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What Does Biochemical Individuality Have To Do With Thyroid Health?

Biochemical individuality is a term which refers to the uniqueness of each individual.  It is based on a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors.  It is the reason why no two people with a specific thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition will respond the same when following a natural treatment protocol.

For example, let’s take two middle-aged women who developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis around the same age (although the example can apply to someone with Graves’ Disease as well).  Both women have an elevated TSH and thyroglobulin antibodies.  Woman #1 experiences severe fatigue, insomnia, and many other symptoms.  Woman #2 has some fatigue, although it’s not too bad.  She sleeps well, and overall isn’t too symptomatic.  Why does one woman feel so lousy, while the other woman doesn’t feel too bad?

Well, we know that both women probably had a genetic marker for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  And we also know that some type of environmental trigger is what led to the development of their autoimmune thyroid condition.  However, while they have these similarities, there are many different factors which will not only affect how someone with this condition feels, but can also determine how the person progresses.  Here are just some of these factors:

Were they born via a natural birth or a C-section?  Although I realize that some C-sections are necessary, being born via a C-section can affect the gut microbiota, and increase the chances of developing intestinal dysbiosis.  And since having a healthy gut is necessary to have a healthy immune system, it is possible that being born via a C-section can potentially increase the risk of developing an autoimmune condition later in life (1) [1] (2) [2].

Were they breastfed?  Whether or not you were breastfed as a baby also affected your gut microbiota.  The duration of breastfeeding also is a factor.  Once again, I realize that not every woman is able to breastfeed her baby, but there are many women who are able to nurse their baby yet don’t.  I was exclusively bottle-fed as a baby, and while there is no way to know for certain if this played any role in the development of my Graves’ Disease condition a few decades later, one can’t completely rule this out as a contributing factor.  While there is no evidence that formula feeding can increase the risk of developing Graves’ Disease, a recent study showed that formula-feeding is associated with a shift towards Th1 cytokines, which can increase the risk of developing a Th1-dominant condition such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (3) [3].

Did they receive antibiotics as a child/teenager?  Receiving one or more rounds of antibiotics will also affect the gut flora, and can set the stage for intestinal dysbiosis.  There obviously is a time and place for antibiotics, but too many people take antibiotics unnecessarily.  When I was a child I took antibiotics numerous times, and this very well could have been a contributing factor to the development of my Graves’ Disease condition.  What we need to keep in mind is that there can be many different factors that can increase one’s susceptibility to developing an autoimmune condition.  And so while I’m sure some people reading this think it is ridiculous to suggest that being born via C-section, being bottle-fed, and/or taking antibiotics at a young age can be factors in the development of an autoimmune thyroid condition as an adult, the truth is that these factors can set the stage for chronic conditions.  So I’m not suggesting that someone develops an autoimmune thyroid condition solely because they weren’t breastfed and/or because they took a few rounds of antibiotics.  But I am suggesting that we can’t dismiss these as being contributing factors, even though these events might have taken place many decades ago.

In addition to having a genetic predisposition for an autoimmune thyroid condition, do they have a genetic predisposition to other conditions?  If someone with an autoimmune thyroid condition has many different symptoms, sometimes it’s assumed that these symptoms are related to the autoimmune thyroid condition.  But of course it is possible to have more than one health condition.  Someone with an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease is more likely to develop another autoimmune condition.  But it’s also possible to develop other health conditions that aren’t autoimmune in nature.  Once again, just having a genetic predisposition alone doesn’t guarantee that you will develop a specific health condition, but the same environmental factor that caused an autoimmune thyroid condition can also cause another health condition.  Or a different environmental factor could be responsible.  For example, gluten is the trigger for Celiac disease.  And if someone with Celiac disease consumes gluten, this can cause a leaky gut, and if they have a genetic predisposition for Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis then consuming the gluten can lead to the development of one of these conditions.  However, it is also possible that a person with Celiac disease can develop an autoimmune thyroid condition not due to gluten exposure, but due to another trigger, such as chronic stress or an infection.

Is there a family history of thyroid autoimmunity?  This of course relates to genetics, as if a close family member has an autoimmune thyroid condition, then there is a pretty good chance that you also have a genetic predisposition to the same condition.  Remember that even if this is the case this doesn’t mean that you will develop the same condition.  Although I’ve consulted with patients who had two or three immediate family members with the same autoimmune thyroid condition, I’ve also worked with many patients with either Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who had no known family history of the same condition.

What was their diet like growing up?  As a child and teenager I ate plenty of junk food, as my diet regularly consisted of refined foods and sugars, gluten, dairy, etc.  And this is the case with many people I consult with as well.  On the other hand, I also work with people who had naturally-oriented parents and therefore lived a healthier lifestyle as a child and teenager.  And of course one also has to consider that certain foods can affect people differently.  So for example, there are people who have been eating gluten and dairy for all of their life without a problem.  But some people develop a sensitivity to one or both of these foods (or other foods) later on in their life.  And there is always the possibility that their condition isn’t related at all to a food sensitivity.  This is one area where it can get complex, as you can have one person with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease follow a strict diet (i.e. an autoimmune paleo diet) and notice a significant improvement in their symptoms and blood tests, while another person with an autoimmune thyroid condition follows the same diet and still feels horrible.  This is yet another example of how biochemical individuality comes into play.  But in most cases, those people who have eaten poorly for many years will have more health problems when compared to those people who ate healthy for most of their life.

How big of an impact has stress been?  Stress of course can play a big role in one’s health.  One not only has to consider the impact of the actual stressor, but how well the person copes with the stressor.  For example, let’s look at two people with a genetic predisposition to Graves’ Disease.  Person #1 has always done a pretty good job of coping with the stress, while person #2 hasn’t done a good job of managing the stress.  It is likely that the poor stress handling skills of person #2 will lead to a greater risk of them developing Graves’ Disease than person #1.  But let’s say that person #1 developed Graves’ Disease due to an H. Pylori infection, whereas person #2 also tested positive for H. Pylori, but she hasn’t done a good job of managing high amounts of chronic stress for many years.  With person #1, getting rid of the H. Pylori infection alone very well might help to restore her health.  On the other hand, eradicating the H. Pylori infection might not be enough to get person #2 into a state of remission.

What type of toxic exposures have they had?  This is another big factor that is overlooked by most conventional healthcare professionals.  But exposure to environmental toxins can play a huge role in a person’s condition.  This is yet another complex area, as while many healthcare professionals test for levels of certain environmental toxins such as heavy metals, other toxins can of course play a role.  And it is impossible to measure all of the toxins in one’s body.  Plus, the levels of toxins in the blood or tissues don’t always tell the entire story.  For example, if someone gets a blood test for lead and it comes out positive, this usually indicates that there is some type of acute exposure to lead.  Similarly, if the person gets a urine or hair test for toxic metals then these tests can determine if there are toxic metals built up in the tissues.  However, there are  two things we need to consider.  First of all, everyone is going to have some toxins in their tissues.  Second, the amount of toxins measured on a test doesn’t necessarily determine how the person will react to the toxin.  This is yet another example of biochemical individuality.

For example, one person with an autoimmune thyroid condition can have low levels of a certain environmental toxin (i.e. mercury) that is causing a lot of problems, whereas a second person with the same autoimmune thyroid condition can have much higher levels of the same toxin and not have a negative reaction.  In other words, you can’t just rely on the tissue levels of environmental toxins, as some people will develop an immune response when exposed to a very small amount of a certain chemical, whereas others won’t develop an immune response when exposed to larger amounts of environmental toxins.

Does their body do a good job of eliminating toxins?  This relates to the previous question, as not only do different people have different sensitivities to toxins, but different people also have different abilities to excrete toxins from their body.  For example, not drinking enough water and/or not having regular bowel movements on a daily basis will affect the excretion of toxins, and can make someone more susceptible to the harmful effects of certain toxins.  This is why it is very important to have at least one or two bowel movements per day, and to drink plenty of water.  In addition, there are certain genetic polymorphisms which can affect one’s ability to eliminate toxins.  For example, certain genes play a role in phase one detoxification (i.e. CYP1B1 and CYP2C9), while other genes play an important role in phase two detoxification (i.e. COMT and GSTM1).  If someone has a genetic defect in one or more of these polymorphisms then this can affect the detoxification process.

Did they have any type of infection?  Not only can having a certain type of infection make it more likely for someone to develop a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, but biochemical individuality can play a role in determining which person is more likely to develop such an infection in the first place.  For example, earlier I gave an example of two different people who had an H. Pylori infection.  But just being exposed to a certain strain of bacteria, virus, or yeast doesn’t mean that the person will develop an infection.  Someone who is in a better state of health will of course be less likely to develop an infection when compared to someone who isn’t in an ideal state of health.  In most cases a person who was born vaginally and breastfed as a baby, wasn’t given antibiotics, and ate a pretty healthy diet growing up will have a healthier gut and immune system than someone who was born via a C-section and was bottle-fed, given multiple rounds of antibiotics as a child, and ate a crappy diet.  Of course there are always exceptions, but my point is that the overall health of the person can play a big role in determining whether the person develops an infection in the first place.

In summary, biochemical individuality is based on a combination of genetics, along with lifestyle and environmental factors.  Biochemical individuality is the main reason why people with the same thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition will respond differently when following a natural treatment protocol.  Some of the specific factors which can play a role in a person’s progress include if they were breastfed as a baby, if they received antibiotics when they were younger, if they ate a poor diet for most of their life, if they were exposed to stressors and environmental toxins, if they had an infection, and other factors.  If you have a genetic predisposition for a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition then there isn’t much you can do to change this, but by reading this post hopefully you have learned that lifestyle and environmental factors are what ultimately determine if you develop such a condition.  And for those who develop a condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, biochemical individuality will also play a big role in the recovery of that person.