Thyroid

The Battle, Part 2: Treatment

A few months ago, I posted about being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease.  If you haven’t read that post, I recommend you go read it here then come back to this post.

With Hashimoto’s disease, if I eat gluten, my immune system sees it as a poison and starts attacking it.  That in itself isn’t really a bad thing, but then my immune system starts attacking my thyroid because the hormones produced by it look very similar to gluten.  This throws off the thyroid production and usually causes hypothyroidism (underproduction of the thyroid hormones).  With that can come abnormal weight gain, tiredness, hair loss, cold intolerance, etc.

Hashimoto’s disease doesn’t have a cure, but it does have treatments.  One of which you might have guess: reducing the gluten in my diet (quick note: when I use the word “diet” I am not referring to a weight-loss diet, I am just talking about my daily food intake).

However, I really struggle with being completely gluten-free.

I really love food, and thanks to my Greek roots, I really love pasta and bread.  Can you get a lot of these foods in gluten-free versions? Absolutely!  Do they taste as good?  Sometimes, but most of the time, they leave much to be desired.  A lot of restaurants still don’t offer gluten-free options.  Unless you want a salad… every day… at every meal… 

And gluten is in EVERYTHING!  Not just in food, especially food you wouldn’t expect (like soy sauce.  who knew?), but in things such as makeup, body wash/lotion, medicines, etc.

Since I am not allergic, just intolerant, I don’t worry about that stuff ^^^  for right now.  I’m just trying to focus on the gluten in my food, one day at a time.  Really, one meal at time.  And I mess up constantly because I have a serious lack of willpower.  Did I mention that I really like food???

It makes it even harder that I work in the food-service industry.  Being surrounded by food combined by my lack of willpower works out well for me [insert very sarcastic tone]… But the good thing is more and more people are becoming aware of food sensitivities like gluten, dairy, etc., so more options are becoming available.   If only Bojangles’ would come out with a GF biscuit.

Not only am I supposed to be gluten-free, but I am also supposed to be dairy-free.  Can you guess how this is going?! 

I am not just lactose-intolerant though, I am casein-intolerant (casein is a protein in dairy that looks a lot like gluten to your body, so of course it makes sense that I would be intolerant to that as well) too.  I’ve never been much of a milk drinker, so that part isn’t hard.  However a lot of recipes use milk, so I usually just substitute it with coconut or almond milk.  With cheese, I try to get cheeses that aren’t made from cow’s milk, such as goat or sheep cheese.  My body seems to not have as many issues digesting that type of dairy.  And as for yogurt, I really love Greek yogurt, which I also don’t seem to have as many issues digesting (something about the yogurt-making process makes it easier for the body to digest than just straight milk from what I understand).

Some other things I am doing is taking a thyroid pill (my doctor prescribed Nature-Throid for me) and vitamins B12 and  D3 every day.  Along with the intolerances already mentioned, Hashimoto’s (combined with the PCOS symptoms I also have) make it hard for my body to absorb these vitamins directly from my food.  I sound like so much fun, don’t I?!

Anyway,  I think this post has gotten a little lengthy, so I am going to stop here.  If you have any questions/comments, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.  I am sure I will talk more about this in the future as I am always learning and adapting to this lifestyle change.

Also, here are a couple links if you are interested in some more gluten-free reading:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/05/health/gluten-5-things/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/business/food-industry-wagers-big-on-gluten-free.html?_r=0

http://www.celiaccentral.org/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/

http://www.g3free.com/

***Note: I am not an expert on any of the below information nor would I ever claim to be.  I am just posting on my experience, what my personal doctor and I have discussed, what I have personally researched, and what I have found that works for me.  Every person is different and I am not medical professional, so please keep that in mind and make sure to talk to your doctor before implementing any changes to your diet/lifestyle.

***Another note: there is a big difference between an ALLERGY and a SENSITIVITY.  I am sensitive, not allergic, to the things I mention above.  I also use the words “sensitivity” and “intolerance” interchangeably (though I am sure this is probably an incorrect use of the English language lol).

 
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The Battle, Part 1: Diagnosis

Over the last 8 years, I have struggled with my weight.  As a teenager, I could eat anything and everything I wanted, and I was a size 0 (actually I got down to a 00 at one point).  But around the time I turned 18, things started to change.  I started gaining weight, which most people, including my doctor, attributed to “The Freshman 15” but I probably gained a good 30lbs in one year.  However, I was living at home while going to college, so my diet relatively hadn’t changed— I wasn’t living on campus eating in the dining halls every day.  There were other changes that started happening at the same time too.  I started losing a lot of hair.  I would take a shower and clumps of hair would fall out (thank goodness I have a TON of hair).  I also started noticing the hair on my face was thickening and darkening (attractive, I know). I also was tired all the time, which again didn’t seem too big of a deal, I mean what teenager doesn’t like to sleep?!  

