This blog post has been retrieved from my publication on the following website: naturopathiccurrents.com/index.php/hypothyroidism-what-is-it
What is it?
Hypothyroidism is a term used to describe an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is further classified according to “type”: subclinical, primary, or secondary hypothyroidism. The main function of the thyroid gland is to regulate the metabolic processes essential for normal growth, development, and tissue differentiation. The thyroid gland can become “sluggish” for various reasons, as we will explore in more depth. Normally, the thyroid and peripheral tissues convert thyroxine (T4) into its more active form of triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormone production is influenced by various factors, including: thyrotropin-stimulating hormone (TRH) from the hypothalamus; the levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) released from the pituitary gland; and the availability of iodine & tyrosine. TSH production is regulated via means of a feedback loop between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and thyroid.
Hypothyroidism results in a slower basal metabolic rate (BMR) which ultimately leads to weight gain. Other signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include: irregular bowel movements (constipation); low energy; dry skin; hair loss; irritability; mental impairment; cold intolerance; joint/muscle pains; and delayed or absent reflexes, to name a few. Keep in mind that not every single one of these symptoms will necessarily be present with hypothyroidism.
What causes it?
A common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which affects an estimated 5% of the general population, making it one of the most prevalent autoimmune diseases. It is reported to occur in approximately 10-20% of all women, and less frequently in men. Hashimoto’s is regarded as a disorder of T-cell mediated immunity, with the infiltration of self-targeting T and B lymphocytes in the thyroid gland. Additional autoimmune conditions may be present in those who have a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s, and so it is important to evaluate for co-existing autoimmunity.
Stress can play a crucial role in thyroid dysregulation by triggering the release of noradrenaline, cortisol, and corticotropin-releasing hormone. These hormones have an inhibitory influence on TSH secretion and suppress enzymes involved in the conversion of T4 to T3.
Poor gastrointestinal (GI) health may also be responsible for autoimmune thyroiditis. Did you know that 70-80% of the immune system is found within the GI tract? Lifestyle factors such as stress, medication/antibiotic use, and poor diet directly impact the integrity and health of the GI tract. When the GI tract loses its integrity the immune system can ultimately become confused and the body makes mistakes! In the case of intestinal hyper-permeability, the immune system misidentifies normally harmless antigens (such as foods) as being foreign and mounts immune responses to them. The protein structure of certain foods resembles that of the thyroid, and cross-reactivity can occur as a result; the body can turn against itself causing an autoimmune reaction. Also, on a side note, poor GI health will also likely be evident as a result: bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, heartburn, and abdominal cramps are possible but just some of the symptoms that correlate with poor GI health!
Your Naturopathic Doctor will screen for signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid. She/he will likely order a thyroid panel (possibly including iodine via a 24-hour urinary excretion test) to determine the state of the thyroid gland and also perform a physical exam to assess for nodules or irregularities. An ultrasound may also be ordered to assess the thyroid when nodules are palpated. In hypothyroidism, TSH tends to be elevated with T4 and T3 being low. Elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (TG) antibodies on lab results signify that the thyroid is being “attacked”.
Natural approaches to treatment:
ii) Increase protein intake: this is important as protein is a precursor to both tyrosine and stress hormone production (ie. catecholamines).
Hypothyroidism can result from an autoimmune attack, poor digestive health, nutritional deficiencies, as well as adrenal fatigue. Common approaches to treatment include: eliminating food sensitivities and healing the GI tract; modulating the immune system and decreasing inflammation (in the case of Hashimoto’s); nutritionally providing the precursors necessary for thyroid function; and supporting the adrenal glands to reduce the impact of stress on the endocrine system. Naturopathic medicine addresses thyroid issues with diet, nutritional supplementation, and herbal medicines. **Consult with your Naturopathic Doctor before self-diagnosing and initiating treatment for thyroid issues.**
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Ashley Kowalski is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in Embrun, Cornwall, and Ottawa. She is currently accepting new patients.