It is estimated that between 3 and 10 million people are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.1 The most common form of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune condition known as Graves’ disease.
I was diagnosed with Graves’ during my second year of medical school, and in my book, The Autoimmune Solution, I share my personal experience with Graves’ disease and how conventional medicine failed me. I never want anyone to go through what I went through, so it is my mission to empower as many people as I can with the information they need to use a healthier and more natural way to recover from Graves’ and other forms of hyperthyroidism.
What is Graves’ Disease?
Your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck, produces hormones to help regulate body temperature, heart rate, growth, energy production, and brain health. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. When thyroid hormones are too high, energy metabolism will speed up, causing the body to burn through nutrients too quickly. This can result in malnutrition and chronic illness. While I combatted Graves’ I ate everything in sight and went from a size 4 to a size 0 in a matter of months.
The thyroid can become overactive for many reasons, yet it is commonly a result of the autoimmune condition. Graves’ disease accounts for roughly 60-80% of all hyperthyroid cases.2 Normally, thyroid function is regulated by the pituitary gland, a tiny gland responsible for secreting TSH, which signals the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones T3 and T4. In Graves’ disease, an antibody known as thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) can mimic pituitary hormones and completely override the system, inducing an overactive thyroid. You can also develop Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies or Antithyroglobulin antibodies. I only had antibodies to TPO, which I frequently saw in my clinic as well.
Two other forms of hyperthyroidism which are not autoimmune conditions are known as toxic multinodular goiter and toxic adenoma. Toxic multinodular goiter involves the growth of independently functioning nodules on the thyroid gland itself. These nodules are able to stimulate the thyroid without the use of TSH, creating havoc in your thyroid hormone process, and provoking an overactive thyroid.
Toxic adenoma is a benign tumor consisting of thyroid follicular cells, which produce excessive amounts of T3 and/or T4. The excess thyroid hormones produced by toxic adenomas can suppress the function of remaining healthy thyroid tissue, leading to hyperthyroidism.
Graves’ Disease Symptoms
- Hot flashes, sweating
- Unintentional weight loss
- Frequent stools, loose stool, or diarrhea
- Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
- Anxiety, irritability, or constant fatigue
- Elevated heart rate
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Reduced libido
- Bulging eyes
- Thick red skin on shins or feet
- Increased appetite
- Hand tremors
- Muscle weakness
How is Graves’ Disease Diagnosed?
1. Blood testing your thyroid hormone levels is the first step. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) will be very low and the Free T4 and Free T3 will be elevated. In autoimmune conditions, you will see elevated levels of antibodies as well.
2. Radioactive iodine uptake (RAIU) is the next step in diagnosing a thyroid imbalance. An RAIU using a small dose of I-131 will determine how much iodine the thyroid takes up. A high iodine uptake is indicative of Graves’ disease. This test can be helpful in ruling out other possible causes of an overactive thyroid.
3. Ultrasound (US) of the thyroid is a helpful step to look at nodules on the thyroid. Your doctor may request for you to have a fine needle biopsy to confirm that the nodules are not cancerous.
The Roots of Hyperthyroidism
Gluten is a huge concern for many people because it has been hybridized and modified, and it’s in everything! Worst of all, gluten can wreak havoc on your gut and set you up for a leaky gut. Once the gut is leaky, gluten can get into your bloodstream and confuse your immune system. The building blocks of gluten share a similar molecular structure with those of your thyroid gland, so the immune system can mistakenly attack your own cells in a process known as molecular mimicry.
2. Leaky gut
In order to absorb nutrients, the gut is somewhat permeable to very small molecules. Many things including gluten, infections, medications, and stress can damage the gut, allowing toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles among other things to enter directly into your bloodstream. Leaky gut is the gateway for infections, toxins, and inflammatory food particles to trigger the systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity. You must first repair your gut before you can reverse uncomfortable symptoms.
Mercury is a heavy metal capable of altering or damaging the cells of various bodily tissues. Your immune system can mistake damaged cells for foreign invaders and begin attacking your organs. Studies show that individuals with higher mercury exposure have an increased risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease.3
Infections such as the herpes family of viruses (HSV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) have been implicated as a potential cause of autoimmune thyroid disease through inflammation and molecular mimicry.
Iodine status is a bit controversial. It seems that too little iodine can cause goiter and hypothyroidism and too much can cause hyperthyroidism. When the body detects an increased availability of iodine, this can trigger the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. If someone with a relatively low intake of iodine suddenly consumes a very iodine-rich diet, then over time that individual can produce an excessive amount of thyroid hormone, resulting in an overactive thyroid.