This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for awhile, and since I’ve recently received several requests for an update on my thyroid and Hashimoto’s, I took it as a sign that there was no better time than the present.
To do a quick catch-up for those who may not be familiar (or forgot), about 3 years ago after experiencing a year of recurring bouts of strep throat, chronic fatigue, brain fog and levels of moodiness & anxiety that went beyond the typical hormonal stuff, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease. The multiple bouts of strep are what seemed to trigger my trip down the rabbit hole, that led to an extensive panel of bloodwork and visits to multiple specialists, including a hematologist, endocrinologist and rheumatologist.
In addition to finding that my thyroid TSH levels were off and discovering I did have the TPO antibodies, which indicates the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s, my white blood cell counts and platelet levels were extremely low, and continued to drop for several weeks. This concerned the hematologist so I had to go in for biweekly blood work to monitor my levels; at the time I was told that if they continued to drop I would need to undergo a spinal tap, but fortunately they eventually leveled off and after a few months, were found to be in the normal range.
As I originally discussed, the fact that none of these specialists could connect the dots and/or figure out why I was getting strep so much, why my blood work was so irregular and what if anything my thyroid had to do with any of this, I decided to see an integrative doctor. Her theory was that the strep throat is what set off the autoimmune disease, and all of this combined is what resulted in the low white blood cell count. Again, this was all a theory since chain of events, especially surrounding autoimmune issues, are always hard to nail down. But she wanted to start somewhere, so she set me up with a treatment protocol based off these assumptions. I continued to see my endocrinologist for blood work updates every 6 months, for about 18 months.
Now, I’m not sure if this is standard practice, but according to my endocrinologist at the time, she said that once a person is diagnosed with Hashi’s, there is no need to really check the TPO antibodies on a regular basis, since the number of antibodies don’t necessarily effect treatment, the actual T3 & T4 levels are what determines treatment. Therefore the only thing she continued to monitor were my TSH, T3 and T4 levels. On my last visit though, I pretty much begged her to include the TPO antibodies in my blood work because I wanted to know if my treatment protocol with my Integrative Doc had helped at all, plus I was feeling a bit better overall so was just generally curious.
And the crazy thing was, the test showed my antibodies were now in the totally normal range, almost down to undetectable.
My endocrinologist was stunned and claimed she had never seen anything like it before, and that perhaps my initial TPO positive test was wrong?!? I offered an alternative scenario, one in which I was able to successfully lower the antibodies through diet and supplements, which she firmly rejected. She maintained that it was impossible to reduce TPO antibodies, and offered no other explanation other than her initial diagnosis was wrong because my blood work was wrong.
Of course there are many success stories of patients being able to lower antibodies and manage a whole plethora of other autoimmune diseases through diet and lifestyle adjustments, but my doctor didn’t buy into this, and I can’t entirely blame her. Many autoimmune diseases are still widely misunderstood, misdiagnosed and difficult to successfully treat. I don’t fault her for finding my case to be a bit of a mystery, after all there were so many other factors going on with my health at the time that no medical expert could give me definitive answers to my issues.
My guess is that my test was not wrong, but that we caught it so early on, when my antibodies were still at a relatively low level, that I was able to successfully lower them with lifestyle and dietary adjustments. Of course anything is possible, but it seems highly implausible that that single test would be wrong, while the battery of other tests I had performed, over and over again, were correct.
I have hesitated to give a Hashimoto’s update because I do not want to make the astounding claim that I cured myself, nor do I want to offer medical advice to those dealing with Hashimoto’s. I tread cautiously in this area because it has always been unsettling to watch “wellness bloggers” make grand claims about curing oneself with diet and lifestyle changes alone. Being a blogger in this space carries a bit of responsibility and I never wanted to unknowingly encourage people to go against their doctor’s advice and go off their meds in order to “cure themselves naturally like I did”, if that makes sense. I was even more cautious back then because around the same time that I received my last lab results, the wellness industry had taken a credibility hit after a couple of very well known bloggers got tangled up in scandal. Sadly, one popular blogger, known as “The Wellness Warrior” received a lot of criticism postmortem for her “promoting of dubious science.” For years she suffered with a rare form of cancer and regularly shared with her huge following how she was “curing her cancer naturally” through the Gerson protocol. She passed away at the very young age of 30, and in an even sadder twist in this tragic story, her mother also passed away just a couple of years prior, after unsuccessfully treating her breast cancer with the Gerson protocol.
