If you’re one of the 14 million individuals living with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis1, the time is now to start thinking about how to prevent heart disease.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition where your own body's immune system cells attack your thyroid gland. Over time, the thyroid becomes damaged and its ability to release hormones decreases, giving you symptoms of under-active thyroid (hypothyroid). You receive a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s by measuring specific antibodies (anti-thyroid peroxidase antibody and anti-thyroglobulin antibody) in the blood, and if they come back elevated it's a good indication that you have autoimmunity to your thyroid gland.
Many research studies have shown that hypothyroidism leads to an increase in risk of heart disease5,7, but it’s now being researched how autoimmune thyroid conditions may also be a risk factor for atherosclerosis (build up of plaque on artery walls) and ischemic heart disease (heart not getting enough oxygen).
A clinical finding of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis that is not always talked about is the chronic low-grade inflammation that it causes3. The persistent antibodies that are being produced by your immune system orchestrate the recruitment of white blood cells to deal with the antibodies. These white blood cells release chemical messengers that trigger this chronic inflammation4,5.
The activation of these inflammatory messengers causes an increase in the amount of oxidative stress that is put on your body, which not only reduces your own body's antioxidant storage, but can lead to damage of your blood vessel lining2. When your blood vessel lining gets damaged, its cholesterol’s job to come in and patch that up causing what is widely known as plaque.
You can assess your levels of inflammation and risk of heart disease by having your doctor run a high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) or serum homocysteine lab. An imaging test that can be helpful is a carotid intima media thickness test6. This non-invasive ultrasound could be helpful in determining your heart disease risk in subclinical hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s by seeing how much plaque is built up in your arteries.
So what are some things you can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease?
- Incorporate an anti-inflammatory diet this is high in colorful vegetables, quality protein sources, and good fats. This can help to combat the inflammation that is being caused by the antibodies. It will not only help protect the blood vessel lining, but can protect the thyroid gland from further damage.
- Balance your immune system.
- Increase your antioxidant stores by eating dark berries, or supplementing with Hawthorne to quench the free radicals being caused by the antibodies.
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: Information for Patients page. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) Web site. Available at: http://www.aace.com/pub/thyroidbrochures/pdfs/Hashimoto.pdf. 2005. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- Taddei S, et al. Low-Grade Systemic Inflammation Causes Endothelial Dysfunction in Patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. J of Clin Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2006; 91(12):5076-5082.
- Libby, Peter. Inflammatory Mechanisms: The Molecular Basis of Inflammation and Disease. Nutrition Reviews. 2007; 65(12):S140-146.
- Nanda N, Bobby Z, Hamide A. Inflammation and oxidative stress in hypothyroids: additive effects on cardiovascular risk. Indian Journal Of Physiology And Pharmacology [serial online]. October 2011;55(4):351-356.
- Isgüven P, et al. Effects of Thyroid autoimmunity on Early Atherosclerosis in Euthyroid girls with Hashimoto’s Thryroiditis. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol 2016;8(2):150-156.
- Lorenz MW, Markus HS, Bots ML, Rosvall M, Sitzer M. Prediction of clinical cardiovascular events with carotid intima-media thickness: a systematic review and meta- analysis. Circulation 2007;115:459-467.