Many people are taking thyroid medication but still experiencing low thyroid symptoms, this article explains why thyroid medication is not the only answer!
I have written previously about low thyroid problems being a commonly undiagnosed problem, because doctors are only testing TSH and not doing a full thyroid test, this article lists the 10 signs of low thyroid function.
If you get diagnosed with having low thyroid function by the doctor the only thing that they will do is put you on Thyroxine, this is a medication providing the thyroid hormone T4.
While there are many types of thyroid problems and natural solutions that will help, sometimes taking thyroid medication is the best option, I have nothing against thyroid medication as part of a treatment plan but it is important to address the underlying cause at the same time.
I will often see people in the clinic who are taking thyroid medication, they are told their test results are “fine” yet they still experience low thyroid symptoms like fatigue, difficulty losing weight, depression, digestion problems and the many other symptoms associated with low thyroid function.
This is because the underlying cause has not been addressed, the thyroid medication is just a band-aid which does not always work.
I believe in a holistic approach to health and wellness, and this applies to treating thyroid hormone problems as well, a holistic approach includes diet, nutrition, lifestyle changes, stress reduction, and on some occasions this may also include thyroid medication.
But thyroid medication is not a “magic” pill that will fix all of your thyroid problems, that is because all thyroid problems are not simply a deficiency in T4 thyroid hormone.
A Holistic approach is especially important if you are treating the most common thyroid problem which is Hashimoto’s, this is an autoimmune problem which means that your own immune system is attacking your own thyroid gland.
One of the results of Hashimoto’s is low thyroid function and often taking thyroid hormone is an important part of the treatment, but it is only part of the treatment and does not address the underlying autoimmune cause of low thyroid. This leads to continual low thyroid symptoms and the need for more medication which becomes continually less effective as your immune system continues to “attack your own thyroid”.
There are many different causes of autoimmune conditions and to effectively treat them you have to look at undressing the underlying cause which may be food intolerances (especially gluten), infections like H.Pylori, heavy metals, leaky gut or some other type of gut dysfunction.
1/ You have undiagnosed autoimmune Hashimoto’s, often the TSH and T4 blood tests are the only tests that are done to assess low thyroid function, this is because the treatment by a doctor is the same no matter what the cause of your low thyroid function is.
Many times I will see clients with low thyroid function who have never been tested for their antibody levels and have no idea if they have an autoimmune condition, and this is probably the most important type of low thyroid problem when a holistic approach is a valuable part of treatment.
2/ You are taking a thyroid medication which is T4 but your body is not converting T4 to the active thyroid hormone which is T3, this is often converted to the inactive reverse T3 if the underlying cause is not addressed.
This is why it is important to do an extensive thyroid test which includes the T3 and reverse T3.
There are many reasons why you may not be converting T4 to T3 and they can include adrenal function problems, inflammation (this is a problem for everything!), nutrient deficiencies like zinc, selenium, iron and tyrosine, gut infections and food intolerances.
3/ You have lowered thyroid receptor sensitivity, this means that you can have normal TSH, T4, and T3 but due to inflammation in the body the hormones are unable to attach to the receptors to do their job. Testing thyroid receptor antibodies are also included in the extensive thyroid test.
4/ You have undiagnosed food intolerances, the most common food associated with thyroid problems is gluten from wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Most people associate having gluten intolerance with digestion problems, and while this is often the case it is possible to have gluten sensitivity without having digestion problems but it is affecting other areas of your body like the thyroid.
Cutting out gluten is an essential part of treating thyroid problems, and if you have been tested for celiac and told you are “fine” and don’t have a problem, this test is unreliable and not sensitive enough to pick up gluten intolerances.
There are other foods that can cause problems and going on a Paleo autoimmune diet for a period of time can help to diagnose what you are reacting to.
5/ You have an adrenal function problem! Many of the symptoms of adrenal dysfunction are similar to low thyroid function, and adrenal problems are often the cause of the inflammation that is affecting the conversion of T4 to T3, or affecting the thyroid receptors. It is important to get a urine test like the DUTCH Hormone test which measures cortisol at 4 different times of the day and not just rely on a one off blood test, this is because cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day. Without addressing an adrenal problem you will continue to have low thyroid symptoms. The saliva hormone test is not the best option.
6/ You have a gut infection like Helicobacter pylori or SIBO which is affecting your immune system, inflammation and your ability to absorb nutrients from your food. These types of infections can be diagnosed through a breath test or a comprehensive stool test.
7/ You are taking the wrong medication for you, there are different brands of thyroid medication, including some that contain gluten as a filler, so you may actually be reacting to the thyroid medication. Most doctors only prescribe T4 medication to treat all thyroid conditions but you may be better off taking a T4/ T3 combination thyroid medication.
The first step to treating low thyroid function is to get an extensive thyroid test which measures TSH, T4, T3, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies, and thyroid receptor antibodies. This test will help to diagnose the cause of your thyroid problem.
The second step is to assess adrenal function and work out if you have any underlying digestion infections. It is important to work with someone who is trained in Functional Medicine, whether that is a doctor or a naturopath who understands functional pathology testing, at Planet Naturopath we can organize the DUTCH hormone test worldwide
The third step is to address your diet and lifestyle, this involves eating a nutrient dense diet, reducing inflammation, getting quality sleep, the right amount of exercise and stress reduction.
At Planet Naturopath we offer comprehensive thyroid, adrenal and digestive function testing, as well as other Functional Pathology Testing. Consultations are available worldwide via our video conferencing service, or by phone
If you have any questions you can add them below, or to get an individual assessment schedule an appointment.
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen