Thursday, May 23, 2013

Functioning with Brain Fog -- Part I.

Journey to the Eternity by Baban Shyam Flickr
The goal, of course, is to feel well enough that we never experience brain fog.  For a lot of us, however, brain fog is at least a temporary, if not permanent, symptom that we have to battle.   It seems to be common to all autoimmune diseases and especially in conditions that make you hypothyroid.  Others who experience brain fog are people with CFS or fibromyalgia, women in menopause or other times of hormonal shifts, and patients who are going through cancer treatments. For most of us, brain fog comes and goes, just as real fog drifts in when conditions are right and evaporates in the sunshine.

The technical term for this problem is cognitive dysfunction.  I personally describe it as episodic cognitive dysfunciton, for it is not the same as a more permanently settled cognitive issue.

What does this clouding of the consciousness feel like?  For me, it can be something just short of a headache, where my brain seems swollen.  Or, it can be a fatigue so deep that it hinders quick decision making.  It can hamper with short term memory or make concentrating difficult.  Sometimes, it can feel as if my brain is stuffed with cotton.  For me, a change in weather or air pressure may worsen an episode.        

Because cloudy thinking is a subjective experience, it is difficult to measure and to treat.  At any given time, a sufferer might be experiencing one or multiple causes.  Some of these causes can be pinpointed through laboratory tests.  Others are more nebulous and might need some sleuthing on your part and on the part of your physician to detect.  Still others may be unknown to current medical science.

As hard as it is to define and treat, brain fog strikes a chord with anyone who's suffered from it.  He or she may not be able to describe it accurately but will know exactly what you mean when you say you have cotton brain today.     

There are a number of theories about why brain fog occurs. Here's one that makes sense to me:  a failing thyroid leads to a slowing of both your metabolism and blood flow, as well as underproduction of certain brain chemicals. Thus, the cognitive centers in your brain do not receive the nourishment or energy that they require to function at their peak.

I suspect this is so.  I know that for me, I have experienced the most brain fog either before my Hashimoto's was properly diagnosed or at times right before tests have shown that I have needed an increase in my thyroid medicine.  With every increase, my symptoms improved -- at least for a good while. :)  This is just a guess, but I imagine that fluctuations in thyroid performance might account for the episodic nature of brain fog.

A similar theory is that in anyone with an autoimmune disease, the body is so focused on your illness that it goes into survival mode. It redirects energy and blood away from parts of the brain and body that are not essential to immediate survival toward body and brain processes that will aid in fighting the disease.  This is somewhat like the lethargy you might feel when your body's in attack mode against acute infections, such as the flu.  At such times, your body's focus is not on delivering some pep or making sure you've balanced your bank account.  It's main goal is to defeat an invader -- real or not -- and to keep you alive.  

Other theories are that an autoimmune condition can interrupt the restorative sleep that you need to function both mentally and physically, that Hashimoto's hypothyroidism might co-exist with iron and other energy sapping deficiencies, Hashimoto's might affect blood sugar levels, Hashmioto's might result in mental distraction due to anxiety or depression, undertreatment or wrong treatment of Hashimoto's affects metabolism, having a second autoimmune disease or fibromyalgia along with Hashimoto's multiplies cognitive difficulties, cardiovascular disease slows blood flow to the brain, or medicaiton used to treat symptoms might contribute to a sense of mental cloudiness. 

I have even read a theory that any of us, even the healthiest, can have brain fog when we refuse to "see" something in our life clearly; in other words, we don't want to admit a painful conflict, so we subconsciously subvert our own mental clarity.  I think this last one takes the cloudy metaphor too far, but who knows?   I suppose any emotional or physical stress can sap our acuity.       

Regarding iron, I was considered borderline anemic for many years.  I do think that this was because I was in my childbearing years.  However, research suggests that Hashimoto's disease may be associated with either iron levels that are too low or iron levels that are dangerously high, the latter of which can contribute to clogging of your arteries.  Anemia can cause some of the same symptoms as low thyroid, including brain fog.  If you are suffering from cloudy thinking, it might be wise to ask your doctor to check your iron levels. If low iron is the problem, you will see almost instant relief with treatment.

Whatever the cause of brain fog, there are ways to cope with it.  I'll be talking about that in future posts. 

To your health!



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vitamin C and thyroid medicine...

Did you know that some research indicates that taking your thyroid replacement hormone with vitamin C might help you better absorb the hormone?  The vitamin C used in the study was mixed in the water that subjects drank when taking their pills.  This is important because eating at the same time you take your medicine can interfere with the body's ability to take it in and use it.

This finding does make some sense to me, as Vitamin C helps your body take in other nutrients, such as iron.  On the other hand, absorption of the thyroid hormone is generally best achieved by taking it with a glass of pure water at least one half to one hour before eating breakfast in the morning and by taking vitamins and minerals no closer than four hours to the time that you take your thyroid pill.  Many vitamins and minerals interfere with the body's uptake of thyroid replacement hormones.

The vitamin C effect seems to help those who are taking thyroid replacement hormone, but who are not seeing a decrease in their TSH levels or an improvement in their symptoms. As I have seen a reduction in my TSH levels, I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet as far as taking vitamin C at the same time as my thyroid pill.  However, I don't think it can hurt to make sure that I have adequate vitamin C in my diet.  One habit that I want to get back to is setting out a pitcher containing my daily goal for water in the morning and drinking some of that water with a little lemon juice.  I find that I am less tempted to snack, snack, snack, if I drink adequate water during the day. 

I've experimented with a lot of different vitamin supplements.  It just so happens that I feel best when taking Emergen-C, which has a lot of vitamin C in it.  I suspect that my sense of well-being when I take the Emergen-C might have more to do with the fact that it has magnesium in it than the vitamin C. Some think that magnesium can help with some symptoms associated with thyroid issues and other symptoms of other problems that I have.  Taking too much magnesium can backfire on you as it can affect your heart beat.  Emergen-C seems to have the right amount for me.  This is just my hunch based on personal experience, though, and not a scientific observation.  Who knows?  It might be the vitamin C that helps.  I do not take the Emergen-C within four hours of taking my thyroid replacement hormone.  I do not take this every day, however.

As with any vitamin supplement that we ingest, there are some risks associated with taking vitamin C.  In some cases, vitamin C supplements may contribute to heart disease and hardening of the arteries.  Conversely, vitamin C in the foods you eat can actually protect the heart and arteries.  It's always best to get your nutrition from food if you can. Some foods that contain vitamin C are citrus, strawberries, kiwi fruit, papayas, peppers, and leafy green vegetables.  Again, don't eat food with your thyroid hormone; wait the prescribed time.

So, in short, my goal is to drink more water and to add just a little lemon or orange to provide a little vitamin C.  I also hope to eat more fruits and veggies, which will add vitamin C to my diet.  Because my TSH level does improve with thyroid hormone replacement, I do not think that I need to consume my vitamin C at the same time I take my thyroid pill.  As always, evaluate your own situation and consult with your own doctor before making a decision. 



Monday, May 20, 2013

Step one in my plan to see how much I can improve my health

Seeking God
Can you identify with the woman described in this incident from Christ's life on earth?

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Mark 5: 24-34
Doctors are great, but they don't have all of the answers.  Ultimately, Jesus is the only one who does.  Sometimes, he heals us; sometimes, he gives us strength to endure.  Always, he works good in our situation, as we read in Romans 8.      

Jesus suffered in many ways, most especially upon the cross.  Because of that, we can approach him with confidence that he will understand our pain and have compassion for us.
 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Hebrews 4:15
I love the compassion that Jesus had for the woman whose story is told in Mark 5.  He was on his way to help with what seemed to be a more urgent matter -- a little girl was ill to the point of dying. There was a crowd of people around him, pressing on him.  A distressed father was by his side.  His disciples were asking how he could focus on one person touching him when a whole crowd of people were jostling about him.  Jesus could have felt pressured by the tumultuous surroundings to to know that someone had touched him and had been physically healed and to just pass on by for the child's sake. On my own little level, I have been in situations where several people or several things needed my attention at once, and I just felt flustered. Christ, on the other hand, had the poise to stop and calmly tend to the remaining needs of the person who had touched him.  He put aside the pressure of the crowds, his disciples, and the worried father in order to give her a few moments of his full attention.

