Your Immune System & Thyroid: Best Friends or Worst Enemies?
Let's give it up for the thyroid! That beautiful, powerful, small gland at the base of your neck that carries such a heavy load and is responsible for so much.
Quick thyroid recap! Your thyroid is responsible for your....
- Energy production/metabolism
- Heart rate
- Body weight
- Menstrual cycles
- Immune function (take note of that one)
- Hair, skin & nails
- Body temperature
- Central and peripheral nervous system
- Cholesterol levels
& the list goes on
Those with thyroid issues always come with either:
Under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism) - where all of these processes listed above get slowed down because the thyroid is working slower so you will see symptoms like weight gain, brain fog, low mood, feeling cold and often very low energy.
Hyperactive Thyroid (hyperthyroidism) - where everything is sped up so you will experience symptoms like weight loss, fidgeting, hyperactivity, rapid heartbeat or irregular heartbeat, sweating and frequent bowel movements.
So where does the Immune System come in?
Well, firstly, when our thyroid is functioning properly and healthily, it helps to regulate the immune system. Specifically the thyroid releases two hormones - thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) . These hormones, when released help to trigger an immune response to foreign invaders, keeping you safe and protected. As our immune system actually consists of three layers, these thyroid hormones actually regulate the immune system on the two most vital stages. There is even evidence that these power packed hormones can help protect us against chronic inflammation, cancer and autoimmunity. We have a lot to thank them for! In this situation they are the best of friends!
Unfortunately there is also a very frustrating and prevalent link between the thyroid and immune dysfunction, resulting in autoimmune conditions. This is where they can feel like they are worst enemies.
If we cast back really quickly where we discussed the two tips of thyroid conditions; hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism? Well they both have autoimmune progressions:
Hypothyroidism = Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
Hyperthyroidism = Graves Disease
What is autoimmunity?
Autoimmunity is when your immune system targets and attacks your own healthy cells thinking they are foreign invaders. This attack unfortunately results in permanent damage to that organ, gland or system. With the thyroid, your immune system seeks out healthy thyroid cells and attacks them, leaving the thyroid damaged and not able to function properly.
Some other autoimmune diseases include; Type 1 Diabetes, MS, Psoriasis, Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Can you reverse an autoimmune disease? Unfortunately not, when the damage is done, it is done. However! There is so much we can do to help balance the immune system and boost what tissue is left to function properly and powerfully, seeing a huge reduction in the common symptoms experienced.
Statistically Hashimoto's is the most common autoimmune disease but it is also the least treated and most underestimated.
Why does this autoimmunity happen?
It is unclear exactly how or why autoimmune thyroid conditions comes about but it is thought that the following play a part:
- Genetics, if a family member experienced thyroid issues, it predisposes you to thyroid issues as well (this does not mean you will have issues though). Specific genes such as the HLA genes, which have also been found in many other autoimmune diseases are known to predispose your to thyroid autoimmunity.
- Environmental triggers such as stress, diet, medications, iodine levels, smoking, and environmental toxins (such as Bisphenol A from plastic) can result in autoimmunity.
- Trauma, a trauma to the body such as pregnancy, an emotional trauma or physical trauma (for example a car crash) can trigger the progression of autoimmunity in the body.
- Viral Infection, it has been found that a viral infection, such as a flu can trigger a thyroid autoimmune condition. A specific protein (interferon-a (IFN-α) released after the infection of a virus has been implemented in the development of autoimmune thyroid conditions.
How Do I Get Tested For Autoimmunity?
If you have already been diagnosed with either hyper or hypothyroidism, your GP should run a specific test for you called an antibody test. Antibodies are what your immune system produces against a specific organ or gland, with the thyroid your are looking for:
- Thyroid Peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb)
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb) - these are the most common antibodies
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Receptor Antibodies (are present in Graves disease solely)
Find out more about the testing I offer, including a full Thyroid panel which covers these antibodies here.
So what can I do to support my Thyroid & Immune System?
My short answer, lots.
As a Nutritional Therapist, regardless of whether you are in the best friends or worst enemies category, my aim is to get both your thyroid and immune system balanced and back in that best friend category. As we have discussed, the immune system plays a dominant role with the thyroid and this can be balanced through proper diet and lifestyle changes.
It is so important that we support your Immune System, even if you have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease because I am all about preventative medicine. If we can stave off autoimmunity, that is the ideal, that's why we invest now for the future, your future.
As I have previously mentioned, if you have an autoimmune disease do not give up hope, there is so much we can do and I would be more than happy to help you on that journey. Let's get your quality of life back!
As for practical pointers, these apply to autoimmunity or not and will help balance your immune system and help out your thyroid:
- Work on your gut health - if you have read any of my previous blogs, I am a HUGE advocate for gut health. I truly believe everything stems from the gut, even more so that over 70% of your Immune System is in your gut. Healthy gut = healthy Immune System. How do you go about that? I offer a full gut profile that will literally change your life, and apart from that look at things like reducing processed foods and refined carbs, adding in lots of prebiotic foods such as onions, leeks and garlic paired with lots of probiotic foods such as kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut.
- Look at your lifestyle - I am looking to greatly reduce your stress levels. Chronic stress has the ability to alter your microbiome very quickly, which means it also greatly affects your immune system. We already know that stress can be a trigger for autoimmunity and that is why we have to work on getting your stress down. Things like taking time out, meditation (whatever that looks like for you), getting out in nature, reducing technology usage, epsom salt baths and reading, all of these will greatly help reduce stress.
- Get better sleep - It is in our deepest sleep that our bodies work and repair themselves. Studies have also shown that the quality of our sleep greatly impacts how our immune systems work. Less or interrupted sleep results in weakened immunity and vice versa. A lack of sleep has also been proven to release a greater amount of pro-inflammatory molecules, which would naturally trigger the immune system, which is what we definitely do not want.
- Diet is everything - How we eat directly affects our immune system and has the most profound way of either boosting it or weakening it. As our gut is so pivotal, what we put into our bodies also becomes vital as it influences our gut microbiome and therefore our immune cells. If we are eating a diet rich in vitamin and mineral rich foods, with a great variety and a low amount of unbalancing foods, we are setting ourselves up for success. Foods rich in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed oils, and trans fats are going to reek havoc in our guts and therefore greatly weaken our immune system that could cause it to start attacking our own cells. I have a food first approach, for a very good reason.
Does any of this resonate with you? Are you looking to start your journey of transformation and invest in your health and wellbeing? I would love to have you on board.
To book in for your free 15 minute consultation to chat about how we can achieve your health dreams click here.