How Can Functional Medicine Help with Hypothyroidism?

Have you been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism? Read below how Functional Medicine can help you.

How Can Functional Medicine Help with Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid isn’t working as well as it should.

Your thyroid produces thyroxine, the hormone controlling your metabolic rate, in other words the speed every single cell of your body burns fuel and produces energy.

Problems with your thyroid can be due to not enough thyroxine being produced as well as problems using thyroxine, and these can be caused by a variety of factors.

Thyroid disease is thought to affect around 1-2% of the population in the UK and affects more women than men, particularly post-menopausal women. However, many people are unaware they have thyroid problems because of problems with diagnosis.

Symptoms of Hypothyroid

Every cell in your body has receptors for thyroxine, so hypothyroidism can lead to very varied symptoms.

    • Fatigue and lack of energy
    • Feeling the cold, particularly in the extremities like your hands and feet
    • Constipation and poor digestion
    • Weight gain
    • Depression and low mood
    • Dry hair and skin, hair loss
    • Low libido
    • Hormone imbalances
    • Problems concentrating, memory issues
    • Muscle and joint pain
    • Sleeping problems
    • High cholesterol
    • High blood pressure

Diagnosis of Hypothyroid

Conventionally, blood tests are used to diagnose thyroid disorders by looking at the levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This is released by your pituitary gland when your brain senses thyroxine is low in your blood and it tells your thyroid to release thyroxine.

Thyroid exists in two separate forms called T4 and T3, which differ in their potency. T4 is a storage form and is converted to T3 when it’s needed. As well as TSH, doctor’s tests also look at T4. If your test shows T4 is low and TSH is high, this indicates hypothyroidism, because your pituitary is telling your thyroid gland to release thyroxine, but not enough is being produced.

However, thyroid issues are often not simply caused by your thyroid not making enough thyroxine. Sometimes, the body struggles to convert T4 to the active form of T3. So even though your test results indicate you have plenty of T4, it can’t influence your cells. Or you may be someone whose immune system mistakes your thyroid for an invader and attacks it, compromising its function. Finally, the reference ranges for standard tests are fairly broad, meaning your results may appear to be within range even if they’re not normal for you.

Because of this, many people are told their thyroid function is normal despite experiencing many of the symptoms listed above.

Conventional Treatment of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is treated by prescribing a synthetic form of thyroxine, usually containing only T4. However, many people don’t feel completely better after taking it because they have problems converting the T4 to its active form, which the body can then use.

To make matters worse, taking thyroid pills means your pituitary will sense the increased blood levels of T4; will then decrease TSH release and thyroxine production will reduce still further. This means thyroxine dose often needs to be increased over time.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

  • Lack of iodine. Thyroid hormones contain iodine and can’t be made without it. Although iodine is essential, too much iodine can also reduce thyroxine production.
  • Deficiency of the nutrients needed for thyroxine production, such as selenium, zinc, vitamin A and iron. Low levels of Vitamin D is related to autoimmune attacks on the thyroid.
  • Ongoing stress – elevated stress hormones can interfere with the conversion of T4 to active T3.
  • Hormone imbalance, especially high oestrogen levels.
  • Damage to the thyroid gland from surgery, radiation or inflammation following a viral infection.
  • A struggling liver can be related to hypothyroidism because conversion of T4 to its active form occurs mainly in your liver.
  • Poor gut health, particularly an imbalance in your microbiome or gut bacteria, can increase the likelihood your immune system will attack your thyroid.
  • Fluoride, found in toothpaste and some water supplies, can suppress your thyroid.

Functional Medicine and Hypothyroidism

Discovering why your thyroid is not functioning well is key to treating hypothyroidism. Functional testing to examine levels of active T3 and to detect any antibodies produced against your thyroid, as well as measuring T4 and TSH levels, can pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong.

Testing can also reveal if your personal stress response or hormone levels are impacting your thyroid, and individualised stress-management techniques recommended.

Supporting your liver with herbs, supplements and foods such as onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables, while avoiding alcohol and processed foods can help T4 to be converted to T3.

Good liver function as well as optimal gut health can help to balance high oestrogen levels, as can avoiding environmental oestrogens from personal care and cleaning products and plastics, along with consumption of foods containing natural plant oestrogens.

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