Thyroid problems are becoming increasingly more common in the population. In the United States alone approximately one in 13 people (7.35% or 20 million people) has some kind of dysfunction in their thyroid glands. And those are just the diagnosed cases. The number could be as high as 33 million people. In the vast majority of cases these are being caused by an underlying autoimmune disorder. And now that we know the statistics and connection between MTHFR and thyroid disorders, some of this is starting to make a little more sense.
Someone was disputing Dr. Ben Lynch’s assertion that 50% of people could be affected by MTHFR in a discussion forum the other day, so I thought I’d pull the population frequency data for anyone else who is doubtful. Here it is for MTHFR 677CT and 1298AC. Many of us are affected by MTHFR and just because some doctors aren’t ready to acknowledge it, doesn’t mean that these problems are going away (or that we are). I find it very unsettling that so many scientific people are so quick to refuse to acknowledge that they simply don’t know something. When presented with a possibility in science and medicine, isn’t the prudent thing to accept that perhaps we need more information? I’m leading with this bit of a ramble because I see similarities in the frustrations that both thyroid and MTHFR patients have to deal with.
I am one of these patients. I am compound heterozygous for MTHFR mutations and I was also born with part of my thyroid missing. We are yet to confirm whether the root cause was MTHFR or something else (I lean towards the something else) but as I delve deeper into my knowledge of my own personal health issues it has been enlightening to begin to put together pieces of the puzzle after being in the dark for so long. I do not have Hashimoto’s disease, which is probably the most common autoimmune condition that renders people hypothyroid. Mine was simply a gland malformation issue. But I am hypothyroid nonetheless and like many sufferers of thyroid problems I was under-medicated and improperly treated for my condition for the vast majority of my life.
So how are MTHFR and thyroid problems connected? Dr. Lynch teamed up with the wonderful patient advocate and writer, Mary Shomon recently to explain very simply how the two disorders are connected. I recommend a read of this article even if you don’t have thyroid problems because I think it is one of the clearest explanations of MTHFR that Dr. Lynch has put forth so far for the layman. To summarize, however, he explains that low levels of thyroxine lead to low levels of vitamin B2, which causes a slowing of the MTHFR enzyme and thus low methylfolate levels.
But this does not explain a causal relationship between the two. In fact, I have not seen anything that demonstrates that hypothyroidism is caused by MTHFR gene mutations. As quoted on the website of Dr. Izabella Wentz, author of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause, a 2013 study found no higher incidence of MTHFR gene mutations in Hashimoto’s patients than in the normal population. Dr. Wentz’s book appears to be an interesting one, which I have not read yet. Her website’s homepage states that “most patients with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism will have acid reflux, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, leaky gut, food allergies and adrenal insufficiency. Symptoms of impaired digestion/absorption, anxiety, chronic fatigue and chemical/environmental allergies may be seen as well.” Well, this goes right along with my last post on gut issues and the general conclusions that much of my reading on autoimmune disorders and MTHFR-related chronic illness has brought me to. Viruses have also been implicated as potential troublemakers in various thyroid conditions. One study detected the presence of retroviruses and mumps in subacute thyroiditis, retroviruses in Graves’s disease and Human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1), enterovirus, rubella, mumps, herpes (HSV), Epstein-Barr and parvovirus in Hashimoto’s. Another study looked at HSV and Hashimoto’s. Perhaps MTHFR does have some input into this disease after all as the inability to detox and clear viruses is a related issue here. I think more research needs to be done in this area.
The thyroid gland is responsible for the regulation of the metabolism of every cell in the body. Its function is explained in detail in this presentation. It is a very important part of the endocrine system and hypothyroidism can lead to an increase in homocysteine levels and potentially a greater risk of cardiovascular disease . It can also cause health problems like stress, depression, pain and obesity. Hyperthyroidism is also serious, causing rapid heart rate, tremor, weight loss and even heart failure in some patients. So if you have problems with your thyroid it is essential to get these diagnosed and treated properly. Unfortunately for many undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and undertreated patients this is not happening. The field of endocrinology has been accused of disregarding scientific facts in its assessment of millions of hypothyroid patients. I have experienced this firsthand in my own interactions with many doctors and also anecdotally when speaking with fellow thyroid patients about their experiences.
As much has been written about thyroid problems, I see no need to repeat the facts or proper treatment protocols here. So instead I will leave you with a short list of essential resources to assist you in learning and getting the proper treatment. If you suspect that you are having problems with your thyroid even though your doctor says your labs are “fine” (and I hope you know by now how I feel about that word!), please seek a second opinion from one of the more up-to-date doctors out there. This disease is not usually silent but it is very often ignored.
Do you have both MTHFR and a thyroid problem? What have you noticed about your conditions?