Grave’s disease is classified as an autoimmune condition, causing the thyroid to become overactive (hyperthyroidism). Hyperthyroidism affects several body systems, as the thyroid is a critical part of the immune system, and is responsible for producing important regulatory hormones. However, in patients with Grave’s disease, the thyroid becomes enlarged (sometimes more than twice its normal size), and can cause the heart to race, muscle fatigue, disrupted sleep, and changes in mood. Some of the most commonly affected body systems include the eyes, skin, heart, and nervous systems. While the condition more commonly occurs in women, a small percentage of men are affected. Researchers have identified genetic factors that account for the majority of a patient’s risk in developing Grave’s disease. On the other hand, some lifestyle and environmental factors may secondarily affect one’s risk. For example, exposure to smoke (or second-hand smoke) increases the risk for accompanying eye issues if Grave’s disease does develop.
Grave’s disease is caused when the overactive thyroid secretes an overabundance of metabolic hormones. The thyroid plays a critical role in regulating the body’s metabolism, so when the thyroid secretes too many hormones into circulation, the body’s metabolism works too rapidly – causing symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and unintended weight loss. The thyroid is normally regulated by a chemical released by the brain’s pituitary gland (thyroid-stimulating hormone; aka TSH), but in Grave’s disease, immune dysfunction completely disrupts this regulation. When the body’s immune system malfunctions in Grave’s disease, the body releases a chemical that mimics TSH. These false signals cause the body to send the thyroid gland into overdrive.
Since the immune system’s malfunction is at the root of the disease, it’s difficult to develop treatments that address this underlying cause. Instead, most treatments address the symptoms of the disease. One of the most commonly treated symptoms involves the eye issues that often accompany Grave’s disease. In many patients, the disease causes inflammation of the eye muscles and surrounding tissues – causing the eyeballs to protrude from the sockets. This condition, known as exophthalmos, is not related to the severity of the condition itself – but can cause problems with vision and obviously, self-esteem. In severe cases of exophthalmos, pressure on the optic nerve from prolonged swelling may even cause blindness. In addition, weakened eye muscles may become unable to produce movement, causing double vision.
As an autoimmune condition that often presents later in life, some researchers believe that the disease is by a viral or bacterial culprit. This is a logical theory, as a viral or bacterial trigger is capable of triggering antibodies that would cross-react with human TSH. Many researchers also blame stress as a trigger in those who are genetically susceptible to developing Grave’s disease; however, clinical trials have yet to identify how stress may cause such a disruption in immune regulation.
Once a patient is diagnosed with Grave’s disease, treatment typically includes antithyroid drugs, which reduce the production and secretion of thyroid hormones. In severe cases, the thyroid may even be removed. Although treatment with antithyroid medications is standard, there are some drawbacks to this treatment method. First, the medications must be administered for six months to two years to be effective. Furthermore, if the antithyroid medications are stopped, the thyroid will likely become overactive again. Antithyroid medications may also cause side effects like rash and peripheral neuritis in many users. In extreme cases, the medications can also cause a potentially fatal reduction in white blood cells. For patients who decide to go with excision of the thyroid, the advantages are immediate, but not without risk. Removing the thyroid can create risks to the nerve that serves the voicebox, scarring, and other potential complications. For these reasons, many patients look to alternative therapies for relief.
The Use of Systemic Enzymes in Graves Disease
Systemic enzymes are a staple in the world of alternative therapies on an international level. Used to safely decrease inflammation throughout the body in hundreds of disease states, systemic enzymes are a great alternative to patients suffering from Grave’s disease. The potential benefits for those suffering from Grave’s disease are two-fold. First, systemic enzymes work within the bloodstream to help regulate circulating immune molecules. When the body is in an inflammatory state, increased inflammatory molecules are present in the bloodstream. These molecules travel to sites like the eyes in Grave’s disease. However, because systemic enzymes help to reduce the levels of several types of inflammatory molecules, the chances that a patient will suffer from inflamed eyes become less likely. Additionally, reducing the amount of inflammatory molecules in circulation helps to beneficially modify the unnecessary immune reaction that underlies Grave’s disease. By reducing inflammation throughout the body, and by helping the body more clearly communicate with the immune system, systemic enzymes should be considered by those with Grave’s disease and fully discussed with the patient’s physician. It’s important to note that unlike antithyroid medications that are commonly used to reduce the symptoms of Grave’s disease, systemic enzymes are low-risk, and have no side effects in those who are not utilizing prescription blood-thinners. Systemic enzymes may be used in combination with standard therapies, as they carry no risk of drug-drug or drug-nutrient interactions.