Having a thyroid condition can be incredibly frustrating, especially if it is not being managed appropriately. Has your doctor ever told you that it’s all in your head? Maybe they tried to brush off your symptoms by blaming them on your age? Perhaps you’ve heard that nutrition has no effect on your thyroid? The problem is that not every practitioner is willing to dig deep enough to find the root cause of your dysfunction. But there is hope! Keep reading to educate yourself on what might be going on with your body, then find health professionals who care and will work hard to get you feeling your best again.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
As it turns out, thyroid disease is a common health condition. In fact, the American Thyroid Association estimates that over 12% of the United States population will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime with over 60% of those affected not knowing they have a problem to begin with. Women need to be particularly careful as they are 10 times more likely to develop a thyroid problem when compared to men. What’s even worse is that up to 10% of women develop problems after pregnancy. For these reasons and more, it is essential to understand what the thyroid is and how it impacts your body. The consequences of an ill-managed dysfunctional thyroid can be detrimental to both your health and quality of life.
WHAT IS THE THYROID?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front portion of the neck which holds the primary role of manufacturing thyroid hormones. These thyroid hormones are secreted into the blood and carried to almost every cell in the body where they affect metabolism and orchestrate a multitude of critical functions. Thyroid hormones help regulate your temperature, and they also keep your brain, heart, gut, muscles, and other organs working like well-oiled machines. With the thyroid having its fingers in almost every aspect of your body, essentially your entire being feels the consequences when it is off!
TRUST YOUR GUT!
You know your body better than anybody, and if you feel as though something is not right, then something is not right! Also, despite what conventional medicine practitioners may tell you, taking increasing doses of medication for the rest of your life is not the only way to treat thyroid disease. In fact, it may not even be the best option for your unique situation. Relying on medication to keep your horrible symptoms at bay does not have to be your new normal. Through optimizing your nutrition, removing inflammatory triggers, and reducing physical and emotional stressors, you can get back to the state of wellness we all deserve.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE A THYROID CONDITION?
Multiple thyroid problems can manifest with the most common being autoimmune in nature. For those of you who are not familiar with what autoimmunity is, it occurs when the immune system (which is designed to protect your body against foreign invaders like bacteria, fungus, viruses, and parasites) inappropriately decides that the body’s own cells are the enemy and proceeds to attack various organs. When this happens in the joints it is called rheumatoid arthritis (RA). When it happens to the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord it is called multiple sclerosis (MS). When it occurs in the thyroid, it is called Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. Currently, there are over 80 autoimmune conditions that have been identified, and this number continues to rise. Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune thyroid condition and typically results in hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone). This disease can be diagnosed by testing blood for one of two different antibodies, thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) and thyroglobulin antibodies (TG). Graves’ disease is less common and typically results in hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone). A blood test that can be helpful for identifying Graves’ disease is the TSH Receptor Antibodies (TRAb) test.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHYROID (TOO LITTLE THYROID HORMONE):
- Fatigue/low energy
- Weight gain
- Cold intolerance (especially in hands, feet, tip of nose)
- Joint and muscle pain
- Constipation (less than one bowel movement a day)
- Dry, thinning hair or hair loss (especially outer third of eyebrows)
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Irregular heartbeat/palpitations/slow heart rate
- Memory problems/brain fog
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HYPERTHYROID (TOO MUCH THYROID HORMONE):
- Increased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to concentrate
- Irregular heartbeat/palpitations
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fine, brittle hair/hair loss
- Nausea and vomiting
HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN TO ME?
Again, one of the reasons people with thyroid conditions do not get better is the result of their doctors failing to ask “why.” When it comes to an autoimmune disease, asking “why,” and correcting the “why,” is the most effective way to get a resolution of symptoms. The conventional treatment for autoimmunity in our current medical model typically involves either shutting down the immune system with potent drugs that have nasty side effects (often worse than the original problem) or removing the organ that is involved (i.e. a thyroidectomy). The functional medicine approach to autoimmunity is quite different. With that being said, depending on the progression of the disease and severity of symptoms, conventional treatments may be necessary. But if time permits and it is safe, why not try a less aggressive, more holistic approach before jumping to the big guns?
When evaluating the “why,” you need to consider the three primary ingredients to creating an autoimmune condition: genetic predisposition, leaky gut, and a trigger. Although you can’t change your genes, we can change their expression. A common saying within the functional medicine community is that your genes load the gun and your environment pulls the trigger. By altering your environment (healing a leaky gut and removing inflammatory triggers), there is a good chance you can encourage your genetics to express themselves in more of a positive light. The other benefit to healing your gut and reducing inflammation is that you also reduce your risk of developing another autoimmune condition, which is a common problem. Plus, you reduce your risk for other deadly disease processes linked to inflammation like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more.
Another problem with the current medical model is the fact that every person with thyroid autoimmune disease typically gets one universal treatment. The reality is each individual got to where they are for different reasons. To expect everyone to get one treatment and do well is a little unrealistic. Therefore, time must be spent going over medical history with each individual patient in an attempt to identify and correct potential causative factors. Although every treatment plan should be different, the basic concept is always the same within functional medicine practice – give the body the fuel it needs (nutrition, sleep, spirituality, purpose) and take away the factors that hinder healing (stress, infections, toxins).
DOES THIS REALLY WORK?
I can tell you from first-hand experience that it does. During my time working with individuals from around the world with complex autoimmune conditions, I have seen people make some pretty amazing recoveries, despite being told by multiple medical practitioners they were out of options. I would like to tell you the story of one patient’s journey who I remember well; I will call her Rachel.
She came in with her mother to get to the root cause of her Hashimoto’s disease. Rachel was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s by her local endocrinologist with TPO antibodies >2,500 IU/ml (normal range <9 IU/ml) and placed on Synthroid (a synthetic thyroid hormone). Her mother asked the doctor what she could do to improve her condition. He responded by saying there was nothing in particular that could be done; she would have to stay on the thyroid hormone for the rest of her life and continue to increase the dose as her thyroid became increasingly dysfunctional.
Rachel came into GrassRoots Functional Medicine for a consultation after refusing to accept the pessimistic outlooks she received from her doctor. After a compressive medical history was obtained and a functional laboratory workup was completed, we found out that Rachel was sensitive to gluten and dairy, had a pathogenic bacteria in her gut, multiple nutritional deficiencies (some of which were essential for thyroid function), and mercury toxicity. Over the course of a year we implemented a plan that incorporated dietary changes, natural herbs to kill the bacteria, and supplements to chelate the mercury. Thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication on Rachel’s part, this 12-year-old girl saw some pretty miraculous results. She had improvements in sleep, energy, school performance, and her chronic constipation she had struggled with since being an infant was resolved. Rachel weaned off of her thyroid medication completely while maintaining optimal hormone levels and her TPO antibodies decreased from >2,500 IU/ml to <300 IU/ml (not perfect but significantly better). Both she and her mother worked incredibly hard over that year, and her overall health is in a much better place now because of it.
If you have a thyroid disorder or are simply not feeling well and you are not getting any answers from your current doctors, take the first step in gaining your health back by setting up a free discovery call with the GrassRoots Functional Medicine team. Life is too short not to feel optimal. Let’s partner together so you can achieve the level of physical, mental, and spiritual health you deserve! If you’re ready to get started, reviewing our Adaptation Programs is the best place to begin.
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.