There are many root causes to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or autoimmune thyroid disorder. When someone is diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, we want to start modulating the immune system and treating the root cause. Hashimoto’s can’t be ‘cured,’ but if we can find what is fanning the flame of your immune system, we can calm the autoimmunity and save the gland’s integrity.
One common reason for the induction of Hashi is the exposure to toxic chemicals. There have been specific toxins that are clearly linked to thyroid disease, though it can still be difficult to determine causation in a specific case because there are often many factors. And it’s hard to pinpoint the exact action that a toxicant has and how that contributes to a disease. Hence, why we know that there are many chemicals that are harmful—but it’s not easy to research why.
Bottom line: It’s never cut and dry with thyroid disorders. When we look for the root cause, we’re finding there are many involved. But, once you identify the toxins found in your body, you can start the elimination process.
Causes of autoimmune thyroid disorder
One common reason for abnormal thyroid function is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. There are several reasons this autoimmune disorder can start in your body. Let’s break a few down.
👉Immune system activation from chronic infections (think Epstein Barr-Virus, Herpes Simplex Virus and others), Lyme Disease, mold toxicity, food allergies, and even chronic gut dysbiosis.
👉Big hormonal fluctuations (think puberty, each pregnancy, and menopause).
👉Environmental toxicities. This is the one I want to dive into more, as environmental toxicities can be vast and varied.
Environmental toxins linked to autoimmune thyroid disorder
Ultimately these environmental factors have the ability to increase thyroid volume (by increasing inflammation and creating goiters), increase serum TSH (elevated TSH is criteria to diagnose hypothyroidism), and induce thyroid autoantibodies, especially in women.
Heavy metal toxicity with mercury, amongst others
Heavy metal toxicity inhibits enzymes that convert inactive thyroid hormone to active thyroid hormone, ultimately decreasing the amount of available hormone you have.
Yep, that BPA. There are real reasons to avoid it—it can cause a direct induction of thyroid auto-antibodies, and it can bind your thyroid receptors, not allowing your hormone to bind to it.
Though Minnesota was the first to ban this antibacterial soap additive, it’s still available widely, and it can lead to the direct induction of thyroid autoantibodies.
PBDEs (polybrominated diphenylethers)
These compounds found in flame retardants (furniture, clothing, rugs, etc.) can also cause the direct induction of thyroid autoantibodies.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
These man-made chemicals that are widely used in electrical equipment can bind the TSH receptor, which alters the brain’s ability to monitor your bodies thyroid needs, binds the thyroid transport protein not allowing it to bring thyroid hormones to your body, and alters the way your liver converts your thyroid hormone, causing issues in your hormone levels.
Organochlorines such as DDT
These may be banned in the US and Europe but they are still used in developing countries to control malaria-causing mosquitoes, and therefore can be present in imported goods—and they’re directly toxic to the thyroid gland.
How we determine if your thyroid disease is connected to environmental factors
The challenge with any toxicant is to link exposure in an individual and which specific actions on thyroid function it disrupted. In today’s modern society, one could easily look at a list of thyroid hormone disruptors and check many boxes of possible root causes of their autoimmune disease. So, specifically connecting toxins to an action is very challenging.
When I am doing an interview on someone, I like to ask about their environment and probe with questions that may highlight a further need for environmental testing:
- Do you live / work in a water-damaged home or work space?
- Do you live next to the highway?
- What’s your regular exposure to chemicals? This includes exposure to clearly defined chemicals like pesticides, VOCs (glues, finishers, cleaning agents, etc.), metals (amalgams, soil, stained-glass window making, metal-work/finishing) and chemicals you might not think of through food, water bottles, receipts, or cheap furniture. I also like to ask what you clean your house with (conventional cleaning chemicals can contain toxins that impact thyroid function too).
- Where are you getting your water (city water, well, etc.) and do you use filtered, reverse osmosis, or tap for cooking and drinking?
- Do you have any excessive contrast imaging studies?
- Do you have breast implants? Other bodily implants?
- What is your access to food like? Do you live in a food desert, or an area without access to organic foods and meats?
And that’s just for starters!
How to test for environmental toxins
Any toxicant test is only a snapshot at what is being metabolized and excreted at that time. There is no way of testing your full body burden because many toxic chemicals are sheltered in your fat tissue to keep your body safe. However, there are a few lab tests we can do to get a good idea of what types of chemicals are stored in your body and give us a starting point for treatment. I tailor these to each patient, because everyone’s body, symptoms, and lived experience is different.
How we treat thyroid disorders related to environmental factors
Each person is unique and their condition is similar to a pie, meaning your Hashimoto’s may have been induced by multiple things. That’s why treating the whole person and making sure you’re checking in on lab values is important. If toxicants are only 40% of the reason your antibodies are elevated, finding and treating the other 60% is equally important!
This is why personalized medicine is so important. There’s not a one-size-fits-all plan to support and treat autoimmune thyroid disorders, and working with a practitioner who understands that is a key to success.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.