I thought I ate pretty healthy, I was mostly gluten-free, I didn’t drink a whole lot, and I ate my fruits and veggies every day. I loved my coffee, but wasn’t one to add sugar to it. I never felt I had a problem with dairy and so that was a fairly big part of my everyday diet. I thought I was doing everything right. I first eliminated gluten when I was newly diagnosed, not because it was advised but because I wanted to lose weight. Within 8 months, I had lost nearly 80 pounds, my hair was longer and thicker than ever, my nails were strong, I had loads of energy and for the first time in my life I had felt truly happy. That did not last very long.
Everything began to shut down. I was 19 years old when I noticed bald spots on my head (after years of not being able to grow my hair), unexplainable weight gain, severe exhaustion, the inability to concentrate on anything, a lack of ambition and a constant state of depression followed by uncontrollable anxiety. My physical, emotional and mental states were on thin ice. Nobody knew what I was going through, for the first while I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know what was going on myself. After about a year of dealing with this and noticing it progressively get worse, I knew I had to do something. If you read Part 1 of my remission series you will know that my doctor wasn’t exactly helpful. After a prolonged period of time, I finally met my naturopathic doctor. That is when everything changed for me.
Naturopathic Health Care
I consider myself immensely privileged to have grown up in Canada with access to universal health care that meant “doctor shopping” wasn’t costing my family anything. I couldn’t imagine having to pay out of pocket for the atrocious experiences I had with physicians, wasted blood work that told me nothing, and useless prescription medicines. This form of care, like so many others across the world, did not work for me. Though I now have a well-respected, female MD who recently became a full-time physician, my naturopathic doctor is my main doctor. She is the one I go to when I need health advice, when I feel changes in my body that I am struggling to understand and when I have any questions or concerns about my health.
I know that not everyone has access to this kind of health care. I know that I am extremely lucky to have it, and I don’t take that for granted. Keeping in mind that bio-individuality means every patient’s treatment plan will look different, there are some tips and tricks that every Hashimoto’s patient should try when developing their best-suited plan of action.
But first, let’s get you clear on the goals of naturopathic medicine as a primary method of health care.
What Naturopathic Medicine Aims to Do
1. Treat the whole person
Naturopathic medicine aims to treat the whole being, not just the illness, the symptom or the feeling. Naturopathic doctors understand that at least 75% of chronic health conditions are preventable, not only is this reason enough to want to work towards effective preventative treatments, but it could save anywhere from $217 billion to 1.3 trillion dollars over the next ten years. Naturopathic medicine is a primary method of health care that encourages self-healing through natural therapies, traditional therapies and modern methods to heal the entire person.
2. Doctor as Teacher
Naturopathic medicine educates patients to become advocates of their health, to take control and to develop the tools needed to discover their individualized health protocols. Naturopathic doctors work to educate their patients so that they can not only overcome illness and health struggles but so that they can maintain their health long into the future.
3. Prevent Illness and Promote Health
Naturopathic medicine is designed as a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach to care. If we can prevent illness with the tools provided by our naturopathic doctors, we can change the course of medicine for future generations and prevent the cycle of chronic illness from continuing down our family lines. Approximately three quarters of deaths in 2020 will be caused by chronic health conditions, so if we are actively working to prevent them, imagine the lives that can be saved, including your own.
4. Identify and Treat Root Cause
There is always a root cause behind symptoms, naturopathic doctors aim to discover what causes our ailments rather than prescribing pills to silence the symptoms our body is trying to communicate to us. Chronic illness does not just magically appear one day, it is the perfect storm of root causes banded together that ultimately lead to your diagnosis.
5. Use the Healing Power of Nature
Naturopathic doctors utilize natural therapies that are non-invasive or toxic. They understand that as humans we are designed to heal and to overcome illness with the appropriate balance of holistic modalities, modern science, nutrition, and movement. Naturopathic medicine understands that there is a time and place for conventional methods of medicine, but that many of the issues present in clinics today can be treated through natural therapies, plant-medicine and botanicals.
