Functional Medicine and Thyroid Issues
20 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of thyroid disease each year. With these alarming rates of thyroid diagnosis it’s clear that millions of people are being mismanaged in their thyroid care every year and many are misdiagnosed as having thyroid disease when it is truly a much deeper issue. The functional medicine approach to treatment looks for the underlying imbalances and root cause to find what systems are out of balance then treats the cause rather than masking the symptoms with thyroid medication.
The thyroid, a small, butterfly shaped gland located low on the front neck, has many functions, but primarily secretes hormones that are responsible for metabolism, body temperature, cholesterol levels, breathing and heart rate to name a few. Two of the most common thyroid diagnosis are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroid is the term used to describe an underactive thyroid, meaning it does not properly generate hormones (primarily T3 and T4) or release thyroid hormones into the body. It is estimated that about 4.6 percent of the United States population ages 12 and older struggle with hypothyroidism.
A few common symptoms of hypothyroid include:
- Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
- Coarse, dry hair
- Dry, rough pale skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
- Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
In contrast to hypothyroid, hyperthyroid is the term used to describe an overactive thyroid, meaning you are producing too many thyroid hormones. Approximately 1.2 percent of people in the United States have hyperthyroidism and women are 2 to 10 times more likely to experience hyperthyroid than men.
A few common symptoms of hyperthyroid are:
- Fatigue or muscle weakness
- Hand tremors
- Mood swings
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Skin dryness
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Light periods or skipping periods.
There are a number of causes of hyperthyroid, one being an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease, where the body produces an antibody that causes the thyroid gland to produce an excess amount of thyroid hormone. It can also be caused by a goiter or lumps/nodules in the gland that can cause an overproduction of hormones. Inflammation of the thyroid gland, or thyroiditis, which is a result of a dysfunction of the immune system, can also cause hyperthyroidism. Lastly, diet can cause an imbalance in the thyroid, primarily due to an overconsumption of iodine in the form of foods or supplements or medications containing iodine.
Stress and Your Thyroid Health
A large factor relating to the health of the thyroid is stress. Stress undoubtedly affects all areas of the body by increasing inflammation causing various health issues. When we are stressed, the adrenals (tiny almond-shaped glands that sit on top of our kidney) release a hormone called adrenaline to help the body react to stress.
Your adrenals also work with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in a series of relationships known as the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis or more commonly referred to as the HPA axis. The HPA axis is responsible for your body’s temperature, digestion, immune system, mood, energy, and stress response.
Because the thyroid and the HPA axis are so heavily related, periods of chronic adrenal stress decreases the HPA axis function and in turn, negatively impacts the thyroid or mimics thyroid symptoms causing misdiagnosis.
Common Flaws in Thyroid Testing
Unfortunately thyroid disorders are very commonly misdiagnosed and mistreated in the traditional medical world due to insufficient testing. For instance, many doctors fail to test for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition that shows up positive for 90 % of patients showing as low thyroid . Is it because it is an expensive test? No, when we run this antibody test it costs us $14. Anyone that has any thyroid symptoms or a family history of thyroid problems should have their antibodies tested. When testing for Hashimoto’s, it is important to look at TPO and TGB levels. If they are elevated, it means the body is attacking its own thyroid gland, or also referred to as an autoimmune attack.
Another common flaw in thyroid testing is only reading the TSH number. TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone which is produced by the pituitary gland. The assumption is that if TSH levels are in their normal range then the thyroid is fine but this is far from the truth. The pituitary gland sends messages to the adrenal glands so even though TSH levels might be normal, the pituitary may be off balance causing issues in the HPA axis.
Another cause of thyroid issues is actually blood sugar imbalances. Most healthcare practitioners fail to recognize that blood sugar causes so many health issues. When the blood sugar spikes high or drops too low, it stimulates an inflammatory response to attack more thyroid tissues. For instance, if you go without eating for too long your blood sugar levels may drop significantly and conversely eating too much sugar or carbohydrates may cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Every time this happens the immune system is triggered to attack itself.
If your doctor told you that you had low thyroid and put you on a thyroid drug to fix the issues that was the starting point of major mistakes being made to treat your issues. The functional medicine approach looks deeper than just checking TSH and T3 and runs a full 7 blood markers as well as antibodies as well as testing all systems in the body to see what other systems may be out of balance. At F8 we also check the electrical function of the brain to discover whether your issues may be deeper than just the body. If you are ready to find answers to these frustrating thyroid issues F8 can dig deeper and find the root cause.
Ready to take action to reverse the cause of your Thyroid Symptoms?