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The Role Of Pathogens In The Development Of Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Published July 9 2013

Although most people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis have a genetic predisposition, there are numerous factors which can trigger an autoimmune response.  Some of these factors include chronic stress, leaky gut syndrome, and environmental toxins.  But how about pathogens?  Numerous studies suggest that viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens can lead to the development of an autoimmune condition (1) [1] (2) [2].

But how do pathogens specifically trigger an autoimmune response?  The exact mechanism still isn’t completely known, and I’m not going to get into too many specifics with regards to this, but essentially what happens is that the immune system responds by producing type 1 interferons and pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are directed at the pathogen.  In addition, something called pattern recognition receptors (PRR) are triggered, which recognize a large number of molecular patterns present in bacteria, viruses, and fungi (3) [2].  This results in T-cell and B-cell activation (3) [2], and can ultimately result in an autoimmune response.

There is also the concept of molecular mimicry.  What this essential means is that some bacteria and viruses have amino acid sequences that are the same as humans.  As a result, when a human is exposed to such a pathogen, the immune system not only will attack the pathogen, but since the pathogen has the same amino acid sequence as the human tissues, the immune system will also target the body tissues of the human, causing inflammation, and potentially triggering an autoimmune response.  In addition, the viral or microbial infection that triggers the autoimmune response may not be present by the time overt disease develops (4) [3].

Which Pathogens Can Lead To An Autoimmune Thyroid Condition?

There are numerous pathogens which can lead to the development of Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  I’m not going to list all of them here, but I’m going to talk about some of the more common ones.

Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi, and is usually transmitted through the bite of a tick.  I actually have written an article entitled “Is There A Connection Between Lyme Disease And Thyroid Disease? [4]”  There is some evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi may be involved in the pathogenesis of autoimmune thyroid disease (5) [5].

Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a virus which leads to inflammation of the liver.  This is transmitted through the blood, and some of the symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, pale stools, dark urine, fatigue, fever, and jaundice (6) [6].  Hepatitis C is usually detected through the blood, and conventional treatment methods consist of antiviral drugs.  Some studies have shown that Hepatitis C can lead to the development of Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (7) [7] (8) [8].

Yersinia enterocolitica. Yersinia enterocolitica is a bacteria that can lead to numerous problems, such as enterocolitis, acute diarrhea, and pseudoappendicitis.  The best way to test for this is through the stool.  Conventional medical treatment consists of certain medications, such as aminoglycosides and tetracyclines.  There is evidence that Yersinia enterocolitica might play a role in the pathogenesis of Graves’ Disease (9) [9] (10) [10] (11) [11].  However, there doesn’t seem to be any studies correlating Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis with this pathogen.

H. Pylori. This is an infection in the stomach, and although studies seem to link H. Pylori with Graves’ Disease (12) [12] (13) [13], I have seen this condition in both people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  H. Pylori can interfere with the production of stomach acid, which in turn will cause problems with digestion.  There are numerous methods of testing for H. Pylori, as there’s a breath test, although you can also test through the blood, saliva, or stool.  I have written a separate article entitled “Why Is H. Pylori More Prevalent In Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions [14].”

Epstein-Barr Virus. Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is common, as it is very contagious, and usually does not trigger an autoimmune response.  With that being said, some studies have correlated EBV with both Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (14) [15] (15) [16] (16) [17].  EBV is linked to infectious mononucleosis, and common symptoms include fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands.  It is tested for through the blood.

Cytomegalovirus. Cytomegalovirus is a type of herpes virus, and is related to the viruses that cause chickenpox and infectious mononucleosis. It is detected through the blood, and many people remain asymptomatic when they get infected with this virus.  Most of the time treatment isn’t necessary, although some doctors will prescribe antiviral medication.

Cytomegalovirus is linked to certain autoimmune conditions (17) [18].  One study showed that cytomegalovirus, along with some other pathogens, may be involved in the pathogenesis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ Disease (18) [19].  I also came across a separate study which linked Graves’ Disease to this viral infection (19) [20].

Testing For Pathogens

Different pathogens will require different types of tests.  For example, Lyme Disease, Hepatitis C, Epstein Barr Virus, and cytomegalovirus are usually detected in the blood.  On the other hand, Yersinia enterocolitica is best detected in the stool.  There are numerous methods of testing for H. Pylori, as it could be tested through the blood, saliva, stool, and there is also a breath test, which is the most accurate method of testing for H. Pylori.

How Can You Eradicate These Pathogens?

