My struggle with autoimmune and thyroid disease is directly tied to my motherhood. I developed Hashimotos after I had my first baby. I talk about it here, but looking back I didn’t even have a clue about my disease. I thought one of the symptoms (postpartum depression) was the toughest part at the time. I had no idea that the depression and anxiety would come back and persist and that I would struggle with so many more symptoms because I never treated the Hashimotos, I only dealt with the resulting hypothyroidism and replaced my thyroid hormone. But honestly, I had no idea that there was more to do because my doctors never told me otherwise and I didn’t realize there were answers out there to look for. I thought that as long as my thyroid levels were within range that I was good. And for a while I was.
After I had Calvin, I went clinically hyper while still having underlying hypo — meaning I was getting too much thyroid hormone from my medication (probably because my body was used to sharing it with Calvin when I was pregnant) and my symptoms were those of hyperthyroidism (racing heart, sweating, anxiety especially) while my condition was still technically hypothyroid. My medication was adjusted. I had a major hormone crash when I weaned around 8 months postpartum (Calvin started biting and I couldn’t work through it). And then I got the surprise of my life when I found out I was pregnant with Quincy a month later. But I mostly felt good — I had lost all but around 5 pounds of my baby weight from Calvin, which was huge for me because it took me around 18 months to get to that point after Charlie, mostly because I probably gained 20 lbs from my hypothyroidism. But still, all of the changes and stress on my body were setting up the perfect storm for a Hashimoto’s flare up once Quincy was born.
Quincy’s birth was a bit of a scary one that had a few complications (you can read more about that and his birth story here) so we were in the hospital an extra week, part of that time in the NICU. I thought a week in the hospital with just one kid would be like a vacation, but I was basically confined to a room with a baby who was already showing colic/reflux symptoms and was missing sleep and my family like crazy. And then Quincy’s colic and reflux (more on that here) made the postpartum anxiety and depression I was dealing with pretty severe. It was a rough time. And I completely neglected myself for at least a year. My diet was crap, my sleep was crap, and my stress was through the roof. My gut health (I would find out later) was suffering in a big way, I was getting sick a lot, my moods and hormones were the longest rollercoaster ever, my periods were crazy bad, and I was having a slew of other symptoms. I made a list on my phone of all of the weird, new, and extreme symptoms I was having. This was my list:
- Racing heart
- Noise intolerance (like, severe and panic attack inducing)
- Tunnel vision & blurred vision
- Ringing in ears
- Anxiety/Panic attacks
- creepy crawly feeling up my back and neck
- Achy joints
- Brain fog
- Extremely heavy periods (like needing to change tampon and backup pad every 1-2 hours for days)
- Severe PMS and depression a week into my period
- Fibromyalgia-like chronic pain
- Weight gain/inability to lose ANY baby weight
- Bruise easily
- Water retention/swelling
- peeling nails
- increased skin tags/moles
- extremely dry skin
- Swollen hands/feet & numbness in hands and arms
- Repeated sinus issues
- swelling/pain in bottoms of my feet
I went to my doctor (who was new to me due to new insurance) and had a gamut of tests run. I was shocked when my thyroid levels were described as “within normal range.” The only suggestion the DR had for me was that my cholesterol was “a little high” and that I needed to eat a low fat diet. Mind you I was still breastfeeding and was eating a diet filled with healthy fats but not a lot of bad or saturated fats (although I was eating way too much sugar and carbs because I was so tired.) My Vitamin D was also low (and that was when I still lived in California!) I was living in survival mode for almost two years and barely surviving. Some days I thought I was dying and some days I wanted to die just to not feel so bad anymore.
The DR offered me medication to help with the panic attacks but otherwise offered no advice or further testing. He basically wrote off my thyroid concerns since my T4 and TSH were within “normal range.” But I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal, so I started doing my own research. Seven years after receiving a Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Hypothyroidism diagnosis, I finally figured out that taking synthroid wasn’t actually treating my Hashimoto’s at all — it was only treating my Hypothyroidism. I never understood that Hashimoto’s is an AUTOIMMUNE disease and Hypothyroidism is the result of your body attacking your thyroid. You have to treat the thyroid so your body has enough thyroid hormone, but you also have to take steps to treat the Hashimoto’s, or your body will continue to attack itself in other ways. This realization was like a face palm and a lightbulb ‘ah ha” moment at the same time. Why didn’t I know this sooner!? Why hadn’t my DR explained that? Why didn’t I think to look into it more myself? Once I did start looking and researching and educating myself I realized so many other people were also suffering from this, but that many were also treating it and going into remission from it due to diet changes, supplements, stress-relieving activities like yoga and massage, and medication changes. So I decided that once we moved and were settled in that I was going to surround myself with medical professionals that I trusted and that really listened to me, and so far that’s exactly what I’ve done. Note: I’m aware that not all medical professionals will agree with what I’m doing or what I have to say on the subject. Most traditional endocrinologists do not believe you can reverse or treat Hashimoto’s. But I had been doing things their way for seven years and it wasn’t working for me. This is.
My Treatment Plan
The first thing I did was find a good and highly recommended naturopath and functional medicine family doctor for myself and my family. I also found a chiropractic office (I’ve always been helped by chiropractic care and was really happy to find an office that focuses on your whole health — they also knew and recommended both the naturopath and functional medicine practitioner that I now see.) Side note, if you are looking for an excellent chiropractor in either Los Angeles or the Columbus area I’m can’t recommend both of these enough.
Seeing a naturopath:
What I loved about seeing a naturopath: basically everything about the experience. I spent two hours talking to her about my symptoms. She asked questions that showed me she really knew what she was talking about when it came to Hashimoto’s and my answers shed a lot of light on what was going on in my body. After our first appointment together, we formed a plan:
- Test my thyroid to get a new idea of what my levels were. Since she doesn’t have access to a lab, I could either be referred to one or I could do an at-home test. I chose to do an at home test through EverlyWell. I used their Thyroid Function test, which checked my TSH, T4, T3, and TPO antibodies (which often isn’t checked when DRs do thyroid tests and is what shows Hashimoto’s). This test was easy to do with a finger prick at home and it only costs $159. My results showed that my T4 was in normal range, that I was converting T3 well, my TSH was elevated but still technically within normal range, and that I had elevated TPO antibodies present.
- Take a good look at my gut health. I feel like “leaky gut” has become all the rage, like the new “gluten-free” thing to do. But honestly, it is a real problem for many people (as is gluten) and when we looked at how often I was getting sick, how much sugar I was eating, if yeast seemed to be present in my body (which uses sugar for food to get out of control and take over the good bacteria in your gut). And I wasn’t as consistent about taking probiotics myself as I was in making sure my kids did. Also, my stomach was so bloated and distended, like I was 5 months pregnant still, which is another big indicator something is happening in your gut that isn’t good.
- Significantly change my diet.
- Removing gluten: I used December to get acquainted with the idea of going gluten-free — researching products that would make good replacements when I needed something like pasta or pizza or a cookie. I started pinning recipe and meal ideas. I started cutting it gradually. And then on Jan. 1 I started a Whole30 to jumpstart my diet changes. For people with Hashimoto’s it is really important to remove gluten from your diet, even if you don’t have Celiacs or a traditional gluten sensitivity. Here is a great article to read more about this. Basically, it is believed that TPO antibodies and even some thyroid proteins and a protein found in gluten have a similar molecular makeup, so when you put gluten in your body and you are autoimmune, your body reacts with an autoimmune response, which makes you feel sick. I am just starting to understand it myself, and I’m not a doctor or scientist so I encourage you to do your own research from reputable sources and talk to your own doctor. For me, it was worth it to try. And I’ve seen a huge improvement.
- Removing dairy: Dairy is thought to be another food that does not help people with autoimmune disease, especially if it contains casein. I cut dairy as part of my Whole30 and plan to stick to grass-fed butter and goat cheese only as much as I can. I have to admit that I haven’t done the best with this — with my husband out of town for work I’ve allowed myself a bit more dairy out of convenience. My main focus is staying gluten-free. But my goal is to get back on track with this in the next couple weeks. Even when I’m dairy-free, I eat goat cheese and use Kerrygold Irish butter and cheese (made from grass-fed dairy cows).
- Removing sugar: sugar is a hard one for me, but since I did the Whole30 I’ve stopped having cravings and am satisfied with dates or a small piece of dark chocolate. I haven’t had a Coke in two months though, which is HUGE for me and I don’t indulge in really sugary snacks. And when I want to have a drink with friends, I allow myself a glass or two of wine or cider (can’t have beer because it has gluten 🙁 ) Regulating my blood sugar is really important based on my labs and symptoms that are indicative of inflammation.
- Reduce stress and increase self-care. Stress is a huge trigger for autoimmune flare ups. It’s a no brainer that reducing stress can help you feel better, but putting a plan into action is a different story. I’ve put a reminder into my phone to do 10 minutes of yoga each morning (I’ve yet to actually do it), I bought some yoga classes and haven’t yet gone to one. But I am meditating daily (usually before I fall asleep), try to take 10-15 minutes for myself to shower or take a bath, to have a quiet cup of coffee, or anything that makes me feel calmer in my mind. Epsom salt baths are huge (magnesium!) so I buy a big bulk bag for much cheaper on Amazon and add my own essential oils. I’d love to do one every couple of days but I’m lucky if I get one weekly.
- Consider other medications. If you take thyroid medicine, looking at which you are on is important. There is Levothyroxine (which is synthetic T4) and Armour (which is desiccated pig thyroid gland). Armour contains both T4 and T3, so if you aren’t converting T3 well, then Armour might be the better fit for you. If you are converting well (like I am) then levothyroxine might be better since you don’t need the T3. However, there are also different levothyroxines out there and some can make you feel worse rather than better (something else I never really understood). If you use generic levothyroxine, you don’t know what you are getting as far as the additives and fillers. Gluten and corn are commonly found in generic levothyroxine, and many people who need it are sensitive or intolerant to gluten and corn. Makes no sense right? And many of us only have insurance coverage for generic drugs which means unless we want to pay out of pocket the drug we need and are given might actually be making us feel bad. Another option is Tirosint, which is also synthetic T4 but is super clean and only contains like four ingredients. I took this when I was first diagnosed and did really well on it. When my insurance would no longer cover it I was switched to regular Levothyroxine. I’m in the process of switching back and have found that you can sometimes get coupons from the manufacturers website or discount prescription cards in you need assistance paying for it.
- Check my adrenal function. I am also going to do a saliva test to check how my adrenals are functioning and if I might need a supplement or something in my diet to help support that system as well as my endocrine system.
- Take supplements to help support my thyroid: Based on my specific levels and symptoms (so these might not be the right fit for you — check with your doctor first) I started taking the following:
- Fibro-Ease Multi
- Berberine Complex: supports immunity and gastrointestinal health by balancing intestinal flora
- Vitamin D3 (between 5,ooo and 10,000 IUs a day — I was deficient in Vitamin D. Now that I’ve been taking 10,000 for a couple months, I’m going down to 5,000 unless I start to feel like I’m getting sick and then I’m supposed to go back up to 10,000). Also make sure it is gluten-free, like this one.
- Thyroid Support: I actually started taking this on my own and felt like it was helping me. However, it has an ingredient that my doctor said is known to increase anxiety in some people (Tyrosine) so I discontinued it for a bit to see if I notice an improvement, plus my other supplements are now providing the same support without that ingredient. But it is worth checking out if you need thyroid support. It helps with metabolism, energy, and focus.
- a daily Probiotic: choose one with a higher number of different strains of bacteria and make sure it is dairy, soy, and gluten free, like this one.
One other issue I am having (though we haven’t tested yet but just based on a lot of my symptoms) is being high estrogen, so I’m taking steps to help reduce estrogen and balance my hormones. The biggest ways I’m doing that is eating a ton of cruciferous veggies, taking Slow Flow when I’m on my period (I have unusually heavy ones and this has been a game changer for me — if you have really heavy periods I highly recommend it!), reducing my exposure to xenoestrogens (environmental hormone disruptors). Here is a Tip Sheet for where they are found and how to avoid them that my doctor shared with me in case you are interested. It’s really eye opening and I’ll be working on eliminating as many as I can and plan to try to clean up my beauty and body products as well. Stay tuned for future posts on that!
At the end of the day, I’m just one person with Hashimoto’s who went way too long being a passive patient and not feeling good. I was tired of not having energy, patience, and happy days with my kids. Sometimes I feel like that wasted a lot of time of this motherhood phase with babies and it makes me sad, and a little angry too. I’m not trying to knock all western medicine doctors and physicians — most are wonderful, but I do think that there is a traditional way of doing things that doesn’t work for everyone. If you are a passive Hashimoto’s patient I highly recommend you do your own research. This book is a great resource. I also love this book and this cookbook and the podcast also by the authors. The conventional model of Hashimoto’s treatment is based only on lowering your TSH with whatever thyroid medication your insurance plan or doctor prefers. Once TSH is within “normal” range, this model has nothing more to offer except to check your TSH once a year. That was the treatment I got for so long as well. It takes time and effort, but the thyroid patient who wants to feel better needs to really learn and gain a better understanding of Hashimoto’s. For me, that has been the key to taking control of my health. I still have a long way to go, but I’m feeling so much better already. Knowledge is power and I now have the power when it comes to my health and well-being. This is by no means meant to be medical advice — you should always ask your doctor before starting or trying anything. I’m just sharing my experience in case you are like I was: feeling really sick and not knowing why or feeling bad and being dismissed after your TSH comes back within “normal” range. Or if you’re feeling some of those symptoms that I listed just go to your doctor and ask to have your thyroid checked. Hashimotos and thyroid disease is so so common among women.
Do you have Hashimoto’s or have a loved one who does? Have you found anything that works well for you? I’d love to hear! And I plan on sharing more on what is working for me, as well as more wellness posts. Let me know if there is anything you’re interested in reading more about.
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