What is Graves Disease?
Graves disease is also known as Diffuse Toxic Goiter (DTG) and is a systemic autoimmune condition which results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). Graves disease accounts for 80% of cases presenting with hyperthyroid symptoms. The disease manifests itself by damage to the thyroid gland with the subsequent development of thyrotoxicosis syndrome (increased amounts of thyroid hormone in the body). Simply put, the body’s immunity strongly stimulates the thyroid gland and under its influence, it begins to release excess thyroid hormones, which provokes the symptoms of toxic goiter.
To better understand Graves disease, lets look at what the thyroid gland does and what an autoimmune condition actually is.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It is made up of two lobes, the right and left which are bridged together by some thyroid tissue known as the isthmus. Your windpipe is located directly between the right and left lobe of the thyroid gland. This butterfly shaped endocrine gland is responsible for producing two very important hormones known as T3 and T4. These hormones get secreted into the bloodstream and are required for all cells to work optimally!
T3 and T4 are stimulated by Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Which is produced by the Pituitary Gland, another endocrine gland located in the brain.The thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) influence each cell and tell it how fast to work. If too many thyroid hormones are secreted, the message is to work faster and if there is not enough secreted, vice versa, the message is to slow down.
As you can imagine, the signs of your cells working faster, would be, for example; an increased heart rate or more frequent bowel movements. Graves disease is the overproduction of thyroid gland hormones and is an autoimmune condition, so now we can look at what this means.
What is an autoimmune condition and how is that related to Graves disease?
The immune system is like the armed gates of the body, controlling and maintaining a healthy body by knowing who to attack and not allow in.
Autoimmune conditions are a “misfiring” of immune reactions. It’s as though the immune system has become confused and the outcome of this, is that the immune system attacks our own cells rather than the outsiders it’s working to keep away.
We have all kinds of antibodies that work in our immune system, an antibody is a protective compound that appears in response to the presence of a foreign substance.
We have Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Receptor Antibodies and in Graves’ disease. These antibodies (belonging to the immune system) mimic TSH which causes an increase in thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
Who can get Graves disease?
Interestingly, Graves disease is more common in females than in males and is more likely to occur in those under the age of 40.
Like all autoimmune diseases, it is more common in patients with a positive family history.
It can also be triggered by environmental factors such as stress, smoking, infections, the amount of iodine, the postpartum period, and also after highly active antiretroviral therapy.
Let’s look at the symptoms of the disease:
- Thyroid enlargement
- Breakage and hair loss
- Tachycardia / arrhythmia
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Exophthalmos (bulging eyes)
- Excessive sweating / hot skin
- Hand tremors / muscle weakness
- Rapid heart rate and pulse at rest
- Weight loss with increased appetite
- Dermopathy / thick red skin which shines
- Sleep disturbance / impaired concentration
- Menstrual irregularities / decreased potency
- Increased excitability, tearfulness, anxiety, fussiness
If the above symptoms are familiar to you firsthand, be sure to do a complete thyroid test. You can get a full Thyroid panel done at an affordable price and from the comfort of your own home, it’s a simple finger prick test and you can apply for that here.
Graves disease, diet and lifestyle. Let’s look at things you can do now to help:
Diet and food triggers:
It’s imperative to address your diet with Graves disease. This could be a cleansing process or something that is more nourishing and it’s also fundamental to address food intolerances and allergies in any auto-immune condition. There are detailed studies that show the theory of molecular mimicry, what this means is that certain molecules in our food can closely mimic cells in the body and in this case of the thyroid gland cells. Gliadin is a protein in gluten and has a similar structure to the enzyme transglutaminase found in the thyroid. When there is a gluten sensitivity the body’s immune system recognizes both the protein Gliadin and the enzyme transglutaminase all the same.
Try food elimination diet:
Do a food elimination diet – it takes 3 – 4 weeks. Gluten and dairy are generally two of the major irritants. Simply cutting both out and re-introducing one after 21 days and then the other after another 7 days can be a clear way to show you if you are reacting to either and if your Graves symptoms worsen you know it’s directly related to these foods.
Otherwise you can do a Food Intolerance Test, to book your test or to find out more fill in the form here.
Increase these foods in your diet:
Eating more berries, in particular blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. They are rich in antioxidants and keep your immune system healthy and vital.
Vitamins and Minerals:
Increase Vitamin D, you can do this by supplementing and a reputable source can be purchased here. Note, before supplementing with vitamin D it is advisable to perform the blood test. To get 10% discount use my practitioner code NDK10.
Keep well Hydrated! Hydration plays a vital role in ALL of our body’s processes. Many of my clients are dehydrated and this can often be without realising! Read more about hydration in my article here.
Stress and thyroid:
Addressing stress is important in Graves disease, the health of our nervous system is directly linked to the health of our immune system. There is some new and groundbreaking research on this area known as Psycho Neuroendo Immunology or PNEI. Sufferers of Graves disease have often linked periods of stress or trauma with the onset of symptoms of the condition. Stress is unique to each person and managing its levels is incredibly personal yet profound for your health and wellbeing.
Professional advice and support on your healing path:
Consulting with a health professional like myself about a holistic approach based on a Functional Medicine Model will greatly speed up the management of the condition and alleviation or even sometimes complete eradication of symptoms of Graves disease.
Written by Nadiya Kondratyeva Nutritional Therapist and Functional Medicine Practitioner. Clinic of Functional Medicine and Nutrition Tunbridge Wells, Rusthall, Kent, UK.