Thyroid disorders affect millions of people around the world. Millions more are undiagnosed, going years of their lives not knowing why they have symptoms like debilitating fatigue, weight gain, depression, anxiety, hair falling out or digestive problems.

Research estimates that up to 90% of thyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. Autoimmune conditions are a combination of genetic susceptibilities and environmental triggers, so knowing what can trigger them is one of the first steps to regaining your health.

Here are some of the most common lifestyle triggers that may trigger your immune system to attack your thyroid, known as an autoimmune "thyroid storm."

1. Infections

Bacterial, parasitic, fungal and yeast infections are associated with just about every autoimmune condition, due to the fact that the majority of our immune system is found in the microbiome. Autoimmune thyroid disorders (AITD) are no exception. In the above study, 36% of Graves' disease patients had evidence of a recent viral or bacterial infection.

ADVERTISEMENT

So how do infections trigger AITD? Researchers suspect a dysfunction known as molecular mimicry is responsible. This is when a microbial antigen cross-reacts with your antigens and triggers an inflammatory response.

2. Gluten

The infamous "G" word, the protein found in wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt, has a strong link with autoimmune thyroid cases. It's important to realize that you don't have to have celiac disease to have a gluten intolerance. The inflammatory effects of gluten were shown to last up to six months each time you eat it, so you can see the far-reaching effects of this protein. Conventional medicine practitioners typically don't run the proper tests to see if this is a trigger in individual cases.

3. Iodine

This is very important to understand, because iodine is given out as the natural solution to thyroid problems, but can trigger a thyroid storm for autoimmune cases. While iodine is needed for thyroid hormone production, several studies have found that increased iodine intake is associated with autoimmune hypothyroidism.

Research has also found an increased thyroid antibodies with iodine supplementation. This just goes to show that what works for one person may not be right for another, even when it comes to natural treatments.

4. Stress

Countless times over the years, I've seen people notice the decline of their health during stressful times. Research has confirmed the stress-autoimmune connection. Two studies, one from 1991 and the other from 2001 both found that autoimmune thyroid patients had more stressful life events before their diagnosis compared to control groups.

5. Artificial Sweeteners

Sweeteners like saccharine (Sweet'N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) are in many diet and zero-calorie drinks and foods. Simply eliminating artificial sweeteners and diet soda may even reverse Hashimoto's. The mechanism seems to be their negative effect on the microbiome.

6. Smoking

Obviously smoking isn't healthy for anyone, but in genetically susceptible people it can be especially disastrous. Multiple studies have looked at the effects of smoking on people with autoimmune thyroid disorders. One study observed an increase in autoimmune hypothyroidism in women, while another study showed an increase in Graves' disease in smokers.

In addition to these triggers, there are other common triggers for autoimmune conditions that need to looked at in every case.

So where do you go from here? I want to give you some action steps to start getting answers and solutions:

1. Have a full functional medicine thyroid panel ran to find out any missing links in your case.

2. If you know you have an autoimmune response against your thyroid, learn about the other thyroid factors that can complicate an autoimmune case that won't show up on standard labs.

3. Implement some of these natural tools to balance your immune system.

4. Find a functional medicine practitioner who's experienced with autoimmune cases. We coach people all around the world on these matters. If you want to see if functional medicine is right for you, take advantage of a free functional medicine evaluation via phone or webcam.

Photo Credit: Getty Images