January 30th 2018 was the last day I ever drank a coffee with half & half creamer. I pride myself on being incredibly determined. I was willing to do whatever it took to feel healthy again. Then again I didn’t have many other options. I knew I couldn’t go on feeling the way I did and so committing to these major lifestyle changes was really the only way for me to survive. Two years ago, on January 30th, was the day I first met with my naturopathic doctor. Her advice, right from the get-go, “let’s look at your diet”. Nobody has ever looked at my diet before, so this came as a shock to me. Where was my prescription for fatigue, depression, gut issues, brain fog, muscle pain? Turns out it was in my local grocery store.
From that day on,
No gluten, NONE. Not a bite off someone else’s plate, not even foods that could be contaminated with gluten.
No dairy. I eat a small amount of goat’s dairy as it is processed differently in the body, but absolutely no cow’s dairy.
No soy. SURPRISE, soy is in everything!!
No rice, in attempt to reduce inflammation, no inflammatory foods!
No corn, HELLO inflammation, no one digests corn...no one.
And so that was it. No last meal, no “cheat” days, this was it. I have never looked back.
You have to find a protocol that works for you. It is an adjustment, of course, but remember that you are capable of doing just about anything, especially after you have hit rock bottom with your health. Keep in mind, this is not just another diet. This is not a reduced intake of calories or fasting, or any other restrictive diets you may have attempted to conquer in the past. This is your new life.
Food Sensitivities and the Immune System
Food sensitivities and food allergies are not the same thing, yet they can both be detrimental to the body. Food allergies come from the IgE branch of the immune system, whereby food sensitivities are governed by the IgA, IgM, and IgG branches. The IgG branch of your immune system is also thought to be responsible for the production of thyroid antibodies.
I tend to say that my food intolerances are allergies, only because the word “allergy” tends to be taken more seriously. I won’t stop breathing if I eat gluten, but my reality is that I could become very sick, bed-ridden and could very likely reverse my gut health and autoimmunity back to a poor state if I were to consume it. To be honest, if I hadn’t changed my diet drastically, I would have never put my Hashimoto’s into remission and truthfully, I do not know where I would be right now if that were the case.
Common Sensitivities with Hashimoto’s Disease
In research conducted by Izabella Wentz, PharmD, 93% of patients react to gluten, 75% to dairy, 73% to all grains, 60% to soy products and 35% to eggs and nightshade veggies. This does not mean you will necessarily have to give up all of these foods. I was able to reintroduce eggs, nightshades, goats dairy (more on this below), and some grains like quinoa and buckwheat (both gluten-free).
If you are overwhelmed, start with gluten. Try not to replace it with “gluten-free” alternatives, just cut it out. I had someone a while ago message me saying, “how do I eat bread then?” simply put, you don’t. It is not the end of the world, trust me you will get over it. Even people without autoimmune diseases and chronic health conditions are finding themselves sensitive to gluten and often feel better after eliminating it. You have to stop making the excuse that it is just too hard, or your family is not on board with it, or this is all you know. Stop being ignorant to the facts, and start looking at how much better your life could be with a few changes. Once you see how good you are truly designed to feel you will not be thinking of bread and butter, trust me!
Dairy sensitivity is different than being lactose intolerant. Those with dairy sensitivities are dealing with the IgG branch of immunity again (the one that is known to produce thyroid antibodies). Dairy sensitivity typically means one reacts to casein and whey (both proteins in dairy). A person with intestinal permeability (more on that below) typically has an immune reaction to these food proteins when they circulate the blood stream.
I do not eat cow’s dairy but I am okay to eat goat and sheep’s dairy. This is not always the case, approximately 60% of those with dairy sensitivity must avoid all forms of it. Goat’s dairy has not impacted my antibodies at all but I may at some point try 3 months without it again to see if it changes my skin health.
Soy can block the activity of the TPO enzyme and worsen the immune reaction against the thyroid. Soy products can be immensely hard to avoid, harder than gluten and dairy in my opinion. A lot of vegan and gluten free options contain soy so this is something to watch out for.
My recommendation is to cut out these foods for a minimum of 6 months. I know that sounds like a very long time but I promise you when the time for reintroductions comes around you will not have the same cravings or interests in these foods. I never reintroduced dairy, soy or gluten because I know what the research suggests it does in my body and therefore I do not see a benefit of having it in my life.
