Several of the most common symptoms of Hashimoto’s are brain related. Some of these are obvious such as brain fog and memory loss, others are less so, like depression and neurological disorders which can resemble or develop into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Regardless of how obvious they are, all these brain related symptoms are a sign of degeneration of the brain. This is not a good thing.
In this post we will look at how Hashimoto’s impacts the brain and why you really need to take it seriously before it’s too late.
In fact, it’s never too early to start working on this. Thyroid health and brain health are linked from our earliest development in the womb.
One of the truths that, unfortunately, gets little attention is the impact of a healthy thyroid on the development of a healthy baby, especially a developing baby’s brain.
If you have Hashimoto’s and you want to get pregnant it is very important for you to test your thyroid early and often.
There is a very real risk of retardation or poor brain development and studies have shown that women who are hypothyroid during pregnancy are 4 times more likely to have a child with autism.
And it is important to realize that if you are taking thyroid replacement hormone that you may need to have your doctor adjust your dosage in order to ensure that your baby’s brain develops properly.
For more information on this check out my earlier post on Pregnancy and Hashimoto’s.
These risks are not only present in the developing brain of a fetus. Once a child is born, if they have too little thyroid hormone, they can experience issues with learning language and have memory problems.
This may be caused by a number of factors. Some environmental toxins have been shown to negatively impact thyroid hormone production. In fact, studies have shown that polychlorinated biphenyls alter the expression of thyroid hormone-responsive genes in children’s brains.
In adults, thyroid hormone has been shown to have major influences over virtually every brain activity. T3 and T4 are involved in the neurogenesis, neuronal migration, axonal and dendritic growth, mylenation and more.
Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism can lead to various disorders including lethargy, hyporeflexia and poor motor coordination. They are also linked to bipolar affective disorders, depression, or loss of cognitive functions, especially in the elderly.
And in the most extreme cases, Hashimoto’s can lead to a condition called Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy which can cause severe changes in the brain that look very much like the destruction caused by Alzheimer’s.
Clearly, thyroid hormone has a powerful effect on the brain. And hypothyroidism and brain inflammation can cause serious and lasting damage to the brain.
One of the most common symptoms of Hashimoto’s is brain fog, that feeling like you are thinking through a haze, like you can’t quite focus or concentrate no matter how hard you try.
Brain fog is an indication of inflammation in your brain. Immune cells in the brain, called microglia are responsible for this.
The immune system in the brain is different than the immune system in the rest of the body. In the body it is much more complex, there are many different parts and they balance and regulate each other.
In your brain, the immune system is simpler. It’s like one of those people that has only 2 speeds, sleeping or balls to the wall.
Microglial cells have an extremely hair trigger. And they are capable of inflicting major damage. (Think chihuahua with an automatic rifle.) Frighten them or make them mad and there’s carnage, everywhere.
These cells are responsible for causing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease and more.
These cells also respond quickly to pathogens and injury, accumulate in regions of degeneration and produce a wide variety of pro-inflammatory molecules. That’s right, they cause inflammation.
Thyroid hormone has a major influence on them. It can help keep them calm and modulate them. This is why some people with Hashimoto’s notice that their brain fog really improves once they are given thyroid hormone.
For many others, this doesn’t help at all. If this is the case, there is something else driving the inflammation and the immune attack. (More on this in a moment.)
Another common symptom for people with Hashimoto’s is fatigue and in many cases this is being caused by the same brain inflammation.
When these people perform activities that require mental activity, such as reading, studying or driving for long periods of time, they get tired.
Even after they start taking thyroid hormones, they may continue to have these symptoms.
Their brain has less endurance so they get tired when they use their brain for extended periods of time.
If you have fatigue when you read or study, drive or have long conversations, this is brain-based fatigue. You cannot get brain endurance back unless you support your brain. At this point it is not simply a thyroid hormone problem anymore.
The thing to realize is that this inflammation and subsequent fatigue may also be caused by an autoimmune response and that things that trigger your immune system may be triggering your brain inflammation and degeneration.
Let’s take a look at a couple of the usual suspects. One is gluten, the other is leaky gut. Together they add up to leaky brain and brain inflammation.
A protein found in connection with gluten consumption called zonulin is linked to leaky gut ( intestinal permeability) —the very thing that commonly leads to antibody reactions to foods which leads to sensitivities, allergies and even (eventually) things like Hashimoto’s.
There is a direct link between inflammation in the gut (commonly generated by irritating things such as gluten), microglial activation (as a result of these foreign compounds getting into the bloodstream) and brain degeneration.
If you have leaky gut, you may also have leaky brain. These same proteins are found in the blood brain barrier. When they break down in the gut, they can also sometimes break down in the brain.
