How Inflammation Affects the Thyroid

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also called autoimmune or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is the most common type of hypothyroidism. The term “thyroiditis” refers to an inflammation (not an infection) of the thyroid gland itself. It is named after the Japanese physician, Hakaru Hashimoto, who first described the condition in 1912.

Inflammation is a normal, natural sign that your immune system is working. It is the natural defense mechanism of the body to protect against foreign invaders or injury and can become chronic in certain cases. In a localized infection, for example, the sequence of events can be summarized as follows:

  1. Microbes (bacteria) enter the body.
  2. Small blood vessels become dilated to increase blood flow.
  3. There is an increase in vascular permeability to protein.
  4. Fluid moves into the tissue causing swelling.
  5. Neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) and later monocytes (another type of white blood cell) move from the blood vessels into the tissue.
  6. Microbes are engulfed and destroyed by white cells.
  7. Tissue repair is initiated.

The sequence of events that occur during an inflammatory response can vary, depending on the type or cause of injury (i.e., bacteria, trauma), the site of the injury, and the state of the body.

The ability to resist infection and disease is compromised by long-term deficiency in essential nutrients. One of those is iodine, which has many non-endocrine biologic effects, including the role it plays in the physiology of the inflammatory response. Iodides increase the movement of white blood cells called granulocytes into areas of inflammation and improve the destruction of bacteria. Because iodine is so useful in combating inflammation, it is fair to say that the immune system will deplete all available reserves, including those essential to thyroid function.

Iodine is required for thyroxin production and is concentrated in the thyroid gland. Worldwide research shows that iodine deficiency is a major cause of breast, ovarian, uterine, and prostate cysts and cancers. Iodine levels in US soils have fallen by more than 50% over the past 50 years. Several long-term studies have observed clinical findings such as reversal of fibrocystic disease, decreased insulin requirements in diabetics, significantly less need for medication for hypothyroidism, resolution of migraine headaches and fibromyalgia pain. Does this mean that we all should rush out and begin taking iodine?

One of the problems of our current thinking about nutrition and disease is that we often still try to “medicate our way” out of the condition. Just as the solution to migraines is not “more aspirin”, the solution to thyroiditis is not “more iodine.” First, there are good quality sources of iodine that are easily assimilated and absorbed, and then there are cheap bulk supplies. Foremost, however, is the reality that no amount of iodine (or other nutrient) is going to offset a chronic inflammatory response without also treating the root cause of that immune attack.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.