Perhaps, perhaps not, but it’s going to be attracting a lot of media attention in the next decade. People aren’t dying of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Not directly, anyway. They simply live increasingly unpleasant lives without knowing why. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Most of those who are aware of the ‘disease’ called Hashimoto’s perceive it as a thyroid disorder. This unclear thinking extends to most physicians. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s hypersensitive and thoroughly confused immune system is attacking and destroying thyroid tissue. In a nutshell, successful management of Hashimoto’s treats the immune system, not the thyroid.
We’ve Come a Long Way, Broda Barnes
Recently I revisited Dr. Broda Barnes’ classic summation of his life’s work, Hypothyroidism: the Unsuspected Illness, published in 1976. Not having opened the book in fifteen years, I was amazed at how my own understanding of the thyroid has shifted since my first reading.
On the one hand, much of Barnes’ pioneering work on low thyroid function now seems quaint and outdated, relative to the cutting edge of perceiving and treating a disorder which is just the tip of the autoimmune iceberg.
On the other hand, the vast majority of physicians still haven’t even attained Barnes’ level of understanding thyroid dysfunction. Conventional medicine’s treatment of thyroid hypo-function remains in the dark ages, confined to simplistic pharmaceutical protocols which routinely fail to address the cause of these disorders — or even the symptomatology of the client! This approach does nothing but normalize irrelevant lab numbers, and fill the coffers of Big Pharma.
Thyroid dysfunction, in conventional medicine, is a simple, black and white diagnosis: hyper or hypo. Treatment is similarly adolescent. Thyroid hyper-function elicits irradiation of the gland (to ‘kill’ it) with radioactive iodine or surgical removal (somewhat like trying to scrape chewing gum off the bottom of one’s shoe). Those with hypo-function get a lifetime supply of Synthroid or one of the other synthetic, and, therefore patentable, imitations of thyroid hormones. Ironically, the hyper-function patient will receive the same drugs, since they no longer have a functioning thyroid gland.
Endocrine function is anything but a simple affair. Most often these diagnoses are made by utilizing lab information completely insufficient to make an accurate diagnosis of what’s really happening to the thyroid. Understanding the thyroid and its many complex relationships within one’s constitution is a formidable undertaking for the sincere physician. Dr. Datis Kharrazian, with whom I studied for several years, mines the biochemical depths of these relationships and has identified no less than twenty-two distinct patterns of disharmony in the thyroid — and that doesn’t even include Oriental medicine’s diagnoses.
The most common of the under-diagnosed manifestations of hypothyroidsim is Hashimoto’s disease. Peer reviewed literature states that, of the 27 million Americans who have thyroid hypo-function, well over half actually have undiagnosed Hashimoto’s. Broda Barnes’ perception of thyroid disease in this country suggests that even these numbers are seriously understated. My own observations are in alignment with what Dr. Barnes saw throughout his professional life.
The Face of Hashimoto’s
So, what does it mean that millions of people are un-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed? Why should we be concerned that conventional medicine is doing nothing more for these individuals than normalizing their TSH labs — causes and symptoms be damned?
The most revealing answers would undoubtedly come from an individual who has been a victim of the ‘most advanced health care on the planet’. Since Hashimoto’s disproportionately affects females, let’s ask ‘Terry’, whose experience is fairly representative.
Terry’s thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) were over 2000 (high normal is 25.5) when she arrived in my care less than two months ago. 44 years old, she had already suffered years of abuse at the hands of conventional medicine. She recognized the symptoms of Hashimoto’s (although not by name) when she was in college. She was always depressed and tired. Her 60″ frame carried 109 pounds.
Fifteen years later, she weighed 230 pounds, and had experienced a ruptured ovarian cyst, four laparoscopies, diabetes, ruptured vertebral discs, a miscarriage and two premature childbirths, a hysterectomy, a divorce, and attempted suicide. Her good doctors had her on Synthroid and anti-depressants, and had administered electro-shock treatment before she made it to me with a list of current symptoms including obesity, psoriasis, fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, irritability, joint pain, skin lesions, muscle pain and weakness, easily overwhelmed, frustrated — all steeped in a murky broth of brain fog.