This is often why people’s brain fog doesn’t improve with thyroid hormone. In order to improve brain fog, you must reduce brain inflammation and heal the barrier systems because when things enter the brain that shouldn’t the microglia respond and if that response is severe the tissue around it can be collateral damage.
The microglial cells also make up the blood-brain barrier, a thin barrier that lines the brain and only allows tiny, necessary substances to pass through.
The blood-brain barrier is important for keeping the bad guys (foreign invaders, such as viruses or bacteria) and environmental toxins out of the brain.
Unfortunately, according to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, (author of the new book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain’s Health ) the blood-brain barrier can develop “leaks” for a variety of reasons.
These include poor blood-sugar stability (particularly insulin resistance), chronic stress, chronic inflammation, poor gut health, poor diet with unhealthy fats, and unchecked autoimmune activity, such as Hashimoto’s disease (alcohol and high homocysteine are also recognized factors).
Autoimmune attack on parts of the brain have been noted with Hashimoto’s patients. One part of the brain that has been observed to be vulnerable in these patients is the cerebellum.
And as it turns out, research has also shown that gluten can lead to destruction of the cerebellum. Coincidence? We think not.
We have discussed the immune system in the brain above, well, another thing that’s important to understand is that it has no “off switch”.
If there is an immune response in the brain there is nothing to call off the attack, then the microglial cells create brain inflammation and chew up brain tissue in the process.
One of the things that I frequently discuss in my content and in my consultations is that Hashimoto’s is a multi-system disorder. It’s not just a thyroid problem or just an immune system problem.
It extends into all the major systems of the body including the liver, the adrenals, the pancreas, the stomach, the digestive tract and, yes, the brain.
And this is often why people don’t get better. Their doctors ignore all these other systems that are breaking down and just keep increasing the dosage of their thyroid hormone.
Well, a lot of times that just doesn’t work. You need to have a multi-system strategy.
That’s what I offer in my work with patients. A strategy for first determining where the problems are and then a program designed to fix them.
You have to start by addressing the areas that helped cause a leaky blood-brain barrier if you want to restore brain integrity.
First make sure your diet is 100% gluten free. Then we get you on the Hashimoto’s diet, to determine whether other foods, such as dairy or eggs, are also provoking the immune system.
Then we work on the other systems that are involved. For example, balancing blood sugar, addressing gut health and gut infections, and supporting adrenal health so your adrenal hormones are neither too high or too low.
All of these will help put out the fires of inflammation, the killer of brain cells.
In addition, we use supplements created specifically for blood-brain barrier integrity, brain inflammation and increased blood flow to the brain.
And we may also work on other strategies like enhancing the liver’s detoxification pathways and supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid.
Would you like to know if a brain workup would make sense for you?
Click the link in the right column of the home page and schedule a free 30 minute Hashimoto’s Healing Discovery session and we will talk about how my program can help save your brain.
I look forward to speaking with you – unless you forget about it because of your brain fog…… 😉
http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/v7/n1/full/4000988a.html – thyroid hormone in the CNS
http://www.jneurosci.org/content/21/6/2028.full.pdf – thyroid hormone and microglial development
http://sanjosefuncmed.com/thyroid-brain-crosstalk-part-1-microglia-neuron-thyroid-connection/ – Dr. Kharrazian Brain Thyroid crosstalk
http://www.ff.ul.pt/FCT/PTDC/NEU-NMC/0381/2012/29.pdf – microglia in the developing brain
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18591119 – thyroid autoimmunity and Parkinson’s disease
http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/endocrine/thyroid/thyroid_preg.html – thryoid, pregnancy and fetal development
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11837499 – thyroid hormone and fetal development
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21212091 – thryoid hormone and fetal neurological development
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130813111730.htm – autism and hypothyroidism
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1789.2009.01042.x/abstract;jsessionid=3BA4CE033A73D859A26C3A238C8D2947.f02t02? – gluten and brain degeneration
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1241183/ – thyroid hormone deficiency and environmental toxins
http://hypothyroidmom.com/maternal-hypothyroidism-and-fetal-brain-development/ – self explanatory
http://www.thyroidmanager.org/chapter/thyroid-hormones-in-brain-development-and-function/ – very detailed look at thyroid hormone and the brain
Ganguli M, Burmeister LA, Seaberg EC, Belle S, DeKosky ST. Association between dementia and elevated TSH: a community-based study. Biol. Psychiatr. 1996; 40: 714-725.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18990131 – Hashimoto’s Encepholopathy
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0055758 – Cognitive Impairments in Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy: A Case-Control Study
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1737486/ – ataxia and Hashimoto’s
http://thyroidbook.com/blog/hashimotos-hypothyroidism-and-how-to-protect-your-brain/ -Dr. K breaks it down