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An ongoing conversation on topics that matter to you — by Stephanie Ewals
Deciding to take on the Autoimmune Protocol was not easy for me. Here I am eleven months in to it though and it feels much like it did after having been gluten free for at least as long. It is sort of just second nature for me now. I have reintroduced most foods like green and red peppers, tomatoes, pepper and other spices, eggs and some grains like rice and corn (always organic, and only occasionally), legumes, peas and some seeds (only occasionally). I have not reintroduced any nuts because they had started to create an immediate reaction on my tongue and throat.
I reintroduced eggs in the form of carob brownies. That was a big mistake. I should have reintroduced them the way suggested in all the autoimmune books out there where you take a small amount, wait 15 minutes then add a little more. I just don’t usually have the patience or the time to do such a thing so I just go with the flow. I made these brownies from a recipe I had found via google and ate half the pan in 12 hours. It was a small pan and only two eggs were in the whole recipe so I thought it would be fine. Nope. It was not. I found myself extremely irritable and really irate over little things the next day (like in the 13th and 14th hours of consuming these brownies). I flipped out on my kids over a power cord that had gone missing. I couldn’t stand to be with myself. It is hard enough to be a parent and then you throw in all this autoimmune stuff on top of it. Man, I feel sorry for my kids. So, knowing that the eggs were the only new ingredient that I had not eaten in 8 months means that they are more than likely a forever no food for me. A couple weeks later I ate some gluten free crackers with hummus. Turns out they had egg yolks in them (no wonder they were so good) which I realized after eating them when I read the package. Same thing happened again except not as intense.
I have not yet reintroduced eggplant mostly because I only eat it once or twice a year in a Paleo lasagna dish from the Everyday Paleo Italian Cuisine cookbook by Sarah Fragoso.
I have learned a lot about myself these last eleven months. I have a strained relationship with food that goes back many many years. Doing this elimination diet has taught me a lot about that relationship and also:
I needed to eat more vegetables and particularly greens.
I am one of those people who uses carbohydrates for energy way better than fat. I took an Organic Acids Test with a friend who is studying with Dan Kalish and she discovered my cells can’t convert fat and protein to energy as well as they can carbohydrates. This, combined with my Hashimoto’s means I should be eating way more quality carbohydrates than I was. If I am being honest with you, most of my diet consisted of proteins, fat and sweet potatoes with a vegetable in the evenings at dinner. This here speaks volumes to my relationship with food. I know better for goodness sake, I am a Nutritional Therapist. More than half my plate at each meal, including breakfast is veggies which has helped me feel so much better, especially when it comes to the energy I am feeling.
2. I need to practice better self care.
I had gotten pretty good at allowing myself to sleep in when I didn't’ sleep well the night before. I didn’t worry too much about the laundry piling up and not getting folded for weeks.I let myself be okay with that or at least I tried. If I was too tired after cooking a meal or batch cooking for a few days worth of food, I just let the kitchen be dirty. I left the dishes unwashed until the next morning when I knew I would have enough energy to clean up. Sometimes my husband would take care of it if he was home. That would always be an extra bonus. I worked really hard on not feeling like a failed wife and mother if the house was a pit. I knew I had a lot on my plate and still do with three kids, a husband who travels for his job, owning my own business and all the other stuff that comes with life. What I wasn’t good at was forgiveness. Forgiving my body for being in dis-ease. Forgiving myself for getting my body to the point of dis-ease. I needed to work on just letting go. On not taking shit so personally all the time. I had to let go of wanting to control all the outcomes. Of wanting to control how my body was behaving. Letting go of my kids not being little people anymore but kids who need to grow themselves and make their own decisions and their own mistakes. I had to work on letting go of all the stuff my husband did or said that irritated me. I had to learn to respond to things, life, better. I have had to work on not sweating the small stuff. I am a work in progress. I am okay with that most days. I have started to meditate more and that has been so helpful.
3. I need to forge and nurture friendship.
I am an introvert. I am also a homebody. I don’t love crowded places all that much. My close friendships are few and far between with my best girlfriend living 4000 miles away. This makes it a little hard to go out for coffee (or tea for AIP) on a whim. She did just come visit me though so we are both a bit recharged for the time being. My therapist tells me that it is important for me to work on relationships so that I can remain “recharged”.
I changed my diet six years ago. I started out being just gluten free, then dairy free, then more Paleo except I ate a ton of organic corn chips…. These changes brought about changes in relationships too. My parents quit inviting us over for dinner. My friends thought I was on some freakish health kick. They probably thought, “oh boy, here we go again..”. I lost some friends. They quit asking me to go out for girls night. Some other things happened too that broke up my core group of friends that had nothing to do with me and so I was really starting over in the friendship department and after I started looking after my health and going to school for nutrition, I just didn’t work to keep those relationships good. I found new friends who thought more like me when it came to health and wellness. I have to work to keep and maintain those friends which I am never really super good at so here is to changing that about myself! Growing and nurturing these friendships so they are stronger will be key to maintaining some sort of wellness. Community is important for everyone but most especially when you are working on getting well again.
4. I need to learn balance.
Being so restrictive with a diet like the autoimmune protocol can lead you down a path to disordered eating. You have to be able to find a happy medium. I found myself worrying about every little thing I ate. I stressed out over how I was going to do this or that when i could only eat these few things. First of all, I had to look at this from a whole different perspective. There really is a lot of foods you can have on the autoimmune protocol. A lot of vegetables. A lot of starches. A lot of fish. A lot of offal. I don’t like fish, seafood or organs and have no plans in the immediate future to make any of them a regular part of my diet. I know it is key to healing on AIP. I am not there. I don't’ tell my clients they have to eat it but that they should. I also tell them I don’t eat it.
I have not had a health relationship with food. I was/am addicted to sugar. I was/am a snacker. I like junk food. I still snack and eat some junk only now junk food consits of sweet potato chips or plantain chips. I maybe snack too often still but usually it is when i am stressed or when I have not eaten enough and am still hungry. What I am working on is not feeling bad or guilty about eating something. The stress of that just makes healing take longer because your cortisol and adrenal glands get involved in stress and they contribute to my already screwed up system. We are all works in progress, right. Strive for progress, not perfection.
The other day I went out for lunch with a colleague and friend. We ate at a really high quality restaurant that sources locally when possible. I ordered a chicken curry dish. It had peppers and rice and I ate it full well knowing that I may have some issue later but I didn’t stress about it. I enjoyed it rather than stress about what was on the menu. Sometimes I found myself in a restaurant, usually with family, where my choices were few. I look back now and see that sometimes I took it personally that there were few items on the menu for me to eat. Now I see how ridiculous that is but I am pretty sure I am not alone in that thought process. Not taking it personally any more but that doesn’t mean I don't’ get a little frustrated when the menu sucks.
5. I will not and cannot identify as being sick or having an illness.
I do not want to let my autoimmune diseases get in my way of living. I don’t want them to take over my life so I don’t let them have top billing. I am me first. I am a mother, a wife and a business owner. I am a Nutritional Therapist. I am living with Hashimoto’s and Psoriasis but they do not own me. They do not take over my life. Sometimes they remind me to slow down. To eat a little better and to relax but they will not be me.
Autoimmune disease comes in all different forms. I have been on the autoimmune protocol for about 11 months. I spent a whole year before going on it contemplating whether or not I should do it.
It is daunting. Overwhelming. A. Lot. Of. Work. All that cooking. I got used to it.
I had questions. What will I be able to eat? Will I be able to go out to eat? Will I be able to have any fun? What will a social situation look like? I adapted.
I have had such a love for food my whole life. It was my friend when there was no one else. It was love. It was comfort. It was my everything. It was the way I showed love or that I cared about someone. I cooked for them. I baked. I loved to bake. Bread, cake, cookies, brownies, muffins, more bread, more cake. What my kids didn’t eat I did. I love sweet things. I love chocolate. I loved sugar. None of this is allowed on the autoimmune protocol. So, you bet, I took a long damn time to decide to do this knowing what I would have to further cut from my diet. We can be positive and say, “Look at all the good stuff you CAN have.” Well. You can have a lot of stuff. Lots of vegetables. Veggies up the wazoo. You can have beef heart! And Liver! Yum! Do you hear the sarcasm? When 39 years of your life is consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD), this feels like kind of a big deal. Especially if you have emotional ties to food.
I know I am supposed to be eating those nutrient dense offal things. I am not because I can’t get past the idea of what it is. The texture even. Gah! No thanks.
When I did this. I was all in with what needed to be restricted. But I was not adding in any offal. So I didn’t and you know what? I still felt really good. My thyroid numbers got better. Then, as I started to feel better I added some foods back in. Not in the “proper” way but in a way that worked for me which was like this: You put pepper on that meat? Okay. Let’s see if I have a reaction to it…. No reaction. Okay. Pepper seems to work.
