Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana recently announced that she has a thyroid condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 20 million people in the United States.
About seven times more women than men suffer from this disorder, often called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and in Saldana’s case, both her mother and sisters also have the disease, confirming its genetic link.
The 38-year-old actress says that she changed her diet to help battle her symptoms.
“Your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to filter toxins, causing it to believe that it has an infection,” she says. “So you suffer from inflammation and create antibodies that attack your glands, so you have to eat clean.”
Dr. Chad Larson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine who received his doctor of chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences, agrees that dietary changes often treat the root cause of the disorder while medication can manage the symptoms.
“While medication can be an important part of the treatment plan, we who practice functional medicine, try to identify the predisposing trigger,” the consultant for Cyrex Laboratories tells Newsmax Health.
“As an example, peer-reviewed literature has identified a wheat and gluten sensitivity as a potential factor in triggering Hashimoto’s disease. So, as a practitioner, when a patient presents the symptoms, I order lab evaluations for food allergies and sensitivities. When these culprits are identified and eliminated from the diet, the patient usually shows a remarkable improvement in four to six weeks.”
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a condition in which the immune system malfunctions and mistakenly sends antibodies to attack the thyroid gland. This can cause inflammation and damage to the organ — a vital component of the endocrine system that manages metabolism and many other crucial body functions.
If left untreated, the disease damages the thyroid leading to hypothyroidism. This can lead to infertility, miscarriage, high cholesterol and having a baby with birth defects.
While a sufferer may be asymptomatic for years, the first sign of the disease may be an enlarged thyroid — often called a goiter — that makes the front of the neck look swollen.
Other symptoms include constipation, depression, dry skin, and fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, forgetfulness, menstrual irregularities and muscle weakness.
Low thyroid levels lead to weight gain, thinning hair, and for pregnant women, the disease increases the risk of miscarriage.
“Like many autoimmune conditions, there is often a genetic predisposition triggered by an environment factor like infection, a dietary protein like gluten or an environmental chemical,” noted Larson.
“More recent literature indicates that a breakdown in the intestinal barrier can be a causative factor. Not so coincidentally, research has shown that gluten causes this breakdown in the intestinal barrier in most folks even if they are not sensitive to the protein, leading to what we call leaky gut syndrome.”
Noted endocrinologist Dr. Daniel Lorber, of Flushing, N.Y., tells Newsmax Health that medical treatment for Hashimoto’s disease consists of giving the patient levothyroxine, the manmade version of the T4 thyroid hormone.
“We prescribe medications such as Synthroid and Levothroid, generally one dose a day,” he says. “The medication requires some adjustment at first as different people require different dosage. They usually remain on the medication for life and make adjustments as time goes by.”
But Larson says that if the disease is caught in its earliest stage, the patient may eventually be able to stop the medication depending on how much damage has been already done to the thyroid gland, once the trigger has been identified and eliminated.
That’s why the San Diego-area expert says that thyroid testing with blood work, especially in women since one in eight will develop the disease in their lifetime, is imperative.
“Most physicians order the TSH test, but we also want to check the free and total T3 and T4 levels,” he says. “You should also test for the thyroid antibodies, thyroglobulin or TG and thyroid peroxidase or TPO. This will help identify the disease in its earliest stages.
“Once the disease progresses, it slows down bodily function and your health takes a downward spiral. Women, especially, should be very vigilant about this disorder.”