You’ve heard me talk about hypothyroidism in previous posts with regards to my personal health, but why am I writing about it today and what exactly is it? Well, I have been doing a lot of research lately to really learn about this condition and natural ways to address it in addition to my medication. In this research I have discovered that the rate of diagnosis of this disease is skyrocketing and there are many out there who may have undiagnosed hypothyroidism. So, I figured that I should share what I have learned because it may help you in your own quest for health.
To answer what hypothyroidism is, we need to understand the role of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your throat. It’s job is to drive the rate at which we burn fuel for all physiologic, metabolic and physical tasks our body performs all day of every day. Simply put, it drives our metabolism. It also produces hormones that are responsible for a wide range of functions and contributes to our mental and emotional well being. A pretty important gland shall we say?
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland. Basically, your thyroid function is slow or low.
Why is hypothyroidism commonly undiagnosed? Well there are two main reasons. First, the range on lab tests for “normal” thyroid function is very large, so you may be struggling with an underactive thyroid but still be considered “normal”. This is what happened to me; I went to 3 doctors before I found one who agreed with me that my results weren’t “normal”. It also shares symptoms with other diseases and conditions, which makes it even harder to diagnose. To get an accurate diagnosis, a doctor should consider lab test results, but also consider symptoms (how the patient is feeling, which are subjective) and signs of low thyroid disease (which are objective and measurable). Many doctors rely on lab test results alone.
So, what are the symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism you may ask? Below are the most common ones, though these lists are not exhaustive:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Low mood, depression
- Difficulty with concentration and clear thinking
- Intolerance to cold, get cold easily
- Muscle cramping or pain
- Joint pain
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Numbness in extremities
- Dry, brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Puffiness of face
- Low heart rate (less than 60 bpm)
- Slow reflexes
- Hoarse voice
- Fluid retention in hands and feet
Without getting too technical and science-y, there are multiple hormones that impact the thyroid gland. There is active thyroid hormone (commonly called T3) and inactive thyroid hormone (T4). T4 must be converted to active thyroid hormone for it to be used by the thyroid gland. Conversion of T4 to its active form is impacted by age, prolonged caloric deprivation, mineral deficiencies (iron, zinc and selenium), chronic lack of sleep, chronic stress and imbalance in our microbiome (a.k.a large intestine, where 20% of our T4 is converted).
So now that we know what a thyroid is and what some signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid are, what are some natural solutions for optimizing thyroid health in addition to or paired with prescribed medication? Well, the first place to start after being diagnosed by a physician is to tackle the things I described above that impact conversion of T4 thyroid hormone. While we can’t change our age, we can work on our sleeping habits and stress, we can eat a healthier diet to improve the health of our gut and get adequate levels of minerals our thyroid needs.
Are these things needed? Absolutely! Medication simply targets the thyroid and helps to get it working normally, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue for why the thyroid became compromised to begin with. We must address this issue comprehensively and not just rely on medication, as is so often done today. Plus, our medication works best when paired with positive, healthy lifestyle changes.
I will dive into these natural solutions next week in Part II of this article, so stay tuned!
~Peace, love & health~
- Dr. Jillian Teta's 5-Day Gut-Thyroid School (register for free here)
- The Model Health Show Podcast on the Thyroid and Gut Health Connection