Julie had been through the wringer. Her blood tests were “normal” …but she felt sick all the time. A woman in her early thirties, she suffered from extreme anxiety, restlessness, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, irregular periods, and muscle weakness.
She had gone to see her regular doctor and was referred to an endocrinologist. Both told her that her labs were “normal” and she was referred to a psychiatrist because her symptoms were most likely due to anxiety.
She reluctantly tried anti-anxiety medication but found no relief.
That’s when she came to see me.
“Why can’t anyone figure out what’s wrong with me?”
She asked me and then kept talking, “I know I’m not going crazy, there IS something not right. You’re my last hope. Please help!” These were her exact words to me.
First things first…
Although her labs were “normal”, I suggested she go for a complete thyroid panel including testing for antibodies (something both doctors failed to order).
When her results came back, it confirmed my suspicions…
Julie’s TSH was slightly low but still in range, her T4 and T3 were slightly elevated but still in range, however, her antibodies were elevated and out of range.
These antibodies indicated an autoimmune reaction which caused the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone than her body needed.
This is why she was experiencing all those symptoms but because the blood work was “normal”, the doctors didn’t know how to treat her and told her it was all in her head and maybe she was anxious and should see a psychiatrist.
This was a case of sub-clinical Graves’ disease that was missed by the doctors because they didn’t dig deep enough in their testing.
Now that we know Julie’s symptoms are due to an autoimmune attack on her thyroid, the next thing we need to figure out is why did her immune system start attacking her own body?
As mentioned above, Graves’ disease develops when the immune system experiences an increase in the levels of antibodies, which is usually kicked off by high degrees of inflammation in the body.
If you read the title of this post, then you already know there are 7 likely root causes of Graves’ disease and all of them cause inflammation.
The 7 most likely root causes of Graves’ disease:
1. Poor diet
Diet is the foundation of health.
Diet is often the biggest contributor of inflammation in the body.
Eating foods such as gluten/grains, dairy, sugar, refined oils, and GMOs all lead to an inflammatory response in the body.
And… since these foods make up the majority of most people’s diet, it’s no wonder so many people are dealing with chronic inflammation and autoimmunity.
It’s important to note here that 70-80% of your immune system is located within your gut.1 This means that if you are constantly eating inflammatory foods, the immune system in your gut has to work overtime dealing with the constant inflammatory attack. This eventually leads to a weakened immune system, unchecked inflammation, and a “leaky gut”2 — where holes in your intestines allow toxins to leak into your bloodstream, increasing inflammation and sending your immune system into chaos. This leads to a perfect opportunity for autoimmunity to develop.
Bottom line: If you are suffering from an autoimmune disease like Graves’, you should consider what you’re eating as a possible root cause. You won’t heal if you’re eating inflammatory foods.
2. Nutrient deficiencies
Nutrients are the fuel to power your immune system. Deficiencies can often result in an out-of-control immune system that starts attacking the body’s own tissues leading to autoimmunity.
For example, studies show that low Vitamin D levels are not only associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disorders (including Graves’ disease) but also with an increased risk of cancer.3
This is because Vitamin D is an immune system modulator. In other words, Vitamin D turns off inflammatory signals in the body and makes the immune system more adaptable and less likely to fall out of balance and trigger autoimmunity.
Selenium is another example as it’s involved in regulating excessive immune responses and chronic inflammation.4 It’s also an essential nutrient for thyroid function and has been shown to reduce thyroid antibodies.5
Bottom line: These are only 2 examples of nutrients that play a critical role in the immune system. There are many others. Finding and correcting nutrient deficiencies can significantly increase your chance of overcoming Graves’ disease.
3. Underlying infections
Viruses, bacteria, yeast, and parasites have all been linked to autoimmune diseases.
Many patients with Graves’ disease have been found to have had their autoimmunity triggered by the Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mononucleosis)6, the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica7, 8, and/or Lyme disease.9
Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers, is another common infection connected with Graves’ disease.10 H. pylori is found in the stomach and it usually reactivates during times of stress.
