28 Jun How can naturopathic medicine support an “out of whack” thyroid?
There is just oh so much I could say about the thyroid!
Thyroid hormone is responsible for many metabolic activities in the body. When the thyroid hormone is low, generally things slow down and dry up- hence low energy, slow metabolism, slowed digestion, dry skin, hair loss and dry or brittle hair. Low thyroid can also contribute to irregular menstrual cycles in women- usually heavier periods and more frequent intervals, although this is not always the case.
When thyroid is too high, things tend to speed up and we see high resting heart rate, weight loss, delayed menstrual cycles, and other issues including ophthalmologic issues. I myself have hypothyroidism, but it wasn’t treated properly until many years ago when I had a naturopath look deeper at my labs and correlate it to my symptoms and glaring family history of hypothyroidism.
When I meet a patient with a thyroid condition, I try my best to factor in all aspects of the patient’s health (mind and body) and environment that could contribute to this. By the time a patient is diagnosed with overt hypothyroidism, they will need some form of thyroid replacement hormone- synthetic or natural desiccated- but this hormone replacement alone doesn’t address why they developed a thyroid issue in the first place.
If there are underlying nutrient deficiencies they will often have additional health issues beyond thyroid- vitamin D for example has dozens of roles in the body, helping to regulate calcium absorption and deposition, modulating the immune system, and also assisting thyroid hormone in affecting cells at the level of the nucleus. Therefore, we will need to address any underlying deficiencies, causes of inflammation or stress that may be affecting the thyroid. In cases of subclinical hypothyroidism, we may not need to use prescribing thyroid hormone replacement therapy if we can address the underlying issues, correcting dietary and lifestyle factors and decreasing inflammation.
Most of the patients I see for thyroid related concerns have already had labs ordered by a PCP, and most of the time TSH is the only screening tool used to look at thyroid. TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone, and comes from the anterior pituitary gland. It communicated to the thyroid gland, telling it how much actual thyroid hormone to make. The normal range for TSH is 0.45-4.5 which is a pretty wide range. We have to take into account that normal ranges are based on a population that is considered generally healthy and without family history or personal history of thyroid disease, but if we look around at the general population, they don’t really look so healthy even in the absence of thyroid disease. Therefore, if a patient is coming to me with complaints such as fatigue, hair or skin changes, weight gain, constipation, menstrual irregularity, and joint or muscle pain- I will usually test the free hormone levels T3 and T4, and in some cases- reverse T3, T3 uptake and thyroid antibodies. This helps to give a better overall picture of how the thyroid gland is functioning and how the body is responding to the thyroid hormones themselves.
This post was inspired by a patient of mine whom I’ve seen for several years now.
When she first came to see me, she was exhausted. She was dragging herself out of bed every morning to her workouts that she barely get through, then to work, which she could barely focus on. Her social life was suffering because she just wanted to get to bed so early every night. Her weight was creeping up on her despite her challenging workouts and no dietary changes. Her periods were heavy and coming every 21-25 days.
She had been to her doctor, who ran labs, and told her everything was normal, “maybe she needed to get more sleep and exercise more.” By the time she was referred to me, she’d been suffering for a couple of years. When I looked at the labs she’d already had run, it included TSH, but nothing else related to the thyroid. Due to her exhaustion, heavy menses with short cycles, and weight gain, I suspected there may be more to look at when it came to her thyroid.
Upon further questioning, it also came to light that she often felt cold, had dry skin, and only had bowel movements every other day. We ended up running a more in depth thyroid panel, and found that while her numbers were all in the normal range, all were suboptimal- meaning outside the narrower range we consider most people to function best at.
It appeared she was dealing with a subclinical hypothyroidism.
Now we needed to figure out what the root cause of her hypothyroidism was. Subclinical hypothyroidism can be related to iodine deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, stress, autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s), inflammation or environmental toxicity. In this case, it was a combination of vitamin D deficiency, stress and inflammation- so we created a plan together to correct these. This included vitamin D supplementation, adrenal support and counseling to reduce stress, and dietary changes to reduce inflammation. We also chose to use the lowest available dose of natural desiccated thyroid. Within 3 months her energy and focus was on point, she’d lost the 10 lbs that had crept up over the previous 2 years, and her menses were back to 28 days and were lighter. She continues to maintain these results after almost 5 years. I see women like this almost every day in my practice and the story above is not at all unusual for me to hear.
If you suspect you have a thyroid imbalance, don’t hesitate to reach out! There are so many great resources out there now that weren’t around 10 years ago when I first started studying the thyroid. Please shoot me a message if you’d like to learn more.
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