Because people with chronic autoimmunity often feel guilty about what they can’t do, it’s not uncommon for the newly diagnosed to take that guilt a step further and wonder if they did something to give themselves Hashimoto’s. If you’ve asked yourself that question, the short answer is NO. Nothing you did (or didn’t do) caused you to develop Hashimoto’s.
Putting aside the rare article about how female self-hatred or repression causes autoimmunity (because victim blaming is so uncool), it’s true that there are some pretty clear links between autoimmune responses and lifestyle. But again, that’s not about what we do or don’t do but rather how the society we live in can trigger the potential for autoimmunity already within us.
What the Autoimmune Response Actually Is
Your immune system exists to protect you from foreign invaders like bacteria, parasites, fungus, viruses, and even cancer. The immune response (which can utilize specialized immune cells and/or antibodies) is the steps that are set into motion when your immune system senses one of these foreign invaders inside of you.
When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system is actually doing its job too well. In addition to targeting foreign invaders, it targets some part of your own body and attacks it. The attacks cause inflammation and damage that can result in all kinds of symptoms depending on what system or organ is targeted.
How Autoimmunity Is Triggered
As for why your immune system first fails to identify the body’s own cells, tissues, and/or organs as yours, in most cases the initial trigger is unknown. Doctors and people suffering with autoimmune diseases can dig down to the root cause of flare ups and in many cases this information is enough to help sufferers achieve remission. But as for what causes one person to develop an autoimmune disease while another person living a very similar life does not, we just don’t know.
What we do know that there is a genetic component to autoimmunity, which means the children of people with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s are more likely to have the same disease or another form of autoimmunity. But again, that information alone doesn’t tell us very much about the mechanisms that trigger the immune system to identify an organ or system as an intruder.
So Just Avoid the Common Triggers…
Good advice, right? Except for a lot of us with Hashimoto’s it’s a constant battle, which is why so many of us have such an issue with guilt. We hear that avoiding gluten can lead to remission and when it doesn’t, we question what is wrong with us. We do our best to get rid of environmental toxins in our homes and even in our workplaces. We try to minimize stress, which realistically speaking is a huge challenge when you’re dealing with a disease that is literally killing off a vital organ.
Are we doing enough? Can we ever do enough? Some of us achieve remission only to have a mysterious flare up a year or two later. Some of us feel like we’re doing everything we possibly can, including spending bunches of money on books and supplements and programs, only to experience a tiny reduction in symptoms. It’s demoralizing and depressing when you already feel physically bad to see your best efforts going nowhere.
Okay, What Now?
If there’s one thing you should take away from this post it’s that Hashimoto’s is a disease of your body. Just like you’re unique, the root cause of your autoimmune disease and the way Hashimoto’s manifests in your body will be unique. That means that there can be a lot trial and error involved in achieving health, and you may never attain perfect health. That’s actually okay. Chasing perfect health can hurt you because we all fall short of perfection in the end, and failing to achieve perfection (or perfect results) is at the root of so much of the guilt referenced above.
Guilt Won’t Help You Heal
As much as you might want to circle back and look for deficiencies within yourself when your best efforts lead nowhere, try to be easy on yourself. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your best friend if she was in the same situation because the reality of this autoimmunity journey is that the change that lets one person achieve remission might do nothing at all for you and likewise, when you discover the changes that truly transform your life they might not work for the next patient. Accept that and keep trying! Eventually you will learn so much about yourself and your autoimmune response that