From the woman's point of view, she had bounced around from doctor to doctor, giving them all of her money in exchange for treatments that hadn't worked.  Who knows how she might have gotten her hope of recovery up time and time again, only to be dashed.  Perhaps, some of the doctors believed that the cures they offered would help; perhaps, some of them took advantage of her desperation by knowingly selling her a quack cure.  We don't know.  We do know that her condition rendered her unclean in her society.  By touching a person, she might have even rendered that person unclean for the day.  Thus, she probably felt that she had no right to call out to Jesus loudly for help.  She may not even have wanted to call attention to herself or to what might be an embarrassing condition.  Yet, she believed that if she could just touch Christ's cloak she would be healed, and her faith was rewarded, for she was immediately made well.  For the first time, her touch did not render someone else unclean for a day.  Instead, the power of Jesus in the exchange made her clean and whole. 

Instead of saying, "Oh well, someone's been healed.  That person's ok for now.  Let me hurry to the child's bedside," Jesus stopped.  He knew that whoever had touched him needed more than just a physical cure.  This person needed Jesus' personal attention and love.  She also needed to be restored to the community as a well and whole woman.  He searched for the person who had touched him.

The woman came trembling to Jesus, and she told the truth that she had been the one to receive his healing power.   Sometimes, talking out what is in our hearts is as healing for us as any physical cure might be.

Jesus spoke tenderly to her and called her "daughter".  He recognized her as a person instead of just an anonymous face in the crowd.  He said that her faith had healed her.  He sent her away in peace and freed her from her suffering.  He publicly pronounced her well and clean and approved her faith, which would go a long way in healing not only her private situation but her relationships.  He met not only her physical needs, but her spiritual and emotional needs, as well.  In effect, he gave her shalom, which is wholeness, peace, and well-being in every area. 

As Jesus was then, he is now.  Whatever we are going through, he had compassion for us.  We are not just  anonymous faces to him; he knows each of us better than we even know ourselves.  He knows what we need.  He gives us grace, mercy, and strength.  What a Savior!

Because he gives us such mercy and love, we, in turn, can focus on loving others.  Sometimes, our Hashimoto's may mean that we don't have as much energy to serve others as we might like.  We can usually pray for others, though, or make a phone call or do at least something to let others know that we care.  Loving God and others gives our life a meaning that transcends any physical illness.  It reminds us that we were so much more than our disease.

I've found that becoming too focused on my symptoms only makes me anxious, sad, or frustrated.  Keeping my life fully centered on God lifts me out of that.  Loving God and others gives our lives a meaning that transcends any physical illness.  It reminds us that we were so much more than our disease!




Sunday, May 19, 2013

Symptoms that are common to autoimmune diseases

Disorders of the thyroid, including the autoimmune diseases known as Grave's and Hashimoto's, have symptoms that are specific to them.  In fact, each autoimmune disease currently known to medical science will have its own particular issues.  However, there are symptoms that are commonly found in nearly all autoimmune diseases.  I think it's interesting to consider what these might be as they might give us a clue to treating the autoimmune dysfunction that comes with Hashimoto's.  Perhaps, improving one's overall health might lesson these typical expressions by the body of chronic distress.  

Why do I illustrate this with a picture of a bed?  If you have an autoimmune disease, you know the answer!  I'm sure you can relate to the unrelenting fatigue that is part of any autoimmune problem.  You may need more sleep and more rest than a well person does.  Even on your best days, you might feel like you are doing 25mph in the highway of life, while others are happily speeding past you.   There are any number of illnesses besides an autoimmune problem that can cause this same kind of weariness.  Any chronic tiredness or any profound change in your energy levels should be evaluated by a physician.

In addition to unusual tiredness, here are some other cross-symptoms of autoimmune problems:

 1)  Depression:  It's not always clear whether this is part of the cause or a result of feeling unwell over a long period of time.
2)  Muscle aches/joint aches
3)  Brain fog!! Memory problems, problems focusing or concentrating
4)  Muscle weakness
5)  low grade fever -- (Hashimoto's, however, can lead to low body temperatures)
6)  swollen lymph glands
7)  frequent infections
8) sudden changes in weight
9)  hair loss
10)  feeling of heaviness when you breathe, shortness of breath
11)  tingling, numbness in limbs
12)  itchy skin, skin rashes
13)  dry eyes
14)  heart palpitations
15)  recurrent miscarriages

Other things that you might watch out for are mouth ulcers, abdominal pains, sweats, and alternating diarrhea and constipation.

Not everyone who has an autoimmune disease will experience every one of these symptoms. If you have several of them, however, it might be a clue that you do, indeed, have an autoimmune problem.

