At 14 my mother took me for a camp physical. She’d forgotten about it and the deadline to mail in the form was fast approaching. An appointment with my regular pediatrician wasn’t possible so she took up to what she called “the doc in the box”, the neighborhood walk in clinic. The doctor we saw was pretty young- like a resident maybe- but he turned out to be a good diagnostician!
As doctor’s do he felt my glands and while examining my neck commented that my thyroid looked enlarged. He asked my mother about it, she was just as surprised as him, no other doctor of mine had ever noticed it. They took my blood that day to test for an underactive thyroid.
Sure enough, a few weeks later the results arrived and I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This was the mid nineties, no one asked why a 14 year old had this condition (including me), and I was put on synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone). Back then you didn’t ask why, it wasn’t important, there was drug that fixed it and that was enough. And it was enough for a long time. I had blood tests every six months and depending on my levels my dosage was adjusted.
At 26 during a routine thyroid checkup appointment I randomly asked the endocrinologist why? Why? He looked at my curiously, I asked again “why do I have this, why am I hypothyroid?" He looked at me a little dumbstruck and said, “because you have Hashimoto’s disease.” He was confused as to why I was asking, he’d assumed I knew this information. Of course, I didn’t I had no idea what the heck Hashimoto's disease was or what it implied about my health. I explained this to him, and that was when I learned I had an autoimmune disease.
My doctor explained to me that my immune system would continue to attack my thyroid, until my thyroid became completely damaged and could no longer produce any thyroid hormone. When that happened my thyroid would be removed, to prevent cancer. I’d continue on synthroid and that would be it.
Over the next few years I read about my disease and other autoimmune diseases and I felt blessed I had Hashimoto’s. The disease causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland, meaning that the gland becomes underactive because it can’t produce enough hormone. This can cause a cascade of symptoms including but not limited to; weight gain, depression, anxiety, hair loss, fatigue, dry skin, and infertility. It sounds bad, but there are some other autoimmune diseases that are worse. I married and had my first baby. I had no trouble getting pregnant or had any complications, because my disease was well managed. I had a second healthy baby and all seemed well. My thyroid numbers were fine, but I didn’t exactly feel fine.
There was gripping anxiety, depression, a weird red rash on my face, and constant digestion problems. I’d been experiencing all of it with varying levels for years. Some of it was blamed on Hashimoto’s, but since my thyroid numbers were fine my doctor was beginning to wonder if I had another autoimmune disease. Maybe Crohn’s or Celiac. I had a lot testing done and thankfully no other autoimmune diseases were found. I was continuing to treat the symptoms, but not really finding any relief.
Relief through Diet
Some days were really hard. I had two small boys and I knew, just knew, something wasn’t right. My joints ached, my head hurt, my stomach hurt, I was tired and cranky. I kept reading and googling, trying to figure out anything that could help. The solution finally came with diet. I read about autoimmune diets, and how other patients were controlling their diseases through diet. New studies were establishing a link between autoimmune disease and inflammation. What I was learning was that certain foods increased inflammation in the body while other foods decreased it. I realized that a diet change could possibly be my savior.
A trip to an allergist helped me narrow down the foods to start with. I cut out wheat, soy, and majorly reduced processed foods. With in a few days I began to notice changes for the positive. The weird red rash on my face went away and my digestion problems did too. I had more energy and I was losing weight.
A new endocrinologist declared my goiter gone. My swollen thyroid, that had been swollen for 20 years, was back to normal. My antibody levels and my TSH hormones remain balanced. I haven’t needed an adjustment in my synthroid since I changed my diet. It's been 4 years now, I continue to be wheat free, soy free, and I am constantly looking for ways to increase my intake of healthy whole foods that are anti-inflammatory.
Sustainability and Autoimmunity
Eating organic, non gmo food, eliminating wheat, ditching soy (one of the most common GMO foods), and increasing my intake of anti-inflammatory foods has been a huge part of managing my disease. I call this my anti- inflammatory diet. There are general foods that are inflammatory, but the extent of effects differs by person. Trial and error is key in figuring out what’s best for you.
In part my interest in sustainability has been driven by desire to heal myself. It’s not an accident that autoimmune diseases are on the rise worldwide. There are scientific studies published regularly linking toxic chemicals, environmental pollution, pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, inflammatory foods, and more unsustainable practices to autoimmune disease. Sustainability is an answer to managing autoimmune disease. Anyone who has an autoimmune disease or loves someone who does needs to consider adopting a sustainable lifestyle. I know that it has helped me alleviate the symptoms that I suffered for so long.
Eating organic, whole foods is sustainable for the environment and will help you avoid processed, GMO, and non-organic foods (which also happen to be inflammatory foods), that some experts say are linked to autoimmune diseases. Chemicals in the soil damage the very health of the soil and therefore the quality of the food grown in it. The jury is still out on the long term health effects of GMOs, although many experts believe they may have long lasting negative health effects.
My List of inflammatory foods
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Highly processed foods
I refused to live my life just OK. I want to feel amazing. It’s not enough to just be OK, at least it wasn’t for me. My desire to feel wonderful, to be able to live the full beauty of life has driven me. I won’t stop. I will continue to heal through diet. I will continue to bring sustainable practices into my home and life little by little. I FIRMLY believe that the key to my health, my family’s health, my community’s health, and the health of our planet lies in sustainability.