How much do you know about your thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that sits in the middle of your neck. In men, it’s situated under the Adam’s apple. The thyroid releases hormones into your bloodstream; it has control over your energy levels and helps regulate metabolism, develop the brain, control muscles, fertility and more.
However, when your thyroid undergoes difficulties, this is a cause for concern. Thyroid dysfunction may lead to constipation, weight gain, unbearable fatigue, weakness, and problems with your memory. The most common thyroid issues are either your thyroid is under functioning (hypothyroidism) or over functioning (hyperthyroidism).
What is Hypothyroidism?
As we mentioned, hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is under functioning (or not creating the amount of hormones it should be producing). The thyroid generates the hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These hormones help regulate cell metabolism; when there’s a low supply of T3 and T4, your metabolic function becomes compromised. Hypothyroidism symptoms may include:
- Memory problems
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Muscle cramps
- Cholesterol elevation
- Changes in your blood pressure and/or menstrual cycle
- Blurry vision
- Swollen legs
- Your voice becomes hoarse
- Hair loss
- Hair becomes course; dry skin
- Reduced perspiration
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system works against the thyroid. Within this disorder, antibodies are created by the immune system, which impair the thyroid.
What is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid overproduces T4, resulting in an accelerated metabolism. As a result, hyperthyroidism can cause inadvertent weight loss and an irregular heartbeat. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Swollen neck
- Low levels of concentration
- Breathing and sleeping problems
- Sweating too much
- Increase in appetite and bowel movements
- Mood swings
- Low libido
- Menstrual changes
- Weak muscles
- Hair Loss
- Heart palpitations
- Frequently urinating
- Red palms
- Fast weight loss
The autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease is a common cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease forces the immune system to set target on the thyroid, causing the thyroid to become overactive.
Diagnosing Thyroid Issues
To identify thyroid disorders, a health care practitioner will conduct blood work and/or a thyroid ultrasound. A complete thyroid panel assessment may include these tests: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, thyroid peroxidase and anti-thyroid antibodies.
TSH: this test measures TSH, a hormone from the pituitary gland; a high level means your thyroid is underactive; a low level means your thyroid is overactive.
Free T4 and Free T3: these tests measure the active form of T3 and T4 and results are usually assessed jointly with other thyroid test results. High totals of Free T4 and Free T3 may specify an overactive thyroid gland; low totals of Free T4 and Free T3 may identify an underactive thyroid.
Thyroid peroxidase and thyroid antibodies: Measuring the levels of thyroid antibodies may help health care practitioners detect an autoimmune thyroid disorder. When the results are negative, this mean the body does not contain thyroid antibodies; however, this shows that symptoms may be caused by something that’s not autoimmune. The higher the number of antibodies in the test, the higher the likelihood that an autoimmune thyroid disorder is present.
Reverse T3: this test measures for Reverse T3 (or RT3), a T4 metabolite. It is postulated that when the human body undergoes severe illnesses, stress or starvation, the body produces RT3 as a way to preserve energy. Increased RT3 levels is a marker for the reduced uptake of T4 into the cell; it’s also a marker for low T4 and T3 levels that would not usually be seen in serum T4 and T3 tests and TSH tests.
Naturopathic Approaches to Thyroid Malfunctions
Many patients have chosen naturopathy (or naturopathic medicine) as a natural way to help recover from a thyroid condition. Once a diagnosis is made, your naturopathic doctor can build a treatment program for your specific needs. Depending on each patient’s health history, practitioners of Toronto Functional Medicine Centre may recommend the following to help correct thyroid function:
Desiccated Thyroid Replacement Therapy
When a patient is diagnosed with low thyroid function, they are typically prescribed Synthroid or Levothyroxine, respectively the synthetic forms of T4. While some patients find relief from these medications, there are also individuals who continue to feel unwell while using these medications; they may even resume with difficulties losing weight while being administered high doses of Synthroid or Levothyroxine. Why does this happen?
As we previously mentioned, the thyroid produces T4 and T3 hormones. The synthetic T4 drug must be altered to become biologically active T3; this must happen to incite a metabolic function. If you administer only T4 to the body, it’s assumed that the body is capable of converting it to T3. However, this isn’t true for everyone. If your body has a low conversion of T4 to T3, it is often due to hormonal imbalances (i.e. low progesterone/high estrogen or nutritional deficiencies such as low selenium, B vitamins and even chronic stress).
Desiccated thyroid hormones are considered a form of natural therapy for those who do not want to choose synthetic medications. Desiccated hormone replacement therapy (or desiccated thyroid) may be suitable for those who don’t respond well to conventional medications; it may also be an option for patients with issues converting T4 into T3.
Studies have shown that patients noticed health improvements using desiccated thyroid replacement therapy. In a randomized, double blind study of 70 patients with hypothyroidism, for three months participants were given either desiccated thyroid or T4 (Levothyroxine). Then for the next four months, the patients swapped treatments.
Participants were weighed and had physical/blood tests conducted following each treatment phase. They were asked which therapy they favoured according to the reduction of their symptoms. As per study outcomes, 49% of participants selected desiccated thyroid extract; 19% favoured Levothyroxine. A noticeable trend in this study was that desiccated thyroid extracts were connected to noteworthy weight loss.
Desiccated thyroid is considered a prescription medicine, so assessment by a naturopathic doctor must be conducted prior to receiving your prescription. At Toronto Functional Medicine Centre, our naturopathic doctor provides complete functional medicine thyroid testing, prescribes desiccated thyroid, and makes dietary and supplement recommendations. A comprehensive assessment and approach is required to optimize thyroid function and to encourage health improvement.
Nutritional Therapies for Optimizing Thyroid Function
When studying Hashimoto’s and several other autoimmune conditions, research has shown that these conditions have a mutual occurrence: their autoimmune responses include gut inflammation and an enduring (chronic) imbalanced microbiome.
Naturopathic practitioners address microbiome dysfunction through nutritional therapies such as probiotics, cultured foods, and diets low in sugar, low on simple carbs and high in fibre. Nutritional therapies may facilitate in decreasing inflammation while balancing immunity. Food sensitivity and food allergy panels may be beneficial in identifying the food triggers of autoimmune responses for either hypothyroid or hyperthyroid diseases.
Take note: patients diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder should consider being tested for Celiac disease; this establishes whether or not eliminating gluten is necessary.
When patients visit our clinic regarding thyroid function, our practitioners build a customized diet and supplement program for each patient. They may also recommend nutritional IV therapy to help support the body with necessary nutrients for thyroid function and to help offset excessive inflammation.
Herbal Formulas and Nutrients
Adjunctive herbal formulas may be recommended for patients who want to address thyroid function. These therapies are designed to support the proper functioning of the thyroid while maintaining healthy metabolic function. Herbal formulas and/or nutrients, such as iris versicolor, fucus vesiculosus and selenium, may also aid in optimizing body temperature and act as powerful antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals.
Your thyroid function matters in maintaining a healthy well-being. At Toronto Functional Medicine Centre, our health care practitioners are eager to answer your questions and educate patients about naturopathic treatments. If you want to learn about natural ways to support thyroid function, click here to contact us.
“Thyroid Tests” by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, posted May 2017, viewed on January 30, 2020.
Fröhlich, Eleonore et al. “Microbiota and Thyroid Interaction in Health and Disease”, Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 30, Issue 8, 479 – 490.
Hedda L. Köhling, Sue F. Plummer, Julian R. Marchesi, Kelly S. Davidge, Marian Ludgate, “The microbiota and autoimmunity: Their role in thyroid autoimmune diseases,” Clinical Immunology, Volume 183, 2017, Pages 63-74, ISSN 1521-6616, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clim.2017.07.001.
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“The Role of Your Thyroid in Metabolism and Weight Control” by Jacqueline Jacques, ND, for the Obesity Action Coalition, posted Winter 2009, viewed on January 30, 2020.
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