Lifestyle related diets you may find effective in reversing your Hashimoto's symptoms and condition:
Paleo/primal (pretty much what I did and still try to do)
Eat a diet rich in plants, healthy fats, and proteins that our ancestors would have eaten
Eliminate grains, beans and legumes
I got rid of dairy but some forms of paleo will include raw dairy (I don't recommend if you are newly trying to figure out your thyroid condition)
Stay under 150grams of carbohydrates (evidence suggests carbohydrates are harder to metabolize in hypothyroid patients)
Stick with low intensity workouts (our ancestors were not doing deadlifts)
sleep , sleep, sleep
Supplement with Omega-3s, vitamin D3, B12, magnesium and use sea salt, this is my favourite brand here.
Eat when your body tells you it is hungry
What I love most about the paleo-primal diet is that you become fat-adapted and start to actually crave proteins and fats over carbohydrates and sugars. I would literally crave steaks, salads with chicken and hemp hearts, and protein shakes. Once you do paleo for a set of time you will not have interest in sugars like you might have now.
**disclaimer**: Paleo diets are not for everyone! Try it and see how it works for you. It certainly worked for me!
AIP (Autoimmune Protocol)
I never did AIP but the idea behind it makes complete sense. It is an elimination diet that rids the body of the main trigger foods for patients with autoimmunity. People typically have great success when doing AIP. One of my lovely fellow autoimmune bloggers, Shanna, has an amazing website about all things AIP which you can find here.
For more info on AIP, her Instagram is here.
Dr. Mark Hyman’s diet plan, the Pegan diet, is a blend of paleo and vegan, and encourages a mostly plant-based diet in addition to adequate protein sources and healthy, hearty fats. You can find more info on the Pegan diet here.
You can test for food sensitivities, and if you are interested in finding out all the little things your body may be reacting to, I encourage you to test. However, from a cost efficient perspective, I never found testing necessary for me. If, after making the major changes to my diet, I still felt ill, maybe I would have but this was not the case for me. This is another reason the AIP diet can be so effective for those who want to know what they are sensitive too without having to pay hundreds of dollars to access the information.
Prepare for Interrogation
You are going to get ALL the criticism, the eye rolls and the judgemental glares. All of a sudden everyone is worried about what you eat. No one cared when you were chugging vodka sodas, eating nachos and feeling like death every day, but now that you are gluten free, GOD FORBID. This is because being healthy in a world that profits off of illness is a defiant act. You are the odd one out if you have chosen to live a healthier lifestyle, and you are going to need to learn to be okay with not fitting in. You will have people ask you again and again whether you are still on that diet, why you can’t even have one bite, or how you survive without bread and pasta on a regular basis. Remember that you do not have to explain yourself to anyone.
What If I Don’t Change my Diet?
Well then, good luck my friend.
Healing Leaky Gut (Intestinal Permeability)
Marc Ryan (one of my many beloved thyroid sources) has an amazing analogy in his book, “How to Heal Hashimoto’s”. He says to think of your digestive tract as a big party. Your intestinal membrane, in this analogy, is the bouncer at the club, and if someone is not on the list they are most certainly not getting in. With leaky gut, the bouncer (intestinal membrane) is tired of dealing with the stress of his job, (overuse of antibiotics, NSAIDs like Advil, toxins and food proteins that our bodies have struggled for years to digest properly). Before we know it, our bouncer has walked off the job, allowing just about anything through its doors. That is Leaky Gut Syndrome in a nutshell.
So maybe you have survived up to this point without any major problems, but your Hashimoto’s diagnosis was years in the making. It was years of your body fighting back against crappy foods, an overuse of pills, environmental toxins, skin care toxins, and stress. Finally, your body has screamed FIRE in hopes that you begin to take your health more seriously. If you are like me, Hashimoto’s is your wake up call. Hashimoto’s is not a death sentence, but imagine what could be next for you. Once you have one autoimmune disease you are significantly more likely to develop another one. In fact, RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) is commonly paired with Hashimoto's.
Now, if you are thinking, “well, no one has told me that I have leaky gut syndrome so I am probably fine”, know that leaky gut is present in every autoimmune disease, so if you are here because you have Hashimoto’s disease, it is safe to say you also have leaky gut syndrome. I know you did not come here for bad news, or a new diagnosis, but healing Hashimoto’s comes with it’s obstacles and I want to prepare you for what is ahead. In fact, healing leaky gut was the first step in healing my Hashimoto's.
