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This article is an introduction to some concepts I explore in more detail in my course Hashimoto’s: Solving the puzzle.
Failing to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism can worsen your reaction to the everyday toxins and heavy metals in our environment.
Each of us is routinely exposed to thousands of different chemicals. Our bodies can remove many through biotransformation (commonly called detoxification), the process through which liver enzymes convert chemicals into water-soluble compounds that can be properly eliminated through sweat, urine, and feces.
Chemicals that can be biotransformed include pesticides, plastics, fire retardants, and many other chemicals in our food, water, and air.
However, heavy metals that cannot be biotransformed and expelled are stored in the fat and bone.
Reactivity to heavy metals
All of us store heavy metals in our bodies. Anthropological studies show that even ancient people had some degree of exposure to heavy metals.
The real issue is that some people react to heavy metals and some don’t.
People with unmanaged or poorly managed Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism often are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins and heavy metals due to poor function of many of the body’s mechanisms.
Hypothyroidism and loss of immune tolerance
For those with undiagnosed or unmanaged Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, lowered metabolic activity interferes with the function of elimination pathways, and heavy metals and chemicals begin to bind to proteins in the body in a process called haptenation.
When haptenation occurs, the protein’s structure is fundamentally changed. As such, the immune system no longer recognizes it and it’s tagged for destruction and removal.
Neoantigen immune responses like this can trigger an autoimmune response or exacerbate an existing one.
It’s not uncommon to produce neoantigens that your immune system reacts to. A paper we published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology showed that out of 400 healthy blood donor samples, 15–18 percent showed immune responses to various chemicals such as fire retardants, pesticides, and dry cleaning chemicals.
But not everybody who has these reactions experiences health problems — that depends on the strength of your immune tolerance.
If you can’t handle strong scents such as perfumes or gas, if cosmetics irritate your skin, or if you have multiple food sensitivities, your immune tolerance could be low and you could have an increased risk of autoimmune reactions.
Difficulty with biotransformation
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a common chemical found in plastics. Many of our foods are packed in plastic containing BPA, and it can be found in straws, plastic dishware, and many other ordinary objects. About 90 percent of the U.S. population has high levels of BPA.
While people with healthy biotransformation pathways can clear BPA and other common chemicals from their body, those with low functioning pathways and poor antioxidant status have a more difficult time.
This makes BPA more toxic to the body and raises its potential for immune reactivity.
In fact, BPA has been shown to trigger thyroid autoimmunity and neurological autoimmunity consistent with multiple sclerosis.
Genetics also play a role. Many people have genetic polymorphisms that determine how effective they are in clearing different chemicals.
Hypothyroidism can also impede the process of expelling chemicals from the body because of the inflammation and metabolic dysfunction associated with it.
The complexity of chemical sensitivities
The common model of testing for mercury and lead and following with chelation therapy fails to address immune reactivity to chemicals, particularly in people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or autoimmunity.
Significant inflammation, blood-brain barrier permeability, intestinal permeability, poor antioxidant status, poor biotransformation, and loss of immune tolerance are factors unique to the unmanaged Hashimoto’s patient that can promote an exaggerated response to chemicals.
It’s not the quantity of chemicals in your body that matters most – it’s your resilience to these chemicals and ability to metabolize them.
Not knowing this can even make chelation therapy dangerous.
Supporting your resilience to heavy metals and toxins
You can minimize your risk of developing an immune reaction to common chemicals and heavy metals by promoting a strong antioxidant system to protect your cells from toxins.
The more inflammation in your body caused by other dietary and lifestyle choices, the more taxed this system is and the higher your risk of becoming immune reactive to chemicals.
An anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle will support your body’s antioxidant system through an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
Colorful produce and foods high in flavonoids such as berries, red cabbage, and greens support your antioxidant system and are a key part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
High sulfur foods such as garlic, onions, and asparagus are also beneficial, as they’re high in antioxidants and improve the function of liver sulfation pathways that help clear out chemicals.
Beyond a healthy diet, exercise is another important way to increase your antioxidants. When you exercise, you actually produce inflammatory free radicals — but your body then responds by turning on antioxidant enzyme pathways and increasing the production of antioxidants.
Keep in mind that over-exercising will have the opposite effect, increasing inflammation and depleting your antioxidants.
Those who maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen tend to have higher amounts of antioxidants than those who don’t.
Exposure to environmental chemicals such as gasoline fumes or chemical solvents, a diet low in flavonoids and fibers, and a sedentary lifestyle all deplete the antioxidant system.
Chemical goitrogens and hypothyroidism
It’s a common misconception that people with hypothyroidism must avoid goitrogenic foods such as cabbage. In fact, these foods are often beneficial for the hypothyroid patient and help promote their antioxidant status.
However, chemical goitrogens should be avoided as they interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iodine. They are fortunately very rare, but can be found in some prescription medications such as lithium carbonate.
How to support your body when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
This article is an introduction to some concepts I explore in more detail in my course Hashimoto’s: Solving the puzzle. We go into diet, nutrition, and lifestyle factors that impact these pathways and how to best maintain them.