I have shared some of my health issues on my blog in the past including my struggles with iron deficiency anemia and overtraining. During my experience with overtraining I left one detail out because at the time I thought some of my thyroid issues I was experiencing were related to overtraining and pushing my body too hard. After my marathon in 2010 and the subsequent elevated heart rate that I experienced I made an appointment with one the of the campus doctors. During our appointment he did some lab tests including thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid antibodies (thyroid peroxidase). The labs indicated that I had hyperthyroid and that the thyroid antibodies were elevated. He diagnosed me with a condition know as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I was in denial at the time because my thyroid was hyperactive (hyperthyroid) and typically Hashimoto’s presents as an underachieve thyroid. I was also in denial because I felt that all of these issues were related to the marathon training and would eventually go away with adequate rest and recovery. I put the diagnosis behind me and went on with my life.
After taking a month off after my marathon my heart rate came back down to normal and I was able to start training again. In fact, I was able to compete in the collegiate national championships for triathlon that April. After graduating with a master’s degree in human nutrition I went on to my dietetic internship at the University of Houston in Texas. I continued to train while I was there and had no thyroid symptoms. When I got back to Colorado after the completion of my internship I trained for another marathon and continued to have no problems with my thyroid. I thought for sure the doctor had falsely diagnosed me. I even had my TSH checked at one point and it was within the normal range (I did not have the thyroid peroxidase checked or the free T3 and T4).
Everything seemed to be going well until this past winter. I started to feel out of sorts and not myself. I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning on some days and would long to just lay in bed all day. My mind felt sluggish. I remember worrying that someone at work would notice that it was taking longer for me to process information. I had trouble finding the words to explain things. I was still exercising, but some days it felt like it took all of my willpower just to make it to the gym. I know something was off so I made an appointment with a local physician. Here is an article from Fuelary.com about symptoms of both hypo- and hyperthyroid.
After explaining my past diagnosis and my symptoms the physician ordered a thyroid panel blood test, which included the thyroid antibodies, TSH, and thyroid hormones free T3 and T4. It seemed like a really long time before I received the results, but it was confirmed, I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. There was no denying it any longer. My thyroid peroxidase numbers were around 500 and normal or negative results would be closer to zero. My thyroid is literally attacking itself. This means that I will likely have to be on thyroid medication the rest of my life and it means that my thyroid levels will likely fluctuate, but eventually I could lose the function of my thyroid completely. Yikes!
Hashimoto’s is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism. It is an autoimmune disease and much like other autoimmune diseases, there is no cure. Sometimes I blame myself for the disease. If only had listened to my body and not overtrained for that marathon, or, if only I had taken better care of myself when I was younger. The truth is that the true cause of the disease is unknown. There are only theories as to why people get Hashimoto’s (and many other autoimmune diseases), which includes a genetics, a bacterial or viral infection, stress, damaged or leaky gut, pregnancy, and even gender. Likely it is not one factor that leads to an autoimmune disease, but many factors.
As a dietitian/nutritionist my first reaction was to turn to my diet. Surely diet must play a role. I may never know if my diet contributed to the disease, but perhaps I can manage the disease with diet or at least slow down the progression of the disease? There are theories that gluten may play a role, or perhaps it is a leaky gut that is the problem, maybe dairy? The research is scarce. Information on the internet is full of misinformation and misinterpretation of the few studies that are available. You would think that if this is the most common cause of hypothyroid it would be a little better researched, but why bother? It is not deadly and it can be managed by simply popping a thyroid pill everyday. From my experience that is now most physicians approach the treatment.
Even with the thyroid medication, I often sense there is something off with my thyroid. Some days I am full of energy and feel great. Other days I am wrecked with anxiety and feel tired and sluggish. It does not matter if I sleep well or not. I have been able to manage the best that I can and I have been determined to not let it slow me down. I was able to train and win a marathon this spring. I have been able to train for a half ironman distance triathlon and I just received confirmation of my entry into the Boston marathon in 2017.
I plan to continue to experiment with my own diet as well as recovery strategies including stress management and improving sleep quality. During this time I will continue to blog about my personal journey with my autoimmune disease. I will include the research studies available on Hashimoto’s and diet as well as other treatment/management options. My hope is that my personal story will help others struggling with an autoimmune disease. I also hope that it inspires people who are experiencing the symptoms of a thyroid condition to get the lab test done and seek treatment and support.