Just a heads up… The title of this post might sound a bit misleading. It’s not another post on yoga or pranayama, but actually on something much less fun – an autoimmune disease called Hashimotos thyroiditis that I was diagnosed with little over a year ago. So, if you’re not into reading about diseases you don’t have, stay tuned for the next one. I promise I’ll pick a happier subject.
The reason I am writing this is the fact that during the last year I was contacted by many friends and acquaintances that were diagnosed with Hashimoto or some other thyroid problem. I actually have an email that I copy/paste now to those asking for Hashi advice. So, I’m writing this hoping it may help someone. Mine was caught in an early stage so it it’s still subclinical which means I don’t take any therapy and am working on keeping it that way.
The symptoms of Hashimoto can vary and are often very confusing. At times you will lose weight, have trouble sleeping, be anxious, have heart palpitations, fast metabolism and at others feel tired, sluggish, gain weight, sleep too much, feel depressed. Some people have no symptoms at all. Only way to find it is with a blood test (TSH, fT3, fT4 and antibodies).
I got diagnosed in January last year after I had a serious episode of tachycardia in a coffee shop a few minutes after I set down with a few friends. My heart started racing so fast that I thought I am having a heart attack and am about to die. No kidding. My father passed from a heart attack so I guess I thought it runs in a family and my days are numbered;). When ambulance came (yes, it was that bad) I was better but shaken. They asked me a series of questions and told me I should check my heart and my thyroid. It was only latter that I found out I was pretty lucky that the emergency doctor even mentioned thyroid. More and more people suffer from heart problems, stress related tachycardia and panic attacks that thyroid is not often considered. Plus thyroid problems rarely cause such intense tachycardia, but it does happen at an early stage.
After that first one, my heart palpitations were not as severe, but they would happen at any random moment. Ones, just as I started to teach a class. One of my teacher trainees was there so she had to finish it.
I learned to manage them after the first few. I would lie down, were ever I was, close my eyes and started taking long and deep breaths. I also had a few anxiety attacks during that period that I manage to fight off with breathing. Just breathe, just breathe… That was my mantra. And it would help every time. Breath is such a powerful tool! ‘’The trick is to keep breathing’’ sign on the photo is actually something I made and it stays in my yoga studio as a reminder. Not only for my students, but for me as well.
A year preceding the diagnoses was a roller coaster ride featuring many highs and a lows with lows peaking during one horrible summer where I lost much weight, couldn’t sleep, had anxiety attacks and was far from a happy relaxed person I usually am. I kept to myself and didn’t socialise much. Somewhere inside I knew something was wrong but I choose to write it off to a bad period concerning my private life and too many work related projects that were exhausting me. Even so, I was angry at myself at not being able to work through it. It wasn’t a first time something turbulent was going on in my life. That’s usually when I’m most grounded and focused. Why was this different? And where is my fifteen years of yoga, of learning to gain control over my body and my mind, to find my centre, to detach from that which doesn’t serve my growth - when I need it the most? So, it was almost a relief when I found that all this time I was suffering from a hormonal unbalance and that under all of that – I am still here. And now that I know what is going on, I can do something about it.
Being a bit of a nerd and a recovering control freak - which both does come in handy at times - I read a few books, all of the research articles and everything I could find on the subject. After getting familiar with the how I started to dig deeper to find out why. That took another kind of science, one I am luckily quite familiar with.
So, here is what I’ve learned. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease. Basically, your immune system decides one day that your thyroid is the enemy and starts to attack it. It is misleading when doctors say it’s a thyroid disease. My thyroid is still healthy and looks great. ‘’What a beautiful thyroid’’ I think the radiologist said (and what a strange thing to hear! :). It’s the immune system that is faulty here and that is what should be addressed.
Our immune system protects us from viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins etc. - the bad guys that cause infection and disease. Ones the bad guys enter the body, immune system enters ‘seek and destroy’ mode to fight them off. However sometimes, for a reason nobody figured out just yet, it attacks a perfectly good organ tissue thinking it’s a bad guy. This causes inflammation and problems and overtime organ failure (in this case Hypothyroidism). It usually does this when in its ‘seek and destroy’ mode fighting off a virus or something, it attacks everything it thinks it’s a treat. Like the thyroid. When in relax mode (no enemies to fight) it leaves the poor thyroid alone too.