And right around the same time, it was discovered that another well-known Australian blogger Belle Gibson, whose Whole Pantry app I purchased and promoted on my IG, had been lying about her brain cancer for years. She had built a social media empire worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and was named Most Inspiring Woman of the Year by Elle Australia, by claiming to treat her brain cancer through a healthy lifestyle and vegan diet.
Of course both of these stories are extreme and in no way even close to anything I was dealing in. But over the years after you spend as much time on the internet as your average blogger, you start to get a little paranoid about possible credibility attacks. I’m sure you don’t have to be a blogger to know people on the internet can be critical and vicious, so I decided to just avoid talking about it. The perils of writing in the health and wellness space and finding the balance between inspiring readers to be their own advocate and not doing away with Western medicine all together can be tricky. More and more each year, we see that there is a nuanced approach to wellness and science, and just because you believe in the former doesn’t mean you’re are anti the latter.
So in summary, the tl;dr version of the above is that overall my health has improved and I’m no longer testing positive for the TPO antibodies, which are the marker for Hashimoto’s.
My thyroid levels are still outside of the normal range indicating hypothyroidism (my dad also suffers and takes medication for an under-active thyroid), but my levels are not so abnormal that at this point they require treatment with medication. I suspect that a healthy diet and supplement routine helped get the antibodies under control, but I cannot state with certainty this is the case, nor can I assert that had my antibody levels been higher, diet and lifestyle shifts would have been helpful in lowering the antibodies. All in all, it is a mystery.
By the time I received my latest lab results, I had spent thousands of dollars on tests (one test my endocrinologist ordered for my thyroid cost over $1500 with insurance), spent countless hours at doctor’s offices, had countless vials of blood drawn and pokes on my arm, and was all around done with the whole process. In addition, I was feeling a lot better, and so I just kind of threw my hands up and declared myself done for the time being. I saw no point continuing to try and “figure things out” when overall my health was good and the only problem I seemed to have was slightly irregular T3 and T4 levels.
Believe me that no one wishes I had better answers; I wish I knew the why’s and hows and general ins and outs of that very bad year of bad health. But for now I am thankful that day by day my health is markedly improved from where it was just 3 years ago. I feel stronger, more energetic and overall healthier and more capable than I have in a very, very long time.
From the research I’ve done, the supplements that my integrative doctor recommended are pretty standard for the treatment of thyroid issues. I am often contacted by readers who know about my thyroid issues and are curious what supplements my doc recommended. For the treatment of autoimmune issues with diet and lifestyle adjustments, the evidence continues to primarily be anecdotal, but when you’re feeling lousy and finding no relief through the standard medication protocols, I say making some lifestyle shifts its at least worth a shot.
As I said above, I never want to be in the position of encouraging people to ditch their practitioners advice to follow along with something a random blogger told them to do on the internet, but by all means I encourage all my readers to press against the standard medical advice when it comes to treating autoimmune and thyroid issues and seek additional treatment that can work in conjunction with their doctor’s protocol. I also encourage you to listen to your body, and at the time, my body was telling me it felt good and banging my head against a wall in search of clear answers was starting to cause me more harm than good.
And so that’s my story! When I look back at that crazy, uncertain year when I was in and out of doctor’s offices and getting poked multiple times a month, I almost can’t believe it happened. I continue to have my thyroid monitored and in fact am due to get updated blood work ASAP, and I continue to be grateful for overall good health. For those dealing with thyroid issues, I feel for you and am rooting you on. Don’t give up, be your doctor’s biggest pest when it comes to getting your medication levels tweaked, and do what you can to work on living a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise. Even if it doesn’t change your levels, a healthier life will benefit you in many other ways. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!