Then at 19, I stopped having my period. I knew I wasn’t pregnant (I did not have sex until I got married).  After 5 months without a period, I made an appointment with my family doctor, who sent me to have an ultrasound done and to see a gynecologist.  When the ultrasound results came in, the gynecologist, who was male and I had never had another appointment with before, told me I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).  He told me that I would never get pregnant without fertility treatments.  I was devastated! I have wanted kids as long as I could remember.  I accepted this diagnosis and went on birth control (as I was told by my doctor that was pretty much the only option) so I could start having regular periods again— by this time it had been over 7 months since I’d had my period.  Some of my symptoms did go away, including the loss of hair on my head and the thickening of hair on my face).  I even lost a little weight, but not much, and the fatigue did not get better at all.  As the years went by, I really believed there was something going on with my thyroid, especially based on research I’d done and people I had spoken with, but my thyroid levels kept coming back “normal” (there is a HUGE debate in the medical field about what is normal… I might delve into that another time) so my doctor kept saying nothing was wrong.

Flash forward 6 years… I am now almost 25 years old.  I am still exhausted all of the time and struggling with my weight.  I feel yucky all of the time. I can’t think of a better way to describe it but I just didn’t feel right.  I actually tried Metformin in a desperate attempt to lose weight, but it DESTROYED my stomach.  Ironically, I did lose weight, but that’s just because I wasn’t able to digest anything I ate lol.  I came off of that within two weeks because it made me so miserable.   Anyway, at Thanksgiving that year we had some friends join us for our family get-together.  The subject of thyroid issues came up while  talking to my friend, Sally, who recommended I go see her doctor.  Her “doctor” is actually a FNP (family nurse practitioner) but she focuses the whole picture, not just one symptom, and she is also very educated on thyroid issues.  I pretty much called her office the next day to set up an appointment!

It took a couple of weeks to get in, but I went in for my first appointment about a week before my 25th birthday.   I went in to my first visit hoping for the best, but expecting to be given the same small 15 minutes of time then be told again that I had PCOS.  However it was nothing like that.  I spent nearly 1.5 hours at the office, and I spent an hour of that just with the FNP alone!  She sat and talked to me about every symptom I had been having and how I came to be diagnosed with PCOS.  After about 45 minutes, she told me that she doesn’t believe I have PCOS.  Well, she said I have PCOS symptoms, but that she thinks there is a lot more going on than just PCOS.  She tells me she thinks I have a thyroid issue and she wants me to get bloodwork done.  I willingly oblige as I am getting hopeful we might have an answer.

Now comes the waiting part again… the bloodwork had to be run, which took over a week, then with Christmas and New Year’s, I finally get to go back in early January to find out my results.  When I went back for my follow-up, I spent another good hour with my FNP. She actually SHOWED me my bloodwork results, going through each test and result one-by-one, explaining what each one was, what the result was, and whether it was good or bad (to me this was a big deal because at most doctors’ offices you see the doctor all of 15 minutes, and they never show you what your results are or take time to really explain them).  She explained that my B12 and D3 levels were extremely deficient, which explained some of the fatigue I had been having.  Then she showed me my thyroid levels and said that they were “okay” but not really okay.  She said that though it showed normal right now, it probably fluctuates a lot.  Finally she showed me a test she ran for a specific antibody called antithyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) antibody.  The antibody should only be within a range of 10-50.  Mine was 392!  She explained to me that my immune system was attacking my thyroid, a condition called Hashimoto’s Disease.   There is no cure for this autoimmune disorder, but there are ways to treat it.  One of the major ways is to reduce the gluten in my diet.  My body sees gluten as a poison, so it starts attacking it when I eat anything with it.  The antibodies are raised to fight off the gluten, but then they start attacking my thyroid because the hormones the thyroid produces look very similar to gluten (at least they look similar to these antibodies).  My FNP put me on a thyroid medication called Levoxyl (I can only use this specific brand-name medication because a lot of thyroid meds contain gluten– crazy right?!).  I also started taking 8000+ IUs of liquid Vitamin D3 per day, and 5000+ mg of  sublingual B12 (I think that’s right— I need to look) so that it would absorb directly in my bloodstream.  Note: I don’t still take this amount. This was just to get my levels back up to normal. 

So with this diagnosis has come relief and challenges of course.  I really struggle with cutting out gluten (what can I say, this Greek girl loves food!).  I will talk more on this in Part 2.  But I am happy to have an answer and the changes I am making have had positive results so far.  I am definitely feeling better overall than I have in years.