Naturopathic Medicine & Your Thyroid: Why your thyroid may not be doing enough.
Our thyroid gland is one of our most important endocrine organs. The functioning of the thyroid directly affects more bodily functions than all the other endocrine glands because it controls cellular metabolism by secreting hormones which govern the metabolic rate of most of our body’s vital functions. Imbalances of the thyroid can have serious effects on your health, so you should always seek advice from your doctor when dealing with any hormone problem.
What thyroid problems can arise?
The thyroid gland can become either under-active (Hypothyroid) or overactive (Hyperthyroid). The causes can be multi-factorial. In cases of Hypothyroid, the gland doesn’t produce enough (T3) triiodothyronine and (T4) thyroxine, the hormones necessary for healthy metabolism. Symptoms of low thyroid functioning can include constipation, dry skin, loss or thinning of hair, weight gain, fatigue, poor memory and low body temperature. Because there may be other imbalances creating these symptoms, the thyroid can often be overlooked.
Hyperthyroid is much less common. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include weight loss, sweating, a sense of anxiety, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and a bulging of the eyes.
A third condition, in which the Thyroid gland becomes inflamed, is called Hashimoto’s disease and it is as an auto-immune disorder. The symptoms are those of an under-active thyroid and the cause seems to be genetic in nature.
How are thyroid disorders diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose Thyroid gland imbalances by taking a history of your symptoms as well as a blood test. Typically we measure TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain which stimulates the thyroid to produce T4 and T3. It is important also to test the levels of free T3 and T4 and not just TSH, which is sometimes regarded as sufficient. If Hashimoto’s is suspected, then antibodies levels (anti-thyroid peroxidase) are measured in the blood.
Lab markers indicate that a TSH between .4 - 4.0 is normal. However, I’ve found most people whose TSH is below 2.0 often present with low thyroid symptoms and feel better on thyroid support.
In fact, in 2001, the American Association of Endocrinologist stated this point: "Even though a TSH level between 3.0 and 5.0 uU/ml is in the normal range, it should be considered suspect since it may signal a case of evolving thyroid underactivity." This is the first time a conventional U.S. medical organization has acknowledged that the upper half of the TSH test's normal range may not in fact be normal, but rather, evidence of developing hypothyroidism, or a level that is potentially able to cause hypothyroidism symptoms in patients.
The conventional endocrinology doctrine has, for several decades, dictated that a TSH level that is in the so-called "normal range" indicate a "euthyroid" -- or normal -- state for the thyroid, and thus does not warrant treatment, despite clinical symptoms.
In fact, most patients who have numerous clinical symptoms of hypothyroidism, as well as a family history of thyroid disease - and even those who have tested positive for the presence of thyroid antibodies indicative of autoimmune Hashimoto's Disease - are declined treatment by endocrinologists and other physicians unless TSH levels are elevated above the laboratory's "normal range" - which is typically a TSH level anywhere from 4.7 to 6.0 uU/ml.
Can Naturopathic Medicine effectively treat thyroid disorders?
You bet. And with a high degree of success as well. The nature of our approach is in individualization of the diagnosis. Whereas the lab markers are important, my approach is to also consider the patients symptoms when determining when and if to treat the thyroid.
In addition to directly treating the thyroid using non-toxic methods, a Naturopathic Doctor will also work to discover the underlying cause of the imbalance- acknowledging that the thyroid is impacted by the health of the body’s entire system. Another way of saying ‘treating the whole person.’
Another key element is ensuring that the body has all the minerals it needs for proper functioning. A Naturopathic approach will likely include dietary recommendations, specific nutritional supplements, glandulars, homeopathics and/or herbal medicines. And if needed, Naturopathic Doctors may occasionally write prescriptions for thyroid medications when appropriate. The outcome will be not only a balance Thyroid gland, but a higher level of overall health and well-being.
Once I'm on thyroid medication, do I have to always be on it?
This is often true if someone is taking synthetic thyroid hormone (Synthroid). Taking Synthroid over a long duration will eventually cause the body's own thyroid gland to shut down, as this drug contains only the active form of thyroid. However, this is NOT the case with prescription Armour or Nature-Throid. These medications contain glandulars as well as the active AND inactive forms of thyroid hormone (T3 and T4), which actually support your own gland to do it's job. Dependant upon the underlying cause of the low thyroid, patients are sometimes able to eventually discontinue even these medications once the underlying imbalance is corrected.
For more information or if you have concerns over the health of your thyroid gland, please contact Dr. Fleck at 831-477-1377 to schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation!