Researchers have found a connection between thyroid health and autism. In particular, babies born to women who have Hashimoto’s are more likely to have autism than babies born to women with healthy thyroids.
So, what is Hashimoto’s, and how does it connect to autism? This article will answer your most pressing questions.
What is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease, also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease that targets the thyroid.
Your thyroid gland sits at the front of your neck and is responsible for making hormones that control your metabolism. Some of the things your thyroid impacts include your heart rate, body temperature, and how fast your body processes food.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Muscle aches
- Joint aches
- Increased sleepiness
- Concentration problems
- Swelling of the goiter
- Puffy face
- Brittle nails
- Enlarged tongue
- Muscle weakness
Unfortunately, Hashimoto’s can go undiagnosed for years because it mimics other diseases. Its symptoms can easily be brushed aside as natural signs of aging.
What Causes Hashimoto’s?
There’s no clear answer about what causes Hashimoto’s. However, there’s some evidence that it could have a genetic component since people with Hashimoto’s often have a family member who has an autoimmune disorder, including thyroid disease.
Some experts suggest viral infections may trigger autoimmunity as well. The Epstein-Barr Virus, which causes "mono," is the current culprit gaining attention.
Hormones can also be a factor. About seven times as many women are impacted by Hashimoto’s than men, indicating that female sex hormones might be a significant factor in getting the disease.
Around five percent of women develop postpartum thyroiditis within a year after giving birth, and 20 percent of them will end up needing lifelong thyroid hormone therapy. Women with type 1 diabetes or a history of thyroid dysfunction are at the highest risk.
How Hashimoto’s and Autism are Connected
Previous research found a correlation between a mother’s thyroid hormone and fetal brain development. More recently, researchers have started investigating the link between Hashimoto’s and autism.
One study found that women with Hashimoto’s were four times more likely to have babies with autism than women with healthy thyroids. Another study concluded that the chances of delivering a baby with autism increased by almost 80 percent when mothers had thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, which are biomarkers for Hashimoto’s.
One theory for the connection between Hashimoto’s and autism is that women with Hashimoto’s lack dietary iodine, which is contained in the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to severe consequences, including miscarriages, stillbirths, and intellectual disabilities for babies.
What to Do if You Have Hashimoto’s and are Pregnant or TTC
Whether you’re trying to conceive or are already pregnant, know that a healthy pregnancy is possible.
First, make sure to get your thyroid tested as soon as you think you’re pregnant. Work with your functional medicine provider, endocrinologist, and OBGYN to make sure your thyroid levels stay at a normal range for the duration of your pregnancy.
Next, follow a healthy diet that includes eating lots of whole foods and taking a prenatal supplement. Plan on taking your thyroid medication as instructed by your doctor unless they tell you otherwise.
Then, consider a gluten and dairy free diet. Some experts believe these foods cause "molecular mimicry," a situation in which the food molecules cause the body to attack the thyroid.
Finally, work on reducing stress in your life as much as possible. Chronic stress can worsen your Hashimoto’s symptoms. Take time out just for yourself. Reading a book, taking a nap, going for a walk, and meditating are all good ways to relieve stress.
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