There are six potential trigger types in Hashimoto’s: food sensitivities, nutrient depletions, an impaired ability to handle stress, an impaired ability to handle toxins, digestive issues, and chronic infections.
Each person with Hashimoto’s will have his or her own combination of these unique root causes…
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One person may have a food sensitivity to gluten and nutrient deficiencies of selenium and vitamin D and get into remission and become 100% symptom-free by going gluten free and taking some supplements on their own!
Another person may have all six root cause types with numerous food sensitivities, infections, toxins, nutrient depletions, stress hormone depletions, and digestive deficiencies. This person has to keep peeling back the layers to reach symptom resolution and remission!
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle with a combination of root causes, however, I’ve found that just about every person with Hashimoto’s has food sensitivities, and most people benefit from nutrition interventions!
This is where food as medicine—or food pharmacology, as I like to call it—comes in!
You may have guessed that pharmacology has always been a subject that has fascinated me… how do tiny substances exert such powerful effects on our giant bodies?? I mean, you can drop the blood pressure of a 200-pound person with milligrams of the right substance! You can put the same person to sleep with tiny amounts of another substance and even cause hallucinations with micrograms of something else… I needed to know… this was one of the reasons why I became a pharmacist!
The other reasons were because I had a passion for helping people and wanted to be a healer, but I also wanted to find a cure for a disease and a career that would allow for flexible hours (and because I had a phobia of needles and blood ).
Similar to the tiny substances that are found in medications, tiny substances in foods can also exert effects on the body!
A few of these substances are food proteins that create adverse reactions in the body. The most relevant adverse reactions in Hashimoto’s are known as food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities can create a bit of vicious cycle situation. For example, gluten sensitivity can trigger Hashimoto’s and gut permeability which causes us to react to even more foods and further attack our thyroid gland.
Food sensitivities cause different types of reactions to foods than food allergies. Food allergies are immediate and often cause life-threatening reactions (think the child who stops breathing after eating nuts), and are readily acknowledged and tested for by conventional medical doctors, especially allergists. These reactions are known as Type I Hypersensitivity Reactions and are governed by the IgE branch of the immune system.
There are also Type IV delayed hypersensitivity reactions governed by the IgG branch of the immune system—as the name implies, they do not occur right away. In fact, it can take up to 4 days for them to manifest, and this is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for most people to correlate food sensitivities with symptoms. For example, you may eat corn on Monday and have a panic attack on Wednesday!
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Here’s the connection I’ve made… Hashimoto’s is also considered a Type IV Delayed Hypersensitivity reaction and often presents with IgG antibodies to the thyroid gland.
In my experience, whenever we eat foods that flare up our IgG system, this also seems to flare up thyroid antibodies. Here are additional symptoms caused by IgG food reactions:
- Post Nasal drip, congestion, cough, asthma
- Constipation, diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea, gas, acid reflux, burning, burping
- Increased pulse, palpitations
- Acne, eczema, itchiness
- Joint aches, pain, swelling, tingling, numbness
- Headache, dizziness, brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia
The silver lining? When you eliminate your reactive foods, you eliminate your symptoms (and often the attack on your thyroid!).
While I have seen tremendous improvements in my health, as well as the health of my clients through eliminating reactive foods, there is not much support for using nutrition to address Hashimoto’s within the medical system. (The only exception is that most physicians will admit that there is a connection between celiac disease and Hashimoto’s!)
This is why most conventionally trained doctors and endocrinologists will tell you that you do not need to change your diet with Hashimoto’s, despite the real world data that shows that diet does make a difference!
I remember one of the very first times when I realized that there was something wrong with the medical system…
Effexor, a medication used as an antidepressant, has a unique side effect of increasing blood pressure. When I was a new grad, the pharmacy where I worked had a blood-pressure machine, and many of my patients would take their blood pressure while waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. I remember one very fit and lovely woman who was puzzled that her blood pressure had all of a sudden become elevated.
I offered to review her medication history to see if any of her medications could have contributed to her high blood pressure. Sure enough, she had started on Effexor within the previous month! I let her know that Effexor could cause an increase in blood pressure and gave her some information to take to her doctor, as well as the names of some alternative medications. She came back in later that month with a prescription for a new medication, and sure enough, within a few weeks of starting the new medication, her blood pressure returned back to normal.
She was grateful that the change in medication was able to mitigate the high blood pressure and that she didn’t have to start the blood pressure medication her doctor wanted her to take.
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Later on, when I worked as a consultant pharmacist, I often loved to chat with my colleagues about medications and health.
I asked one of my psychiatrist friends if he ever saw his patients having increased blood pressure from Effexor.
“No, I have never seen that happen.” He sounded surprised.
=I was surprised. In my short time of working as a community pharmacist, I saw this reaction in numerous people! As a well-respected and busy psychiatrist, he had probably seen more patients on that medication in a month than I had seen in a full year of working as a community pharmacist!
At that point, I also asked, “Do you ever take your patients’ blood pressure?”
