Effective Strategies to Manage Inflammation and Reduce Hashimoto's Symptoms with Dr. Tom O'Bryan - Inna Topiler

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Health Mysteries Solved: Thyroid and Hashimoto's Revealed

Effective Strategies to Manage Inflammation and Reduce Hashimoto’s Symptoms with Dr. Tom O’Bryan

Fatigue, Anxiety, and Weight Gain: Hashimoto’s Symptoms May Not Be Caused by Thyroid Function

The Case: 

  • Nancy has Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism and suffers from frequent flare-ups.
  • She’s experiencing fatigue, anxiety, jitters and is in constant pain. 
  • She also finds that she can’t lose weight and often has brain fog. 

Controlling Common Symptoms of Hashimoto’s 

While these are common symptoms of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, Nancy was eager to better manage her condition. When I met Nancy in my Hashimoto’s program, I knew that inflammation was the driver and to get to the bottom of her thyroid mystery, I knew just who to share Nancy’s case with as he’s often called the “Sherlock Holmes for chronic disease”. Dr. Tom O’Bryan is an expert in food sensitivities, environmental toxins, and the development of autoimmune diseases. He’s on the faculty at the Institute for Functional Medicine and the National University of Health Sciences. He’s also the author of You Can Fix Your Brain and The Autoimmune Fix. I’m looking forward to his new docuseries, The Inflammation Equation, being released widely on March 20th. He joins me on the show to explore Nancy’s case and right away, we discuss what is at the root of many autoimmune diseases (including Hashimoto’s): inflammation.

Inflammation: Our Body’s DoubleEdged Sword

Inflammation isn’t inherently bad. Dr. O’Bryan explains that it’s actually our immune system’s way of protecting us from invaders like germs. Imagine your immune system as a highly trained army ready to fight off any threat. Inflammation is how it sends in the troops to battle an infection. And while this is a necessary acute response, if it keeps happening and inflammation becomes a chronic state, the inflammation can stop being helpful. 

Dr. O’Bryan reminds us that chronic, low-grade inflammation is linked to most chronic diseases, including Hashimoto’s as well as diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.  With Hashimoto’s, the inflammation causes the immune system to attack the thyroid. 

What Triggers Chronic Inflammation?

Many things can trigger inflammation but Dr. O’Bryan mentions some incredibly pervasive and somewhat surprising culprits:

  • Microplastics and nanoplastics: These tiny plastic particles are increasingly found in our environment, even in bottled water! Our bodies see them as invaders so the immune system launches an attack. Unfortunately, these attacks can damage healthy tissues like the thyroid.

This is where things get interesting for Hashimoto’s patients.

Our confused immune system, constantly battling these microscopic plastics, starts mistaking healthy thyroid cells for invaders. It creates antibodies that attack the thyroid, leading to the symptoms we experience with Hashimoto’s.

Why We Need to Address Inflammation, Not Just the Thyroid

So, we’ve established that inflammation is the real culprit behind Hashimoto’s, not a malfunctioning thyroid itself. Dr. O’Bryan uses a powerful analogy to explain this.  Imagine your body as a chain, constantly regenerating with new links (cells) replacing the old and damaged ones. Your immune system normally creates antibodies to remove these old cells, making way for the new.

Here’s where things go wrong with Hashimoto’s:

  • Microplastics and other environmental toxins act like invaders, triggering the immune system to attack.
  • These attacks also damage healthy thyroid cells, causing the immune system to create antibodies against the thyroid itself.
  • As you continue to consume these toxins (like bottled water with nanoplastics), the cycle perpetuates. More damaged thyroid cells, more antibodies, and a progressively weaker thyroid.

This is why focusing solely on fixing the thyroid misses the mark. Dr. O’Bryan emphasizes that we need to address the root cause: the inflammation causing the immune system to attack the thyroid. It’s like trying to fix a broken chain by replacing a single link when the real problem is the force pulling the chain apart.

Where Does Inflammation Hide?

It’s clear that in order to get a handle on Hashimoto’s symptoms, we need to deal with the inflammation but what triggers this inflammation in the first place?

Dr. O’Bryan encourages us to ask ourselves: “Where might the inflammation be coming from?” This simple question can be a powerful starting point. By being open to possibilities and exploring the root causes, we can start to identify and address our individual triggers. Here are two areas to start investigating: 

  1. Environmental Triggers

We often think of food sensitivities as the main dietary culprit for inflammation.  Dr. O’Bryan highlights the importance of considering environmental factors as well. Aside from the microplastics, he also mentions mold as a potential trigger.  Many people may not realize that exposure to mold in their homes or workplaces could be contributing to their inflammation.

  1. Diet

Of course, diet still plays a crucial role in managing inflammation. We’ve covered this in many episodes but Dr. O’Bryan places particular emphasis on the role of gluten in Hashimoto’s. Gluten sensitivity is a common concern for Hashimoto’s patients because of the link between gluten and the HLA genes.

Gluten’s Impact on Hashimoto’s 

Dr. O’Bryan shares some very interesting studies in this episode to showcase the science behind why gluten can be such a problem for people with Hashimoto’s. Here’s a breakdown of his key points:

  • Our Ancestors Didn’t Eat Wheat: We haven’t evolved to properly digest wheat, a relatively new addition to the human diet.
  • TollLike Receptors: The Gut’s Sentinels: These receptors guard the intestines, identifying and flushing out potential threats from food.
  • Gluten Mimics a Threat: When we eat wheat, the incompletely broken-down gluten molecules resemble harmful bacteria to our toll-like receptors.
  • Leaky Gut and Inflammation: This mistaken identity triggers an immune response, leading to leaky gut and inflammation.
  • Not Everyone Gets Gut Issues: While some people experience digestive problems with gluten, others may feel the effects in different ways, like through thyroid issues.

Dr. O’Bryan emphasizes a crucial point: all humans experience some level of inflammatory response to gluten. The difference lies in how it manifests. For some, it might be gut problems, while for others, it shows up as thyroid symptoms like those experienced with Hashimoto’s.

The Problem with Traditional GlutenSensitivity Tests

Dr. O’Bryan feels that traditional gluten tests haven’t always been reliable. He uses the Wheat Zoomer test because he finds it to be a more comprehensive test that identifies gluten sensitivity more accurately. This is important because gluten isn’t a problem for everyone. In fact, Dr. O’Bryan doesn’t advocate for everyone to go gluten-free.  

However, for those with Hashimoto’s or any other health concern, he recommends getting tested for gluten sensitivity with a comprehensive test like the Wheat Zoomer. I use this test as well and I’ve found it to be very accurate.  

Genetics and Gluten Sensitivity

Genetics are a big part of what determines if your body is going to respond to gluten or not. Dr. O’Bryan’s explanation of genetics was so helpful, especially his explanation of the DQ2 and DQ8 genes. It’s interesting to note that having these genes doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t digest gluten, but it does make you more vulnerable. He refers to it as a “weak link” in the chain, and that really resonates with me.

Imagine your body as a chain, and your genes determine the strength of each link. DQ2 and DQ8 might create a weaker link in the gut for some people. If they constantly pull on that chain by consuming gluten, it’s more likely to break – leading to celiac disease.

Dr. O’Bryan emphasizes that genetics aren’t the whole story. He uses the analogy of the “chain” again, highlighting the importance of addressing the overall stress on the system. This makes so much sense! Even if you have a weaker link, if you can reduce the pulling force (inflammation), you might not experience any problems.

It was also interesting to chat about the HLA IDR B1 gene. This one has a more direct link to thyroid vulnerability, which is especially important for Hashimoto’s patients.

When looking at genetic testing it’s important to remember that genetics can give us clues, but they aren’t definitive answers. Focusing on identifying your own weak links and reducing inflammation seems to be a more effective strategy for managing Hashimoto’s and overall health.

Hidden Triggers of Inflammation Beyond Gluten

While gluten is a common culprit, there’s a whole world of other potential triggers for inflammation lurking out there.

Dr. O’Bryan emphasizes the importance of identifying these triggers. He mentions four tests he uses religiously with his clients to get a clearer picture:

  • Wheat Zoomer: This one assesses gluten sensitivity, as we discussed earlier.  Knowing if you have a sensitivity can help you make informed dietary choices to reduce inflammation.
  • Neuro Zoomer Plus: This test looks at a whopping 53 markers of inflammation in the brain. The statistic Dr. O’Bryan shared about the rise in Alzheimer’s diagnoses  is alarming! Chronic inflammation seems to be a major culprit, and the Neuro Zoomer Plus can help identify this hidden threat.
  • Gut Zoomer: This test focuses on gut health, looking for imbalances in gut bacteria that can contribute to inflammation. An unhealthy gut can be a breeding ground for inflammation, so understanding what’s going on down there is crucial.
  • Total Tox Burden: This one assesses exposure to various toxins like mold, heavy metals, and chemicals found in plastics. Dr. O’Bryan’s example of how phthalates can impact a child’s IQ even before birth is a stark reminder of the hidden dangers in our environment. The Total Tox Burden test can help us identify these toxins and take steps to reduce our exposure.

Inflammation can have many sources beyond just food sensitivities. Dr. O’Bryan’s approach is to look for the root causes and address them comprehensively. This includes identifying hidden toxins in our environment and everyday habits.

