The Most Under-Diagnosed Cause of Thyroid Problems – and What to Do About It
Thyroid problems, both low and high thyroid hormone problems, are near epidemic proportions in this country today, particularly among women. I so often hear from women and from clients/patients who complain of symptoms from low thyroid conditions, such as:
1. Cold hands and feet
2. Dry skin and hair
3. Brittle nails
5. Weight Gain
6. Fatigue and low energy
7. Low Libido
8. Brain fog
…yet they are very often told their thyroid hormone levels are ‘normal’. And if they persist in complaining, they are often sent to the psychiatrist! I’ll say more about this lab test problem later. Then there are those who have symptoms such as:
1. Heart palpitations
2. Weight loss
3. Hair loss
4. Mood swings
5. Heat intolerance
7. Headache, and
Likewise, I have clients with these symptoms who are told their thyroid levels are high and that they have autoimmune thyroid – but the immediate and only options given are:
1. Medications that suppress the thyroid hormone and symptoms – and have potential side effects that can be alarming
2. Surgery to remove the gland – with synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of their life
3. Radioactive therapy – ablation with synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of their life
I will say, when I was in the traditional medical system, the above situations were also the only options I could offer patients also. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. But now…I know. And this is where knowledge can be power. What we need to do is heal the root cause that is creating the havoc in the thyroid gland itself. Most commonly, it is due to:
1. Chronic Stress – the most under-diagnosed cause and typically ignored
2. Gut dysbiosis/inflammation – Intestinal permeability
3. Nutritional deficiencies
4. Other causes of chronic inflammation in the body – and stress is a major source of all inflammation in the body, as well. This can lead to autoimmunity and malfunctioning of the immune system.
5. Miscellaneous medication toxicity, infections and environmental toxins.
Now, if none of these issues are even addressed – can you see why only suppressing symptoms or surgery may not be in your best interest?
If I had to choose just ONE thing, that is THE most underdiagnosed cause of thyroid gland dysfunction…I would have to say it is stress.
Chronic stress is outright dangerous to the health of your body and mind and I believe, if women knew just how deadly it was – we would take action to seriously learn what stress really is and ways to more effectively reduce it. In fact, stress causes up to 95% of all chronic diseases.
It is not just about overscheduling – though that can be a part of it. A major part of it stems from poor food choices, lifestyle habits and toxins that increase inflammation in our bodies, pre–diabetes and metabolic imbalances, lack of sleep…these all increase stress. Once our stress becomes chronic enough it begins to impair our adrenal glands, and this is the beginning of advanced aging and increased risk of chronic disease – regardless of your age.
Women during the perimenopausal and menopausal become even more susceptible to stress, not less.
Plummeting estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels only throw fuel onthe fire. How does all this happen? What does stress have to do with thyroid imbalance?
The adrenal glands produce cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and DHEA. With excessive cortisol and dysregulation of our blood sugar, which it affects, thyroid hormone can become suppressed and get out of balance with the body and brain.
As we become more irritable, lose sleep, anxious – we start to create a vicious cycle. Chronic stress and menopause will also reduce our DHEA levels, which normally help to balance cortisol and give us energy support, as well.
We may eat more sugary ‘comfort foods’ or crave salt because of adrenal imbalance.
Our emotions can affect our body’s chemistry. Sugar will stimulate more inflammation, fat storage, and fat stores toxins. All of this will increase inflammation further. This is also a major reason for weight gain over time as we age.
It is not age itself that puts the weight on – it is inflammation and stress that does it!
Cortisol also affects inflammation and the immune system. Increased inflammation can become chronic when our system becomes dysfunctional because of all of this, and this sets off another chain reaction. This inflammation can raise cytokine activity to abnormal levels, which also interferes with thyroid hormone functionality. Increased susceptibility to infection,and weakened immunity are common outcomes.
This can also create ‘leaky gut’ or intestinal permeability (IP), which is the more accurate clinical name for this. Functional medicine is uniquely able to address and heal this problem, unlike the traditional medical system, which simply dismisses the idea. I was not trained in the traditional system to even know what intestinal permeability is and it is still not addressed as a general rule.
Once IP or leaky gut happens, it is easier to start to have problems with autoimmunity.
As food particles, such as gluten and other food sensitivities develop, and the body unwittingly starts to make antibodies to these particles that then can now access the blood stream – autoantibodies can form. That is, your body starts to make antibodies against its own cells as well as the food particles.
If this happens to the thyroid gland receptors – there can be an increase in the production of active thyroid hormones due to stimulation of TSH levels. Ultimately, Grave autoimmune disease can develop, as well as other autoimmune problems. For some women, the opposite can happen with chronic stress – Hashimoto’s or hypothyroid autoimmune disease.
Our gut and brain are interrelated. Stress and poor eating habits will also affect the gut bacteria, which affects not only digestion and thyroid, but is also a cause of depression and anxiety. It feeds well into the chronic disease spectrum at all levels, as well.
You may wonder, why is the diagnosis, especially of hypothyroidism, so often missed? The main reason is the testing parameters.
The ‘normal’ range for the traditional medical system is too broad and includes the population statistics of people who had existing thyroid disease. From a more functional medicine approach of ‘good functioning’, the range is much narrower. This functional range will catch more dysfunctional, or hypothyroid conditions.
It also correlates better with clinical findings. After all, people are human beings that need to be looked at clinically, not just lab data. If a woman has all the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, a red flag should be raised. When I was under a lot of stress and did not know what to do about it, this happened to me, also.
Once I fixed the stress, helped my adrenals, and dealt with the underlying issues, my symptoms went away, hair grew back, no more cold hands and feet, I returned to my ideal body weight – and the rest is history. All done without the scary drugs and it also reversed the root cause.
Nutrition genomics, or nutrigenomics is an amazing personalized tool that can also help to discern gene weaknesses that may need extra support for thyroid healthy functioning. There are bioidentical thyroid hormones that can support this. It operates under the science of epigenetics, which is a way to affect our gene expression in health producing ways. Your genes are NOT your destiny after all!
Without this information and root cause investigation, just being placed on synthetic hormones may not help anyway. If we as women want to live healthier lives and take back control of our health and aging process, we will have to be willing to look for solutions beyond, ‘business as usual’. We will have to learn what stress is and what to do to break the cycle. I have found functional medicine is that path to empowerment and I am forever grateful that I went ‘outside the box’ and retrained.
Now I can actually support healing and health – and not simply ‘dis-ease’ care. If you are ready to take back control of our health and take control of stress, you can reach out to me and explore if functional medicine is right for you by scheduling a Free Discovery Session HERE.