

    I just read your blog about Hashimoto's Disease. I have had it for years and the older I get, the more symptoms I am having. I am contemplating going on a gluten free diet to see if things get a little better for me. I am trying to alleviate symptoms of interstial cystitis which has been plaguing me for a very long time. I finally figured out that all of these problems I am having (the list is long) are related to my immune system. The medical doctors that I deal with see my TSH in a good place but my TPO at a high range of 187. They don’t even know what to do for me. So searching for some answers online, I found your blog and I am going to print out your account of Hashimotos and have my husband and children read it. Then they might understand a little more of why their mother seems like a hypochondriac. Unfortunately, I have a daughter and a granddaughter with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, as well. These two young women and one of my sons were recently diagnosed with Type One diabetes along with the thyroid problem. I would like to send them your blog so they can understand what happens to some of us with that disease. It might explain a lot to their families as well. Thank you for putting your thoughts in to words.

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  7. Thank You
    This has been the most informative blog I've read regarding living with 'Harry Schmoto's'. I was diagnosed a few weeks ago and overwhelmed with all of the information I came across.

    I hooked up with a Chiropractor who stated much of what you said, it was nice to have confirmation that he knows what he's talking about. Look forward to reading more from you.

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  8. Hi Margaret,

    It's really made me happy to read your blog. I'll keep reading it from now on. I'm from Turkey and while trying to find something on yoga I encountered your blog.

    I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto almost 3 years ago. Before then I had some obsession of being fit, which I still have. As I go into ayurvedic idea forms, I realized that I was the one who created this disease, because I declared war with myself just to be fit, just to be thinner and thinner. I was never satisfied. I thought that a girl can only be beautiful if she is thin. No other way is possible. I was always on diet. I was always exercising. Then one day I realized I just couldn't lose any grams. There my story begins. I went to an endocrin. He checked my t3, t4, tsh and tpo levels. He put me on that regular drug which I am going to use lifelong. But then I started to gain weight although I ate less and exercise more. I gained 5 kg (I don't know much about pound measuring). Then I read a book in Turkish which says that your life is in your hands. You are the builder. You shape your body, you create every success and every failure in your life. In fact, it says you are the God of your life. This lighted a bulb in my head. Then I encountered Karatay diet which is similar to Paleo diet. And in 5 months I lost that 5 kg which I could not even lose one gram of it despite 2 years of struggling. I was so happy. But as I said I have some kind of obsession, I kept on dieting. This diet is rich in proteins and low in carbohydrates. But sometimes I go out of this diet because it is really hard to stick to it. For instance during this diet, I have not even ate any ice cream which is my favorite. All kinds of sugar is prohibited. But then all of a sudden, don't know what happened, I gained 10 kg in 2 months while I was on diet. When we think, a healthy person cannot gain 10 kg in 2 months just because he/she get out of the diet for some small instances. By the way, at those times, I did more cardio exercises. There I realized that everything is related to stress. I was so stressed not to eat sugar or chocolate or any form of bread.

    So what I would like to say is, all is about you, what you think about yourself, what you think about food if we are talking about weight gain/loss. I think as Margaret says, we should focus not on what we eat, but how we eat it. We should be happy. It is all about being happy with ourselves. It is not about dieting, it is not about strictly adhering to any regimens or any other drugs. I think if we can be happy with ourselves, with our body, with our health, maybe if we care less about our health, but care much about our happiness, we would do a much better job for our health. I think being happy is the key. What I learnt from my experiences so far is that eating slowly and happily whatever we want as we get hungry and being grateful to what we have, and indulging in yoga practices will solve Hashimoto problems. Or at least this is what my philosophy will be. I will try to quit my obsession and focus on being happy.

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