I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism earlier this month. Here’s the story that got us to now…
I have a sit-to-stand desk at work, and last fall, I started sitting more often than I was standing. Just after The North Face 50 Mile (San Francisco), Ben & I decided to take a running break and run whenever we felt like it… which meant virtually no running and primarily short, enjoyable family walks with Toby Puppy. Then the holidays rolled around and I could not shake that “snacky” feeling! I could eat continuously and never feel like I got my fill, even though I was stuffing myself with healthy real-food foods and occasional treats here and there (which are impossible to avoid when you’re hanging out with Persistent Runner!). I had a month-long stint of work travel where I ate out just about every night, but still minded my veggies. But still… my suit pants became so tight they were no longer work-appropriate, nor could I button most of them. My legs felt swollen every time I tried to run.
But wait! Before you slam your laptop lid closed, shake your head, and write me off for complaining about a fat day, read on – this is actually not about a fat day or a bad run I had once. See, there were other things that I probably should have noticed.
Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with cycles of B12 deficiency that make me feel anemia-tired. Oftentimes I can’t get a fulfilling night’s sleep. After I did my first Whole30 and cut out grains, I started experiencing more steady energy levels and decided to stay 99% grain-free/gluten-free. While I’ll spare you the great details, I’ve had ulcers and other very uncomfortable GI/gut problems since last January (a little over a year). I became lactose-intolerant out of the blue 2-3 years ago. I started experiencing food sensitivities last year to random foods like fresh avocados, cabbage, and mangoes, with symptoms ranging from gut discomfort to acne.
We’ve made a lot of big life changes this year, including moving to California, taking new jobs, and looking for a house. By now I’ve become a big ball of stress (in January, I decided to do something about it). But I’m kind of losing my mind lately – almost to a somewhat scary degree. I’m here, but I’m not all here. I forget things you told me 5 minutes ago. I lose things daily. I see/read, but it doesn’t register. It’s been more difficult for me to focus, think, and be “with it.” And I’m just very tired. Is this what happens after you get old/turn 30?
I’m reasonably I’m in-tune with my body and when something’s not right, running is usually a decent measuring stick. TNF50 in December was my most recent ultramarathon finish — among a very elite field — with a run/results I’m proud of! By January, I felt less fit, but could swing 10-12 miles without any issues. In mid-February, I ran 15 miles with one of my favorite running chicks back in B-Town. By mid-March, my runs were 50% (try 4min/mi) slower at the same heart rate as usual, including walking/stopping every 1-1.5 miles. I maxed out at 3 miles/run 1-2 days per week not because I wanted to, but because I simply couldn’t. My legs felt really swollen and every single run felt like I’d just finished a marathon the day before. You can’t even lose that much fitness in that short a period (a month)!
I was experiencing an insane amount of muscle tightness & feeling the typical precursors to running injury on very little mileage each week. Even keeping our apartment at 74-75 degrees, I was FREEZING. I could sleep for 10-12 hours to wake up completely exhausted- I’d spend my short lunch breaks napping to survive the day or take an hour-long nap once I got home. Eventually I couldn’t finish brushing my teeth without a rest break, and I realized something could be up again with my B12 levels. Again… this was only 4 weeks after that casual 15-mile run!
I finally went to the doctor about my fatigue to verify that I was having some B12 deficiency/low red blood cell count again and (probably) hear that I needed to take B12 supplements to fix it. When they took my vitals, I weighed in at 10+ pounds more than I was 2 months ago/ever in my entire life — which the doctor noted as significant. And then, she asked if I’d experienced any other symptoms… so we talked a while.
My doctor reviewed my test results and diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. It’s a double-punch: my thyroid is underactive (hypothyroidism) on top of an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s) in which my immune system attacks the thyroid. I was… relieved.
I thought your thyroid really only influenced your weight – that’s all we can see, right? Well, the thyroid controls EVERYTHING. It’s connected to the gut, immune system, brain…. everything. And when the thyroid goes down, the rest goes down like a real-life game of Jenga. So it wasn’t a huge surprise to me to hear that my symptoms couldn’t be solved by a quick-fix like a short run of meds. On top of that, it’s still somewhat of a mystery: no one (in the medical community) knows the answer yet on what causes Hashimoto’s – since all of the major body systems are connected, is it chicken or egg? I.e., could a leaky gut have led to autoimmune disease, or vice versa?
It was a relief because everything I’ve experienced in the past few years and weeks now makes sense. The ultrasound image of my thyroid shows that it’s been struggling for a long time – this isn’t a condition that developed overnight. [You know you’re a runner when… you immediately think, “Waitasecond! What could I have been doing with a 100% healthy thyroid all this time?!]
What went right?
I’m thankful to have been referred to a doctor who practices functional medicine. Not only did she look at the immediate symptoms and prescription solutions, but we talked about underlying causes and environmental influences – like stress, sleep, exercise, and diet. She even had me take a picture of this nice diagram to illustrate the things that support/hinder thyroid function:
What do I do now?
My doctor had a lot of recommendations to help get me feeling better again:
- I’m on thyroid medication (but we’re still trying to nail down the right dosage so things may be crazy for a while). My pants are already fitting slightly better!
- I cut down running to 1-2 days/week mostly because I couldn’t physically do it anymore at the peak of my worst symptoms, but I can run again on my best judgement. I’ve had a few awesome runs since starting medication a few weeks ago.
- Once I’m done traveling for a while, I’m starting an elimination diet (which, if you’ve mastered the Whole30, is relatively easy) to single out the foods I’m sensitive to. No gluten, dairy, alcohol, or sugar. Just real food for gut health and healing.
- Daily vitamin supplements, which are essential for thyroid function in the right amounts – selenium, zinc, vitamin D
- Stress reduction, including less commitments and yoga/meditation 2-3 times per week
- Ditching the fluoride toothpaste, high-quality salt in my food, lots of little things…
- Get enough sleep!
It’s a huge debate in the medical community whether Hashimoto’s can be reversed or fully healed – no one knows or has scientifically proved it. I just have to continue being aware of my environment and habits. Every day will be a fight sometimes (like waking up this morning), but I’m slowly feeling better and confident I’m on a healthy path. So, thank you to all of you, friends & family, for your support and more importantly, your future patience with me (yes, future!). Help is on the way!!