“I’ve lost 11 pounds; my hair is no longer falling out; my nails are growing. I am just elated at how much better I feel.” —Linda B., Charlotte, NC
What is Graves’ Disease?
Characterized by overactivity of the entire thyroid gland, Graves’ Disease is an autoimmune disorder. The body’s lymphocytes make antibodies against the body’s own tissues. Antibodies bind to the surface of thyroid cells, which causes these cells to overproduce thyroid hormones (called “hyperthyroidism”). Though not the only cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ Disease is the most common cause; and it often results in an enlarged thyroid gland. Patients with Graves’ Disease also have eye changes, called Graves’ opthalmopathy.
Treatments for Graves’ Disease include radioactive iodine ablation; anti-thyroid medications; and thyroidectomy. Radioactive iodine shrinks the thyroid and eventually destroys the entire gland. Anti-thyroid medications stop the thyroid from producing excess T3 and T4 hormones. Though the drugs lessen the chance of developing hyperthyroidism again, they are not a cure. To eliminate hyperthyroid symptoms permanently, some Graves’ Disease patients choose to have a thyroidectomy, which is the surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
Though one or more of the treatments above are necesary to preserve the life of a Graves’ patient, none of these three treatments addresses the most important part of Graves’ Disease: a raging immune system.
Also, after treatment, these Graves’ patients will then have low-thyroid symptoms, which are rarely completely alleviated by thyroid-hormone therapy alone.
A Functional Medicine Approach to Autoimmunity
Treating an immune system in overdrive, an immune system that can’t retreat and “be quiet,” requires careful diagnostic testing. Whole-body systems (nervous, immune, gastrointestinal, and endocrine/hormonal) need to be examined for sources of inflammation. At Carolinas Thyroid Institute, our Functional Medicine approach reveals and removes triggers that cause the immune system to rage.
Dr. Steven Roach determines if a patient has food allergies or sensitivities to gluten and other foods. Fo autoimmune patients, in particular, gluten should be avoided. He also looks for other sources of inflammation, such as adrenal stress, hormonal imbalances, hidden infections, heavy-metal toxicity and weak bloodsugar control. Both hypoglycemia and insulin resistance contribute to a raging immune system.
Hyperthyroid symptoms include the following: weight loss, hair loss, protrusion of eyes or puffy eyes, nervousness, tremors, insomnia, irregular or light menstruation, panic attacks or mood swings, a fast heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm, excessive sweating and heat intolerance, excessive hunger, and restlessness.
After radioactive iodine ablation or a thyroidectomy, Graves’ patients are prescribed thyroid hormone, which is supposed to eliminate hypothyroid symptoms, such as the following: extreme fatigue, brain fog and forgetfulness, depression, hair loss, dry skin, insomnia, constipation, etc. Unfortunately, these patients rarely experience the absence of low-thyroid symptoms, and simply increasing the thyroid-hormone dosage is not the answer.
Lab tests might indicate the right (“normal”) level of thyroid hormone in the blood has been achieved, but these patients continue to face hypothyroid symptoms. It is discouraging for a Graves’ patient to go through the process of radioactive iodine ablation and/or thyroidectomy and then through months of tests to determine the right level of replacement hormone, only to find that she STILL has symptoms that interfere with daily life.
A Functional Medicine approach to treatment is absolutely crucial for autoimmune patients with Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism.