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When first diagnosed with a condition called “Graves’ disease,” some people might start to worry. Does Graves’ lead you to an early grave? No, not usually. It’s named after an Irish doctor, Robert Graves, and while it is a disease, it’s a chronic condition, meaning you can live with it for decades. Graves’ disease, or Graves’ hyperthyroidism, causes the thyroid to increase its hormone production beyond normal levels. Our current form of healthcare prefers to treat chronic conditions like Graves’ with medication, but is that really addressing the problem? This article will give an overview of Graves’ disease and provide guidance on where to start.

What is Graves’ Disease?

The American Thyroid Association describes Graves’ disease as an autoimmune disease that causes antibodies to bind to receptor sites on the thyroid, causing the cells to work overtime. The result is a ramping up of thyroid hormone production. This general overactivity of the thyroid is known as hyperthyroidism.

In Graves’ disease, these antibodies could be either thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) or thyrotropin receptor antibodies (TRAb). While both antibody types are potential triggers of Graves’ disease, it’s far more likely to be TRAb than TSI. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States. It is also 7-8 times more common in women than in men, as is the case for most autoimmune disorders. [1]

Symptoms of Graves’ Disease

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) gives a good list of Graves’ symptoms. Because Graves’ can lead to hyperthyroidism, symptoms of hyperthyroidism are also included: [2]

  • Weight loss, despite an increased appetite
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (heart palpitations)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Shaky hands
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sweating or heat intolerance
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • An enlarged thyroid gland (a goiter)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles and fertility problems
  • Eye problems: bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy or thyroid eye disease), grittiness, irritation, puffiness, light sensitivity, pressure or pain, blurred or double vision
  • Skin issues: Graves’ dermopathy or pretibial myxedema (thick, reddish skin with a rough texture, usually on the shins, but can develop elsewhere)
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Thyrotoxicosis (having too much thyroid hormone in the body in general)

In severe cases, a thyroid storm can occur. A thyroid storm is also called accelerated hyperthyroidism or a thyrotoxic crisis. Signs and symptoms of a thyroid storm may begin with a fever, sweating, vomiting, and an irregular heart rate. They may progress to delirium, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), severely low blood pressure, seizures, and even a coma.

Graves’ Disease vs. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

While Graves’ is an autoimmune disorder that leads to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), Hashimoto’s is the opposite. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that leads to an underactive thyroid, referred to as hypothyroidism. Read more about Hashimoto’s.

“Hyperthyroid” means your thyroid is making an overabundance of thyroid hormone, and “hypothyroid” means your thyroid isn’t making enough thyroid hormone. These disorders can exist apart from autoimmunity, but both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ are autoimmune conditions.

While it may sound strange, it’s possible to have both autoimmune conditions simultaneously as the body tries to find balance.

How is Graves’ Diagnosed?

Suppose you suspect Graves’ disease and make an appointment with a medical professional within our current medical system. How will they determine what’s going on with your thyroid?

Mayo Clinic shares the standard medical route for addressing Graves’ disease. It starts with testing, which can take a few different forms: [3]

  • Blood tests: The main blood test given to check for Graves’ is TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Graves’ patients tend to have lower than normal TSH and higher than normal levels of other thyroid hormones.
  • Antibody test: An additional blood test option is an antibody test. While this isn’t necessary for diagnosing Graves, it can indicate whether an autoimmune response is the main cause of hyperthyroidism.
  • Radioactive iodine uptake: Iodine is a critical nutrient for thyroid hormone production. A radioactive iodine uptake test involves giving the patient radioactive iodine and using a specialized camera to monitor how quickly it’s absorbed. The amount of radioactive iodine absorbed helps determine if Graves’ is behind the hyperthyroidism or if it’s something else, like nodules, a goiter, or even thyroid cancer.
  • Ultrasound tests: These tests, which use high-frequency sound waves to create images, can tell if you have an enlarged thyroid. Ultrasounds are helpful for people who cannot take radioactive iodine, as is the case for pregnant women.
  • Imaging: Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, can show abnormalities in the thyroid that other testing methods may miss.

After getting test results, your primary care doctor or endocrinologist will likely discuss various treatment options. But these will usually fall under one of two categories: medications or surgery.

The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare

At The Wellness Way, we talk about the current medical system’s perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”

The current medical system’s “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.

Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are some common natural therapies that support the body in healing.

While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in supporting the healing process.

The Current Medical System’s Approach to Graves’

Our current form of healthcare acknowledges Graves’ disease as an autoimmune disease but tends to view these conditions as inherited or with an unknown cause. First-line treatment of Graves’ by mainstream or “allopathic” medicine is usually medication.

Common Medications Given for Graves’ Disease

The two main types of medications given for Graves’ disease are antithyroid medications and beta-blockers. [4]

  • Antithyroid medications: Because thyroid overactivity is a problem, one allopathic solution is to disrupt thyroid function with antithyroid drugs. Commonly used drugs like methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil reduce thyroid hormone production. Unfortunately, this only reduces symptoms and doesn’t address the source of the problem. If you stop taking the drug, the issues will return because they never left.
  • Beta-blockers: These drugs are usually used for heart disease because they can lower blood pressure. However, they’re also used for thyroid conditions. Instead of reducing thyroid function, they block the stimulating effects of thyroid hormones on the body. A beta-blocker commonly prescribed for Graves’ disease is propranolol (Inderal).

These medications suppress the action of thyroid hormones in the body and may help with symptoms. However, all drugs have harmful side effects if taken for long enough. For that reason, there’s an interest in natural treatments for thyroid disorders and autoimmune conditions.

Additional Treatments Used for Graves’ Disease

While medications are typically part of the current medical system’s treatment plan, providers may also take a more aggressive approach, using the treatments listed below.

  • Radioiodine therapy:  The therapy is similar to the radioactive iodine test but isn’t for the same purpose. Radioiodine therapy destroys thyroid cells, shrinks the organ, and decreases hormone output. Because it destroys part of the thyroid, those who receive radioiodine therapy will likely need thyroid hormone medication or supplementation later. This treatment can also cause issues in other organs that use iodine.
  • Thyroid surgery: Doctors suggest surgeries like thyroidectomies (complete or partial thyroid removal) to eliminate symptoms quickly.
  • Graves’ Ophthalmopathy Surgery: The main surgery offered for Graves’ ophthalmopathy (bulging eyes) releases the strain on the optic nerve and allows the eyes to move back to position. This surgery is called orbital decompression. However, there’s also squint correction, lid lengthening, and blepharoplasty, all of which can help return the appearance of the eyes to normal.

While these surgeries can eliminate symptoms, they leave the cause unaddressed and may cause complications down the road. If none of these “treatments” sound appropriate to you, keep reading. There may be more to the story…

What Causes Graves’ Disease? Trauma, Toxins, & Thoughts

Traumas (Physical Stressors)

Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to autoimmune conditions like Graves’. Other potential traumas that could trigger Graves’ disease include:

  • Poor posture
  • Concussions
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual assault/rape
  • Car accidents
  • Severe illness or infection
  • Having a baby
  • Surgery

Physical traumas and the potential of chiropractic care should not be underestimated when it comes to Graves’ disease. For example, subluxations at C7 in the neck could lead to reduced nerve and blood supply to the thyroid, contributing to dysfunction. Traumas are made worse when coupled with toxic exposures. 

Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)

Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins that may contribute to autoimmunity and Graves’ disease include:

  • Sugar overload – Researchers have found a link between insulin resistance and thyroid diseases, including Graves’. [5]
  • Dysbiosis – An imbalance in beneficial gut bacteria versus more detrimental strains can alter the lining of the gut, opening the door to Graves’ and other autoimmune conditions. A more diverse gut microbiota is associated with a decreased risk of Graves’ disease. [6]
  • Medications – Certain medications like amiodarone, lithium, and interferon α can also trigger thyroid inflammation and Graves’ hyperthyroidism. [7]
  • Viruses and Vaccines – Viral infections have been known to trigger Graves’ disease, whether acquired directly or through vaccination. [8]
  • Smoking – Chronic smoking is linked to thyroid autoimmunity and can increase thyroid hormone secretion, as seen in Graves’. [9][10]
  • Food allergies – Food allergies are a known trigger of autoimmune diseases. [11] Wheat and gluten may particularly be connected to Graves’ disease. [12]
  • Endocrine-disruptors – Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in plastics that can increase hyperactivity of the thyroid. [13]

Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and chronic emotional stress.

Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)

Emotional stress is a significant contributor to Graves’ disease as it causes the nervous system to stay in a state of fight-or-flight. Scientific research has confirmed that stressful events can trigger Graves’ disease in the first place and subsequent relapses. [14] Emotional stress can come from the following:

  • Relationship issues– Relationships can turn toxic, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged stress can lead to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can, in turn, affect digestion and the immune response.
  • Financial stress– Financial struggles can lead to dysbiosis and chronic inflammation due to the long-term effects of increased stress and cortisol.
  • Watching the news– The mainstream media rarely focuses on the positive. Regularly exposing yourself to bad news increases fear, worry, and overall stress, setting off an immune response.
  • Feeling overwhelmed– Stress from significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city, can lead to gut dysbiosis and an increased susceptibility to autoimmune conditions.
  • Holding a grudge/pent-up anger– Holding a grudge creates stress in the body and may cause gut imbalances, leading to autoimmunity.
  • A death in the family or a close friend– Grief is another form of stress that may create imbalances in the nervous system, gut, and immune response.
  • Military combat – PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) from combat or other causes can create a chronic sense of fight-or-flight in the body, creating a dysregulated immune response.
  • Witnessing violence or a natural disaster – Being a witness to a mass shooting, murder, accident, or natural disaster is another potential cause of PTSD that may create chronic immune imbalances.

The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body.

The Wellness Way Approach to Graves’ Disease

At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help your body heal itself. 

Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Immune Health

Here are some commonly recommended tests at The Wellness Way:

The Wellness Way Thyroid Panel is a more complete test that checks all the relevant levels of thyroid hormones. Other relevant tests may include an autoimmune panel or a stool test. However, your testing strategy will depend on which ones your Wellness Way clinic considers most important for your health history and symptoms.

Dietary Changes for Those with Graves’ Disease

First and foremost, we must lower inflammation so the gut can heal and the immune system can calm down. That means avoiding your food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as recommended by your Wellness Way clinic. The following are some additional guidelines for inflammatory and autoimmune conditions like Graves’.

  • No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation and lead to gut dysbiosis, aggravating the immune response and increasing the risk of autoimmune conditions like Graves’. [5]
  • Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation throughout the body. Those with autoimmune thyroid disease often also have Celiac disease. [15]
  • No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated. In fact, they may even be beneficial for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune response. [16]
  • Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory. [17] Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol compromises the intestinal lining, increases inflammation, and alters the bacterial balance, causing dysbiosis and increasing the risk of autoimmune disease. [18]
  • Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome.
  • Eat grass-fed red meat – L-carnitine is a key amino acid needed for healthy thyroid function, especially in Graves’ disease, as it’s been shown to reduce hyperthyroid symptoms. [19] The best sources are lamb and grass-fed beef.
  • Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids and help lower inflammation, which can reduce autoimmunity. [20]
  • Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
  • Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Patrick Flynn.
  • Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, and other foods rich in phytochemicals helps keep inflammation under control. They also support a healthy microbiome. [21][22]

Diet is paramount, but supplements can help the body heal the digestive tract.

Supplements For Supporting Gut and Thyroid Health

Every patient is different, but some herbal remedies used at The Wellness Way for those struggling with Graves’ disease may include one or more of the following:

  • Albizia – Albizia lebbeck is an herb with a strong anti-inflammatory effect, which may be helpful for autoimmunity. [23]
  • Vitamin D3– Vitamin D is important for getting inflammation and autoimmune disease under control. A 2020 study highlighted the role of vitamin D in the health of the mucosal lining of the intestine. [24]
  • Selenium – Those with Graves’ disease typically have lower levels of selenium, and selenium was shown to reduce Graves’ antibodies and associated symptoms. [25][26]
  • Lemon Balm – This garden herb (Melissa officinalis) is thought to lower TSH levels, reducing the symptoms of Graves’ hyperthyroidism. [27]

Supplements can help, but dietary and lifestyle changes can help to shift the body out of autoimmunity and into a state of healing.

Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies to Support Those with Graves’

  • Physical activity Regular exercise supports healthy blood flow and oxygenation throughout the body, facilitating healing. You don’t have to commit to a marathon; even walking and gardening can help.
  • Regular chiropractic care – Chiropractic care helps to improve blood flow and nerve flow while decreasing overall physical stress on the body. It also supports balance in the autonomic nervous system. [28]

Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about thyroid issues, Graves’ and other autoimmune conditions.

Educational Resources for Those with Graves’ Disease

Videos & Webinars Related to The Thyroid and Autoimmunity

Thyroid Part 1: Thyroid Hormones and Autoimmune Diseases
Thyroid Part 2: Thyroid, Adrenals, and The Four Questions
Thyroid Part 3: Thyroid Anatomy with Nicole Saleske
Thyroid Part 4: Thyroid Interference with Drs. Shane and Courtney

Articles to Support Those with Thyroid Problems and Autoimmunity

Thyroid Conditions: How Do You know if You’re Low or High, and What Can You Do?
What Your MD Isn’t Telling You About Your Thyroid Medication
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: The Destructive Thyroid Disease That Slows You Down
Thyroid Nodules: Pearls of The Body?

The Wellness Way Can Help!

The thyroid is one gear in the “Swiss watch” that is the human body. It doesn’t work independently but touches several other organs and systems. At The Wellness Way, we don’t guess; we test! We find out what’s causing an issue with the gut, immune response, and thyroid and then take steps to help the body resolve it. When we remove the stressors leading to autoimmunity and support the thyroid, it can return to balanced, normal function. Get tested and learn how to support your body by contacting a Wellness Way clinic today!

References

  1. Graves’ Disease (thyroid.org)
  2. Graves’ Disease – NIDDK (nih.gov)
  3. Graves’ disease – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic
  4. Graves’ Disease – NIDDK (nih.gov)
  5. The Relationship between Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Related Thyroid Diseases – PMC (nih.gov)
  6. The Role of the Microbiota in Graves’ Disease and Graves’ Orbitopathy – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Hyperthyroidism – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. A case report of new onset graves’ disease induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccine? – PMC (nih.gov)
  9. Impact of smoking on thyroid gland: dose-related effect of urinary cotinine levels on thyroid function and thyroid autoimmunity – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Influence of smoking on thyroid activity – PubMed (nih.gov)Food intolerance in patients with manifest autoimmunity. Observational study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. Food intolerance in patients with manifest autoimmunity. Observational study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Prevalence of autoimmune thyroiditis in children with celiac disease and effect of gluten withdrawal – PubMed (nih.gov)
  13. Thyroid disruptors and their possible clinical implications – PMC (nih.gov)
  14. Stress triggers the onset and the recurrences of hyperthyroidism in patients with Graves’ disease – PubMed (nih.gov)
  15. Celiac disease in North Italian patients with autoimmune thyroid diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
  16. In vitro evaluation of immunomodulatory activities of goat milk Extracellular Vesicles (mEVs) in a model of gut inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
  17. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
  18. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation – PMC (nih.gov)
  19. Usefulness of L-carnitine, a naturally occurring peripheral antagonist of thyroid hormone action, in iatrogenic hyperthyroidism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
  20. Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Inflammation – You Are What You Eat! – PubMed (nih.gov)
  21. The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols – PubMed (nih.gov)
  22. The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health – PubMed (nih.gov)
  23. Anti-inflammatory activity of Albizia lebbeck Benth., an ethnomedicinal plant, in acute and chronic animal models of inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
  24. Possible Role of Vitamin D in Celiac Disease Onset – PubMed (nih.gov)
  25. Serum selenium is low in newly diagnosed Graves’ disease: a population-based study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  26. The evolving role of selenium in the treatment of graves’ disease and ophthalmopathy – PubMed (nih.gov)
  27. Two Cases of Graves’ Hyperthyroidism Treated With Homeopathic Remedies Containing Herbal Extracts from Lycopus spp. and Melissa officinalis – PMC (nih.gov)
  28. Reflex effects of subluxation: the autonomic nervous system – PubMed (nih.gov)

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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