Hashimoto's Disease, Gigi Hadid, and Me

What you need to know about the disease that is affecting one of America's top models ... and me.

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Hashimoto's Disease, Gigi Hadid, and Me

Model Gigi Hadid walked the runway recently for Victoria’s Secret, and surely anticipating the gossip about her weight loss, she addressed it, announcing that she has Hashimoto’s disease. The weight loss and difficulty maintaining muscle tone were side effects of medication, she said. The public response was largely disbelief: Why would a disease associated with weight gain cause weight loss? Hadid, at 21, is surely too young to have this autoimmune disease.

I ran into disbelief myself, when, also at 21, I repeatedly visited my doctor for disturbing symptoms, including severe fatigue, brain fog and heart palpitations. “You are a single mom, working and in school,” my doctor said, visibly annoyed. “You are stressed. Nothing is wrong with you.” I continued to make appointments, calmly repeating my persistent symptoms, and finally the doctor relented. My blood was drawn and I was sent home to wait for the results.

“You have hypothyroidism,” a nurse told me over the phone. I had no idea what that was, and was confused after I researched the disease: Yes, symptoms included brain fog, palpitations and fatigue, but also frequently included weight gain—at 5’7 and 115 pounds, I had none. I also skewed young for this disease. Yet the blood work did not lie, so I began taking medication and within a week or two, felt better. Not wholly better, but the symptoms became less overwhelming.

I also had other common symptoms of hypothyroidism, including cold hands and feet, puffy face, muscle weakness and pain, impaired memory, constipation, and slowed heart rate. My blood pressure was often so low the nurse pumping the end of the cuff would tap the glass of the tool and look at me with raised eyebrows. I’d nod, familiar with the reaction.

Years later, still not “cured,” I had bloodwork done to find out what I already assumed, that I had Hashimoto’s. After my hypothyroid diagnosis, I read everything I could on the disease, and I learned that most hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s, which is why I assumed it was the cause.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease wherein your body attacks your thyroid gland, disrupting correct production of the hormones necessary for correct hormonal balance, brain function and heart function: basically, the entire machine of your body cannot work without the thyroid. Hashimoto’s most often causes hypothyroidism.

Medication for Hashimoto’s is available, but imperfect. The two most frequently offered options are armour-desiccated thyroid (derived from pig), which is natural, and a man-made medication called Synthroid.

Hillary Clinton and myself take the armour medication, which by many in the “Hashi” world is considered superior, because it includes replacement of both T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, where Synthroid replaces only T4. Despite being controversial because it can be harder to control the content of each dose, armour has been in use for decades on decades, and many patients claim it is only this medication that works to relieve their symptoms, while Synthroid is the preferred medication by the majority of doctors.

The medication for balancing thyroid hormones is given in daily, specific doses, and frequent bloodwork is often necessary as people with Hashimoto’s often have a difficult time normalizing their levels. This may be because when your autoimmune disease is provoked to “flare,” meaning as more antibodies are released to attack your thyroid, more medication is needed. Many people with thyroid disease are gluten intolerant, for example, and ingesting gluten can provoke a flare. So, as with most diseases, it is not as simple as popping a pill.

It’s common for fluctuating thyroid levels to cause a hypothyroid patient (someone who has low levels of thyroid) to become hyperthyroid (meaning your thyroid is overactive), and rapid heartbeat and weight loss are the most common symptoms.

Gigi Hadid mentioned that thyroid medication was causing her weight and muscle loss. This was most likely caused by her body going into hyperthyroid mode, which significantly accelerates the metabolism, causing rapid weight loss and in someone as slim as Hadid, muscle wasting. Since Hashimoto’s makes it difficult to regulate thyroid levels, swinging back and forth from thyroid states is common and difficult to control.

The thyroid produces hormones that interact with other hormones in a way that affects the health of the entire body.

Outside of gluten intolerance and flares causing imbalance, thyroid medication also needs to be taken without iron in the stomach, as iron blocks the absorption of the thyroid hormones. So you don’t want to eat a juicy steak, pop your medication and head to bed. Many people with Hashimoto’s—myself included—have what is called comorbidity, or another disease joining their Hashi’s. I have endometriosis, a gynecological disease that often is a twin with thyroid imbalance in women.

When Gigi Hadid claimed that her medication caused her weight loss and was met with disbelief, I felt for her. This very occurrence has happened to me, more than once. It can then take many medication tweaks to find the right balance to even out the hormone levels needed to feel and look yourself. It’s a lifelong disease that requires constant vigilance.

Hadid said that she had been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s two years ago, and yet is still obviously struggling with her thyroid levels. I have lived with this disease for almost 20 years, and still struggle as well. In fact, as I type this, my hands and face are swollen, my muscles feel tingly and exhausted, and my brain is processing slowly. Like Gigi Hadid, I probably need a medication tweak to get back on track.

Unlike Hadid, I’m not being judged by the world as to the veracity of my disease. It’s already hard enough to be sick, without being doubted as well.

Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage and her novel, Agitate My Heart, is in edits.