Currently there are over a million people in this country suffering from thyroid conditions. This only includes those who have been diagnosed and unfortunately in our experience, diagnosis is often delayed due to incomplete testing or sufferers putting up with mild and vague symptoms for long periods of time. With this in mind, there are likely many more people out there who are yet to be diagnosed. The purpose of this blog is to help you understand what Grave’s Disease is, how it can be diagnosed and what can be done about it.
What is Grave’s Disease?
Grave’s is an autoimmune condition, whereby the body’s internal immune system is creating inflammation at the site of the thyroid gland. Due to this inflammation, the function of the thyroid becomes affected and speeds up, becoming hyperthyroid. The difference between Grave’s and a general overactive (hyperthyroid) is that the immune system is involved.
The reason why someone develops Graves is unfortunately not completely understood, however, we do know that there are certain risk factors associated:
Approximately 80% of people with autoimmune conditions are female. Around 5x more women develop Grave’s compared to men.
Having other autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Coeliac Disease or Lupus increases your chance of developing another autoimmune condition.
Genetics susceptibility means that if you have a direct relative with an autoimmune condition your risk increases.
Certain infections such as Epstein Barr Virus or Strep throat are thought to potentially trigger autoimmune reactions in the body.
Exposure to radiation or toxins from the environment such as BPA, radiation and asbestos.
Gut dysbiosis from frequent antibiotic use, poor diet or long-term digestive issues.
Common symptoms of Grave’s Disease
In Grave’s, many of the typical hyperthyroid symptoms are exacerbated and may not respond as well to typical medical interventions. Thyroid hormones control the speed of many functions throughout the body and when the production of these hormones speeds up we tend to see:
Energy increases which can often feel like anxiety or can’t sit still. (If this has been going on for a while then it can lead to fatigue).
Diarrhoea or increased appetite with difficulty feeling satiated.
Weight loss or finding it hard to put on weight.
Increased or irregular heart rate.
Tremor, feeling shaky or buzzing.
Inability to concentrate or gather thoughts.
Joint pain, muscle weakness and loss of muscle tone.
Fluctuations in mood, irritability and ‘not feeling quite right’.
Feeling hot and an increase in sweating.
Missing or irregular periods, difficulty falling pregnant.
Bulging or wide eyes.
Enlarged thyroid or visible goitre.
How to know if you have Grave’s?
If you have been experiencing these symptoms or if you have been diagnosed with a hyperthyroid, perhaps it is worth investigating if you have Grave’s. This can be done through a simple blood test looking at both the thyroid hormone markers and the autoantibodies:
Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO)
Thyroglobulin antibody (TGAb)
TSH receptor antibodies (TRAB)
TSH, T3, T4
In Grave’s we will often see low TSH, high T3 and T4 and at least one of the thyroid antibodies elevated.
What can you do if you have Grave’s?
1. Go gluten free
Gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains, has been shown to have inflammatory effects in the body, particularly for those with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s. Research has found that following a gluten free diet for six months has shown a reduction in thyroid antibody levels, therefore, completely avoiding gluten containing foods is recommended as a long-term lifestyle change.
2. Consume selenium
Acting as an antioxidant in the body, selenium is an essential micronutrient needed for many functions throughout the body including thyroid health. The thyroid contains and uses the most selenium out of all the organs in the body. When there is a deficiency of selenium, the body is at a greater risk of developing Grave’s or other thyroid conditions. Consuming just 5 brazil nuts each day can be a wonderful food-based way of increasing your selenium intake.
3. Reduce your toxin exposure
The thyroid organ is particularly sensitive to exposure to toxins. Long-term exposure to heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium), household toxins (cleaning products, pesticides, plastics), pesticides, workplace chemicals and radiation have been associated with thyroid diseases, including Grave’s. We recommend doing a household audit to reduce the number of toxins you are exposed to on a daily basis and replacing them with home-made or natural alternatives.
4. Check your Vitamin D status
Deficiency in Vitamin D has been associated with autoimmune conditions and thyroid disease, including Grave’s. Vitamin D also has a strong role to play in the body’s innate immune function by helping to process and eliminate infections which could exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. The best way to increase your Vitamin D is to directly expose your skin to the sun for 10-20 minutes every day. The amount of time you need in the sun will depend on the colour of your skin, darker skin needing more than lighter skin.