25 October 2022
One of the most common triggers to drive a flare-up in Hashimoto’s disease (+ indeed other autoimmune disease) bringing up all those classic hypothyroidism symptoms, even when you're being treated for it; weight gain, low mood, constipation, anxiety, palpitations, hair loss is STRESS.
Stress to the body can be many things (see image below for more). But HOW exactly does “stress” cause a flare in your autoimmunity? Here’s a significant chain of events:
- The chemistry of stress (cortisol) drives the expression of a chemical generated by immune cells called NFkB (picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator, this is NFkB! He’s bad news!) The more enraged Mr S becomes, the greater presence of NFkB stimulates inflammation in the central nervous system.
- This results in less firing of prefrontal cortex neurons & decreased activation of the vagus nerve.
- The vagus nerve is a fundamental component of the parasympathetic nervous system - keeping us rested & calm by releasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which modulates a number of processes including heart rate, gastrointestinal motility & smooth muscle tone
- Vagus nerve outflow also inhibits Mr Schwarzenegger's evil twin brothers tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) production.
- So diminished vagal flow increases IL-6 and TNFα, driving the change of some immune cells (naïve T cells for any geeks) to Th22 cells, making the villain in our tale, a chemical IL-22 which makes antibodies more aggressive.
In an autoimmune flare, the number of antibodies on a lab test may not fluctuate dramatically, BUT greater IL22 production drives a more aggressive attack.
Avoiding stressors & working with a health team to uncover & remove them is important for optimal health and wellbeing, but in autoimmunity the stakes are even higher.
I often run a genomic profile with LifecodeGx that provides information about SNPs related to TNFα & IL-6. together with many other tools in my naturopathic kit bag to calm the central nervous system and eliminate triggers.