• Dr Amy Myers from the USA believes that there are five underlying causes to autoimmune thyroid diseases – including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
No one definitively knows why you developed autoimmune thyroiditis. But Dr Amy Myers, a US doctor and thyroid patient, has a theory and it includes five causes: two of which are gluten and a leaky gut.
By
Yasmin Noone

3 May 2018 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 3 May 2018 - 4:54 PM

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a lifelong autoimmune disease is the deafening (but rather telling) silence that radiates throughout the medical room when you ask your doctor ‘but how did I get this?’

I ought to know. At age 29, I was diagnosed with autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition that is most common in Australian women aged between 40 and 60.

It means that my thyroid gland, which produces hormones coordinating many of my body's functions, is a diseased master of self-sabotage. For some bizarre reason, it takes comfort in constantly attacking itself. Inflammation from Hashimoto's disease has made my thyroid gland underactive (hypothyroidism). 

The one line, however, that I hate hearing about the disease is ‘there's no known, accepted cause for autoimmune thyroiditis’. Why?

The one line, however, that I hate hearing about the disease is ‘there no known, accepted cause for autoimmune thyroiditis’. Why?

Having this illness is no walk in the park. The symptoms associated with it relate to having a slow metabolism and include anything from depression to brain fog, weight gain, poor ability to tolerate cold, fertility problems, fatigue and in some cases (when untreated), death. Around 10 times more women are diagnosed with an underactive thyroid than men. Even after you receive treatment, you can still experience the symptoms in varying degrees yo-yoing back and forth from mild to severe despite receiving the best medical advice.

Given that it's the most common kind of thyroid dysfunction in Australia affecting 12 per cent of the population, shouldn't we be trying to figure out why we get it?

And, as a result, Dr Myers says she’s ‘healed’ her own autoimmune condition.

Instead, most patients are simply told to blame genetics. Hashimoto's is obviously in my genes - my mother has the same condition but she got it in her 60s. Meanwhile, my sister - who shares my genes - does not have it. Surely environmental factors play a part in how the disease occurs and when it strikes? 

American author and autoimmune disease specialist, Dr Amy Myers, is also an autoimmune thyroiditis patient.

But the real difference between Dr Myers and I (apart from the fact she’s a bestselling author, famous medical professional and a host of other international variations) is that she believes to know the cause of her thyroid issue. And, as a result, Dr Myers says she’s ‘healed’ her own autoimmune condition.

One theory, from a doctor-cum-autoimmune disease patient

Dr Myers, who specialises in women’s health issues, gut health, thyroid dysfunction, and autoimmunity, is also the founder and medical director of Austin UltraHealth, a clinic based in the Texas, USA. 

It’s her medical opinion that there are five underlying causes of autoimmune thyroid diseases – including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It's important to note that these causes are not fully accepted by the entire medical community around the world.

1. A leaky gut

“The gut is the gateway to health, it houses 80 per cent of your immune system, and you can’t have a healthy immune system without a healthy gut,” she says.

“We now know that if you have an autoimmune disease your gut has become leaky, meaning the tight junctions that typically hold your gut lining together have become loose, allowing undigested food particles, microbes, toxins, and more to escape your gut and enter your bloodstream.”

She explains that all of these particles are recognised by your immune system as foreign invaders, sending your immune system into high alert and triggering a huge rise in inflammation. “This continual strain on your immune system eventually causes it to go haywire, and it ends up attacking your own tissues by mistake.”

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2. Gluten

Dr Myers explains that for some people, gluten can be the primary cause of leaky gut because gluten triggers the release of zonulin in your intestines, a chemical that tells your gut lining to “open up”.

“Second, it is highly inflammatory, meaning it stresses your immune system.”

The gluten protein has a similar chemical structure to some of your body’s tissues (specifically your thyroid), which can lead to molecular mimicry, where your body mistakes your tissues for gluten and attacks them.”

Gluten is obviously a controversial health topic. While gluten-free advocates like Dr Myers say eliminating or reducing gluten can help you, other experts say there’s no evidence of a link between gluten and thyroid harm at all. So do your own research, talk to your doctors and weight up the pros and cons of a gluten-free lifestyle for you.  

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3. Toxins

“Toxic moulds (mycotoxins) and heavy metals such as mercury are the two main toxins I see in those with autoimmune conditions. Mycotoxins are very volatile compounds produced by toxic moulds that wreak havoc on the immune system.

“We are exposed to heavy metals like mercury in different ways: mercury amalgam fillings in teeth, fish consumption, and the environment. Mercury is toxic to our bodies and can be one piece of the puzzle for those with autoimmune diseases.”

“But it takes a long time for it to make its way through the conventional medicine community and down to patients”.

4. Infections

Infections from bacteria, viruses may also be linked to autoimmune diseases like thyroiditis.

5. Stress

Emotional and physical stress has also been shown to trigger and intensify autoimmune disorders. “Chronic stress (the kind we face in this day and age) leads to long-term inflammation that never really shuts off, creating autoimmune disease. Once the autoimmune response is in place, immediate stress only exacerbates it.”

Dr Myers’s voice is just one in a medical chorus of statements about the causes of autoimmune thyroiditis. However, she says, her beliefs aren't revolutionary, nor are they based on new information. “But it takes a long time for it to make its way through the conventional medical community and down to patients”.

After all, if the answers to healing a diseased thyroid are within reach, why wouldn’t I at least try to grab them?

Although these identified causes don't specifically tell me what caused my thyroid to start attacking itself, Dr Myer's generalised reasonings do provide some comfort.

When I ask myself ‘why’, at least I now have a few valid reasons to play around with in my brain beyond ‘even though your sister didn’t get it at age 29, it’s genetic’. Perhaps it was that period of chronic stress I endured in the lead up to my diagnosis? Or a diet full of glutinous bread and pasta that I ate as a teenager of European heritage, who knew no better at the time?

Whatever the reason, knowing a few ‘whys’ – even if they aren’t definitive – helps me to have the faith I need to pursue my next steps: understanding ‘how’ can my health be fixed and ‘what’ can I do to help my thyroid repair, in addition to just taking medication.

After all, if the answers to healing a diseased thyroid are within reach, why wouldn’t I at least try to grab them?

 

Always consult a medical professional before starting a diet or making any major lifestyle change. If you have symptoms that are worrying you, seek advice from your doctor. 

Dr Amy Myers spoke about autoimmune disease, the role of your gut and nutrition at the 6th BioCeuticals Research Symposium in Melbourne last week.

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