We see thyroid patients nearly every day at GrassRoots Functional Medicine, and we’ve noticed that many have been given incomplete, conflicting, or even incorrect information about their condition. For example, some patients who have seen a conventional doctor have been told that the symptoms they experience are “just a normal part” of their condition, and others have heard it is easy to manage with daily medication, yet they still do not feel their best.
While regulating thyroid levels with medication can be a helpful tool, there is much more to the iceberg we cannot always see right away. We have helped numerous patients reclaim their health and energy by diving deep into their root cause(s) with a functional medicine approach.
If you’re living with a thyroid condition, you should know some important things that conventional medicine may not always explain to you.
Most Thyroid Conditions are Autoimmune Related
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid’s primary function is to produce thyroid hormones essential for regulating metabolic function and energy levels throughout your body. These hormones play an essential role in regulating weight gain and loss, heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, hair loss, and more. When the thyroid gland produces too much or too little of these hormones, it can lead to various health problems, including fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, depression, and anxiety.
When you experience thyroid dysfunction, the thyroid is either underactive (hypothyroidism) and doesn’t produce enough hormones, or overactive (hyperthyroidism) and produces an excess of hormones. What many patients don’t realize is that the vast majority of thyroid disease is autoimmune in nature. This means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, resulting in inflammation and damage, either causing Hashimoto’s, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism, or Grave’s Disease, the autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism. If you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, the path to full recovery is to support the immune system and not just the thyroid.
There are a variety of factors that can trigger an autoimmune response, including infections, stress, and certain medications. Genetics also play a role, however that is only one component to an autoimmune condition. When we look at autoimmune conditions we assess genetics, the role of a leaky gut, and environmental toxins. In conventional medicine, you may have been told there is no cure for autoimmune thyroid conditions; however, in functional medicine, we focus on treating the root cause, which can often lead to remission.
Most Conventional Doctors DON’T Order a Full Thyroid Panel
Most conventional providers only look at two thyroid markers to evaluate thyroid function – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), which indicates if your body is trying to ramp up or down thyroid hormone production, and T4, which is the storage form of thyroid hormone. Unfortunately, these don’t tell the full story in terms of how your body is actually using thyroid hormones and whether or not an autoimmune reaction is taking place.
A complete thyroid panel includes tests for TSH, free T4, free T3 (the active form of thyroid hormones), thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies, and thyroglobulin (TG) antibodies. The good news is that functional medicine practitioners are trained to look at all of these markers and use optimal ranges, which are much narrower than the standard ranges used. This allows them to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on and to identify imbalances that could be missed by conventional testing.
You Have Multiple Medication Options
When it comes to treating thyroid conditions, there are many different medication options available. Some of the most common thyroid medications are levothyroxine (Synthroid), Armour, NP liothyronine (Cytomel). Levothyroxine is the most commonly prescribed for hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid, often caused by Hashimoto’s). Cytomel and Armor may also be prescribed for hypothyroidism. PTU and Tapazole are similar, as they both block the thyroid from producing T3 and T4 hormones in hyperthyroid cases (often caused by Grave’s disease).
Most traditional doctors see low thyroid labs, prescribe Synthroid, and send a patient on their way. However, it is important to know there are multiple options that may be a better fit for you. For example, many patients with hypothyroidism have a hard time converting thyroid hormones from their inactive form (T4) to their active form (T3). Since synthroid is synthetic T4 their lab #s may improve while they still feel crummy. These patients often see a big change in symptoms when they take a combo T4 and T3 med (like Armour) or add in a T3 med like Cytomel.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating thyroid conditions, so it is crucial to work with a physician to determine exactly what is going on and the best course of treatment for you individually.
Nutrients Make a Difference
Many nutrients play vital roles within the endocrine system and thyroid health. Looking at nutrient deficiencies can make a big difference when treating a thyroid condition, however they are not typically tested for by an endocrinologist. Dietary changes and supplementation can help to address a nutrient deficiency.
Here are some of the top nutrients for those dealing with thyroid issues:
- Omega 3s
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
Getting enough of these nutrients is essential for maintaining healthy thyroid function. If you’d like to learn more about the roles these nutrients have on the thyroid, you can find more information in our blog article, 7 Important Nutrients for Thyroid Health.
Toxins May Also be Playing a Role
The thyroid can be adversely affected by a variety of toxins that are surprisingly common in our everyday household items, our environments, and the foods we eat. For example, mercury can damage the thyroid and disrupt hormone production; it can be found in some fish, dental fillings, and even our water supply. Additionally, certain pesticides and herbicides have also been linked to thyroid problems.
In some cases, these chemicals can interfere with the body’s ability to process iodine, which is needed for proper thyroid function. These toxins can also cause inflammation and damage to the thyroid cells. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the potential risks posed by these substances and take steps to avoid exposure whenever possible.
Possible toxin exposures are yet another reason getting the appropriate testing is so vital for optimal thyroid health. When we are aware of toxins within the body we can link those to common symptoms like chronic fatigue, weight gain/loss, cognitive decline, hair loss, mood swings, and more. From there we can develop a plan and detox the body from them.
You can find more information about these toxins here.
You CAN Put Your Condition Into Remission
Autoimmune and thyroid conditions are on the rise, which is leading to chronic illnesses in many people. However, getting a diagnosis is not the end of the world; it is possible to put your condition into remission, naturally – we’ve seen it happen! Many of our patients have been able to restore their energy and optimal weight and even decrease or eliminate the need for thyroid medication with a root-cause approach that addresses diet and lifestyle.
Learn about Tyler’s success story working with Grassroots Functional Medicine HERE!
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.