Further Reading:  

Wishing you great health!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Be Kind to the Butterfly...

I have chronic hypothyroid issues which,  according to my endocrinologist, are most likely related to the autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto's Disease.  In addition to Hashi's, I also suffer from allergies and asthma.   Both of these conditions have genetic components.   My mother and her sister both had thyroid problems, and my grandfather and other relatives have suffered from asthma.  On top of all that, I have recently gone through menopause.  As you can imagine, I have some pretty rugged hours as far as my health is concerned.  I rejoice, though, that Hashi's and asthma are treatable diseases and that menopause is a natural process. 

Because the thyroid is shaped somewhat like a butterfly, it is nicknamed "the butterfly gland".  I don't think if we actually held a thyroid gland in our hands, we'd think it looked much like a butterfly -- other than a slight resemblance in shape.  LOL    I happen to love butterflies, though, so I love the butterfly nickname. 

I have decided that this is my year to give my body the support that it needs so that I can feel the best that I can.  In that sense, I do want to treat my thyroid gland as I would a butterfly.  Whenever I see butterflies, I am moved to thank God for them, to appreciate their beauty and purpose, and to treat them gently.  In the same way, I want to be grateful for all the tasks that my thyroid gland performs in my body and to treat it gently, as well.

There's a lot of controversy on the Internet about how to treat Hashimoto's.  As with any chronic auto-immune disease, it can leave you feeling so drained that you will try most anything to get some energy.  The treatments that can save our lives may not bring us all the way to abundant health.  The desperation of Hashi's sufferers sometimes drives them away from evidence based medicine to more alternative cures, some of which have very little scientific evidence backing them. Likewise, there is a movement to use the pig or bovine replacement hormones that were prescribed by doctors before synthetic thyroid hormones were developed.  There are pros and cons to using the animal derived hormones.  I will explore that issue later but won't go into it in this introduction.

I, personally, regularly visit my internist and an endocrinologist.  Within certain guidelines, I am willing to consider alternative perspectives, too.  After all, it can't hurt to try changes in diet, environment, exercise, and stress management.  Even if these do not cure Hashi's or even treat it, there is every possibility that such changes will  contribute to an overall sense of well-being.  I don't consider these a replacement for treatment by doctors who know the science of the thyroid and how it works in the body, however.  Neither, do I consider these as replacements for thyroid medicine, whether it is synthesized from a pig's gland or from other substances.  I would encourage anyone with hypothyroid (or hyperthyroid) symptoms not to treat this disease on your own.  The thyroid gland controls so much in the body, and diseases that affect it are nothing to play around with.      

I have a friend who ignored her doctors' advice to take thyroid replacement hormone, and she ended up suffering and eventually having to have her thyroid taken out.  There are different forms of hypothyroid issues, some of which are temporary and do resolve with time and rest.  Hashi's is not one of those!  Neither is the opposite problem, Grave's disease.  Don't take risks with your health!  Consult a doctor who can give you solid, evidence-based information and guidance.

We can rejoice that there is treatment today!  In the past, people died from severe thyroid issues (and still do when it is not treated).  While I am open to alternative treatments, I don't consider science based doctors to be the enemy that many alternative medicine devotees make them out to be.  I believe that we take modern advances in medicine for granted and don't realize just how far science-based medicine has brought us all toward greater health in less than two hundred years.  I see God's hand working in the process of medical scientists who study the bodies God so wonderfully made.

Likewise, there are those on the net who are so skeptical of anything alternative medicine offers that they reject anything from that realm out of hand.  Here again, God has provided us with healthy choices, some of which are emphasized more in the realm of alternative medicine than in science based medicine.  So, I hope to avoid extremes.  I want to sample the best of both worlds to see what works for me.  If you are going to lean just one way, though, I'd implore you to lean with the science.   

Standing above all doctors, medical advisers, and Internet gurus is the Lord.  My ultimate trust is not in doctors or in my ability to manage my disease, but in God.  It is he who made us and who knows what we need.

This blog will document my stewardship of my health, and I'll post what things I find work for me and what things don't. I will also curate articles about thyroid health. I hope that the material will be of help to any of you who also suffer with an autoimmune disease -- particularly thyroid disease -- or who simply want to do what they can to feel better.  And, you will probably also find that you have something to offer that I can learn from.   I'd love to hear from you, especially if you're on the Hashi's journey with me.