How did I get Leaky Gut in the first place?
So instead of using the “bouncer” analogy, I think you’re ready for the science of it all. Your intestinal membrane (all 4000sq.ft of it) over time is now thin and inflamed. Healthy intestines have teeny tiny holes that allow for good bacteria to pass through, but with leaky gut the damage unravels those tight junctions, allowing undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream. What happens when particles that do not belong in the bloodstream enter there? Autoimmunity, digestive ailments like IBS and Crohns, and as new research suggests even Autism can be a result of intestinal permeability. This is when you start to develop food sensitivities, infections, impaired immunity, and other chronic illnesses. These destructive patterns can be incredibly hard to reverse, but the good news is that it can be done. I did it.
I would argue that healing your gut is the most important part of healing Hashimoto’s. You can take all the vitamins and supplements you want, but without a healed gut, you won’t absorb anything. It is like filling a bucket that has holes in the bottom with water, it will never stay full if you do not repair those holes.
Repairing Leaky Gut
The good news is, you can heal your gut. Prebiotics and probiotic rich foods are essential for this process, while keeping in mind that SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is present in many cases of Hashimoto’s. I never tested for SIBO but I also never took probiotic supplements due to the possibility of having it. Some foods to consider adding to your diet to help heal the gut are, bone broth, kefir, kombucha, cabbage, leafy greens, sauerkraut etc. Fermented foods are amazing for the gut. In addition to adding these lovely sources of food, do your best to avoid NSAIDS like muscle relaxants and pain relievers, non-natural cosmetic products (including makeup, shampoos, conditioners, face washes, lotions etc.). Avoid the foods I listed above, and try your best to reduce your stress responses in your daily life. A blend of these things can help to heal the gut over time and hopefully eventually lead to the remission of your Hashimoto’s like I did. I also used a supplement powder call GI revive which I have linked here.
I am not going to lie to you, this lifestyle is not cheap, but it is not meant to be. Ever ask yourself why the snack foods they offer in stores are so cheap? it is absolutely pricey if you are switching from cheap junky boxed food to expensive, organic boxed food. The good news? Expensive organic boxed food should be a once-in-a-while treat and should not take up much room in your shopping cart. I am sure you have heard the saying that says to avoid the middle of the grocery store, well it applies here too. The bulk of what you need is in produce. Here are some ways to save money with this lifestyle:
Frozen organic veggies and fruits, yup you can buy organic veggies and fruits (check ingredients to be sure there are no additives). This means they will last longer and they are good for you.
Buy supplements in combination with others. A lot of supplements are better absorbed this way anyways and it can make supplement shopping a lot less costly. (more on supplements in my next post).
Make your own food and prep for the week instead of relying on take-out. Even if you find a “healthy” restaurant, eating at home is always the healthiest option.
Buy organic, grass-fed meats when they go on sale and freeze them. I know fresh food is always best, but 40 dollars for steak is where I draw the line…
I hope you see that Hashimoto’s disease is not a problem with the thyroid, it is a problem with the immune system that results in thyroid dysfunction, gut dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, hormone imbalance, and even cognitive issues. This is why taking a pill for your thyroid will not heal your Hashimoto’s, it will replace what the thyroid can no longer produce. Diet is a huge factor, probably the most significant, when it comes to healing. If a doctor has told you that diet has nothing to do with it, keep in mind they also say that remission is impossible. The National Institute of Health published a paper that stated remission IS possible for autoimmune diseases but not with conventional methods of treatment. It is time for conventional medicine to catch up with the reality of chronic health conditions.
I hope today’s post at least helped you to consider some of these changes while you navigate your way through your Hashimoto’s diagnosis. It is not an easy process, but it is so worth it. In part 3 I will focus on adrenal gland dysfunction, and hormone balancing that went along with my thyroid condition. I will touch on supplement use as well and which supplements you may consider adding to your routine to optimize your health.
If you made it this far, know that everything that has happened in your life has led you to this moment.
Thank you for reading,
Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease and Hypothyroidism, Victoria explores the reality of living with chronic illness through her blog, The Butterfly Effect.
Victoria seeks to spread awareness of autoimmunity and writes to inspire chronically ill patients to live wholesome lives beyond their health struggles.
You can also find more from Victoria by visiting her Facebook and Instagram