Thyroid 101: Complete Guide for Beginners
I am thrilled to finally be posting an article on thyroid health. It is absolutely one of my favorite areas of health to address. It is also one of those areas that affects SO many people, including those with symptoms, yet undiagnosed, as well as those who are unaware altogether that their troublesome symptoms are related to an imbalance in their thyroid.
YOUR THYROID: WHAT IS IT?
Your thyroid gland sits in the front of your throat and is shaped like a butterfly. Its got a right and left lobe and can sometimes become enlarged and/or grow nodules on either side of it. The thyroid mainly produces T4 and T3, but also makes calcitonin, a hormone necessary for regulating calcium blood levels.
Subclinical hypothyroidism refers to the state of having several symptoms of an underactive thyroid, yet medical labs show normal ranges of thyroid function. This means you leave the doctor’s office just as puzzled or frustrated as when you went in - without a diagnosis and with all the same complaints.
TYPES OF THYROID CONDITIONS
Let’s take a look at some of the different thyroid conditions you may have heard of:
hypothyroid - underactive thyroid gland
hyperthyroid - overactive thyroid gland
autoimmune thyroiditis - an imbalance in which immune cells attack healthy thyroid cells
postpartum autoimmune thyroiditis - an imbalance in which immune cells attack healthy thyroid cells after childbirth
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis - chronic autoimmune disease in which thyroid gland is eventually destroyed
Graves’ disease - immune system disorder that results in overproduction of thyroid hormone
Now that we’ve gotten those out of the way, how does one become hypo or hyper thyroid in the first place? Well, there are LOTS of foods, nutrients, genetic susceptibilities, and lifestyle factors that contribute to the health or disease of your thyroid (and every other part of your body, for that matter). Any unique combination of these can result in the triggering of symptoms that will eventually signal a problem with the thyroid. You may discover one of these issues after having regular bloodwork done with your doctor. On the other hand, perhaps you’re having your thyroid levels tested because you’ve been feeling ill and cannot figure out your symptoms.
In this article, we’ll focus primarily on hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. Believe it or not, there is actually more than one type of hypothyroidism. Let’s dive deeper into differentiating these.
primary hypothyroidism - the actual gland itself is not functioning properly, although the pituitary gland and hypothalamus involved in thyroid hormone production, are working optimally
secondary hypothyroidism - The thyroid gland is not functioning properly due to a misfire or dysfunction of the adrenal glands, pituitary gland or hypothalamus….. this is the cause for most hypothyroid cases
It’s important to understand in which category you fit. Because the thyroid relies on the health of the adrenals and the HPA axis in the brain, it is essential to be sure these areas are balanced and being supported so the thyroid can secrete the right amount of hormones.
Now, for a shocker: About 95% of thyroid disease cases (in western countries) are really Hashimoto’s!
This staggering statistic alone should give us a clue as to what is really behind our poorly functioning thyroids. The immune system. And where does the immune system live in the body? Close to 80% of it resides in your GUT. Yep, right in your digestive system. This is why one of the most critical things you MUST do in order to heal the thyroid is evaluate and correct your diet, cleanse the digestive system and repair the mucosal lining of the intestines.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHYROIDISM
aches & pains
low body temperature (cold hands, feet, nose)
weight gain or inability to lose weight
confusion and brain fog
There is undoubtedly an issue with the markers most conventional doctors test for. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is made in the pituitary gland and is supposed to signal the thyroid to release its hormones. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a glitch in this process, which will lead to many hypothyroid cases testing as “normal.” Below, I’ve complied a list of recommended tests to request when evaluating your thyroid health. If your doctor gives you a hard time about including something additional to your lab work, have a frank conversation with him or her about your focus on finding answers. If that does not work, you may need to find another doctor. I always recommend that people work with a holistic practitioner like myself or another skilled provider who understands this process from a naturopathic point of view.
TPO (Ab) - thyroperoxidase antibodies
Tg (Ab) - thyroglobulin antibodies
At Tao Holistics, we are equipped to help you interpret your labs even if they were done previously with another provider. This is the first piece of the puzzle and is a huge part of the investigative process. From your results, I will determine what to recommend to correct your thyroid function.
Conventional medicine generally will prescribe a pharmaceutical like Levothyroxine to replace the T4 hormone that your thyroid is not making properly. Most people only feel marginally better on this type of medication. We’ll talk about why that is in just a bit! There are also other recommendations that a traditional doctor may use, such as thyroid destruction or a thyroidectomy, the complete removal of the thyroid gland. Because this “master gland” plays such a huge role for the rest of the body, a thyroidectomy would be one of the VERY LAST options. Instead, I’ll focus on an alternative, holistic approach to healing the thyroid (and lots of nagging symptoms!). I will not get into the specifics of each of these - that will be for another article - but I at least want you to know what to avoid and what to include into your diet and lifestyle. These are not always recommend for every client. I recommend based on individual biochemical makeup, age and other factors.
FOR OPTIMAL THYROID HEALTH, INCLUDE:
Supplements like: Selenium, Serrapeptase, Zinc, Iodine, Desiccated Thyroid, Adrenal Support, detoxifying herbs
Foods like: whole fresh foods, leafy greens, seaweeds and herbs, mostly plant-based diet
Lifestyle habits like: quality sleep (bed by 10pm), balanced breakfast within one hour of waking, spacing meals 4-6 hours apart, low stress, removal of toxins and chemicals from the home, diet and personal care products, speaking up for yourself, finding your purpose
RESTRICT OR AVOID THE FOLLOWING:
Foods like: dairy, gluten, excessive consumption of goitrogens
Lifestyle habits like: repeated stressors, eating/grazing all day long, not taking charge or voicing your opinion
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
I know it can feel totally overwhelming when trying to unravel any mysterious group of symptoms! I have been there myself and without proper direction and help, it’s quite easy to get lost in the thick of it.
The first step is to get help.
Find a skilled and passionate practitioner who can help you. Do not rule out working virtually with someone. This saves both parties time and money, and often times this is a more efficient way of consulting with each other. It is the very structure of my practice, Tao Holistics. Although we work with clients by phone or Skype, you’ll feel like right in my office. If you are set on wanting to see someone in person, locate a knowledgeable practitioner online. I like www.thyroidpharmacist.com. You might just find me among the listing!
Give yourself grace and forget about the past. Don’t beat up on yourself about what you could have done to cause your issues. Just accept it and commit to bringing balance back to your mind and body. I mean, really commit! Prepare to journal daily and get organized so that you know what supplements or foods you’ll take daily, including how and when.
Do the work. Mark on your calendar important dates you and your practitioner discuss - especially when you start a new protocol, are halfway through and at the end. Be sure to schedule regular follow-ups so you can track your successes on a consistent basis.
If you are ready to work with us, simply drop us a line or give us a call. I’m excited to spark your journey to true wellness. It IS possible!