If someone tests positive for any of these pathogens, then how can they be eradicated?  It can be challenging, and in many cases these pathogens can’t be completely eradicated.  For example, while an infection such as H. Pylori can be eradicated, if someone has a virus such as Epstein Barr, or if they have Borrelia burgdorferi, which once again is the pathogen associated with Lyme Disease, then these pathogens cannot be completely eradicated.  So in these cases the goal is to put them in a dormant state, and to help the person maintain their health so that they don’t cause any problems.

Although different pathogens might require different protocols, one’s diet usually plays an important role in restoring their health.  It’s important to eat a diet consisting mostly of whole foods, and ideally cut out the refined foods and sugars.  Some of the supplements and herbs which can help with numerous pathogens include the following:

Goldenseal.  This herb is used to help with inflammation and infection.  Its antibacterial activity has been attributed to its alkaloids, the most abundant which is berberine (20) [21].  Several studies demonstrate how effective berberine is when it comes to certain infections (21) [22] (22) [23].

Oregano oil. Oregano oil can also help to eradicate certain pathogens, including fungal infections such as Candida (23) [24] (24) [25] and parasites (25) [26]

Garlic.  Many people are aware that garlic has antimicrobial properties, and this is also backed up in research studies (26) [27].  Numerous studies show that garlic can help with H. pylori (27) [28] (28) [27].  But garlic is also effective against other pathogens, and can be effective against those strains that have become resistant to antibiotics (28) [27].  Another study showed that garlic can be effective with both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria (29) [29]

Mastic Gum Numerous studies have shown that mastic gum can help to eradicate H. Pylori (30) [30] (31) [31].  So if someone has H. Pylori I will usually give them an herbal complex which includes mastic gum.

Yerba Mansa extract.  Yerba mansa is used as an antimicrobial, as well as to treat candida infections.

Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa).   Cat’s Claw has both immunomodulating, antimicrobial, and antiviral acitivities (32) [32] (33) [33].

Probiotics.  Probiotics can also play an important role in preventing and eradicating infections.  The lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are the most common probiotics, but Saccharomyces bouldardii can also help to eradicate certain infections, such as Clostridium difficile (34) [34] and yeast infections (35) [35] (36) [36].

Caprylic Acid.  Caprylic Acid also has antimicrobial properties (37) [37], especially against Streptococcus agalactiae, Streptococcus dysgalactiae, and Streptococcus uberis (38) [38].  However, this can also be effective against other pathogens (39) [39].

Pau D’ Arco (Tabebuia avellanedae).  For many decades, preparations made with this plant were used in South and North America as antineoplasic, antifungal, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiparasitical and anti-inflammatory treatment (40) [40].

Colloidal Silver.  Colloidal silver is commonly used as an antimicrobial, although there is some controversy over this.  One study showed evidence that colloidal silver is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent against aerobic and anaerobic bacteria (41) [41], while another study showed that colloidal silver didn’t have any antimicrobial effect in vitro on certain microorganisms (42) [42].

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).  Wormwood is commonly used by natural healthcare professionals in the treatment of parasites (43) [43] (44) [44].

As I mentioned before, some of these pathogens can be very challenging to eradicate.  For example, one of the more common pathogens I deal with is H. Pylori.  And while a natural treatment protocol can frequently help people with this infection, it usually takes a couple of months to accomplish this.  And sometimes the natural treatment methods aren’t potent enough to eradicate H. Pylori, which means that the person will need to be put on powerful antibiotics, which of course will further compromise the gut flora.  Lyme Disease is another pathogen that can be difficult to manage, and unlike H. Pylori, the goal isn’t necessarily to eradicate the infection, but instead the goal is to put it into a dormant state.

But while you can take certain supplements and herbs directed at the pathogen, perhaps the most important factor is to make sure you have a healthy immune system.  This by far is the best method of maintaining your health.  After all, we’re all going to be exposed to certain pathogens.  But if you have a healthy immune system then this will minimize your chances of getting one of these infections.  This isn’t always going to be the case, as if someone has a healthy immune system but gets bit by a tick then they still might develop Lyme Disease.  However, many infections can be prevented by having a healthy immune system.

In summary, certain pathogens can potentially trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to the development of Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  And while natural treatment methods can frequently benefit people with these pathogens, it can be a challenge to restore someone’s health back to normal when it’s caused by a virus, bacteria, or another type of pathogen.  Eating well is of course important, and taking certain supplements and herbs can also help to eradicate certain pathogens.  But the best defense against developing an infection is to make sure you have a healthy immune system.