Can You Manage Graves' Disease Naturally?
Have you been diagnosed with Graves' disease?
This autoimmune condition is poorly understood by many, partly because it is rarer than hypothyroid conditions. Conventional medicine has little to offer in terms of treatment options without drastic side effects.
But could you manage Graves' disease with natural treatment options? Let's take a closer look.
What is Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. In Graves’, your immune system attacks the thyroid gland using antibodies that bind to your thyroid-stimulating hormone receptors. This increases the production of thyroid hormones.
Excess thyroid hormones in the body speed up the processes in your body, forcing it to work harder and faster.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease may include:
Unexplained weight loss
Racing heartbeat, skipped beats and palpitations
Shortness of breath
Increased sweating and greater sensitivity to heat
Goitre - swelling of the thyroid gland
Fatigue, particularly feeling ‘tired but wired’
Trembling, tremor or shakiness
Fine brittle hair
Nervousness and anxiety
Menstrual changes such as a lighter flow and increased cycle length
Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. However, it is not the only reason for an overactive thyroid. That’s why your best option is to get tested to confirm the diagnosis if you haven’t done so yet.
What causes Graves’ disease?
As much as Graves’ is a disease that affects the thyroid, it is a result of the immune system. So many of the contributing factors come back to what affects the immune system.
This can include:
Genetic susceptibility to autoimmune disease
Impaired gut health, including leaky gut and imbalances in gut microbes
Chronic and/or severe stress
Toxic substance exposure such as smoking and heavy metals
For women, pregnancy can also be a trigger for Graves’. However, this will only happen if there are other factors at play as well.
How is Graves’ disease diagnosed?
Graves’ is relatively easy to diagnose. Your doctor may note signs such as an enlarged thyroid, bulging of the eyes, rapid pulse and high blood pressure.
Blood tests can be ordered to check for T4 hormone and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels. Your doctor may also order additional testing including tests for thyroid antibodies or a radioactive iodine uptake.
Standard treatment options for Graves’
Honestly, the medical treatments available for Graves’ disease are not ideal. The potential damage that high thyroid hormones do to the body can be risky and even life-threatening.
But unfortunately, doctors only have the option of:
Suppressing thyroid hormone production with medication
Damaging the thyroid gland with radioactive iodine
Removing the thyroid altogether
Around 50% of people with Graves’ don’t respond to drug therapy. That means that many have no option offered that doesn’t cause permanent damage to the thyroid. All 3 treatment options also lead to a hypothyroid state. So you’re really swapping one thyroid problem for another.
How to manage Graves’ naturally
The key to managing Graves’ naturally is to take a holistic approach that targets the underlying causes of autoimmunity. Whether you’re looking to avoid medical treatment or just want to get a better handle on your condition, these tips may help.
Identify your food intolerances
Food intolerances are one of the lesser-known contributors to autoimmunity. Any food that your body has an intolerance to can trigger inflammation in the gut. This affects your gut health by altering the balance of microbes and damaging the gut lining.
But for many, the biggest issue is gluten. This is because of something known as molecular mimicry.
Put simply, a protein in gluten looks almost identical to a protein in a thyroid cell. In the case of autoimmunity, eating gluten causes your immune system to go on high alert and attack the thyroid gland.
This is why a gluten-free approach is worth considering if you do have Graves’.
Follow a wholefood-based approach to food
Clients often ask me what the best diet for Graves’ disease is. This is unique to the client’s body and needs - some are fine with a diet that eliminates one or two food intolerances, whereas others need a full-blown autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet!
But anyone with Graves’ can benefit from focusing their diet on mostly wholefoods.
Wholefoods are nutrient-dense foods that provide the body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. The thyroid and the immune system are both nutrient-hungry systems, so they need to be nourished!
So what types of nutrient-dense foods should you be including? Think:
Nuts and seeds
Herbs and spices
Red meat and offal
Whenever possible, opt for organic and/or grass-fed options.
Optimise your gut health
As Graves’ is an autoimmune condition, addressing your gut health is essential!
Research has found that people with Graves’ tend to have a lower diversity of gut microbes. Some of the microbes that were found deficient included those that had a direct role in regulating immunity and preventing autoimmune disease!
This suggests that by optimising the gut, we may be able to halt or even reverse the disease process.
Looking for gut health tips? Make sure you check out this article.
Get quality rest
Because your body is running at a higher ‘speed’ than normal, you need quality rest to recover properly! Unfortunately, poor sleep or even insomnia are common problems with Graves’.
Manage your stress levels
Stress has been known as a potential Graves’ trigger for many years. But recent research has found that the hormones produced under stress can influence the immune cells that calm an overactive immune system.
This suggests that managing stress might not be useful for the prevention of Graves’, but also the treatment.
Managing stress is also key for improving sleep, optimising the absorption of essential nutrients and supporting a healthy gut.
The way that you manage your stress levels is unique to you as an individual – it depends on what makes you feel calm and collected. But it might include things such as:
Moving your body
Hobbies such as arts and crafts
Outsourcing, delegating or even cancelling tasks that aren’t as important
Seeking support from a mental health professional
Find something that works for you, and incorporate it on a regular basis.
Put the coffee cup down
As people with Graves’ tend to feel ‘tired but wired’, they tend to use caffeine to get them through the day.
But when you have an overactive thyroid, adding caffeine in is like adding gasoline to a bonfire – the fire gets bigger, not smaller!
Drinking multiple cups of coffee doesn’t make you less tired. It just fools you into thinking you’re less tired for a short period of time!
The best way to get your energy levels up is to get your Graves’ under control.
Work with an experienced practitioner
Although working on these areas solo can reap some benefits, a tailored plan is the way to go.
By working with a practitioner who is experienced with Graves’ disease, you can uncover the root causes and take a more holistic and healing approach to your condition.
If you have been told that there is no alternative to damaging or removing your thyroid, I’m here to tell you that there is a more holistic approach you can take.
Together, we can get to the bottom of your Graves' disease and get you back on track to health! To book an appointment, click here.