If you’re one of the 14 million+ people in America who are suffering from Hashimoto’s disease, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help improve symptoms and get some relief. Hashimoto’s is a disease where the body produces antibodies to the thyroid gland, and can wreak havoc on the hormones that are crucially needed by the body in order to function properly. Research has shown us that Hashimoto’s is more prominent in women, and is more likely to arise if you already have a pre-existing condition such as lupus, diabetes, Celiac or rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few.
Hashimoto’s can lead to illnesses like hypothyroidism (yes, 90% of hypothyroidism starts as an autoimmune disorder), and can start at any point during one’s life for a number of different reasons aside from pre-existing conditions, like environmental factors, genetics, and even changes in dietary habits. Research shows us that Hashimoto’s can lead to life threatening health problems like heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis to name a few. The risks of Hashimoto’s should motivate you to seek the root cause of your autoimmune disease. And in fact, research indicates there is a high association between a bacterial infection called H. pylori to autoimmune thyroid diseases like Grave’s and Hashimoto’s. This is because of the increased inflammatory status and something called molecular mimicry.
What is H.Pylori?
Another study found this connection between H.pylori and Hashimoto’s disease. Helicobacter pylori, or H. Pylori, is a bacteria that grows within the gastrointestinal tract. An estimated 60% of people all over the world carry this infectious bacteria, which causes symptoms like ulcers to appear in the GI tract (and can be completely normal).
Heliobacter bacteria look like spirals, and can live in your gastrointestinal tract from a young age. These bacteria are resistant to the powerful acids that live in your stomach, and bury themselves into the lining of the stomach where your immune system has a hard time reaching them – and therefore leading to stomach issues for years to come.
Although symptoms of infection from this type of bacteria don’t show in everyone affected, there are some signs to look out for (especially if stomach ulcers are present). Factors like stomach pain, upset stomach, fevers, and bloat are all symptoms that correlate with H. pylori bacteria, and can cause multitudes of gut issues. This bacterium can also cause an unwanted response to the immune system, create ulcers, and make the acid in the stomach too low, leading to food not being broken down appropriately.
The issue with H. pylori, in regards to an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s, is that the body makes antibodies once this bacterium is recognized within the body – and these antibodies can then react with systems in the body, including those that operate the thyroid. This is called molecular mimicry. Essentially the bacteria looks very similar in its structural appearance. Thankfully, there is more research coming out to determine just how much H. pylori affects gut health and thyroid functions; one study in particular treated half of the patients that presented with both H. pylori and Hashimoto’s with medicine, and left the other participants untreated. In the end, the patients that were treated for the bacterial infection not only had a decrease in their symptoms, but reduced antibodies by over 50%.
Spoiler alert – if you treat this infection with the standard of care, three antibiotics, you are also more susceptible to developing Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, a root cause condition for autoimmune disease!
If you’re suffering from Hashimoto’s and notice that you’re also dealing with gastrointestinal issues, there might be a correlation between the two! Breath and blood tests are two of the ways that H. pylori bacteria is detected, as well as a stool antigen test (we prefer the GI Map which is stool based). Thankfully there are natural ways to heal your gut and improve overall thyroid function if the test(s) come back positive.
Granted, most of the mainstream ways to aid in reducing H. pylori in the gut are related to antibiotics; however, alternatives such as aloe, mastic gum, and black seed oil can all be helpful as well. In fact, one study done in 2014 tested the aloe plant as a means of reducing H. pylori within the gut. Out of fifteen different types of H. pylori, the aloe was able to stop the growth of half of the fifteen strains! This is due to the aloe having antibacterial properties that fight against certain types of H. pylori (without killing the good guys).
Stress and H. Pylori
Aside from the natural remedies available to help aid in decreasing the symptoms of H. pylori and Hashimoto’s, there is another area that needs to be evaluated as well – and that’s one’s overall stress levels. To be clear, stress in and of itself does not lead to issues with the thyroid…. but, if you have a pre-existing condition (such as H. Pylori), it can exacerbate the process. When you are experiencing high amounts of stress, this affects the thyroid by decreasing just how fast your body’s metabolism is working, which can lead to blood sugar issues and a reduction in important hormone production.
Stress and Hashimoto’s
Stress inadvertently affects the endocrine system and impacts the immune system to kickstart inflammation, both of which are associated with Hashimoto’s disease. One study in particular followed 60 women over the course of 8 weeks, all who presented with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis; over the course of two months the group that integrated stress-relieving techniques and a healthier daily routine (i.e. exercise and good eating habits) reduced their overall stress and anxiety levels, which in turn aided in reducing Hashimoto symptoms that correlate with thyroid autoantibodies.
How to Manage your Stress
Chronic stress can build up over time, and you might not even notice a negative change in your health and wellness…that is, until it’s too late! There are many ways that you can effectively beat stress naturally, but here are 3 simple reminders:
- For one, get enough sleep! Rest is huge in regards to maintaining a healthy thyroid, so setting good bedtime habits and routines will definitely be helpful in improving overall sleep quality.
- Second, ensure that you’re consuming a whole, nutrient-dense diet. Getting the right amount of whole food vitamins and minerals in your diet can certainly aid in supporting your thyroid, and improving overall health as well.
- Lastly, exercise! For some, this stress buster can be in the form of running, weight lifting, or team sports, while others it may look like yoga, meditation, tai chi, and going for walks. Whatever your method of exercise, just make sure that you’re doing it safely and efficiently!
If you need more help on how you can reduce stress (and in turn, manage symptoms of Hashimoto’s at the same time), please speak with your local functional medicine doctor in the Denver metro, Boulder area!
Let your Health (and tummy) soar,
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP