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Thyroid Nation

Dr. K discusses immune system basics for Hashimoto’s patients.

About 90 percent of hypothyroidism cases in the United States are due to Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. It’s important to identify Hashimoto’s because you then know it is the immune system you must address, although thyroid hormone medication may still be necessary.

How to test for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

In identifying Hashimoto’s, I test the blood for two antibodies that affect thyroid hormone production. These are:

If you test negative for Hashimoto’s but have symptoms

If the tests are negative but symptoms point to Hashimoto’s, I repeat the test since these antibodies are known to fluctuate. Also, results can be negative if the immune system is exhausted due to overwork and unable to produce enough antibodies for a positive result. Many times when people follow the autoimmune diet, antibody levels go up even though symptoms improve. This is because the immune system is able to recover enough to produce more antibodies. If you continue to follow the diet and autoimmune protocols, antibody levels should eventually drop as the immune system becomes more regulated.

Why antibody levels do not tell you the degree of autoimmunity

A mistake many people make is thinking low antibody levels mean their autoimmunity is not that bad, or that high antibody levels mean it is very bad. This can be true, but the opposite can be true as well. A person with low antibody levels can have terrible Hashimoto’s flare-ups while a person with higher antibody levels can be symptom-free and feel great. This is because the antibodies do not destroy the tissue themselves, they merely paint targets on it. It is up to the immune system to then decide whether it will attack the tissue with a knife or a blow torch. Of course, the most desirable outcome is to produce no antibodies to the tissue, which indicates the Hashimoto’s is in remission. But in the meantime, your symptoms will tell you more about the severity of your Hashimoto’s than your antibody panel.

The only exception to this is with antibodies to brain and nervous tissue–the higher they are the worse the autoimmune destruction.

why-symptoms-bookAvoiding Hashimoto’s triggers: Understanding TH-1 and TH-2

It’s also important to know if you have Hashimoto’s so you can avoid immune triggers that will worsen your thyroid condition. One well-documented trigger is gluten, the protein found in wheat. You may also need to follow the autoimmune diet as many Hashimoto’s patients are sensitive to other foods that can trigger a flare-up.

Other triggers can be found in common supplements. In order to know which supplements are safe for you, it’s helpful to know whether your autoimmune Hashimoto’s is TH-1 dominant or TH-2 dominant. (TH stands for T-helper cells.)

This involves identifying which aspect of the immune system response is hyperactive–the side that  deploys immune cells to attack the intruder–or the side that deploys antibodies to tag the intruder so it’s easier to find next time.

If you are TH-1 dominant, you are producing too many natural killer and cytotoxic T-cells. These are the ones that immediately attack the intruder.

If you TH-2 dominant, you’re flooding your system with B-cells. These are the antibodies that tag the intruder so it can be more quickly identified next time.

Different herbs and supplements stimulate either TH-1 or TH-2. When the immune system is imbalanced, these supplements can either worsen your Hashimoto’s or make you feel better, depending on your TH dominance.

Compounds that stimulate TH-1

(These stimulate TH-1 and dampen TH-2. Avoid if you are TH-1 dominant. If you are TH-2 dominant they may make you feel better.)

  • Astragalus
  • Echinacea
  • Beta-glucan mushroom
  • Maitake mushroom
  • Glycyrrhiza (from licorice)
  • Lemon balm

Compounds that stimulate TH-2

(These stimulate TH-2 and dampen TH-1. Avoid if you are TH-2 dominant. If you are TH-1 dominant they may make you feel better.)

  • Caffeine
  • Green tea extract
  • Grape seed extract
  • Pine bark extract
  • White willow bark
  • Lycopene
  • Pycnogenol

Some people have clear reactions to these compounds. I have known TH-1 dominant people who ate the perfect diet and could not figure out why their autoimmune condition was out of control. Turns out they drank echninacea tea daily. The same goes for TH-2 dominant people and green tea.

On the other hand, a TH-1 dominant person may feel better using compounds that activate TH-2, and vice versa. Stimulating the weaker TH helps many people restore balance and improve symptoms.

Also, some people are so immune reactive they react to everything on both lists. Other people find compounds on both lists help them. Another group finds no reaction to the compounds on either list. Although we can identify some basic immune mechanisms, it’s important to remember not everyone’s body “follows the rules,” so pay attention to your symptoms. Your practitioner also may be able to run a lab panel to test for a TH dominance, which is explained more in the thyroid book.

If you read the thyroid book you may notice resveratrol is no longer on the TH-2 list. This is because we now work with another TH system called TH-17. TH-17 promotes inflammation and tissue destruction regardless of your TH dominance. I have found that emulsified resveratrol and curcumin, in high therapeutic doses, work well together to dampen TH-17 in most people. However, if you are a sensitive TH-2 dominant person, you may want to slowly dose up on resveratrol in case it makes you feel worse.


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About the Author

dr-kharrazian-profileDatis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, MNeuroSci, FAACP, DACBN, DABCN, DIBAK, CNS is considered one of the leading experts in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, and complex neurological disorders. Patients from all over the world fly into his practice located in San Diego, California to understand his perspective regarding their condition and to apply natural medicine alternatives to help them improve their quality of life. Dr. Kharrazian has become the referral source for many doctors nationally and internationally when their cases becomes too complex to evaluate and diagnose. Dr. Kharrazian’s first book, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal? quickly became the best-selling thyroid book.  It has been listed as the number-one selling thyroid book on Amazon since its release in October of 2009. Dr. Kharrazian earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the State of New York with honors and his Doctor of Chiropractic degree graduating with honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences, where he was distinguished with the Mindlin Honors at Entrance Award, the Dean’s List, and the Delta Sigma Award for Academic Excellence. He has earned a Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, a Master of Neurological Sciences from the Carrick Institute of Graduate Studies, and a Doctor of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in health sciences with doctoral research in immunology at Nova Southeastern University.

Questions or anything to ask Dr. K about the immune system? We want your thoughts in the comments section–Please! You might be able to help someone else.