Hypothyroidism and how our Naturopathic Doctors can help
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland which is located along the front of the windpipe, in the neck.
The thyroid is an endocrine gland, meaning that it releases hormones into our blood stream. These thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) regulate all metabolic and endocrine functions of the body.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is the condition in which the thyroid is under active or functioning sub-optimally. This means that the thyroid is not releasing enough T4 (thyroxine), later converted to active T3. Together these two hormones regulate cellular metabolism or cellular “efficiency.”
What is the cause?
Hypothyroidism is caused by either the removal of the thyroid gland, surgically, or by an autoimmune disorder.
What are the symptoms?
Commonly seen symptoms include:
- Hair loss (scalp, body, eyebrows)
- Fatigue, lethargy
- Tendency to be cold
- Intolerance to cold temperatures
- Brittle nails and hair
- Weight gain OR weight loss
- Dry skin
- Low libido
- Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
- Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
- Amenorrhea (absent menstrual cycles)
- Voice changes; hoarseness
- Inability to lose weight when actively trying
- Poor appetite
- Slow pulse
- Low mood
Because there is such a wide array of symptoms, hypothyroidism can easily be missed or misdiagnosed. Naturopathic Doctors are educated surrounding all of these symptoms and therefore they make sure to properly rule in/rule out hypothyroidism should any of these symptoms present themselves.
What labs are used to monitor/diagnose hypothyroidism?
Your Naturopathic Doctor will order a full thyroid panel to properly diagnose and monitor hypothyroidism. This panel will include:
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) - The hormone sent by the pituitary gland, located in the brain, to the thyroid gland. This hormone tells the thyroid gland to release its hormone, T4.
- Free Thyroxine (fT4) - Produced by and released by the thyroid gland. After release from the thyroid gland, it then circulates through the body and is converted to T3, active thyroid hormone.
- Free Triiodothyronine (fT3) - Active form of thyroid hormone. Having sufficient free T3 is very important for metabolic function.
- Thyroperoxidase Antibodies (Anti-TPO) - Present and increased in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Grave’s disease. This is an antibody, produced by the immune system, which attacks the thyroid gland and alters its function.
NOTE: Many physicians will simply order a TSH level from the laboratory. In many cases, TSH levels may be normal, but a hypothyroid state may be hiding in the other lab results. By neglecting to run a full panel, hypothyroidism often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Be sure to ask your doctor for a full thyroid panel or go directly to your Naturopathic Doctor.
What is the conventional treatment?
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves the daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid). This treatment simply focuses on the replacement of thyroid hormone. It does not address the cause of the hypothyroidism and it does not prevent worsening symptoms and the need for a continual increase in synthetic thyroid hormone medication over time.
What can Naturopathic Doctors do?
Naturopathic Doctors receive an extensive education surrounding the thyroid gland and how to optimize its function.
Our Naturopathic Doctors will take an individualized approach to each person’s degree of hypothyroidism.
First, your Naturopathic Doctor will do a thorough intake and will order the necessary lab tests so that she may devise an appropriate treatment plan.
Often this treatment plan includes:
Dietary changes/recommendations: there are nutrients and dietary modifications which are vital for the optimization of thyroid function. Research has shown a strong correlation between gut health and thyroid function. This being said, your Naturopathic Doctor will look at any food sensitivities/allergies, gut flora status and will educate you around the foods which have been found to hinder thyroid function (raw goitrogenic foods, peanuts, soy).
Supplementation: Many times nutritional deficiencies aggravate symptoms and further hinder the function of the thyroid. Common deficiencies include: vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, tyrosine, iodine, copper, vitamin B and iron. Your Naturopathic Doctor will assess your diet and run lab tests to pinpoint any nutritional deficiencies.
Adrenal support: There is a very strong connection between the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. It is extremely common to have some degree of adrenal fatigue when suffering from hypothyroidism. The more the thyroid “slacks off,” the more the adrenal glands have to step up and take over keeping the body going. This means that the longer the thyroid under functions, the more likely the adrenal glands are to “burn out”. Your Naturopathic Doctor will assess your adrenal function and recommend lifestyle modifications and supplements to support their function.
Natural Desiccated Thyroid (NDT prescription): NDT is the more natural form of thyroid medication and is derived from porcine thyroid glands. NDT is used as an alternative to synthetic thyroid medications. People commonly ask, what is the advantage of NDT over Synthroid? Synthroid is the synthetic version of T4. As you now know, T4 is only one of our thyroid hormones. Because NDT is derived from actual thyroid gland, it contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including the active thyroid hormone, T3. If you are interested in learning more about NDT, please set up an appointment with Dr. Harmonie Eleveld, ND, or Dr. Kelsey Duncan, ND.
Regular lab testing: to monitor improvement and see if any other changes need to be made for further improvements. Your Naturopathic Doctor will schedule regular follow up visits and lab tests to monitor treatment effectiveness.