Bottom line: Hidden infections are a common cause of autoimmunity. If you’ve ever had one of these infections, it’s possible it may still be contributing to your Graves’ disease. Proper testing can uncover if any of these infections are your root cause.
4. Hidden food allergies
Even if you’re avoiding the inflammatory foods listed above, hidden food allergies may be a cause of your Graves’ disease.
Food allergens irritate and inflame your intestinal lining, which compromises your health and digestion.
First, allergens reduce your ability to absorb the nutrients in your food. Just because you ate it, doesn’t mean you absorbed the nutrients.
Second, undigested food particles can leak across the intestinal wall and enter your bloodstream (“leaky gut”). These undigested food particles are looked upon as ‘foreign invaders’ by your immune system. This triggers an antibody response to fight these foreign invaders. This is where the immune system can get confused and start attacking the body’s own tissues.
Bottom line: Continued exposure to allergens will trigger inflammation and weaken the immune system. Ultimately, this can result in turning on autoimmunity. A simple blood test can uncover hidden food allergies.
Heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, mold, and cleaning products are all examples of toxins that can cause an autoimmune reaction in the body.
Fact: there are over 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the Unites States with little to no testing of their safety.
In other words, we live in a chemical soup.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we absorb toxins through our skin, we breathe them in, and we eat and drink them.
Amalgam (silver) fillings in our teeth and eating fish exposes us to mercury, a poisonous heavy metal that has been shown to increase the risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease.11
One study found that 60% of the pesticides used today may affect the thyroid gland.12
Another study found that Bisphenol-A (BPA) found in plastics and food cans may affect thyroid function.13
Bottom line: Toxins provoke an inflammatory response from the immune system. With constant exposure, the immune system gets confused and begins attacking everything – including your own body. Following a detoxification protocol and limiting exposure will decrease the toxic load on the body and promote healing.
6. Hormonal imbalances
Autoimmune thyroid disease is 5-10 times more likely to occur in women than in men.
This fact suggests that steroid hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone, influence the immune system. I think every woman with autoimmune disease knows how strongly hormonal fluctuations can impact their symptoms.
Estrogen actions tend to be pro-inflammatory, while the actions of progesterone, androgens, and glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory.14 As a result, estrogen (especially estrogen dominance) may be a promoting factor in Graves’ disease.15
Adrenal function also plays an important role in regulating the inflammatory processes that are typical of autoimmune reactions.
Your adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol, which is the most powerful anti-inflammatory substance in your body. However, in autoimmune disease, cortisol levels are inadequate and cannot counter the inflammatory reaction, allowing the autoimmunity to continue.
Bottom line: Hormones can and do contribute to autoimmunity. If you notice your symptoms flare up before, after, or during your cycle, it may be a good idea to check your hormone levels.
7. Emotions/Physical Trauma/Stress
It is widely accepted that stress is a risk factor in the development of autoimmunity.16
In fact, many people I’ve worked with have noticed a direct link between a major stressful life event and the development of their autoimmune Graves’ disease.
Our thoughts and feelings have a direct impact on our immune system. Loneliness is now recognized as the number one predictor of disease due to its immune suppressing actions.17 On the other hand, laughter and feelings of happiness increase and strengthen the actions of our immune system.18
Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation19 which, as we discussed earlier, may lead to the development of an autoimmune response.
Bottom line: Stress is a major risk factor in all disease. Since we can’t avoid the stressors of everyday life, stress management, such as meditation, exercise, yoga, deep breathing, earthing, etc., should be a part of any Graves’ disease healing regimen.
Putting it all together
The solution to beating Graves’ disease lies in addressing the root cause of your autoimmunity and in strengthening the immune system.
Functional Medicine uses cutting edge laboratory testing, dietary modifications, and targeted supplementation to find and treat the root cause — turning off the autoimmune response and allowing the body to regain its health.
If you’re ready to reverse autoimmunity and heal your Graves’ the first step is to book a FREE 15-minute “Root Cause Breakthrough” session with me where I’ll show you how we can find the root cause and end the suffering.
I’m honored to be able to help you on your journey.