One day in August I made plantain brownies with carob. The recipe called for 2 eggs. I ate half the pan in about 12 hours and had a major reaction but it wasn’t how I expected. Not even 12 hours in to eating those brownies did I become so irritable that I could not even stand myself. I couldn’t believe it. I was raging. My poor kids. So, no eggs for me. I reinforced that idea when I mistakenly ate some gluten free crackers that had egg yolks (no wonder they were so good) as a snack before bed and the next day became increasingly irritable. That really bums me out. I liked eggs. I know that I dot’ want to live life in a state of constant rage though so I am willing to cut them out. I am not happy about it. Don’t get me wrong. I am actually a little pissed. I have a pity party every so often and do the whole “why me?” thing but then I let it go. The more I do that the worse it gets.
Now it is 11 months in and I have let some things slip. I have a vegan gluten free bread every so often and some Mary’s Gone Crackers crackers on occasion. They don’t seem to wreck my digestion and if I don’t eat them every day it seems to be fine.
I have decided that if I am so restrictive with my diet, I am unhappy. I do my very best most of the time and on occasion I do enjoy something off the protocol and I don’t feel bad for it. I still always eat gluten free but occasionally have some dairy. Dairy and I don’t get along so if I have it, it is usually just a tiny bit. Like a lick of ice cream or a dab of butter. I definitely feel better when I stick closer to the protocol. I have not reintroduced peppers or eggplant but have done well with some of the nightshade spices like chili powder. I am not so sure on tomatoes though. I have to do a "real" reintro to know for sure. That would mean just eating tomato instead of adding tomato in to a recipe and wondering if that is what has caused the issue. I'm not very diligent about doing a proper reintro of a food. I let life get in the way.
The real killer for me is sugar. I am addicted and I have intense cravings which are related to a yeast overgrowth which I am working on killing off. Too much sugar has resulted in me having to deal with psoriasis and this last go round with it gave me two new patches to deal with. Needless to say I got really mad when these popped up. I first got mad at myself for eating stuff I know is bad for me and then I got mad that I just can’t be normal. That is the most frustrating part for me. I just want to be like every one else sometimes and I can’t. When I look back on my life though it seems like I never have been able to be like every one else. When I try to be I find Idon’t feel like myself. So I have come to realize that my path is to take the road less traveled and see what I find. For me that is this new life of stress management, sleeping when I need to and eating so that I don’t continue to stay sick. Being well means different things for different people and my mission is to help you figure out what well means for you.
What do you do that makes you feel good?
I failed a bit this week. I enjoyed some chocolate and a Coconut Secret coconut bar made of chocolate, coconut, coconut sugar and mint. I really enjoyed it, twice. Plus I had a truffle. They all were good. I have not had any flares or issues except now that I think of it, I have had disturbed sleep this week. See how it pays to pay attention to your body and how it is trying to speak to you. I was unprepared and hungry with the first coconut bar and the rest is history. I am an addict and sugar is my drug.
Over the last week I ate well aside from the coconut bar slip ups. I ate a lot of salads, I made chicken bone broth in my Instant Pot and then chicken soup which always disappoints my family because they like to have noodles and there are no noodles on AIP or Paleo. They ate it only because it was the only option and it was delicious. When the AIP cook is cooking, you get what you get.
We tend to eat pretty simple and this week was no different. I made a couple meals for my kids while my husband was traveling that we don’t have often. They had gluten free pepperoni pizza and I made a pizza out of no mato sauce (I don’t have a link to one that I have tried and loved) and the Russ’ Flatbread recipe from The Paleo Approach Cookbook. I added artichokes, kalamata olives and onions to it and baked it until crisp. It was good but it was way too much tapioca starch for me. I ended up with a rock in my gut and a headache the next day. We also went out to eat one day and I was not sure if I would have any thing to eat so I brought along some Epic bars but they had prime rib on the menu so I had that with some veggies for dinner and it was delicious. It was not grass fed but this is one of those situations where you do the best you can with what you have, eat it, enjoy it and move on. I did just that and was quite happy afterwards.
When on the Autoimmune Protocol we can eat a very large amount of vegetables. They are not only filling but you cannot usually over do it and there are so many different things you can do with them. They are also loaded with fiber.
Why is fiber important?
It keeps you regular. It slows down the release of insulin and you may find your inflammation levels go down. It feeds the bugs in your digestive tract and keeps the bad bacteria or pathogens in balance. The fiber that is best for your digestive tract was talked about in Episode 12 of The Real World Paleo Podcast and it is the prebiotic fiber. This is fiber that you cannot digest but the good bacteria in your gut thrive and grow on it. This can help regulate your immune system which is what we autoimmune sufferers are after, right?
The bugs in your gut play a crucial role in your immune function. You have many different kinds of cells that work to keep you healthy. Some of these are called immune cells and more specifically things like natural killer cells, T cells and more. If your gut is off, so will be your immune cells. Your immune system launches attacks on unknown organisms or things they mistake for non self (like your thyroid which results in autoimmune thyroid issues).
According to the USDA Americans consume around 12% plant foods and about 63% processed foods. No wonder we are all sick! Fiber comes from plants only. When you embark on the Paleo diet and then the Autoimmune Protocol you find yourself eating all kinds of new veggies and even acquiring a taste for them. I used to hate beets and squash (I prefer certain squashes over others still) and even sweet potatoes were gross to me. Now, I eat those things regularly and even have a taste for them. I prefer my beets raw and shredded on a salad or made in to a salad of its own.
Eating foods in their whole form will keep you healthy and help reduce any risk of type 2 diabetes as well as keep cancer at bay. Fiber and whole foods help reduce your risk of heart disease too. It doesn’t matter where the fiber comes from as long as it is from vegetables and plenty of them.
How will you get your veggies in?
I did not love veggies. I grew up eating carrot and celery sticks and canned corn and peas. Not a lot of variety on the dinner table at my house. We might have had salad on occasion too and I love salad now but it gets old eating that every day for lunch. I didn’t eat broccoli until I started dating this guy (my husband) and he made it for me.
The options are endless
- Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon or shredded and made in to a cole slaw like salad.
- Cauliflower roasted, made in to soup or the ever popular caulifried rice.
- Butternut squash roasted with cinnamon, made in to a chili or a soup, made in to noodles.
- Green Beans roasted, steam sautéed, added to soups.
- Carrots can be shredded and put on salad, roasted, steamed, used in soups or eaten raw.
- Root veggies like parsnips, rutabaga and the like can be roasted, mashed, made in to “fries”, or used in soups.
- Greens like chard, kale, or beet greens can be sautéed, used in salads or soups.
- Asparagus are great roasted with olive oil and lemon.
- Broccoli is great roasted.
- Sweet potatoes can be mashed, baked, fried, sliced and baked, made in to chips or fries.
You can take just about any veggie you want and put it on a salad.
As I have said before your options are endless with this diet and vegetables. You can include Acorn squash (great stuffed with pork and spices), beets, plantains, taro, yams, cassava, tapioca, yucca. These are all what you might call more dense because they are starchier. You may do well with some and not so well with others.
- Any greens like arugula are great options to add to salads. Basil is another good addition.
- Onions, leeks, shallot, green onions or scallions and garlic all all flavor enhancers.
- Artichokes, avocados, fennel, zucchini, radishes.
- Bok choy, cabbage, celery, chicory, cucumbers, water chestnuts, kohlrabi and many many more.
So with that, I leave you with a recipe for my beet salad that I have adapted from my NTA instructor. It is delicious and I dare you to give it a try. It is fantastic for your liver and gallbladder.
Beet Salad also known as Liver Gallbladder Salad
- 1 large beet shredded (in a food processor is easiest)
- 2-3 med carrots shredded
- 1 bunch of dandelion greens or cilantro chopped
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 Tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
- juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 to 1 tsp salt
Combine shredded beets, carrots and either cilantro or dandelion greens in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine dressing ingredients (oil, acv, lemon juice) and mix well. Add to bowl of veggies tossing until combined and sprinkle with salt taste.
This gets better after a couple days in the fridge.
Tell me in the comments what your favorite vegetable is and how you like to cook it.
There is a face of Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism. That face is your neighbor. That face is your co worker. That face is your boss. That face is the person checking you out at the store.
It is estimated that 12% of Americans have or will have a thyroid problem in their lifetime. Around 20 million Americans have either hypo or hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s or Graves disease. It is estimated that 60% of those people don’t even know they have it but I bet they probably feel like crap.
Women are more likely to have a thyroid condition compared to men.
There are something like 300 different symptoms of thyroid disease.
There are receptors in every cell of your body for thyroid hormones. The thyroid runs your metabolism. It is the breaks in your car. When you need to slow down, your thyroid puts the breaks on everything. And then you start to feel it.
I had just had a baby when my thyroid quit on me. I had a toddler and and infant and I would wake up after 8 hours of sleep and feel like I had not slept at all. I was so tired all the time. Then it became an effort to me to take care of my kids but and I still didn’t go to the doctor. I remember feeling like it was so much effort to write a check out to pay a bill. I had trouble holding the pen in my hand and using enough pressure to make it work to write. I remember how much effort it was to speak. It felt like my tongue was heavy. Finally I went to the doctor for something else and he asked if there was anything else he needed and I just mentioned how tired I was but had attributed that to having a toddler and an infant. Who wouldn’t be tired, right!? He decided to test my thyroid with a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test and sent me on my way. Turns out my TSH was around 150 when he considered normal to be around 5 so he put me on levothyroxine and tested my TSH for the next few months until he found a dose that brought my TSH to an acceptable level for him.
I thought I was going to be alright. Truthfully, I have not really felt like myself since that original diagnosis but I quit looking to feel like that old person and have embraced the challenges I have faced since being diagnosed. I went 8 years before I realized my diet played a huge role in how good I would and could feel. I also went 8 or so years before being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Most people who are hypothyroid actually have Hashimoto’s but are not diagnosed because the standard of care does not change. You get your TSH tested. It continually rises and your medication has to be adjusted. That is it.
When I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s I was actually a bit relieved because I felt like I had some control about what I could do to feel better. I went from feeling great most of the time to feeling bad most of the time. It is so frustrating to feel bad all the time. To have blood sugar regulation problems and have your adrenals not working properly so that you are exhausted after doing some laundry is really frustrating. Especially when you don’t know how to fix it. Getting that diagnosis put my health back in to my own hands and I was able to fix a lot. I changed my diet. I went gluten free first. Then I had some food sensitivity testing done and went dairy free (something I suspected I needed to do based on how terrible I felt after eating ice cream) and had to cut out some other foods as well. That was a first big step and a pretty big adjustment but I wanted so badly to feel better that it was something I was willing to do.
I also needed to get my blood sugar under control. I was a sugar lover. I needed sugar and refined carbs to get me through the day. At least that is what I told myself. Cutting out sugar was one of the best things I ever did. Managing my sugar intake also meant that my adrenals would be in better shape and so would my hormones.
I was eventually led to a more nutrient dense whole foods diet and am now experimenting with an Autoimmune protocol which eliminates nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants), eggs, nuts, and grains (I might be forgetting something). I decided to go AIP because I still didn’t feel good despite doing everything right. I think there may be some heavy metal toxicity as my root cause but have not had any testing done to find out for sure. As it goes with Hashimoto’s, there is an immune system dysfunction and something to have caused that dysfunction to occur.
Not really feeling well after five years of diet and lifestyle changes led me to realize that I needed to fix the root cause and I also needed to find a doctor that would treat my symptoms as well as my lab work. I found a happy medium with a holistic MD that takes insurance so she does not have access to some of the tests that might find my root cause but for now I am okay with that. She was willing to prescribe natural desiccated thyroid medication because they synthetic levothyroxine was not working.
My dose was recently increased and it made me feel worse. The biggest affect from the medication change for me was that I was not sleeping. I would be jolted awake 2-3 nights a week at around 3 am and never would fall back asleep. I asked my doctor to change my meds back and she wanted to wait. I had gotten just enough meds to get me through until I needed more blood work so I asked them for a bit more to get me through to the next draw. I knew in my gut that the medication was causing me to wake up but felt a little helpless to do anything about it because even my holistic doctor wouldn’t change it for me just yet. She had me taking half a dose (cutting a pill in half) in the morning and half a dose in the early afternoon. Turns out that is not a good idea either because there is no real way to make sure each half of the pill has the same amount of thyroid hormone in it. That first half dose could have little to no thyroid hormone in it while the second half had most of the thyroid hormone in it. There is just no way to know. So, the only way I was able to sleep would be to take only half a pill or no pill at all and neither of those choices were a good idea long term.
The clinic called in a prescription for me to get me through until my next blood draw and when I went to pick it up I asked to see the ingredient list for the meds. The pharmacy couldn’t find it and I asked to see the bottle so I could take a photo of it. When they showed me the bottle I told them that is not the medication I was taking previously. They told me that they had run out of that and had this one in stock and so they filled my prescription with that. I knew that pharmacies could and did do this but it never occurred to me that it would happen to me. First I was glad because the medication they switched me to was the medication I had wanted my doctor to let me try. Then I got a little angry. I thought to myself, If I am this sensitive to a medication change, I wonder how many other thyroid patients are also. I told the pharmacy they should not switch up thyroid meds like that on people because many of us are extremely sensitive to changes like that and we might not know what is causing the problem. Some people do well on a specific medication and it should never be changed on them.
