Thyroid disorders are one of the most common problems we see, affecting more than 20 million Americans and an estimated 60% of thyroid disorders are undiagnosed. Thyroid hormones are critical for every cell in the body to function normally, which means that every part of you is touched by a thyroid disorder. It controls energy, metabolism, temperature, hormone production, muscle health, mood, digestion, and so much more.
We don’t know what causes hypothyroidism, but we do know that often it runs in families and can be associated with nutrient deficiencies, high stress levels, and diets heavy in processed foods. Common symptoms of low thyroid are fatigue, brain fog, low mood, irritability, weight gain, constipation, heavy periods, and thinning hair. Lesser known symptoms are muscle stiffness/soreness, muscle cramping, weak and brittle nails, slow reflexes, a weak or gravelly voice, dry skin, headaches, insomnia, and acne. Patients have reported feeling clumsy, or that they have to “starve” to maintain their weight, or even that they don’t sing like they used to.
Far too many of my patients have been tested and told that their thyroid is fine. They’re left frustrated with every thyroid symptom in the book and no real answers. Most docs will only check a TSH, which is the signal from the brain to the thyroid asking for more hormone. Very often this signaling is “broken” and people will have a normal or borderline TSH but very low actual thyroid levels. It’s critical that your doctor check not just a TSH, but also T3 and T4 levels to get an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment is individualized to each patient, and involves some combination of diet change, thyroid-supporting nutrients/vitamins, and very often thyroid medication. Most often we use a natural, desiccated thyroid medication which contains both T3 and T4. In some instances we may choose a different medication with the patient (for instance, our vegan patients would prefer a synthetic formula). When treating with both T3 and T4, our patients report feeling so much better than on T4 alone, which is the case in a simple levothyroxine or Synthroid prescription.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is another possible cause of hypothyroidism. This autoimmune condition involves the immune system attacking the thyroid, which ultimately results in low thyroid function. Though these patients are often on thyroid medication (like a regular hypothyroid case), there are other strategies we can use to calm the immune attack and preserve the remaining thyroid function. In very rare instances patients may have Hyperthyroidism and/or Grave’s disease – there are natural options for this, too!