It’s an undeniable fact that thyroid disease is on the rise. More than 12% of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime and up to 60% of people with a thyroid problem don’t know they have one.
Conventional medicine overlooks major aspects of thyroid health and even integrative and alternative practitioners have their blind spots.
If you have a thyroid diagnosis and are on thyroid medication but are still experiencing symptoms, your doctor may be missing some of the key factors that are holding you back from optimal health.
And if you’re dealing with fatigue, weight changes, brain fog, hair loss, mood imbalances, constipation, or temperature sensitivity you could have an undiagnosed thyroid problem.
So let’s look at 7 myths about thyroid disease so that you can get a clearer picture of your thyroid health and your path to a symptom-free life.
Myth #1 Thyroid dysfunction only affects women
While it’s true that women are 5 to 8 times more likely to develop thyroid dysfunction, men are not immune!
I’ve worked with plenty of male patients who were dealing with thyroid issues. In fact, we have a great case study video from a male patient I worked with to reverse his Graves’ disease (the autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism).
Before coming to see us, his diagnosis was completely missed by his conventional doctors, likely because they weren’t even considering thyroid issues. Yet he was losing weight rapidly, his heart was working overtime putting him at risk for heart damage, and he was so fatigued that he couldn’t even hold his infant son for more than a few minutes.
However, after getting to the root cause of his thyroid dysfunction, we were able to reverse his condition, restore his energy and optimal weight, and he’s now fully recovered and doing great.
So if you’re a man dealing with unexplained symptoms it’s definitely worth looking into your thyroid function.
Myth #2 If your labs are “normal” your thyroid is fine
I cannot say this enough – if you’re continuously fatigued, constipated, your hair is falling out, or you feel like you’re living in a fog, that is not normal!
We see so many patients who’ve either been told their thyroid labs are fine and they don’t have a thyroid problem, or they’ve received a diagnosis, started medication, and their labs are now “normal” so there’s nothing to worry about even though they’re still struggling with symptoms.
The problem is that many conventional doctors are using outdated reference ranges for thyroid markers. In 2003 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended that the lab reference ranges become more narrow, but institutions have been slow to catch up.
In functional medicine, we look at optimal references and listen to you as the patient to determine your course of treatment, because you know your body best.
Myth #3 TSH is the only lab marker that matters
If you go to your conventional doctor and they suspect a thyroid issue, chances are they’ll only run a test for thyroid stimulating hormone, known as TSH.
Your body has a very intricate system for regulating your thyroid hormones, and when it senses they are low, your hypothalamus sends out TRH or thyroid releasing hormone, which signals your pituitary gland to produce TSH to increase thyroid hormone production. So your TSH level is actually an indication of what your pituitary gland is doing based on your body’s internal feedback loop, not how your thyroid is actually functioning.
You may have plenty of T4, which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone, but if you’re not converting it into active T3 you’ll still experience hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, constipation, and hair loss.
If your doctor only tests for TSH they’re not getting a complete picture of your thyroid function and they could overlook a diagnosis or stop digging for the real cause of your symptoms.
That’s why at GrassRoots Functional Medicine clinic we run a complete thyroid panel, along with other hormone and functional lab tests so that we have all of the pieces to the puzzle.
Myth #4 TRH and TSH don’t matter at all
Just as conventional medicine has blind spots, integrative medicine does too. Many integrative thyroid experts have swung too far in the other direction and don’t look at TRH and TSH at all, which can be just as harmful.
I hosted a great live training on Facebook about this where I explained that many alternative practitioners are focused so much on your T3 levels that treatments suppress your TRH and TSH levels.
This is problematic because TRH affects your autonomic nervous system which controls your fight or flight response. Many thyroid patients are dealing with high stress levels and adrenal fatigue, so you want to make sure the whole system is in balance.
TRH also affects your stomach acid, HCL, which is key for breaking down food, it plays a role in producing serotonin to regulate your mood, and it impacts insulin and blood sugar levels.
We have to be looking at the bigger picture and viewing the body as a whole when it comes to treating thyroid dysfunction because changes in one area can have far-reaching effects.
Myth #5 Stress isn’t important for managing your thyroid
Along those same lines, your stress hormones have a big impact on thyroid hormones because they’re both part of your endocrine system.
You can think of your endocrine system as a symphony where all of your hormones need to be playing together in harmony. If your stress levels are high for a long period of time due to chronic stress, it can suppress thyroid hormone production, keep your thyroid hormones stuck in their inactive state, and even lead to thyroid hormone resistance.
So if you’re dealing with thyroid imbalances, we want to make sure we’re addressing your stress levels through lifestyle changes and giving your body the support it needs to manage and relieve stress.
Myth #6 Gut health doesn’t impact thyroid function
Gut health is all the rage right now, and for good reason! Your gut affects virtually every system in your body and thyroid function is no exception.
About 20% of your thyroid hormones are converted from their inactive state to their active state in your gut. Your digestive tract is also where you absorb the nutrients necessary for thyroid function, including iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron.
If you’re dealing with gut imbalances such as dysbiosis, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, known as SIBO, or a deficiency in HCL, these processes are disrupted.
There’s also a really common bacterial gut infection called H. pylori that can lead to stomach ulcers and has been linked to thyroid dysfunction. One study found that 86% of autoimmune thyroid patients had an H. pylori infection, yet it isn’t commonly tested for.
Again, this all goes back to looking at the body as a whole and seeing how interconnected systems are affecting each other and impacting your health.
Myth # 7 Giving up gluten is a cure-all for thyroid dysfunction
This is a big one floating around the internet so I really want to make sure I address it. Yes, it’s true that gluten can play a major role in thyroid health.
Gluten leads to inflammation and triggers leaky gut, both of which can lead to thyroid dysfunction, especially autoimmune thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s and Graves. Gluten also has a similar protein structure to your thyroid hormone so it can trigger an autoimmune attack on your thyroid through a mistaken identity phenomenon called molecular mimicry.
And yes, I do recommend that thyroid patients remove gluten from their diet at least temporarily to see how your body responds and if your symptoms and lab markers improve.
However, as we’ve just learned, there are so many factors that play a role in thyroid function. I wish the fix was as simple as just removing gluten, but that’s just not always the case.
We have to look at the whole picture – labs, stress, gut health, nutrient deficiencies, and even toxins and infections to truly understand what’s causing your thyroid imbalance so that we can restore optimal function long term.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!