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“It’s my thyroid.”
With more than 12% of Americans experiencing thyroid issues at some point in their lives, chances are you’ve heard someone say this.
Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with thyroid issues.
If so, don’t despair!
Through functional medicine, a doctor can discover what’s really behind your thyroid disorder, identify your unique triggers, and have you back on the path to health and wellness in no time.
What Is the Function of the Thyroid?
Why is it so important to have a healthy thyroid? Let’s take a closer look at what the thyroid does and why it’s an essential part of your overall health.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It forms a part of your body’s endocrine system—the system of glands that produce and secrete the hormones that control different functions throughout your body.
In the case of the thyroid, the hormones it releases control your metabolism, which is the process your body uses to turn food into energy.
Aside from your metabolic rate, your thyroid can also affect:
- Your heart rate
- How deeply you breathe
- Weight loss/gain
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
- Menstrual cycles
When your pituitary gland (also part of the endocrine system) notices that these hormone levels are low, it signals your thyroid to make more. Similarly, if the hormone levels get too high, your pituitary gland will signal to your thyroid to stop or slow down hormone production.
Occasionally, however, your thyroid will overproduce or underproduce hormones of its own accord.
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This article reviews how hormones work, what can throw them off balance, signs and symptoms of a hormone imbalance, and some ways you can get your hormones back on track.
Hypothyroidism Vs. Hyperthyroidism
The two most common thyroid diseases are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid isn’t producing and secreting enough hormones. It may have even stopped hormone production completely.
When this happens, your metabolism slows down and your body is unable to convert food into energy efficiently. You may feel fatigued, depressed, or generally sluggish.
On the other end of the spectrum, hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is producing and secreting more hormones than your body needs.
With hyperthyroidism, your metabolism will be sped up, which can lead to a number of health conditions. It can also leave you feeling anxious and restless.
Signs of an Unhealthy Thyroid
Now that you know how a healthy thyroid should be functioning, let’s go over some of the signs that your thyroid isn’t performing at its optimal level.
Depending on whether you have an overactive or underactive thyroid, the warning signs will differ. For example, an overactive thyroid that speeds up metabolism will lead to weight loss, while an underactive thyroid will slow down your metabolic rate and cause weight gain.
But if you’re worried about your thyroid health, here are some general things to look out for.
- Difficulty tolerating cold or heat
- Excessive and unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Mood disorders, including irritability, anxiety, and depression
- Slow or fast heart rate
Here are some additional symptoms which could signal hypothyroidism:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Blood sugar issues
- Gut issues
- Hair loss
- High cholesterol
- Lack of energy
- Lower sex drive
- Weak bones/susceptibility to fractures
And here are some signs that you’re experiencing hyperthyroidism:
- Difficulty focusing/concentrating
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Twitching or trembling
- Unquenchable thirst
You may not experience all of these symptoms, and those that you do experience can vary from mild to severe.
What Is Functional Medicine?
Before we delve into the ways that functional medicine can help with thyroid health, let’s define functional medicine.
Functional medicine is a holistic, patient-centered approach to healing. A functional medicine doctor considers all aspects of your health and well-being: physical, emotional, mental, and sometimes even spiritual.
When you go to a functional medicine doctor for treatment, they won’t just address a specific symptom. Instead, they’ll explore your lifestyle and treat the root cause of your symptoms.
Take thyroid health, for example.
If you visit your regular doctor because you’ve noticed that you’re low on energy (a classic symptom of hypothyroidism), they might recommend getting more sleep and prescribe B-12. The underlying cause, a thyroid issue, can easily remain unaddressed.
A functional medicine doctor, on the other hand, will look at your overall health. With a few questions, they may find out that you’ve also had some weight gain, have felt depressed, and have noticed some hair loss. Together, these symptoms will lead them to look for thyroid issues.
Here are some of the things a functional medicine doctor will take into account when they meet with you.
