My Thyroid Story

I was diagnosed with Auto-immune Thyroiditis (an underactive thyroid condition also known as Hashimoto's) in August 2015 following a hugely frustrating year of training and lacklustre achievements as a competitive freediver. If you haven’t heard of hypothyroid or Hashimoto's before you’re not alone – I hadn’t either! Basically my body is creating antibodies which attack my thyroid and stop it from producing enough thyroxine. In response to this my pituitary gland is working overtime to try to stimulate my thyroid. The thyroid commands many physiological processes in the body including circulation, temperature regulation and metabolism. If things go awry then sufferers often put on weight, feel cold, tired and foggy brained, and may lose hair.

My initial reaction to the diagnosis was relief because at least I now had something to explain why this year had gone so horribly wrong when I was at my performance peak only a few months earlier (in November 2014 I set my fifth national record). I’m grateful to my doctor for beginning a low level of treatment immediately even though my day to day symptoms are relatively mild. I’ve not put on any weight, my hair seems intact and I’m often quite bubbly. However there are some days when I feel as if I’m mentally wading through treacle and my mood is pretty low. Where my thyroid condition really shows up however is in my freedive performance, which isn’t surprising as I’m swimming to the absolute limit of my physical capacity. It also reflected in very poor recovery from training and a range of nutritional deficiencies such as iron and B vitamins despite adequate supplementation.

This initial relief slowly turned to shock, however, at the thought that my body is attacking itself and that I could be on thyroid medication for the rest of my life. I’m very careful to ensure I’m getting the best nutrition to fuel my training so I was surprised to find I was malnourished despite the effort and pounds spent on supplements and good quality foods. 
Once I started to research the condition I found out several interesting facts. Firstly hypothyroidism is a condition that develops slowly over several years. It’s not unusual to find evidence of symptoms going back years before diagnosis. For me this could explain why in the last seven years I’ve experienced unexplained anxiety, panic attacks, depression and even mild bi-polar symptoms. It doesn’t explain however why in 2013 and 2014 I excelled in my training and performance with few recovery issues. What I also learnt about Hashimoto’s is that a tipping point may be reached where a certain trigger causes more noticeable symptoms. I’m only guessing here but a nasty bout of gastroenteritis just before Christmas last year seemed to be the turning point from being at my peak to struggling to even get out of bed.

There’s a reason I’ve identified a gut-related trigger. Much of the evidence discussed online (and I have to take a lot of this with a pinch of salt) focuses on gut health as a root cause for many auto-immune disorders including Hashimoto’s. Many functional health practitioners believe that antibodies to the thyroid are created due to a confused immune system identifying proteins instead of deadly invaders. This can include proteins such as gluten. Other gut problems common to Hashimoto’s sufferers include low stomach acid which leads to poor uptake of nutrients from food. This is where I had my A ha! moment as it could explain why I was consuming all the right foods but not getting much back in return.

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