If you are doing well on your medication, make sure you get the same medication EVERY time you go get your prescription. You can have your doctor make a note in the prescription they write for you to the pharmacy so that a change like that doesn’t happen to you. This particular medication that I didn’t ask for happened to be a good thing but that is not always the case. I am happy to report that I have slept really well since the change in medication even with a full dose.
If you take anything away from this story, know that you can have some control over how hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s will affect you and your body. You don’t have to feel terrible. You don’t have to be tired. You don’t have to give up and you don’t have to be a victim to this disease.
You can be happy. You can have energy. You can feel good again!
Tell me in the comments how thyroid disease has made you feel and if or what you have done to feel better.
Thyroid problems affect around 27 million people in the United States. It is possible that you can have problems with your thyroid even if your doctor has tested you and the results came out “normal”. Your thyroid is your body’s engine and it decides how fast or slow your internal systems work.
When it is doing its job you feel great. When your thyroid decides it’s time to hit the brakes you feel the weight creeping on, no matter how hard you try to keep it off. You are tired ALL OF THE TIME no matter how much sleep you get. You can’t remember things or think clearly anymore and you think it’s just a part of getting older or busier with life. You’re not able to go to the bathroom regularly possibly and no matter the weather you are always freaking cold.
Possible signs your thyroid is off (hypo):
- morning headaches that wear off as the day progresses
- sensitive to cold weather
- poor circulation in your hands and feet
- muscle cramps
- easily catch colds or viruses and recovering takes longer
- your cuts heal slowly
- you don’t have enough stomach acid affecting digestion
- your skin itches and is dry
- you retain water (edema)
- the outer 1/3 of your eyebrows are either gone or are thinning
You may have one or several of these symptoms all pointing to hypothyroidism and your TSH tested by your doctor can show normal. The thing with the lab ranges in conventional medicine are that they are based on the labs taken in prior years from sick and healthy patients. So all those people who went in for a thyroid test and had “normal” labs but left their doctors office still feeling like crap and for all those who had slightly elevated TSH levels but not high enough for the doctor to decide to put them on medication, your levels are compared to theirs.
So here’s the thing, testing just TSH is not enough. I will explain more in a bit but first let’s look at the way things are supposed to work.
- Your thyroid produces T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothryronine)- only about 7% of what is produced is T3.
- Thyroid hormones travel through the blood stream bound to proteins that take them to your cells.
- Once they are dropped off at your cells where they do their work they are called “free”
- T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone used by the body
- T4 is supposed to be converted in to T3. This mostly happens in the liver but the conversion takes place in other cells like nerve cells and muscle tissue like your heart.
- Your body uses about 60% of the T4 produced. Some of the T4 is changed in to rT3 (reverse T3) making it unusable. Another 20% or so becomes active in the gut by your healthy bacteria. Your thyroid function depends on the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Here is why TSH is not enough to know if your thyroid is working properly. TSH stands for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. It is a hormone released by your pituitary gland (your brain). This should not be the only test looked at to measure a functioning thyroid.
Let’s look at the possible tests that can measure thyroid function.
- TSH as talked about above.
- Total thyroxine (TT4) measures the level bound with proteins and the levels not bound with proteins. This one doesn’t tell you much unless you measure the amount of T3 taken up by the cells or T3 uptake.
- Free Thyroxine Index (FTI) tells you how much thyroid hormone is free or not bound with a protein.
- Free Thyroxine (FT4) measures the amount of active T4 in the blood. This will be low if you are hypothyroid.
- Resin T3 Uptake (T3RU) measures how many proteins are in the blood for binding to the thyroid hormone
- Free Triiodothyroxine (FT3) measures what is not bound to proteins and available for use by the cells.
- Reverse T3 (rT3) measures the amount of inactive T3. More T3 becomes inactive when we are facing stressful situations both emotionally and physically.
- Thyroid Binding Globulin (TGB) measure the amount of proteins in our blood bringing thyroid hormones to the cells.
- Thyroid Antibodies (TPO Ab and TGB Ab) will measure whether or not your immune system has produced antibodies against your thyroid indicating Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease.
If you have Hashimoto’s, in addition to the symptoms listed above you may also have the following:
- heart palpitations
- inward trembling
- increased pulse rate even when sedentary
- feeling nervous or emotionally stressed
- night sweats
- trouble gaining weight
Your inability to stay warm, chronic constipation, irregular periods or weight you can’t get rid of- these are signs from your body that something isn’t right. The systems within your body are speaking to you, maybe even yelling at you. When your thyroid slows down, so does everything else. It is not all in your head.
