Functional Medicine Approach to Healing Hypothyroidism

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Hi all,

The usual disclaimer applies….

I would love to share the little I know on the thyroid system with you.

The thyroid system plays a critical role in your metabolism. Along with insulin and cortisol, your thyroid hormone is one of the big three hormones that control your metabolism and weight.

The key is the right testing to confirm that a sluggish thyroid is contributing to a stalled metabolism and other problems.  Once you know this for sure there are many ways to help correct thyroid problems. There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet some practitioners ignore this problem.  When testing thyroid, the lab results can be confusing. Mainstream medicine and alternative medicine do not see eye to eye with references ranges, medication or even diagnosis.

Most doctors just check something called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which doesn’t give a full picture of the thyroid. In fact, even the interpretation of this test is incorrect most of the time.

The newer guidelines of the College of Endocrinology consider anybody with a TSH level over 3.0 as hypothyroid. Most doctors think that only anything over 5 or 10 is worth treating. Unfortunately, this leaves millions suffering unnecessarily.

Besides TSH, in functional medicine the practitioners perform other essential tests including free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies. It also looks for associated problems such as gluten intolerance, food allergies, and heavy metals, as well as deficiencies of vitamin D, selenium, vitamin A, zinc, and omega-3 fats.

To correctly read a TSH range, the larger the value the more hypo-thyroid you are. The lower the value (often dipping into the negative) the more hyper-thyroid you are.

A little reference I learned:

  • The pituitary gland releases TSH thyroid stimulating hormone and it does just what the name implies – it stimulates the thyroid gland to produce a hormone called T4.
  • T4 circulates in the body and converts to hormone T3.
  • T3 is the active hormone that is absorbed by ALL the cells and tissues in the body.

Another issue with testing TSH is that it fluctuates a lot – one study showed that it needed to retest TSH 100 times to get an average marker. This does not mean that this isn’t a useful marker. You gotta simply make sure that this is not an isolated occurrence – if your TSH is off once, this isn’t a cue to medicate UNLESS there are very telltale symptoms present. Are their symptoms?? Dry skin, thin brittle hair, insomnia, fatigue, cold, constipation…. These are all symptoms of hypo-thyroid.

Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. It involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).

To integrate all of these elements and create a successful set of techniques to cope with your thyroid problems, a functional medicine practitioner usually recommends six strategies.

Strategy 1: Eliminate the causes of thyroid problems

For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their th

If you think you are having a thyroid problem, you need to do a blood test to identify any hidden reaction to gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, kamut, and spelt. Gluten sensitivity or allergy can cause many different types of symptoms, from migraines to fatigue to weight gain.

Besides doing the blood test, you can simply eliminate gluten from your diet for three weeks. If your symptoms go away, you have a clue that your system might not like this food. If you want to take this self-test a step further, reintroduce gluten into your diet and see if your symptoms recur. If they do, that is another major clue.

Strategy 2: Regular Exercise and Saunas

Exercise stimulates thyroid gland secretion and increases tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormones throughout the body. Ideally, you will want to sweat, and the exercise should be vigorous.

Besides being an excellent way to relax your muscles and your mind, saunas or steam baths are a good way to flush your system of pesticides that could be contributing to your thyroid problem.

Strategy 3: Eat Foods That Provide Nutritional Support for Your Thyroid, and Avoid Those That Don’t

Every step on your road to healing and weight loss depends on proper nutrition and using food to communicate the right information to your genes. Treating your thyroid is no exception. Choose foods that offer nutritional support for your thyroid.

The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine and omega-3 fatty acids; converting the inactive T4 to the active T3 requires selenium; and both the binding of T3 to the receptor on the nucleus and switching it on require vitamins A and D, as well as zinc. You will find these nutrients in a whole-food, clean, organic diet. To get therapeutic levels of these nutrients, please use the supplement protocol in strategy 4.

Thyroid-boosting foods include seaweed and sea vegetables, which contain iodine. Fish (especially sardines and salmon) contains iodine, omega-3 fats, and vitamin D. Dandelion, mustard, and other dark leafy greens contain vitamin A. Smelt, herring, scallops, and Brazil nuts contain selenium.

Strategy 4: Use Supplements That Support Your Thyroid

Key nutrients for healthy thyroid function are included in my basic supplement recommendations, including a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains selenium, iodine, zinc, vitamins A and D, and omega 3 fats (fish oil).

One warning is that if your adrenal glands are burned out from long-term stress, treating the thyroid without supporting the adrenal glands through relaxation and adaptogenic herbs (such as ginseng, rhodiola, or Siberian ginseng) can actually make you feel worse.

Strategy 5: Have Your Thyroid Tested

There is no one perfect way, no one symptom nor test result, that will properly diagnose low thyroid function or hypothyroidism. The key is to look at the whole picture – your symptoms and your blood tests – and then decide.

Some tests recommended by functional medicine practitioners are:

To get a complete picture, I recommend looking at a wider range of functions:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the ideal range is between 1 and 2 m IU/ ml
  • Free T4 and free T3 (the inactive and the active hormone)
  • Thyroid antibodies (TPO), looking for an autoimmune reaction that commonly goes undiagnosed if the other tests are normal, as doctors don’t routinely check this
  • Thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation test
  • A 24-hour urine test for free T3, which can be helpful in hard-to-diagnose cases

Strategy 6: Choose the Right Thyroid Hormone Replacement

Ultimately, to properly balance a thyroid that is severely out of balance, that requires to go on some type of thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

I am on a low dose of Armour® thyroid, a natural thyroid replacement. Get yourself tested, find a good practitioner ( I personally dont believe in allopathic medicine.

Pick your choices and live healthily xx

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