A few weeks ago I got some routine lab work done, including my thyroid hormone levels and my thyroid antibodies. (After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s over a decade ago, having these labs done is pretty routine- I have my levels checked at least once a year).
I had been noticing more fatigue than normal for the last few months, as well as some brain fog and moodiness. These were all signs to me that something was “off” with my thyroid, so getting the lab work done basically confirmed what I already suspected- my thyroid antibody levels were elevated.
If you've only recently been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or even if you've been dealing with thyroid dysfunction for years, you may be wondering what thyroid antibodies even are and why it might be important to have them tested. Read on to find out what I'm doing to get my thyroid antibody levels back on track, as well as what you need to know about your own thyroid antibodies so you can regain your energy and your mood.
What Are Thyroid Antibodies?
Your immune system produces antibodies to defend the body from micro-organisms and other unwanted invaders. These tiny proteins have a very specific job to do. Each type of antibody codes for a very particular type of antigen (a pathogen or foreign invader). Antibodies attach to antigens and let immune cells know that this particular molecule is the enemy and it needs to be destroyed.
This is a great system for keeping you healthy when you come down with an infection like a virus, for instance. When the immune system begins to create antibodies to your own tissue, however, it's a problem. As immune cells begin to attack and destroy your tissues, it's known as autoimmunity. (Auto-immune = Self - attacking). The presence of elevated thyroid antibodies is an indiction that the immune system is mounting an attack against your thyroid tissue and slowly but surely, damaging this important gland.
There are a number of things that can cause one to develop an autoimmune disease (we’ll get to those things in a minute). While we are focusing on thyroid antibodies, autoimmune antibodies can develop against virtually any tissue, from the joints, to muscle, to the intestines, and nerves.
Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, and many others. In fact, there are over 100 documented types of autoimmune diseases and having one autoimmune disease puts you at greater risk for developing another. Hashimoto’s, as well as Graves disease, are both autoimmune diseases against the thyroid. In fact, nearly all thyroid disease is thought to be autoimmune in nature. (A very small percentage are related to a iodine deficiency.)
Your thyroid antibodies include both thyroid peroxidase [TPOAb] and thyroglobulin [TgAb] antibodies. When levels of these two antibodies are elevated, it's a sure sign that the immune systems is attacking the thyroid. While the standard reference range for both TPO and TG Antibodies is <35 IU/ml, according to the Institute of Functional Medicine, the optimal reference range is <2 IU/ml.
When I got my thyroid lab panel done, my thyroid antibodies were as follows:
TPO Antibodies: 152 IU/mL
TG Antibodies: 7 IU/mL
While you can see that my antibody levels are well above the optimal range, especially TPO Antibodies, it's not uncommon for levels to be into the thousands with full blown Hashimoto's.
Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Thyroid Antibodies
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism at least a decade before I learned that my sluggish thyroid was actually due to an autoimmune disease. In fact, I had no idea what thyroid antibodies were, let alone what my personal numbers were.
That’s pretty unfortunate, since measuring thyroid antibodies can detect problems with the thyroid as much as a decade before troubling symptoms start to show up.
My general practitioner never checked my thyroid antibody levels simply because it didn’t have any impact on the method of treatment. My story was the same as many women who have gone to their doctor only to be diagnosed with “hypothyroidism” and sent on their merry way with a prescription for levothyroxine, synthetic thyroid hormone meant to make up for the lack of thyroid hormone your own thyroid gland can’t produce anymore.
A prescription for thyroid hormones is the standard procedure for treating thyroid conditions in the United States. (Levothyroxine, or Synthroid, is the most prescribed drug in the U.S.) Unfortunately, not enough people are asking (let alone answering) the question, “Why is the thyroid not producing enough thyroid hormones in the first place?
Doesn’t it make sense that if the immune system is producing antibodies against the thyroid, there might be something triggering the attack? And if the attack continues, is it any wonder, that the thyroid can be damaged to the point of no longer being able to produce adequate thyroid hormones (T3 and T4)?
Here’s another kicker: Studies have shown that when thyroid antibody levels are elevated, you will likely experience fatigue and other symptoms of thyroid dysfunction… even when your TSH and free T3 levels are normal.
And guess what? Many doctors are only measuring TSH levels when checking for thyroid dysfunction.
Let me repeat that, just so it’s clear: Your TSH and Free T3 levels can be in the "normal" range, but if your thyroid antibody levels are elevated, you will likely experience symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, including fatigue, brain fog, depression, hair loss, and weight gain.
It pays to pay attention to your thyroid antibody levels and optimize them, along with your thyroid hormones if you want to regain your energy and improve your health.
How I'm Getting My Thyroid Antibody Levels Back on Track
The first step to getting thyroid antibody levels in check and effectively halting an immune attack on the thyroid is to remove the triggers that are inciting inflammation.
These triggers can be any number of things, including inflammatory foods, underlying infections, and even stress. Did you know that gluten can cross-react with thyroid tissue and incite an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland?
Even stress can trigger inflammation and cause a rise in thyroid antibody levels. There are seven underlying causes of thyroid dysfunction that can act as potentional triggers for an autoimmune thyroid disease. Knowing what those triggers are and systematically working to eliminat them is key to supporting your thyroid.
If you aren't sure where to start when it comes to identifying the underlying causes of thyroid dysfunction and giving your thyroid the support it needs so you can get your energy back on track, grab my free Thyroid Fix Roadmap below to help you get started.
Download The Thyroid Fix Roadmap!
Proteolytic Enzymes and Your Thyroid Antibody Levels
After my recent labs confirmed that my thyroid antibodies were elevated, my functional medicine doctor also made a few specific recommendations for improving my thyroid antibody levels as well. Her first recommendation was the use of proteolytic enzymes to dial down the inflammatory response.
Because of the intimate link between your digestion and thyroid function, you may be familiar with the use of digestive enzymes to support gut health. When taken with meals, digestive enzymes can aid the breakdown of foods, thus improving digestive function and energy levels. Proteolytic enzymes, in particular are responsible for the breakdown of proteins within the digestive tract.
But when taken between meals, on an empty stomach, proteolytic enzymes enter the bloodstream where they effect the immune system, aiding in the breakdown of irritants, such as viruses and bacteria, that can inflame the immune system.
According to this article by Dr. Mercola, nearly every disease causing entity is a protein, or is protected by a protein. This includes proteins which lead to food sensitivities (gluten, etc), as well as bacterial and viral infections. By taking proteolytic enzymes between meals, it gives them a chance to go to work on these disease causing entities that can lead to fatigue and brain fog.
The use of proteolytic enzymes to support healthy thyroid function is backed up by solid research. In one study involving 45 participants, researchers found that the use of proteolytic enzymes helped improve inflammation levels in patients with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. (Source)
My doctor recommended a product called Wobenzym, which has been clinically proven to improve both TPO and TG antibody levels as well as improve symptoms of Hashimotos. In one study, patients were able to stop or reduce their levels of levothyroxine after a few months when they supplemented with Wobenzym. (Source) Note: I don't recommend that you stop taking your thyroid hormone meds unless you are working closely with your doctor to do so.
While I'm working on pinpointing the underlying cause of my elevated thyroid antibodies, I will also incorporate Wobenzym into my healing plan into my plan. It's track record for supporting healthy thyroid function makes it a great addition to any thyroid-support protocol.
Have you had your thyroid antibody levels checked recently? Or noticed an improvement in symptoms when you improved your thyroid antibodies? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment!
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