Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting about 11 percent of the population. For the majority of people, heart disease is driven by diet and lifestyle factors, however research shows an increasing number of heart disease cases can also have an autoimmune component. This means the immune system is mistakenly attacking and destroying heart tissue, causing symptoms and weakening the heart. This is the same mechanism in Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, when the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.
Typically heart disease is linked with a diet high in processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of activity, and obesity. The good news is that means people who make the effort can ameliorate or reverse their condition through a whole foods diet and exercise.
However, when an autoimmune reaction is part of the picture, the approach is more complicated. If the autoimmunity has destroyed enough tissue, it can be too late to reverse the condition. With autoimmune rates exploding in recent years, hopefully more doctors will screen for autoimmunity so an autoimmune heart condition can be caught in time to manage it.
It’s common for people to have autoimmune reactions to more than one tissue. Managing Hashimoto’s correctly is important to prevent the development of autoimmunity against other tissues, such as the heart.
Heart autoimmunity when you have Hashimoto’s
The symptoms of an autoimmune reaction against the heart mimic heart disease symptoms. They include cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), fluid retention, tiring easily, chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, edema with exercise, and difficulty breathing. An unmanaged autoimmune reaction to the heart can cause inflammation, scarring, and, in rare cases, sudden death. It also affects the lungs, liver, and other organs and systems in the body.
Typically, doctors in the standard health care model do not screen for autoimmunity until the end stages of disease when symptoms are severe. Fortunately, you can identify an autoimmune reaction before it’s too late with a blood serum antibody panel. The same goes true with thyroid autoimmunity, which can be detected and managed before symptoms become too severe.
This panel screens for autoimmunity against heart tissue by checking for myocardial (a protein the heart releases in response to stress) or alpha-myosin (cardiac tissue) antibodies. If these come back positive it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle.
If you know you have an autoimmune condition, you can potentially slow or halt its progression through proven diet, lifestyle, and nutritional therapy strategies. You should also regularly monitor your heart health. This goes for both heart autoimmunity and Hashimoto’s.
Gluten sensitivity affects heart autoimmunity Sometimes gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are associated with cardiomyopathy and a gluten-free diet can improve the condition, sometimes profoundly. For some it even reverses the condition. Cardiomyopathy has also been shown to worsen in those with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten. People with cardiomyopathy or a history of heart inflammation should always screen for gluten sensitivity using newer, more advanced testing since a gluten-free diet may significantly improve the condition.
A gluten-free diet is also important for people who have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism as studies show many people with the autoimmune thyroid condition react to gluten.
Other strategies for heart autoimmunity
When a person tests positive for autoimmunity, a gluten-free diet should be adopted given the links between gluten and autoimmune disease, including heart autoimmunity. A more intensive autoimmune diet may be necessary to repair the gut, dampen overall inflammation, and help balance the immune system. These approaches also help manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Ask about my office about nutritional therapy strategies to manage heart autoimmunity and Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.