Statistics indicate that 27 million otherwise healthy people suffer with thyroid hormone disorders. Thyroid hormones are metabolic hormones, meaning that they are your energy producing hormones. This is significant because the 70+ trillion cells in your body require energy, and all are affected by thyroid function. The failure to meet this energy requirement affects every organ and system in your body, including the brain, which requires over 20 percent of the total energy demand.
That is why thyroid problems are not isolated problems. Think of the thyroid gland as the gas pedal – the feature that allows you to produce energy at the cellular level and function throughout the day. When the thyroid fails, you do too. When you suffer with anxiety or depression, you must look at the thyroid; high cholesterol, digestive problems, and diabetes – think thyroid. Obvious symptoms can include brain fog, constipation, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, chronic pain, and more. Extreme cases can be debilitating.
The standard of care, medically speaking, for anyone with low thyroid is to prescribe replacement hormones forever and to monitor the results periodically, usually every six months, and adjust the dosage accordingly. For a minority of patients this is sufficient; for most, it is not. Unfortunately the replacement model might make your labs look normal, but it does not allow you to feel any better. The laboratory range for making a diagnosis is too narrow, and many people who need help are told they are “fine.”
An expanded blood test would perhaps indicate a T3, T4 conversion problem. Without a full thyroid panel, you’d never know. Nor would you know about a resistance to thyroid hormones problem, or a pituitary problem that does not show up on blood tests at all. Related to this is the fact that nine out of ten hypothyroid sufferers are actually autoimmune, which isn’t often tested for in the conventional medical model because it does not change the standard of care.
A second problem that is deeply misunderstood has to do with iodine supplementation. Nearly every single natural solution for thyroid includes a remedy based on iodine deficiency. Not only is this faulty science, but it is downright dangerous for the 90 percent of autoimmune thyroid patients to be supplementing this way. The unfortunate reality is that iodine is a cheap, commercially available ingredient used in almost every nutritional product targeted toward thyroid sufferers. The usage of iodine as a natural substitute for hormones is as altogether antiquated as the replacement model itself!
We live in a toxic world where the ability to maintain healthy thyroid function is crucial. Most doctors aren’t trained to think about the underlying causes of disease, such as toxic buildup, microbes, poor fuel delivery and nutrition, the ability to detoxify and eliminate wastes and manage blood sugar or restore health. From a functional medicine perspective, a good way to understand low thyroid function is to view it as a downstream problem, part of a whole health approach. Ruling out autoimmunity is step one, followed by a complete workup to assess hormone and nutrient status, gut barrier integrity, detoxification and waste elimination capabilities, liver function, infection, brain fitness, and so on.