I’m sure that recently most of us have heard someone mention something about the thyroid gland, whether it be a from doctor, a friend or a loved one. Why is there so much recent focus on this particular gland? Well, most people are unaware of the power that this one gland possesses on our overall health and wellness. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that dictate the metabolism (energy input/output) of each and every cell in the body as well as protein synthesis. Unlike any other hormone in the body, thyroid hormones are unique in that every single cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormones. Therefore, when someone has a dysfunctional thyroid gland, all cells can be affected and because the thyroid gland supports the metabolism of every system of the body, essentially any health issue can be linked to thyroid dysfunction.
According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disease and up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. A dysfunctional thyroid can put people at risk for health issues such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and infertility. With the prevalence of thyroid disorder steadily increasing, it is a disease that most likely will affect each and every one of us directly and/or indirectly.
Here are some FAQ’s regarding the thyroid gland..
Q: How do I know if my thyroid isn’t working properly?
A: The following diagram lists some of the more common thyroid symptoms of an underactive (hypo) versus an overactive (hyper) thyroid gland.
Q: How do I know definitively if I have a dysfunctional thyroid?
A: There is laboratory testing that can be performed with a simple blood sample. It is a common mistake made by many doctors who are unaware of the intricacies of the thyroid gland to only have a couple or perhaps only one thyroid marker tested. The problem with this is that without all of the thyroid markers tested at the same time, it is difficult to assess where there is a breakdown in thyroid hormone production and utilization. When the thyroid is tested, it is a snapshot in time of how that person’s thyroid is functioning in that particular moment, so it is imperative that all thyroid markers are assessed at the same time to properly address thyroid dysfunction.
Q: Won’t a thyroid medication fix my thyroid issues?
A: Not necessarily. The medication can make markers move on a blood test and can make the patient feel better, while on medication, but it doesn’t fix the root problem of why the thyroid is dysfunctional in the first place. Often, many people have to increase their medication dosage over time due to increased tolerance to the medication and also due to neglect of the root cause of the problem. The better approach is to naturally support the processes that promote thyroid hormone production, provide adequate nutrition for the thyroid gland and involved organ systems as well as support the pathway for the utilization of thyroid hormones.
Q: How does one naturally support the thyroid gland and hormone production?
A: It depends on where there is dysfunction and/or deficiencies in the numerous steps relating to thyroid hormone production and utilization. To provide personalized natural/nutritional support, one must have a thyroid panel performed to assess where breakdown of the pathway is occurring and to see where support is necessary for recovery. Some of the key players in thyroid health are maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, absence of any type of anemia, healthy hormone levels, adequate amounts of iron, iodine/iodide, selenium, vitamin A, serotonin, dopamine and amino acids, The unusable form of thyroid hormone (T4) is converted to the usable form (T3) mostly in the liver and in the digestive system, so it is also important that both liver and gut health are addressed.
Q: What labs should my doctor be ordering to assess my thyroid?
A: A full thyroid panel would include the following: TSH, total T3, total T4, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, T3 uptake , thyroid binding globulin, thyroid peroxidase antibodies, and thyroglobulin antibodies. The last two markers assess for autoimmunity which would indicate that the immune system is attacking the very things that help your thyroid produce hormones and function properly. Autoimmune disease is basically a state in which the immune system becomes overwhelmed and is no longer able to differentiate between self and non-self, and thus the immune system begins attacking our own tissues and enzymes. Autoimmunity to the thyroid is becoming more and more common in people with thyroid disorders that are left unchecked. When your primary doctor runs laboratory work on your thyroid, demand that they run all of these markers. All of them together paint a much bigger picture of why the thyroid gland may not be working properly.
Q: My labs came back within the “normal” range but I am still experiencing thyroid symptoms. How can that be?
A: The laboratory values for thyroid markers differ from laboratory to laboratory. Depending on which laboratory you get your thyroid panel run through, you may or may not be properly diagnosed. Laboratories have different ranges because each lab determines a “normal” range based on the demographic of people that get their blood tested at that particular facility. And let’s face it, not many healthy people are getting their blood markers looked at. Therefore, these labs are creating their “normal” ranges based on a population of mainly unhealthy people. This is where functional medicine comes in. When evaluating labs as a functional medicine practitioner, a much narrower range of what is considered “normal” is utilized in order to catch dysfunction and imbalances in the body before they become a health crisis. Functional medicine providers look to optimize the body’s physiology naturally with nutrition/dietary recommendations, and lifestyle and environmental changes which can not only improve thyroid health but overall health as well. If blood sugar dysregulation, anemia, nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, gut health, liver health, stress levels and environmental toxins are not addressed, the thyroid will never be able to properly heal and function no matter how much medication you throw at it.
Q: I’m on thyroid medication now. Should I be concerned?
A: Potentially. If your doctor is not closely monitoring all of your thyroid markers on a regular basis, they can’t really know how the medication is affecting your overall thyroid physiology, they can only assess based on your symptoms. Taking medication without addressing the root cause can lead to a cascade of dysfunction in other organ systems over time, if left uncorrected. The synthetic medication, which is most commonly prescribed, is not picked up on the blood test, so it is difficult to tell how well the thyroid is working overall with these synthetic forms of meds. If someone does have an autoimmune thyroid disorder and is on synthetic medication, they may not be aware that the meds that they are taking may be making their condition worse. Most synthetic thyroid hormone medications contain gluten and artificial dyes which can be disastrous for someone with an autoimmune disorder. Subsequently, these medications can potentially make someone reliant on more medications to mask the symptoms that may arise from sensitivity to the synthetic thyroid hormone ingredients.
Q: Who is most susceptible to acquire thyroid dysfunction?
A: Women. The thyroid is highly influenced by stress and toxins. Unfortunately, based on brain chemistry, women are in more likely to suffer from the ill effects of day to day stressors and are more likely to be in contact with the thousands of toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc on the thyroid gland. Women more often use things like makeup, lotions, perfumes and household cleaners that contain toxic ingredients that can potentially destroy the thyroid gland. Daily cumulative exposure to these hormone and health disruptors take a toll on the thyroid gland over time. There is an excellent app called Healthy Living where you can scan a barcode or enter in the name of a product, and the app will give you information on the health safety of the product. Healthy Living is a wonderful tool to help navigate through all of the products, food and hygiene, so that we can make better choices for our health and wellness. In addition, most are also unaware that pregnancy and the birthing process can drive a woman toward thyroid dysfunction.
Unfortunately, many primary care physicians are unaware of how to properly recognize and assess thyroid dysfunction, let alone know how to properly support thyroid physiology naturally. Call our office to schedule an appointment to have a full body assessment and to specifically have your thyroid evaluated by a functional medicine practitioner trained specifically in thyroid physiology and dysfunction. Your quality and quantity of life depend on it!