Have you ever heard of Graves’ disease? I have to admit, I had heard of it but, before I started looking into this condition I had no idea what it was, nor did I know its symptoms or cause. It certainly sounded ominous . . . deadly, in fact! Well, I soon found out that there is more to Graves’ disease than the name suggests – and I’m here to share! Let’s examine this no-longer-mysterious (to me) disease . . .
Have you ever heard of Graves’ disease? I have to admit, I had heard of it but, before I started looking into this condition I had no idea what it was, nor did I know its symptoms or cause. It certainly sounded ominous . . . deadly, in fact! I mean, anything with “grave” in the name seems rather threatening – at least to me!
Well, I soon found out that there is more to Graves’ disease than the name suggests – and I’m here to share! Let’s take a closer look at this no-longer-mysterious (to me) disease . . .
What is Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by a defect in the immune system that causes the thyroid gland to increase in size and produce an excess amount of thyroid hormones. As a result, the metabolic rate increases and the sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive. Graves' disease is one of the most common of all thyroid problems.
What are the symptoms?
The resulting symptoms include fatigue, bulging eyes, weight loss, muscle weakness, nervousness, heat intolerance, erratic behavior, swelling and tremors, among other things.
Who is affected?
According to the National Graves’ Disease Foundation, the condition affects less than one percent of the population, but is four to five times more common among women than men. It typically strikes during middle age, but is also prevalent in children and adolescents.
What causes it?
While doctors understand the process that occurs inside your body when Graves’ disease takes hold, there is no known cause as to why your body begins that process. Heredity and other characteristics seem to play a role in determining susceptibility, but no single gene causes Graves’ disease. It is thought to be triggered by both genetics and environmental factors, such as stress.
Can it be treated?
Once Graves’ disease has been correctly diagnosed, it is quite easy to treat. In fact, in some cases the disease goes into remission or disappears completely after several months or years. If left untreated it can lead to serious complications - even death.
People with Graves’ disease should avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, and try to reduce their stress. Plenty of rest is also important. Certain foods are known to help suppress the overactive thyroid gland, and should be consumed as part of a healthy diet: cabbage, cauliflower, greens, and Brussels sprouts. These foods can be cooked, but they seem to be more beneficial when eaten raw. Uncooked soybeans, cassava, and linseeds may also have a similar effect.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, your doctor has probably put you on beta-blockers and anti-thyroid medications, among other possibilities. In addition to that treatment, you may want to consider supplementing your diet with these natural options:
Bugleweed. This herb, which can be made into a tea, has been shown to help regulate hormone levels in the blood.
Echinacea. An herb that strengthens the immune system, Echinacea may also help the body suppress overproduction of hormones.
Kelp. While no formal studies have shown that kelp treats Graves’ disease, it is known that in Asian cultures where kelp is regularly consumed, the condition is extremely rare.
Verbena. Verbena extracts may possibly limit hormone production in the thyroid.
Of course, before you add any supplements to your treatment regimen, please discuss them with your health care provider.
Phew . . . now that wasn’t so scary was it? Now that you know what Graves’ disease is and the possible symptoms, you can be on the look-out for it in yourself and those close to you. Remember, early detection and treatment is the key to avoiding, well, a “grave” outcome!