- Genetics (family history)
- Hormonal changes
- Medications (both over-the-counter and prescription)
- Sleep habits
- Stress levels
By spending so much time with you and really understanding your biology, a functional medicine doctor creates a treatment plan that is customized to your health needs.
Examples of Functional Medicine
So which medical treatments do functional medicine doctors prefer?
These are some of the therapies and treatments methods most commonly used in functional medicine.
- Body movement therapies
- Chiropractic medicine
- Natural supplements
- Osteopathic medicine
- Tai chi
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How Functional Medicine Can Be Used for Thyroid Health
Over 20 million Americans suffer from some sort of thyroid issue, with the majority of them having hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
And for those with hypothyroidism, the number one root cause is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. As with other immune conditions, Hashimoto’s is caused when your immune system mistakenly perceives your body to be a threat and attacks it as it would a bacteria, virus, or other invader.
In the case of Hashimoto’s, your body attacks the thyroid gland, impeding it from functioning properly.
And here’s where you can really see the difference between traditional medicine and functional medicine.
A traditional doctor would run tests, discover that you have an underactive thyroid, and prescribe medication to help it get “back to work.”
A functional medicine doctor would take a vastly different approach.
Upon discovering that you have an underactive thyroid, they would look at your overall health and other areas of wellbeing. They would discover more symptoms that would indicate Hashimoto’s, run tests to confirm, and then diagnose your autoimmune disorder correctly. Treatment would focus on Hashimoto’s disease, but the result would also boost your thyroid function.
While both doctors would effectively treat and correct your under-performing thyroid gland, only the functional medicine doctor would discover and address the root cause of your thyroid issues.
Thus, with traditional medicine, your thyroid would only remain healthy if you continue taking the medication.
Meanwhile, with functional medicine, addressing Hashimoto’s would provide a long-term solution for thyroid health.
How Functional Medicine Treats Thyroid Issues
If you’ve seen signs of a thyroid issue, a visit to a functional medicine doctor can help you discover exactly what is going on with your body.
Once they’ve found the underlying cause of your thyroid condition, they can recommend a course of action to treat the cause, rather than addressing just the symptoms.
Stress is an incredibly common trigger for thyroid troubles.
When you’re under stress, your body releases cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone. This hormone can help your body get through stressful times.
Unfortunately, cortisol also disrupts your thyroid function. High cortisol levels send signals to your thyroid to slow or stop its hormone production. Cortisol also interferes with the conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 into its usable version, thyroid hormone T3.
If your functional medicine doctor finds that stress is the cause of your thyroid issues, they may recommend treatments such as meditation, journaling, yoga, and other relaxation techniques.
Address Autoimmune Diseases
As we mentioned earlier, autoimmune diseases are the cause of the majority of thyroid issues.
More specifically, Graves disease can lead to hyperthyroidism and Hashimoto’s can lead to hypothyroidism.
While the exact cause of these two autoimmune diseases is unknown, they both result in your body attacking your thyroid and causing it to malfunction.
For thyroid issues caused by autoimmune disorders, a functional medicine doctor will help you discover and avoid triggers. These triggers could include certain foods and drinks, including gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, and overly-processed foods.
Correct Gut Issues
If you’ll recall, we mentioned that your thyroid produces the hormone T4, which is converted to a usable version, T3.
About 20% of this conversion takes place in the gut. So a healthy gut microbiome is essential to a well-functioning thyroid.
Taking a probiotic supplement can help get your gut in tip-top shape, so that your thyroid health—and your overall health—is at its optimal level.
Our favorite probiotic is Just Thrive Probiotic. With its proven 100% survivability rate, it arrives in your digestive system ready to boost beneficial bacteria and balance your microbiome.
Just because thyroid issues are incredibly common doesn’t mean you have to suffer!
But instead of treating the symptoms, take control of your health by discovering what’s really going on with your body.
A functional medicine doctor will explore all aspects of your health and unearth the root cause of your malfunctioning thyroid.
And with lifestyle modifications, you’ll be better equipped to avoid your thyroid triggers, so you can get back to feeling your best!
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