In Hashimoto’s the body attacks and destroys its own thyroid gland. Your immune system is running the show, not your thyroid. It is called Autoimmune Disease. Dr.’s generally don’t test you for it because it doesn’t change how they will care for you. They are going to give you your prescription and monitor the slow decline of your thyroid and adjust your medication accordingly. That is the standard practice. It is what they are taught.
What they are not usually taught is that you can manage your symptoms very well nutritionally because when you have Hashimoto’s you can do things to calm your immunes system the heck down.
Around one in five people suffer from an autoimmune disease and it is estimated that around 30 million of those are women. The most common autoimmune diseases are thyroid related. That is around 7% or the U.S. population.
If you suspect you may have Hashimoto’s you can ask your doctor to test your antibodies. If he or she won’t do it, find a doctor who will. It may take some leg work depending on where you live but you can find one.
The test can show up as negative if your not having a flare up because your immune system can swing. If this happens, ask to have it tested again in a month or two.
Your thyroid can go from over active to under active from week to week or month to month. It can be because of a trigger such as a stressful event or even for no reason at all. Every time thyroid tissue is damaged the hormones stored there are released in to the blood stream causing a flood of hormone which will speed things up making you feel hyperthyroid.
Having this happen along with being gluten intolerant (you probably are), having celiac disease or being diagnosed with pernicious anemia is a sure fire sign you have autoimmunity.
If you have Hashimoto’s then there is a good chance some of your thyroid has been destroyed so you will probably have to take your medication for the rest of your life. I lived with hyperthyroidism for ten years before being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s so I am one of those people.
Everyone is different so how your body decides to react will not be the same as someone else.
Most cases of hypothyroidism are also Hashimoto’s cases. The reason for this is not clear but it is clear what you can do to help prevent further flare ups.
Like I said earlier, there is a good chance you are gluten intolerant. Every time you consume gluten you are causing an immune response in the body. The gluten molecules are very close in molecular structure to those of the thyroid gland. So close that your immune system has trouble knowing which one is which.
How in the world does this happen?
If you have an Autoimmune disease you have increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Around 80% of Americans are genetically susceptible to gluten intolerance where gluten will damage the intestinal tract causing little openings where the undigested gluten can reach the blood stream. Some of us have the ability to repair that damage better than others. If you are one of those who can’t repair the damage as well then you end up with an autoimmune disease.
When your immune system defines gluten as the enemy, your time with bread is over. Every time you consume anything with gluten in it, your immune system is on high alert. You will be inflamed and your thyroid tissue is attacked. This inflammation can show up in a variety of ways like achy joints, rashes, respiratory issues etc. Again, it is all depending on how your body wants to react. Everyone is different.
Gluten isn’t the only big player in Hashimoto’s but it is a pretty big one. Some other things you will need to look at are:
- blood sugar imbalances
- your stress level- lifestyle is huge for managing this and any autoimmune disease
- vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- how toxic your environment is- your liver plays a role in converting thyroid hormones which it can’t do if it is over burdened with toxins and sugar
- whether or not you are on birth control pills or your hormone production in general
- besides gluten, what does your diet look like
- are you making enough stomach acid
- do you take or do you need probiotics
If any one of the above is out of balance you have work to do. Getting these things in balance is key to managing autoimmune disease.
Managing your blood sugar is important for more than just thyroid function. Most of us have too much sugar in our diets which affect our thyroid and other hormones including those that manage stress such as cortisol.
Cortisol is a key player in your stress management too. Do you take time for yourself? Do you exercise to manage stress? Do you do yoga or meditate?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies play a role in how well your body can do the things it needs to do for good health. If you are not digesting your food because of low stomach acid or eating the Standard American Diet you are deficient in not only vitamins and minerals but in nourishment in general.
We live in a toxic world. Your liver must be the one to clean up all the crap we take in through what we breathe, eat and put on our body.
Birth control pills create too much estrogen in the body which makes your pituitary (brain) tired and creates too many proteins for your thyroid hormones to bind to. This means you won’t have enough thyroid hormone floating through the blood to do its job.
Remember that some 20% of thyroid hormone becomes active in the gut in the presence of healthy bacteria there. If your gut flora is out of balance which is the case for many people, then you will have less active hormone to work with. You will also have the possibility of digestive issues of all kinds.
