A woman goes to the doctor and complains that she is having extreme fatigue, brittle nails, trouble sleeping, and is gaining weight.  It sounds like the beginning of a really funny joke, right?  The joke is about to be on the woman when the doctor tests her thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH levels which is the measure of the pituitary gland’s messages to the thyroid to tell it how much thyroid hormone to release)  and, with a 5.5 ml U/L, will pronounce her perfectly healthy and tell her to calm down and watch what she eats to avoid weight gain.  He will send her home with a pat on the head and the woman will go but will still have problems sleeping, gain even more weight,  and, maybe even have her hair start falling out.  Or, if he is one of the pseudo-forward thinking doctors, he might send her home with a prescription for Synthroid  (a synthetic thyroid hormone usually consisting of T4), as many doctors that are taught to look at the thyroid almost as a separate entity from the rest of the body, will do when seeing an elevated level of TSH.

{For more information on the function of the thyroid see our post What is Your Thyroid and is it Out of Whack?}

Unfortunately, that one little test only tells a very minute part of the story.  This particular patient happens to be 42, in perimenopause, is exposed to many xenoestrogens with her beauty and personal care regimen. She used birth control more than 7 years of her life and is a strict raw vegan who eats a great deal of soy and raw dark green leafy vegetables.  (Now before all my raw vegan readers jump on me, believe it or not, this can, in the right circumstances, trigger or exacerbate an underlying thyroid dysfunction just as easily as eating too much of the wrong kinds of animal proteins, especially those from conventional confinement/feedlot farming.)  The doctor failed to look at the whole picture.  He completely isolated one small part of the functioning of the thyroid without looking at the entire thyroid function process and disregarded the fact that this particular patient is estrogen dominant with elevated cortisol levels from stressed adrenal glands which is causing elevated levels of testosterone and an oxygen deprivation to the cells which is causing her metabolism to grind to a screeching halt which means she is putting on weight without her diet having changed.   This particular woman has fleas AND she has ticks!

I have surprising news for all of you.  Thyroid dysfunction is treatable.  I don’t care what 90% of the doctors out there dispensing Synthroid are saying or ignoring the symptoms based on some sort of antiquated “bell curve” of lab result interpretations.  In most cases, if the underlying root cause (s) of thyroid function is/are identified, the thyroid will, generally, return to normal function.  Shocked yet?

Did you know that in at least probably close to 75% or more (I am being diplomatic) of all patients on thyroid medications probably don’t need to be on them.  It more than likely they aren’t even helping them.

So, let’s talk turkey.  What other health issues can cause the thyroid to fall out of balance?  In short, pretty much any illness, pathogen or parasite, food sensitivity, gluten intolerance (or undiagnosed Celiac Disease), blood sugar imbalance, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalance, stress/adrenal response, leaky gut syndrome (undigested food particles leaching from the lining of the gut into the blood stream), an overloaded liver from a myriad of issues caused by any one or more issues on this list, and even essential nutrient imbalances (which are usually as a result as the other issues on this list.)

Confused yet?

Let me break it down for you.  If you have fleas you CAN have ticks.  Your Hypothalamus might be telling your Pituitary gland to release just the right amount of TSH which tells your thyroid to make and release just the right amount of T4 (and the small amount of T3 it releases which is not yet active ) using the iodine in your blood stream that you have plenty of because you eat plenty of seafood and sea vegetables, and the tyrosine you have an abundance of because you eat rich sources such as bananas, almonds and avocados. Think of your thyroid hormone as having “taxi cabs” or TBG (thyroid binding globulin, little proteins that bind to thyroid hormone to carry it to the conversion factories; liver, gut, and other tissues). If, however, for instance, your liver is congested due to estrogen dominance then there are many “taxi cabs” that carry the  T4 but a lot of  “empty cabs”  that cannot convert T4 into active or “Free” T3 to be used to oxygenate the cells.  If the cells are not oxygenated they slow down.  Metabolism grinds to a halt.

If you are under a great deal of stress, especially over an extended period of time, your adrenals are releasing an overabundance of cortisol which either will supress  TSH or will affect the liver’s ability to convert T4 to T3.  Adrenal fatigue might even release Reverse T3 which uses the same “space” as the active T3 yet allows no oxygen into the cells. Excess cortisol production can cause the cells to be resistant to thyroid hormone.  Either way, what happens?  You guessed it.  Metabolism grinds to a halt.

Let’s say you are insulin resistant (pre-diabetic) which is where cells are not listening to insulin so insulin “talks louder” by releasing more insulin.  (If you are a woman who is insulin resistant, chances are you also suffer from PCOS symptoms and if you have PCOS, chances are you are also insulin resistant AND have an underlying thyroid condition.)  This generally means that there is elevated testosterone which often causes more T3 to be converted than can be utilized by the cells.  Remember that taxi cab analogy?  This means there are not enough “taxi cabs” (TBG) and too much Free T3.

If there is chronic inflammation or pathogens,bacteria, illness, toxins present in the body, or if you are anemic, gluten or other food intolerant, perhaps the cells just stop being able to absorb T3.

Hashimoto’s Disease (which shot to superstardom when Oprah Winfrey was diagnosed with it) is an autoimmune thyroid disorder.   It might surprise you (and Oprah) to know that in Functional Medicine and Holistic Nutrition this is not actually a thyroid disorder.  Neither is it’s evil opposite twin Grave’s Disease (autoimmune hyperthyroid disorder).   It is an immune system issue.  If we can isolate what in your body is stressing your immune system and causing it to  attack your thyroid and its hormones and eliminate the antigen then your immune system will stop attacking your thyroid.

You might think that sounds like a tall order but in my practice we do it every day.  Often it takes looking at a panel of tests to identify triggers in the body but sometimes even simply eliminating common food sensitivities and intolerance, identifying other toxic triggers in the household (cleaning supplies, beauty and personal care products),  nutritionally supporting detoxification processes in the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic systems, occasionally recommending a parasite cleanse when they are suspected as a trigger, and making sure essential vitamins and both macro and micro mineral levels are up to par can make a dramatic difference in not only balancing the thyroid, but also normalizing cortisol levels/adrenal function and balancing hormones (which will, in turn, repair most issues with PCOS, endometriosis, and virtually eliminate or, at least, dramatically reduce PMS, perimenopause or menopausal symptoms and androgen function of men). We can balance the function of the mid-brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) which will help with depression and anxiety issues, and this approach will also balance blood sugar.  With a functional, natural nutrition approach, food and the judicious use of supplements can nurture and soothe the part of the immune system that needs calming, and nourish and stimulate the part of the immune system that needs jump starting.  (Many times,patients facing autoimmune disorders are on immune suppressant medications that fail to take into account that the immune system can be stimulated, such as happens when using a clinical dose of Vitamin D, without triggering an immune response.  In these cases, functional nutrition works extremely well in suppressing the triggers without the use of harsh pharmaceuticals, thus reducing pain dramatically.)

If this post shows you one thing it is that the body simply CANNOT selectively heal itself any more than any one function of the body can selectively “break” without other functions being affected.  If you have a thyroid, adrenal, immune, estrogen dominance or even digestive issue, finding and treating the root cause along with nourishing all of the other systems involved will lead to a complete and balanced healing of the entire body.

Tomorrow we take a closer look at certain foods and nutrients that nourish the thyroid.

Contact me  directly today for a private consultation about your individual situation and needs.