The causes of depression are many: grief or injury; poor diet or blood-sugar regulation; lack of sleep; bipolar illness, etc. Chronic depression, however, may be one sign of an overactive immune system, characteristic of Hashimoto’s Disease (autoimmune hypothyroidism) or Graves’ Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism).
According to the American Thyroid Association, over 60% of Americans who have a thyroid disorder are unaware that they do. One reason for this may be because mood problems—such as depression and anxiety—are often diagnosed as mental-health conditions and are treated with antidepressants. In this case, the wrong treatment obscures the real problem.
In contrast, I look for systemic abnormalities, such as autoimmune thyroid disease. Using a thorough Functional Medicine approach, I treat local autoimmune-thyroid patients in my office and also offer nationwide treatment (see our Home page for details), as a convenience to distant patients throughout the United States. To schedule a free, 15-minute phone consultation, call (704) 853-8000.
Why Depressed People Are Often Misdiagnosed
Autoimmune thyroid disorders are rarely treated properly by our traditional Western medical community. Although medication is necessary to raise thyroid-hormone levels (for hypothyroid patients) or to reduce them (for hyperthyroid patients), this traditional treatment is a small part of the big autoimmune picture. Reducing the inflammatory fire of autoimmune reactions is key to reducing symptoms like chronic depression.
Traditional Western physicians rely far too much on a TSH (thyroid-stimulating- hormone) test to determine is a patient has a thyroid problem. This test, however, is apt to be inaccurate if someone has too much inflammation, high cholesterol, chronic depression, or insulin resistance.
The TSH test alone is so unreliable that an estimated 80% of people with thyroid disorders receive a normal test result. Patients battling depression, as part of their autoimmune thyroid problem, are then misdiagnosed and are given drugs that can exacerbate the problem.
Antidepressants, for instance, simply recirculate existing serotonin—a brain neurotransmitter that produces a positive feeling. One aspect of the whole-body Functional Medicine approach I use, however, is to provide my patients with enough natural materials to make more serotonin, which is a far better solution.
Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism and Depression
For those with autoimmune disorders, the source of chronic depression (as well as other symptoms) involves a malfunctioning immune system.
Chronic depression is a key symptom in Hashimoto’s Disease, as form of hypothyroidism in which a person’s own immune system targets the body’s ability to make thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism means that an inadequate amount of free, active thyroid hormone is getting into receptor sites throughout the body.
Hashimoto’s patients are usually treated with Synthroid, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone; and these patients find that symptoms pre-medication are often still there after they have been on medication for months or years. Although thyroid medication is needed daily, this treatment isn’t comprehensive enough to reduce depression and other thyroid symptoms satisfactorily.
By contrast, I help my Hashimoto’s patients to quell the inflammatory fire that affects the brain and produces not only chronic depression but other brain issues, such as difficulty concentrating, a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, anxiety and memory problems.
Graves’ Disease and Depression
Like Hashimoto’s, Graves’ Disease (hyperthyroidism) is also a common cause of chronic depression. In Graves’ Disease, a person’s immune system targets the body’s thyroid gland in a way that causes too much thyroid hormone to be produced. Excess thyroid hormone may result in bone, heart, muscle, eye, menstrual or emotional problems, such as depression. Up to 69% of Graves’ patients, in fact, have depression.
Hyperthyroidism has also been linked to bipolar depression. One reason for this may be that patients with bipolar illness are given lithium, and lithium can trigger hyperthyroidism. Clearly, the pharmaceuticals available to patients today are not a complete answer.
Graves’ Disease is treated by surgery or drugs, to decrease the output of thyroid hormone. This strategy often leaves patients with an opposite problem, however: too little, usable thyroid hormone gets into receptor sites and benefits the body. The result is that these Graves’ patients experience depression, a common symptom of hypothyroidism.
Surgery and drugs do not address the underlying autoimmune disorder, with raging inflammation, in both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ patients. As a Functional Medicine physician, I do, through diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation and a reduction of stress.
Our whole-body approach to lingering thyroid symptoms has led to a greater quality of life for so many patients. See our testimonials on the Success Stories page. To schedule a free, 15-minute phone consultation, call (704) 853-8000.