Hypothyroidism is where the thyroid gland is not working optimally to produce enough crucial thyroid hormones.
These thyroid hormones are involved in many processes throughout the body and so low levels of them can impact many bodily systems and metabolic processes. The thyroid is a small gland that is located in the base of your neck shaped a bit like a butterfly. It is stimulated into action to produce thyroxine (T4) by a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland. TSH is usually the marker used by the doctor to determine if you have hypothyroidism, but this is not the whole picture.
T4 is converted into the active form T3 mainly in the liver but also in the gut, heart, muscle and nerves. This is the form that your body uses so it is especially important to know this level and not just TSH and T4. Also, it is important to understand if you have antibodies to your thyroid to know if there is an autoimmune component to your low thyroid function, such as in Hashimoto’s. Often blood results can be in range, but they are not always optimal for you as an individual and so symptom can sometimes persist even if you are told that your results are normal.
What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
- Thinning Hair
- Brittle Nails
- Weight Gain
- Low Sex Drive
- Mood Swings / depression / anxiety
- Feeling the cold
- Goitre (tightness in the throat)
- Rough Skin
- Aching muscles
- Lower immune system
- Hormone Imbalances
- High cholesterol
What causes hypothyroidism?
- A diet low in essential nutrients for the thyroid like selenium, iodine, vitamin A, zinc, vitamin D.
- Autoimmune condition – hashimoto’s.
- Leaky Gut – triggers autoimmunity and leads to nutrient deficiencies.
- Chronic stress – reduces the conversion of T4 to T3.
- Problems with the pituitary gland which produces TSH.
- Hormone imbalances – high oestrogen levels can affect the thyroid as can pregnancy causing postpartum thyroiditis.
- Interactions with certain medications.
- Damage to the thyroid gland.
- Fluoride can supress thyroid function.
Doctors will prescribe levothyroxine which is a synthetic form of T4 that is produced by the thyroid gland. It does not address the issues with conversion of T4 to T3 and the signalling pathways to the pituitary. Often the body thinks it then has enough T4 and will tell the pituitary to stop producing so much TSH further still reducing the amount of natural T4 that the thyroid is producing. What can often happen is the doses of the medication need to be increased over time as the gland starts to produce less and less of its own hormone.
Things you can do:
- Eat oily fish – high in DHA and EPA essential for all hormonal health. Highest are salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring and sardines. Aim for 3 portions a week.
- Other sources of Omega 3 – flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts.
- Eat seaweed – packed with iodine much needed for T4 production.
- Use a non-fluoride toothpaste.
- Support good gut health – probiotic foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha. Bone broth to help heal a leaky gut.
- Reduce stress levels – take up meditation, deep breathing, yoga or tai chi or walk in nature daily.
What can Functional Medicine do to support?
- Use functional testing to understand your whole thyroid health. Often GP’s just test TSH and T4, but there’s much more to the picture like T3, reverse T3, antibodies to understand exactly what’s going on.
- Give specific dietary advise on what foods to include or exclude to support thyroid health.
- Use functional testing to examine whether other hormonal issues are involved such as high levels of oestrogen or stress hormones like cortisol and then use food and supplements to help manage a better balance.
- Support your liver which plays a crucial role in thyroid hormone conversion – using foods where possible and removing toxins to support the health of the liver with herbs and supplements.
5 Pillars of Functional Medicine
Hypothyroidism and Functional Medicine
Do you suffer from hypothyroidism and have tried all the usual approaches?
Functional Medicine can help you, simply book an online consultation or arrange a free 15 minute discovery call and ﬁnd out how we can help.