There is a common theme and mantra around thyroid conditions: “I was diagnosed, have had it ever since, and I manage it with medication”. The end.
Perhaps what first made you concerned was the chronic fatigue or the unexplainable weight gain, constipation, muscle cramping or weakness, irritability, hair loss, brittle nails and/or dry skin. But what ultimately got you into the doctor’s office was the notable decrease in athletic performance, despite all of your efforts.
And of course, your goal is to be healthy. You have to be healthy in order to perform at your best. Whether you are here as a professional athlete or your love of sports has you training for marathons in the summer, performance matters. Staying healthy and doing everything you can as naturally as possible is important too. And, how can you do that if you are so tired you can hardly function, let alone train?
It’s incredibly frustrating to see the weight gain and muscle weakness no matter how hard you fight against it.
The truth is… you can’t, you are fighting your physiology.
Ultimately though, you either have already gone to the doctor or you’re currently looking for answers, possibly even other options. If you’ve been to the doctor’s office for a thyroid condition, it usually leads to quite the process to finally get a diagnosis, and take enough labs to fine-tune the medication dosage to get it just right. And finally, you start feeling better.
Problem solved right? In a way yes. You have a diagnosis, so you know what it is.
You Can Overcome It.
What is Hypothyroidism:
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is not producing enough hormones in order to support optimal functioning. This is most often caused by an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s, where the body creates antibodies to the thyroid and attacks itself. It is a reversible condition when the immune system is addressed(2). Your physician can run tests and order labs to help you detect and determine if you have Hashimoto’s.
Exhaustion and fatigue are the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism(4). Although exhaustion and feeling run down are commonly associated with the busy lifestyles and schedules we have, rest and perhaps a vacation should help you feel better and more energized. However, if rest and a break or “time-off” doesn’t help you feel better, that can be a sign that your thyroid may be suffering.
We need active thyroid hormones circulating in our blood for many reasons, including for heart and cardiovascular health (1). Thyroid hormones play a key role in heart contractility (how well your heart beats). And research has even shown that it reduces nitric oxide in the vessel walls, which means your arteries may stiffen up sooner than you’d like.
Thyroid conditions can have an effect on brain function and cognitive impairment(1). When children and teens have hypothyroidism it can negatively affect growth and development.
As with many organ systems, the thyroid sits on an axis called the HPT axis. It is made up of the (H) hypothalamus and the (P) pituitary in the brain (and the T stands for thyroid).(1) This is an important connection to understand because when it comes to conventional treatment of hypothyroidism, it is very common to see one drug prescribed for one hormone that is low (to “restore function”).
However, this approach often completely neglects and misses what is causing the issue in the first place. For example, is there an issue with the communication from the hypothalamus to the pituitary? And then, what is causing that miscommunication?
Common Lab Test Markers
Most likely, your physician will have pulled a thyroid lab test with some of the following markers:
TSH – Thyroid stimulating hormone, which is released by the pituitary gland
T4 – Thyroxin, which is released by the thyroid gland
T3 – Triiodothyronine, which is also released by the thyroid gland, but most of the T3 that is circulating in the blood stream is a broken down product of T4.
In addition, there is a hormone called TRH, which is thyrotopin-releasing hormone. It is released by the hypothalamus to stimulate the pituitary to release TSH, to stimulate the thyroid to produce and release T3/T4.
Do you see how there are multiple organ systems involved here?
The issue with current lab tests:
More often than not, there are many cases of hypothyroidism that are considered “subclinical”. Meaning, you’re thyroid levels aren’t quite low or high enough to give you a diagnosis. Yet, you know you don’t feel well…
In addition, most doctors don’t test for cortisol levels through out the day, which directly influence TRH, TSH, and the T3/T4 conversion. They also often don’t test for anti-thyroid antibodies or look at GI Tract dysfunction.
The Current, Most Common Treatment for Hypothyroidism:
The status quo of treatment for hypothyroidism is usually with a medication called levothyroxine, which is a supplemental synthetic T4 hormone. You’ll go in every 6 months or so, have your blood drawn and make sure your thyroid hormones are in the normal range.
But this isn’t testing function. It’s not evaluating how well your body is functioning as a whole. Your organs are not isolated. They don’t function separately from one another. If something isn’t right – you must look at the entire system.
The Functional Medicine Approach:
Consider this common analogy used with Functional Medicine: you get a pebble stuck in your shoe, you walk on it a ways and your foot starts to hurt. So, you go into your doctor’s office and say your foot hurts. They say to take advil or a medication and send you on your way. You stop taking the medication and the pain comes back. You walk into a Functional Medicine clinic and say, I’ve had this pain for years, my foot hurts and the medication I’ve been taking isn’t helping. The Functional Medicine doctor says, let’s take your shoe off and take a look. Treat the cause. Remove the pebble and your symptoms clear.
How Does This Apply To The Thyroid?
Causes of hypothyroidism range from an adverse environment from your physical environment around you:
Toxins in the air
Unhealthy Relationships or Trauma
Toxins in the water
Toxins you put on your skin from cosmetics
Toxins from cleaning products
… to an adverse environment internally:
Increased or abnormal cortisol diurnal pattern from long term stress
Mitochondria Dysfunction (3)
Malnutrition (specific vitamin/mineral deficiency)
Dysbiosis or other gut inflammatory condition
Lack of exercise
This adverse environment leads to altered or impaired function of the thyroid gland – hypothyroid, hyperthyroid. That’s what shows up on the lab test.
Even further, when these adverse environment factors aren’t addressed, because we instead utilized a medication to manage the symptoms on the surface, they continue to be an issue. This is why so often many patients start out with one issue, and years later they have a list of conditions that have resulted since then.
But, if we identify and treat the environment, the whole system not just the individual organ, we often see the thyroid (and often many other problematic concerns) improve to normal, healthy, optimal functioning.
There are many ways to approach treatment and they are going to differ from person to person.
Once we’ve identified the cause(s), we create a treatment plan that works with your medical or integrative physician.
Your treatment plan needs to be highly individualized to you and your unique physiology and health history.
And then you implement it, with help from us or on your own. As always, we re-test over time to make sure you are safely making positive changes to your health.
If the Functional Medicine approach seems right for you, schedule an appointment today and get control over your health.
Picture this: imagine having more energy, creating a vision and a map for you to work towards that includes a healthier future.
Picture the peace of mind that getting answers and finding a cause behind why you haven’t been feeling and performing great would bring.
If you knew there was a different option than what has been available to you thus far, would you take it?
Free Training to Reverse Disease
You can get to the root cause of your disease, from hypothyroidism to autoimmune conditions to celiac, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. You can gain control of your health and get back to the life and sport you love. In this free training you’ll get 3 simple lifestyle changes you can make today to naturally reverse your disease.
Would you like to read more like this?
Check out these articles:
5 Ways to Improve your Fatigue – coming soon
Why you need to know more about your mitochondria – coming soon
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Duhig T, McKeag D. 2009. Thyroid Disorders in Athletes. Current Sports medicine Reports. 8:1 (16-19).
Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. Elsevier Saunders: Philadelphia, PA. 2011.
Moncayo R, Moncayo H. 2017. Applying a systems approach to thyroid physiology: Looking at the whole with a mitochondrial perspective instead of judging single TSH values or why we should know more about mitochondria to understand metabolism. BBA Clinical. 7(127-140).