Health: Four overlooked contributors to thyroid dysfunction


How many times have you heard this story from women reporting the same types of symptoms:  an inability to lose weight despite consuming a low calorie diet, decrease in energy/fatigue, thinning hair, and even depression?  Most women feel they have a thyroid disorder but have been told their labs are normal by their doctor, or they have been placed on thyroid medication but still struggle with their symptoms.  Often overlooked in traditional approaches to managing thyroid dysfunction is the fact that it is typically secondary to some other condition, meaning that there is something that contributed to the thyroid not working properly in the first place.  Taking an in-depth look at these contributors can help in managing either a diagnosed or subclinical thyroid condition.
The first of these is your immune system.  What is common today is an immune system attack on your own body, instead of just on the foreign invaders it is supposed to destroy.  If your immune system starts attacking your thyroid, this leads to a condition called Hashimoto’s.  The diagnosis is given if a patient tests positive for thyroid antibodies.  Even though this is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism, many doctors do not test for it since the diagnosis doesn’t change their treatment.  The good news is that autoimmunity can be approached naturally by supporting the immune system with specific supplements and avoiding foods that contribute to the autoimmune attack on the body.  Foods to avoid may include gluten, dairy, soy, eggs and corn, just to name a few.  Specific lab testing can determine which foods may be provoking an autoimmune response.  By removing these foods, the immune response is dampened and the body will essentially slow down the self attack.  Supplements that can support the immune system include vitamin D, fish oil, super oxide dismutase, and glutathione.
Another contributor to thyroid dysfunction is an imbalance in the gut.  Our gut plays an important role in activating thyroid hormones.  We produce two main thyroid hormones, T3 and T4.  T4 is the inactive thyroid hormone that needs to be converted to the active T3 form.  If there is an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, or a chronic infection creating low levels of good bacteria, our bodies will not be able to convert T4 into T3.  Without being activated, thyroid hormone is useless in our bodies, leading to slow metabolism and an inability to lose weight.   Additionally, poor gut health leads to a poor immune system and is a significant factor in triggering autoimmune diseases.   Taking the right strains and potencies of a probiotic, in addition to addressing yeast or bacterial overgrowth, will balance the gut and improve the conversion of thyroid hormones.  Consumption of fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut can also help to promote healthy gut bacteria, as well as avoiding sources of refined carbohydrates and sugars.  Not only will avoiding these foods help balance the digestive tract, it will also create healthy blood sugar levels.
Attempts to manage a thyroid condition are found to be futile if blood sugar is not regulated.  Diets that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates create dysglycemia, or an inability to properly regulate the blood sugar.  Whether it is chronically low or high, both are stepping stones to diabetes, and weaken the adrenal glands that secrete hormones to regulate blood sugar.  The problem is that these hormones, mainly cortisol, also cause stress.  The adrenal glands get driven into exhaustion, setting the stage for hormonal imbalances, impairing detoxification, and fatiguing metabolism.  All of these imbalances significantly weaken thyroid metabolism and can exacerbate Hashimoto’s.
What is an epidemic, especially in Minnesota, is another contributor to thyroid dysfunction.  Deficiencies of vitamin D are seen in the majority of patients.  Studies have shown that more than 90% of people with autoimmune thyroid disease have a genetic defect that affects their ability to process vitamin D.  This means that many people need higher amounts of vitamin D to maintain health and support the immune system.  Low vitamin D levels are associated not only with thyroid dysfunction, but also with an increase in cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive deficits and severe asthma.  Getting your vitamin D level checked and supplemented appropriately is extremely important, as it is often hard to get enough from the foods that we eat.
These four factors can play a huge role in your thyroid health.  The number one step is making sure a complete thyroid panel is done, and not just a TSH and T4/T3 test.  This will aid in the proper diagnosis as Hashimoto’s is often a hidden disorder that most people aren’t even aware they have until their thyroid antibodies are checked.  From there, the diet can be modulated, the gut balanced, blood sugar regulated, and vitamin deficiencies supported appropriately.  Patients who are guided through this process feel better, lose weight, their lab results improve, and they end up living life without the chronic fatigue they have become accustomed to.

Lori Jokinen, DC, CACCP
Minnesota Functional
Neurology & Chiropractic

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