“Well, no,” he replied.
So what’s the moral of this little story?
The moral is, our current medical system works in silos. I saw this time and time again as a consultant pharmacist—each organ was treated like it existed in a vacuum and oftentimes side effects of one medication used to treat one part of the body would be recognized as a new disease in a different part of the body without thinking of the systemic effects.
But I digress…. The point is, most doctors are not looking at nutrition as a factor, therefore, they can’t comment on how effective diet is. In the end, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t claim expertise on something you’ve never measured.
So, when a doctor tells you “diet doesn’t help Hashimoto’s,” here are some questions to ask to determine if you are speaking to an expert or someone who is simply in the dark about the power of nutrition
- Have you done clinical research with your patients with Hashimoto’s on how they fare on a gluten free diet vs on a standard diet?”
- Have you seen the Italian study that found that thyroid antibodies can be decreased in Hashimoto’s patients without celiac disease?
- What % of your patients report a resolution of their symptoms with your recommended treatment?
Most doctors think that if something was that helpful, they would have likely known about it. I know I was personally shocked when I realized how helpful diet was. How did I not learn that diet could help so much?? After all, I spent 4 years studying diseases and their treatment options in pharmacy school!
Once I found out how much diet could help, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! That’s when I published my first book detailing how helpful diet can be and the reasons behind why this was the case.
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I thought for sure that a research center or an endocrinology association would try out the various methods I found to be helpful, but that never happened.
However, two years later, I realized that I didn’t have to wait for a research center—I could do my own research (or maybe that I had to do it!) with the help of my Root Cause Rebel community.
I conducted a survey of my readers from May 10, 2015, to May 31, 2015. In total, 2,232 people answered the survey, 1,991 of whom reported to have Hashimoto’s. Only seventy-eight (3.5 percent) were also diagnosed with celiac disease.
It should be noted that this method of conducting research has limitations by traditional research standards; it was directed at a biased group (they were all my educated readers, after all!), and I did not have a control group. Nonetheless, it revealed a lot of exciting trends, mirroring the same patterns I’ve seen in my private clients but in a much larger sample size. If you trust people who are just like you, then you will find this information helpful.
Many of my readers and clients have experienced noticeable benefits from removing the following foods:
- 88 percent reported feeling better gluten free
- 87 percent reported feeling better on a sugar free diet
- 81 percent reported feeling better on a grain free or Paleo diet
- 79 percent reported feeling better on a dairy free diet
- 63 percent said they felt better soy free
- 48 percent felt better egg free
- 47 percent felt better on nightshade free diets (tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant restriction)
- 15 percent of people saw improvement with a nut-free diet
- 7 percent reported feeling better off seeds
- The autoimmune Paleo diet, which excludes all of the above-listed foods, helped 75 percent of people feel better overall
Each person with Hashimoto’s has unique root causes, but I’ve found that there are protocols that help most people feel better, regardless of what triggered their condition. Food is a crucial first step! Following a nutrient dense diet will always help a person with thyroid disease, but you may need to modify the diet according to your food sensitivities.
I’ve spent the last couple of years researching the best diets for people with thyroid issues, and I’ve discovered that the gluten free diet, the Paleo diet, and the Autoimmune Paleo Diet can all help eliminate thyroid symptoms, and in some cases, even thyroid antibodies!
For some people, the gluten free diet is all that’s needed. Others need to dig slightly deeper with following the Paleo Diet…others need to dig even deeper and find success with the Autoimmune Paleo Diet. It’s a great option for people who feel like they’ve “tried it all” and still aren’t seeing improvements in their health.
In addition to the foods that one should restrict, I also want to share more information on the foods that are especially helpful for people with Hashimoto’s (based on my 2015 survey of 2232 people).
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These are foods that you should incorporate into your routine
- Bone broth – 70% of people with Hashimoto’s found that it helped. Specifically, 62% saw an increase in energy, 57% an improvement in mood, and 32% an improvement in skin. Bone broth provides healing collagen and nutrients to support our gut lining and skin. You can make your own or order it
- Green smoothies – 68% of people found them helpful, with 82% saying that the smoothies gave them more energy, 60% claiming improved mood, and 40% noticing benefits for weight. Smoothies are a really great way to increase our intake of nutritious food without the digestive stress. As smoothies are chopped up, the food becomes easier to digest and the nutrients are easier to absorb. Green smoothies and green juices are like a shot of energy Add some protein for a better macronutrient balance. (I recommend Pea Protein or Hydrolyzed Beef Protein.)
- Fermented foods – 57% felt that these foods helped, and the benefits were again seen in energy (64%), mood (49%), and pain reduction (27%). Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, can be really helpful tools for restoring your microbial balance and are quite tasty.
- Gelatin – 47% saw benefits with gelatin, with almost half seeing improvements in skin, 38% seeing benefits in hair, and 33% seeing a reduction in pain and improvement in energy. I love to add gelatin to smoothies and to make gut healing desserts with it