So much is going on inside of our bodies while we are home in bed reading a book. Pretty amazing.
So, this is what I did. First thing - I took a food intolerance test. They are quite expensive and to be honest I am not sure how accurate, but it served me as a guide line. While waiting for the test results I started taking probiotics and stopped eating anything that could potentially be harmful or just heavy for my digestive system. First to go was gluten or rather wheat, barley and rye.
Why gluten? There are a quite a few research articles connecting celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto. One can trigger the other and people with celiac often develop Hashi after a while. Even if you’re not intolerant to gluten, which I found out I wasn’t, when something’s wrong you want to start the healing from the gut and eat easily digestible, light, healthy foods.
Despite the hype of gluten-free diet and the claim that gluten is not easy to digest, the truth is somewhere in the middle (as always). Gluten is not so hard to digest for most people and it is easier to digest than proteins like gliadin found in wheat, and secalin found in barley for example.
I also stopped eating cow milk products, soy, sugar, spicy food, coffee, black tea, alcohol etc. I generally eat quite healthy anyways so it wasn’t too hard. The hardest I think was to give up coffee and occasional chocolate croissant I sometimes have for breakfast.
I took some supplements and stocked up on super foods like spirulina, chia, macca, raw cacao, hemp powder, hemp oil, walnut oil etc.
In terms of supplements I take powerful antioxidants like SOD (Super Oxide Dismutase), Vitamin D (especially during the winter) and Omega 3. That’s all I need as foods I eat and super foods I take are full of other stuff body needs like vitamins, minerals, protein etc.
After a while and with no doctors help I started to feel better and better until all my symptoms were gone. And just to remind you, on the list of sucky symptoms I had them all. I am not sure what exactly helped, or was it all of the above. I can tell you that the steps I took were taken after I had spent a few weeks in front of my laptop reading everything I could find and reading a few books on the subject.
I don’t claim the same regime will help you but I am pretty sure it won’t hurt.
I still don't have an endocrinologist as the only one I went to told me just not to stress and when asked about the diet he said diet has nothing to do with it. For me food is medicine so I wasn't happy with the advice and didn't go back. BUT, I am not telling you don’t see a doctor. Just don’t think one person will solve your problem. They are only human and, while may know a lot, know only one approach. Sorry, two. Surgery or drugs. :)
I had no symptoms for a long time, that is, until a few weeks ago after I came back from India with a bug I managed to pick up at the airport (stupid Costa café!). I believe my immune system was disrupted again, which blood tests I did proved. As soon as I start to feel imbalance I slowly went back to my regime. This time the symptoms are not as severe but enough to feel discomfort. But, I know how to deal with them now.
Take a food intolerance test and see a good ayurvedic doctor / practicioner. Start taking probiotics.
Try to lower your stress levels. Take a break from whatever makes you stressed, your health is more important!
Avoid getting sick! Take care of yourself during cold and virus season, be generally more careful, get enough sleep and rest, and let your immune system rest for a while.
Get a fluoride free toothpaste (fluoride is very toxic and bad for thyroid). Generally try to use natural cosmetics always. There are so many health problems linked with overuse of cosmetic products containing heavy chemicals!
Avoid (for a while) or reduce (ones you get better):
Gluten, cow milk and produce (lactose), soy in any shape or form, sugar (yes, that means chocolate as well, sorry..), coffee, alcohol, red meat if you eat it, any meat if it's not organic, fish if you eat it (mercury is a big problem).
If you are generally a healthy eater you can switch quicker, if not don't change everything in one day! Slowly start to substitute. Don't put your body trough another shock!
Rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rice and almond milk, goats cheese from a farm (not supermarket), fruit and veg you can easily digest (food intolerance test or ayurvedic doctor can help you with this), herbal tea.
Spirulina (full of vitamins, minerals and protein, boosts immune system), raw cacao (great antioxidant), Macca root powder (balances hormones), hemp powder and oil (full of protein and all important amino-acids).
Most of these I use in superfood smoothies I have for breakfast and one later in the day.
Suplements: powerful antioxidant like SOD, Vitamin D and Omega 3.
In my next blog post I’ll write about how yoga & Ayurveda helped me, especially in managing stress and symptoms in the early faze and how yoga helped me get to the root of the problem and let go of all that does not serve my life, my purpose and my truth.
So, if you’re interested stay tuned! And, of course, if you have any particular questions feel free to comment email of fb me.