Has your energy been low? Trouble losing weight? Frequently feel cold? Hair and eyebrows thinning? Just not feeling right? Your thyroid gland may be the culprit. Over 27 million Americans suffer thyroid dysfunction. Most commonly, thyroid malfunction involves deficient production or activity of thyroid hormone; that circumstance is called “hypothyroid” and our discussion will focus there.
The impact of thyroid deficiency goes well beyond those few symptoms listed above. Every cell in the body relies on thyroid hormone to assist in its proper function. Thyroid deficiency can cause symptoms and dysfunction in any system of the body.
In functional medicine (also called natural medicine), we often hear patients complain of not feeling “heard” during health care interactions elsewhere. Common examples relative to hypothyroid include:
- A patient with hypothyroid symptoms reports being told that nothing was wrong because her lab test was “normal."
- The patient who is already diagnosed hypothyroid and is taking thyroid medication but still suffers symptoms.
Regarding the first scenario, sometimes a person with hypothyroidism has normal lab results; for instance, TSH is the most common thyroid test and it may not be elevated above the laboratory reference range until advanced stages of thyroid dysfunction.
Regarding the second scenario, patients already diagnosed elsewhere with hypothyroid frequently don’t know why
they have hypothyroid. No wonder they still have symptoms! Numerous reasons exist for thyroid deficiency, including autoimmune disease, under-conversion of thyroid hormone from its inactive to its active form, and more. Knowing the cause
of the problem is critical to knowing how to care
for the problem. In functional medicine, we endeavor to avoid these pitfalls by taking time to understand each patient’s concern, by testing thoroughly, and by evaluating lab tests and a physical exam for early
clues indicating thyroid dysfunction.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis comprises more than 90 percent of hypothyroid cases. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system fails to recognize the thyroid gland as self-tissue; consequently, the immune system attacks the thyroid as it would attack foreign invaders such as bacteria. Subsequently, immune system antibodies against thyroid tissue become elevated on lab tests; in this earliest stage, called “silent autoimmunity,” symptoms may be absent or mild. Silent autoimmunity can next progress into “autoimmune reactivity”; in this phase, there is enough tissue destruction to cause symptoms and more of the thyroid lab tests may trend outside healthy optimal range (although possibly remaining within standard laboratory range).
Finally, autoimmune dysfunction leads to devastating enough destruction of thyroid tissue that multiple thyroid lab tests fall outside standard laboratory range and symptoms may become more severe. This last stage is full-blown “autoimmune disease" (called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in the instance when thyroid is the autoimmune target). This is the point at which traditional medicine typically intervenes. By contrast, functional medicine doctors endeavor to address the problem as early as possible in an attempt to discourage worsening of the condition.
So the most common hypothyroid condition (Hashimoto’s) is not caused by thyroid dysfunction; rather, it is caused by an immune system problem (autoimmune dysfunction) which progressively destroys the thyroid gland. It is important to understand that the flame of autoimmune dysfunction is fueled by inflammation. As the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed, less thyroid tissue remains to produce hormone and this eventually results in deficient levels of thyroid hormone. To augment deficient production of thyroid hormone, some patients may need Synthroid or other supplemental hormone drugs.
Prescription hormone drugs may compensate for the hormone deficiency caused by thyroid tissue destruction, but these drugs do nothing to stop further
destruction of the thyroid gland. The hormone drugs do not reduce underlying causes of inflammation which drive autoimmune thyroid destruction. Therefore, the functional medicine doctor’s goal is to naturally decrease the body’s inflammation to reduce autoimmune thyroid destruction; this minimizes the patient’s reliance on drugs. To accomplish this, we employ dietary modification, therapeutic nutritional products, and other natural means in programs tailored for each patient.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that half of all thyroid dysfunction cases go undiagnosed. Don’t wait to get worse. Suspect yourself to be hypothyroid? Already diagnosed? Either way, consult with a functional medicine doctor to improve your health naturally.
Dr. R. Todd Shaver is a chiropractic physician at Shaver Chiropractic & Natural Medicine. As a distinguished fellow of chiropractic biophysics, Dr. Shaver utilizes spinal adjustment and other chiropractic physical medicine procedures to address injury and pain and to promote wellness. He is Wilmington’s only chiropractic physician to have achieved specialty status (D.I.C.C.P.) in chiropractic pediatrics and prenatal care. To learn more, go to www.shavernaturalmedicine.com, call (910) 452-5555, or contact his office at [email protected].