Any astute doctor of Oriental medicine will recognize from this list familiar patterns which suggest the likelihood of autoimmune disorders, without the need to measure TPO. Yet we took advantage of extensive, meaningful, lab work: blood, urine, saliva for adrenal stress markers, stool for an obvious gut-centered disharmony, as well as anti-pancreatic islet cell antibodies and immune studies to determine TH1/TH2 dominance. This may sound like a lot — and it is — but for someone trained in seeing the big picture, these results paint a cohesive, multi-dimensional panorama of this woman’s current condition, as well as her earlier life and how she got here. More importantly, this image clearly indicates how to back out of her current condition.
I could easily write several blogs about this process, but let’s just say that less than two months after she walked in the door, the inflammation evident throughout her constitution has subsided to nearly nothing, she has lost around 20 lbs., the psoriasis is nearly gone, her pain level and headaches are no longer constant companions, she has much more energy, and she thinks more clearly than I do! This has been accomplished without drugs, and I’ve done nothing to her thyroid. And the next blood panel we run will reveal a TPO close to normal.
Are we done? Not even close. But we’re well on our way. And Terry and her family have their lives back (for the first six weeks, she had to be driven to her appointments, accompanied to the office by her mother and husband — now she drives alone).
Will the rest of her journey be a slam-dunk? Highly unlikely. We’ll each learn much along the way, but, if she continues treatment she will achieve a remarkably high level of good health, enabling her to enjoy what lies ahead and cope with the inevitable challenges that show up.
Oriental Medicine and Hashimoto’s
What I most enjoy about Datis is that while he is a brilliant chiropractor, working within the vernacular of bio-chemistry, he thinks like a doctor of Oriental medicine. He truly does see the causes of thyroid disorder as ‘patterns of disharmony’. I’ve suggested to him that a broader understanding of Oriental medicine would be advantageous to him, if for no other reason than avoiding re-inventing the wheel. He shrugs it off and says, “Oh, I’ll leave that to you guys.” Meaning Doctors of Oriental Medicine. And I have taken the challenge seriously.
Treating Hashimoto’s at this level requires using every scrap of the tiny bit of scientific research which exists on herbal medicines and the immune system. Fortunately for DOMs, there is more research on Chinese herbal medicine than there is on western herbs (it’s just in Chinese…). Even more importantly, a two thousand year old database of the herbs’ energetic nature is already part of our vernacular as well. This makes pioneering work more effortless to accomplish when, for example, the physician is attempting to ‘tonify’ the immune system’s TH1 components in a client whose TH2 components have gone berserk. It’s so much easier to perceive what is really happening to the entire ecology than having to rely on the limited perspective of a handful of scientific studies for guidance.
One autoimmune disorder often begets another, which is why I tested Terry’s antipancreatic islet cells. And indeed, those antibodies were high. This means that her immune system is already also attacking the pancreas, as well as the thyroid. If we don’t solidly reverse the factors which have broken down Terry’s primary immune barriers — the brain barrier, the skin, the lungs, and gut — and intelligently manage her immune system, this trend will continue, and the cascade effect will be exceedingly unpleasant. I trust that she will make the required choices to avoid that fate. From my perspective, the game is now such that compromise, poor choices, and mediocre health care are no longer options.
Millions of Americans are in a similar situation, and the vast majority not only have no idea what is happening to them, they don’t know anyone who can help them. And while it’s absolutely true that many of the solutions are composed of sheer common sense, I honestly don’t see much evidence of that — in medicine or in our culture.
PostScript: Winter Solstice 2013
There are now two more discussions of the Hashimoto’s phenomenon on this site. Do yourself a big favor and don’t leave without reading even more important considerations of Hashimoto’s at both Hashimoto’s, Life-Expectancy, & Life Purpose and The “Hashimoto’s Syndrome”. Thanks!
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