Graves’ Disease: The Mind and Body Behind It
Michelle had been through the wringer. Her blood tests were good…but she felt ill all the time. A woman in her late twenties, she suffered extreme anxiety, restlessness, mood swings, fatigue, irregular periods, and muscle weakness. She was more afraid of losing her mother than sad. She loved sushi.
Michelle sought medical attention from two different doctors. Each was cooly unfazed by her symptoms and she was told to take anti-anxiety pills. That’s when she came to see me.
I ran a complete thyroid panel plus the two main antibody tests to rule out Grave’s disease – TSI and thyrotropin releasing immunoglobulin. It was clear that her thyroid, the gland found at the front of the neck, was in overdrive. It was on an unnecessary mission to produce extra thyroid hormone— and her immune system was fighting back.
I diagnosed her with Graves’ Disease, the main autoimmune disorder caused by an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and we began looking at her genetic mutations, her diet and lifestyle, her organs and nutrient status. We began treatment, starting with a “Thyroid Diet” and the homeopathic remedy Phytolacca (poke root) which fit her physical and mental emotional state.
Backing Up: The Thyroid
The thyroid produces hormones called T3 and T4 that regulate both the metabolism and the body’s use of energy. The pituitary, a pea-sized gland in the brain, controls the body’s T3 and T4 hormone levels. It produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which alerts the thyroid to make more hormones.
Graves’ Disease causes the immune system to produce antibodies that falsely act like TSH, causing the thyroid to create more thyroid hormone than the body needs. This can greatly increase the body’s metabolic rate and lead to a number of health problems that affect both the mind and body.
Graves Disease & The Mind
Thyroid hormone acts on nearly every cell in the body. Therefore, the symptoms of Graves’ are varied and significant.
While most symptoms are physical, there are a number of mental problems associated with the disease. Michelle simply wasn’t “feeling herself”—something many patients with Grave’s disease can relate to. Mental effects include:
- Anxiety and Tension
- Irritability and Impatience
- Exaggerated Sensitivity to Noise
- Fluctuating Depression
- Cognitive Dysfunction
- Emotional Liability
- Feeling Angry or suppressing anger
Over all: a recipe for feeling on-edge. The hardest part is that these are common signs for a host of everyday issues, often leading to an overlooked, delayed, or improper diagnosis.
Graves Disease & The Body
Michelle was beyond exhausted when I first met with her. Yes, she has two kids and an active schedule. In the past she always made sure she exercised and got plenty of sleep, but this was slipping and she was too tired to work out and not able to sleep.
When she began to shake and experience shortness of breath, she knew her doctors were missing something. Common physical symptoms include:
- Visible Shakiness (Especially in the hands)
- Heat Intolerance
- Change in Hair or Skin Texture
- Weight Loss
- Reduced Libido
- Bulging Eyes
- Enlarged Thyroid (Goiter)
Only about 30% of people with Graves’ disease show signs of Graves’ ophthalmopathy, an inflammatory condition that causes the muscles and connective tissues around the eyes to swell. More common are everyday feelings that can be easily dismissed as “stress” or “getting older.”
Each case varies so I treat my patients accordingly. Starting with the “Thyroid Diet” I started with Michelle, we found great success in eliminating soy products, keeping iodine low, cutting out dairy and gluten and eating clean, in general. After only 2 months, she reported a 50% improvement in her symptoms and her TSH and antibodies had improved. We continued working on her diet and her fears, as well as adding specific supplements for her adrenal over activity and gut dysbiosis, while keeping a very close eye on her symptoms, blood work and eyes. She is doing well and still has her thyroid gland. These days unfortunately it’s rare to find a Grave’s patient who hasn’t had a thyroidectomy (removed her thyroid) or ablated it with radioactive iodine.
Grave’s is serious and you should work with your integrative endocrinologist to stop the progression fast and reverse it. Sometimes it’s necessary to destroy it when there are no other options available to you. In either case, it’s important to remember the cause – it’s not your thyroid you should blame. You must look at the immune system as it’s in charge of the attack and you must heal the gut which houses 80% of the immune system.
Stay tuned on a fascinating article coming up in my next post which looks at the common mental emotional triggers for hyperthyroidism. I see the same theme in almost 80% of my cases. The fear of losing someone you are dependent on. Stay tuned.