You may be one of the 27 million Americans with thyroid problems but you don’t have to be one who is suffering through it. Or maybe you know someone who has hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s and they don’t know what to do.
Share this article with someone you care about. There is help out there and there is someone who genuinely cares that can help them.
Traveling somewhere you don’t have control over the food you will be served? Are you gluten free and going to your in laws for dinner and they don’t plan to have anything for you? What about a friends house? For whatever reason you are on a gluten free diet, this can be a little annoying. I don’t ever expect people to cater to my food intolerances but boy is it nice to go somewhere where you don’t have to worry about what is in your food. That being said, I always come prepared or full when we are going out.
For those of you who don’t know what gluten is, it is a protein component of grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and triticale (a rye and wheat hybrid) among others. If you are really sensitive or have Celiac Disease you would need to add oats to the grains you should not consume. Oats can be certified gluten free though so if you like your oats and you do okay with them, go certified gluten free.
Whether you have Celiac, Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or you just want to be gluten free I have some great tips to help you travel short or long distances and not have to starve or succumb to the dinner that you will pay for later with your health.
The key to travel is to BE PREPARED.
Pack a cooler if you can. When we travel to friends or family out of town I always pack a cooler. It can be a pain and it gets old having to always do it but if I don’t I will be miserable or end up eating a bunch of junk that I will later regret (or should I say my digestive system will regret). Sometimes I use an opportunity like this to have things I don’t eat on a regular basis like hummus, eggs, packaged non dairy milks like almond or rice.
What to put in your cooler:
- Fresh veggies and hummus
- Apples and really good cheese
- Chicken salad
- Deviled eggs
- Almond milk for mixing in protein powder or having cereal if you eat it.
- Gluten Free summer sausage and lunch meats
- Salad with chicken, ham, turkey or left over steak
- Olive oil, coconut oil, and/or grass fed butter
If you are bringing along some kind of milk you can also pack something like Nature’s Earthly Choice “cereal”. If you are bringing protein powder along you can get little single serve packets at your local food co-op. I don’t recommend eating protein powder on a regular basis but it is nice to have on occasions like we are talking about.
Cooler not an option? No worries. You can still pack some great food. I usually pack a treat or two for myself since I don’t have them very often.
No cooler options:
- Apples and nut butter (Justins single serve packets)
- Nuts and Seeds (preferably soaked, sprouted and dehydrated but do what you can)
- Anything from Steve’s Paleo Goods (my favorites are the Paleo Kits and Paleo Bar)
- Epic Bars
- Tanka Bars
- Enjoy Life not nuts! Seed and Fruit Mix (I like Mountain Mambo- this is my treat)
- Canned sardines, tuna or wild caught salmon
- Dr. In the Kitchen Seedsters (sprouted seed snacks)
- Homemade trail mix
- Power Nuggz
I also bake some things to take with me that travel reasonably well. Usually muffins of some kind. One of my favorites is the Apple Streusel Egg Muffins from Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo. These are so tasty and filling.
Notice there are very few options that are sugary. The only one would be the Enjoy Life not nuts! Seed and Fruit Mix. The sugar content is on the high side for me but it is a treat and not something I eat regularly. The reason for the lower sugar options is because sugar will not fill you up and provides zero nutrients. It isn’t something I would rely on when traveling. The point is to pack nutrient dense foods that will nourish and fill you up. A little bit of fat goes a long way to keeping you satiated. This will help you stick to eating the way you should or want to and keep your digestive system happy.
Traveling longer distances can be a challenge. When traveling to Amsterdam a few years ago with friends I ordered a gluten free meal for my plane ride. I wasn’t so sure that was going to work out so I ate at the airport before we boarded. Some airports have some great food options for those of us on restricted diets and the Minneapolis airport is great. I ate a burger without a bun before getting on the plane which was a good thing because the airline didn’t have a gluten free meal for me. The flight attendants were helpful and put together a salad for me which was nice. I had a bag full of jerky just in case though.
Once we arrived at our hotel in Amsterdam one of the first things I did was check with the hotel if they had a refrigerator for my room. They didn’t but hey were happy to let me put food in their refrigerator. Off the grocery store we went and I bought cereal and rice milk (a treat for me) and prepackaged veggies and beans. I brought lots of nuts in my bag so almost daily my lunch was nuts, jerky and veggies. It worked out pretty well and we had a good time.
Do you have any gluten free travel tips to share? Leave them in the comments.
Happy, Healthy Travels to You!