How to Reduce Inflammation and Help Your Body Detox

So many of the things we use in our day-to-day lives can increase our exposure to toxins. The accumulation of exposure could be the cause of inflammation because our bodies are in constant battle fighting off these toxins. Dr. O’Bryan shed some light on how our bodies deal with toxins like phthalates. And, he provided some tips on how to lower our risk:

  • Dilution is Key: The first step is to reduce your exposure to toxins and increase your water intake to help flush them out.
  • Gut Microbiome Matters: A healthy gut with a diverse range of bacteria can actually break down some toxins like phthalates, which is why a healthy gut is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
  • Folate Power: Having enough folate (in a form your body can use) can also aid in the breakdown of toxins in the gut.  This might be especially important for people with genetic variations that affect folate metabolism.
  • Infrared Saunas and Detoxification: Dr. O’Bryan mentioned infrared saunas as a way to help eliminate small amounts of toxins, but emphasized the importance of a more comprehensive approach.

Dr. O’Bryan then took the conversation in a concerning direction, highlighting the impact of toxins on young people and pregnant women:

  • Toxic Burden and Brain Development: Studies have found that exposure to toxins in utero can negatively impact a child’s brain development, potentially contributing to lower IQs and an increase in conditions like autism.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: A surprising study revealed that high fruit and vegetable consumption was linked to lower implantation rates and miscarriage risk. However, this effect was not seen in women who ate some organic produce.  This suggests that the chemicals used in conventional agriculture might be a contributing factor.
  • Organic Makes a Difference: The good news is that even a moderate shift towards organic food (3 meals a week) seemed to improve pregnancy outcomes. This suggests that reducing our exposure to pesticides and other toxins can have a significant impact.

While this study is frightening (you have to listen to this if you are trying to conceive or know someone who is), Dr. O’Bryan’s message here is one of progress, not perfection. Small changes, particularly focused on reducing toxin exposure and supporting gut health, can make a big difference.

Do What You Can to Improve Inflammation

This last point is such a good point and one that I encourage everyone who is feeling overwhelmed by navigating their health with Hashimoto’s. Too often, we feel like it’s all or nothing but the science shows that every little bit helps. So, do what you can to explore the root cause of your inflammation and take small steps (at a time) to decrease your risk. That means, looking at your diet, reducing exposure to toxins, supporting your gut health and mental health, and decreasing stress. 

And, continue to listen to podcasts like this one to educate yourself and your loved ones. Another way to do that is to check out Dr. O’Bryan’s 7-part docuseries, The Inflammation Equation. 

Mystery Solved

Nancy’s challenges with her persistent Hashimoto’s symptoms were directly linked to inflammation. We knew that making a few key changes would have a positive effect. 

Nancy was drinking a lot of water, which was great, but when we investigated her water source, we discovered that a lot of it was coming from plastic bottles. Like so many, she thought bottled water was healthier, not taking into consideration the different chemicals leaching in from the plastic bottle itself. 

That was our first small change – getting her water delivered in glass containers. I was able to recommend the company I use (Mountain Valley Spring) and as it turned out, they also deliver to her area.

The next small change we made was to start eating more organic foods. We started with the ‘dirty dozen’. These are the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides. She also started to incorporate more organic meats including grass-fed beef and wild fish (instead of farmed fish). 

The Answers in her Thyroid Type

As always, I had a look at her labs to determine her thyroid type. She was High T, Subtype 2. By the way, it’s important to know your thyroid type and if you don’t know yours, you can find out all about it with my Hashimoto’s and thyroid type training. Click here to register for the next training. 

Knowing Nancy’s thyroid type allowed us to support it directly but also to confirm that inflammation was a major factor (which is common with subtype 2). 

Within 6 weeks, Nancy noticed that she was more energetic, thinking more clearly, and had fewer ups and downs.

But this was just the start. She’d reported past infections so we tested for Epstein Barr Virus which came back positive. We supported that as well as her gut (to address some Candida overgrowth) and her liver. 

Now this took a little while because it’s not something we could do all at once but within three months she was thrilled to find some weight coming off. 

Happy Ending

Nancy continued to experience improvements in her mood stability, mental clarity, and overall wellness. She was so excited and of course, so was I. 

Eliminating Health Mysteries

For Nancy, we were able to find that missing piece of the health puzzle and help her regain her health. Could this be the missing clue for you or someone in your life? 


Resources mentioned

Thanks to my guest Dr. Tom O’Bryan. You can access his 7-part docuseries for free when you use this link: https://theinflammationequation.com/hms

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Related Podcast Episodes:

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