Thyroid Basics

Why You Should Get Tested for Hashimoto’s

By: Ginny Mahar

Reviewed by Mary Shomon

Average reading time: 3 minutes

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you may be taking your prescribed thyroid replacement medication, monitoring your TSH levels with your doctor’s help, and going about your life. There’s a critical piece of information about your health, however, that you may be missing. Even your doctor may not be aware of how important this is.

We are in the business of empowerment here at Thyroid Refresh®, so making sure you are informed is a key goal. Too many of us have gone years, unaware of this knowledge as our health gradually declined. Are you ready to know what it is?

In the United States, up to 95% of people with hypothyroidism have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s.

That means that if you’re hypothyroid, it’s very likely that you also have Hashimoto’s. Let’s take a look at what that means for your health.

Hypothyroidism vs Hashimoto’s: What’s the Difference?

Hypothyroidism is the condition of having an underactive thyroid. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid disease and the leading cause of hypothyroidism in the United States and other developed countries. Hashimoto’s is most commonly associated with hypothyroidism, but can also cause the body to yo-yo between hypo and hyperthyroid conditions.

With Hashimoto’s, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own thyroid tissue. Over time, Hashimoto’s can lead to destruction of the thyroid gland, the formation of thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, and a host of other health issues. With Hashimoto’s, you are also at an increased risk of other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s, or ulcerative colitis. Your doctor might not tell you any of that, or even test you for Hashimoto’s because it doesn’t change the standard treatment of synthetic thyroid hormone. As patients in the conventional medical system, we often have to request the tests, and some doctors refuse to run them. If this happens to you, we encourage you to find a doctor who will.

There are other causes of hypothyroidism besides Hashimoto’s, like iodine imbalance, surgery, or radiation. Knowing the root cause is crucial. In the words of our resident thyroid expert, Mary Shomon, “Understanding the ‘why’ behind a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is critical to moving forward with a treatment plan.”

Even though it sounds scary, knowing that you have an autoimmune disease opens up a world of powerful information that can make all the difference to your health. One of the key facts to know about autoimmune disease, according to Terry Wahls M.D., is that autoimmunity has a significant diet and lifestyle component, with a significant portion of your risk coming from how you live, what you eat, and your environment.”

Dr. Wahls recommends a nutrient-dense diet, reducing toxic exposure, staying active, managing stress, and finding community support as some of the most potent preventatives you can adopt. These are the principles she’s used to beat progressive multiple sclerosis, another autoimmune disease. (These also happen to be the same principles THYROID30 is built upon– no coincidence there.)

The Power of Diagnosis

I went four years from my original diagnosis of hypothyroidism hearing that word—Hashimoto’s—and thinking, I don’t have that. I just have hypothyroidism.

During that time, my health also steadily declined. I was tired every day from the moment I woke up. I was battling multiple infections, sick for months at a time and on round after round of antibiotics. I also dealt with hair loss, weight gain, joint pain, and a serious case of the blahs. My work as a chef, food writer, and cooking instructor was compromised. I began noticing correlations between my diet and my well-being, even though my doctor assured me that diet wouldn’t make a difference for my thyroid condition. I was also raising my baby boy, struggling to be the mother he deserved.

Because I was feeling worse, I started to educate myself, and that’s when I learned that I needed a full panel of thyroid tests, including testing for Hashimoto’s. I called my doctor’s office to request the tests, and thankfully, they agreed.

“This is like déjà vu,” the nurse said as I rattled off the list of tests. “I just did all this for someone else.”

A week later she called with the results, informing me that my antibodies were elevated.

“So, I have Hashimoto’s?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “The doctor said to continue taking your levothyroxine.”

It turns out that, even though the doctor suspected I had Hashimoto’s, she hadn’t tested me, because it made no difference to her recommended treatment: levothyroxine. The frustrating thing for all of us in this situation is that although a Hashimoto’s diagnosis wouldn’t have changed her treatment plan, it certainly changed mine.

Knowing I had Hashimoto’s was a key to a whole new world of options to improve my health, and I pursued them! The first thing I did was find a new doctor, and then change my diet and lifestyle. I chose to work with a naturopath who helped uncover and address underlying issues, like imbalances in my intestinal bacteria (gut dysbiosis) and nutrient imbalances.

Today, I have lowered my thyroid antibodies by more than half, and they continue to go down. After years of feeling tired all day, every day, I now feel better and have my life and vitality back, thanks to getting my antibodies in check. According to thyroid health experts like Dr. Izabella Wentz, it also means that I may have lowered my risk for additional autoimmune conditions.

Your Next Steps

While I was at the lab waiting to have blood drawn for that first (and fateful) full thyroid panel, a collection of nature photos on the wall caught my eye. At the end of the series was a statement from the photographer. He described his decades-long struggle with an autoimmune disease called– you guessed it– Hashimoto’s. He stated that although he couldn’t hold a regular job or have a normal life because of his chronic symptoms, photography was a welcome outlet for the days when he felt well enough to get out of bed.

That moment will haunt me forever because I can’t help but wonder: what kind of medical advice or testing did he receive? Was he ever lucky enough, like I was, to learn that Hashimoto’s can improve dramatically with diet and lifestyle interventions? If he hadn’t gone hunting for that information himself, the likely answer is probably not.

Like that photographer, I can’t get those years back, but I can try to save you from the same fate. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, be sure to request these tests for thyroid antibodies:

You can also make sure that they are included in a full thyroid panel. And consider finding a new doctor. People are getting their lives, their energy, libido—even their hair—back by working with naturopaths, nutritionists, osteopaths, functional MDs, and integrative MDs who are willing to help them optimize their health and overcome Hashimoto’s. You can, too!

About the Author

Thyroid Refresh Co-founder Ginny Mahar is the mom and recipe blogger formerly known as Hypothyroid Chef. After struggling with the residual symptoms of Hashimoto’s for over four years, she embarked on her own process of adopting a thyroid-specific diet and lifestyle. Within one year, she restored her vitality and lowered her thyroid antibodies by half. Ginny is a passionate advocate of supporting others on their journeys toward better health. She is a Cordon Bleu trained chef, cooking instructor, writer, and entrepreneur.