- Approximately 20 million Americans will suffer from some kind of thyroid disease in their lifetime.
- Nearly 60 percent of those affected with thyroid disorders do not recognize that they have a disorder.
- A few common symptoms of thyroid disorders are fatigue, weakness, brain fog, hair loss, inability to control body temperature, body aches, depression, anxiety, unexplainable weight gain or loss.
- Many thyroid conditions are autoimmune related. In fact, approximately 90 percent of low thyroid involves an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s.
It is estimated the 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to nearly 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are completely unaware of their condition. With these alarming rates of thyroid disorders, it is clear that millions of people are being mismanaged in their thyroid care every year and if you are one of them you may never feel good with your current treatment plan.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland that is located low on the front neck. The thyroid has many functions, but primarily it 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 disorders are hypothyroid and hyperthyroid.
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
Hypothyroid can be caused by various reasons. For years, the thought in the medical field was that low thyroid was caused primarily by iodine deficiency, so they supplemented iodine in salt and other foods to prevent the major types of deficiencies. If it was just that easy to correct hypothyroid disorders by giving iodine, we would have fixed the vast majority of the problems out there. But here’s the real cause for almost 90% of the patients that are dealing with low thyroid … it’s your immune system that is attacking it’s own thyroid gland! For all of these people that have Hashimoto’s disease, it’s not a thyroid disease, it is an autoimmune disease that is attacking the thyroid gland. What does that mean for treatment and outcome of people’s symptoms? Unless the immune system that is going haywire is addressed, no amount of thyroid hormone replacement is going to fix the problem. The true underlying cause of the malfunction of the system has to be addressed.
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.
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.
Common Flaws in Thyroid Testing
It is very common with thyroid issues that most people often times remain misdiagnosed and mistreated due to lack of information. For instance, many doctors fail to test for Hashimoto’s when nearly 90 percent of low thyroid involves an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s. Is it because it is an expensive test? When we run the antibodies it is $14.00. So everyone that has any thyroid symptoms or a family history of thyroid problems should have their AB’s 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 adrenals and while the TSH levels might be normal, the pituitary may be off because of the HPA axis relationship.
Blood sugar levels are another concern with thyroid issues that many healthcare practitioners fail to recognize. When the blood sugar spikes or drops too low, it stimulates an inflammatory response to attack more thyroid tissues. For instance, if you went too long without eating and your levels dropped significantly or conversely if you ate too much sugar or carbohydrates and your blood sugar spiked, the autoimmunity is triggered to attack itself.
Often times thyroid issues may be a result of the brain not functioning properly. Brain mapping is a non-invasive quantitative electroencephalogram (EEG) that senses the electrical activity in the brain and records the data to determine where the brain might not be properly functioning. Instead of treating the symptoms, brain mapping is a safe and drug-free way to identify the specific areas that need attention in order to teach the brain to respond differently.
Brain mapping measures different waves in your brain. Those suffering from signs of thyroid disorders may be able to reverse the symptoms based on data provided by the brain map. For instance, alpha waves are one of the brain waves that bridge the gap between our conscious thinking and subconscious mind helps us calm down and relax when necessary. If we become stressed, an experience called “alpha blocking” may occur causing the beta waves to “block” the production of alpha waves. When measuring alpha waves in someone experiencing thyroid disorder symptoms, you may find high waves which indicate anxiety or low waves indicating depression. With this information, you can then determine that these symptoms are a neurological issue versus a biochemical problem. These profound results indicate that this issue can be fixed simply by teaching the brain to function differently versus resulting towards medications that temporarily relieve the issue.
Like anything, diet has a major impact in the health of the thyroid. Unfortunately, the standard American diet high in processed foods, sugars and artificial ingredients has negatively impacted our nation’s health, leading to a myriad of health issues and in particular, thyroid disorders. However, studies show that changes positively impact and often times reverse thyroid disorders.
According to an Italian study, 71 percent of the people who followed a one-year gluten-free diet experienced a normalization of subclinical hypothyroidism. In the same study, 19 percent of people who withdrew gluten normalized their thyroid antibodies. The researchers concluded that, “In distinct cases, gluten withdrawal may single-handedly reverse the abnormality.”
Some of the most common triggers in Hashimoto’s are nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, leaky gut, stress, and an inability to clear toxins from the body. By eliminating processed foods and foods you may have sensitivity to, you may be able to reverse symptoms.
Many people suffering from hypothyroid disease are deficient in iodine which is a key mineral in helping you convert and release thyroid hormones. Seaweed, like sea veggies dulse and kelp, are an excellent source of iodine as well as certain wild-caught fish and fermented grains.
In addition to iodine, selenium is another important trace mineral that is helpful for the thyroid as it helps balance T4 hormones. Brazil nuts, grass-fed beef, spinach and some wild-caught fish are excellent sources of selenium. Zinc and B vitamins are also helpful in helping to balance the thyroid which you can find in grass-fed beef, fish, spinach, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds to name a few.
In addition to processed foods, there are a few foods to avoid if you are struggling with hypothyroidism. For instance, goitrogen foods like broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables can exacerbate thyroid function. It is also important to be aware of your tap water as most tap water contains fluoride which can disturb the endocrine gland by inhibiting iodine absorption. The best option is investing in a water filter that purifies these toxins.
With the alarming increasing rates of thyroid disorders, it is even more important now to understand the various conditions as well as treatments available that can identify the root issue. It is only after you identify the root cause of your disorder that you can truly begin the healing process.