20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60 percent of these people are unaware of their condition. 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. The average age of women diagnosed with hypothyroidism is 20-60 years old. Often it is missed due to many different symptoms that hypothyroidism causes people to experience.
What does the thyroid gland do? The thyroid is responsible for how fast or slow your body works. It controls metabolism, growth, body temperature, health of the heart, brain, kidneys, and reproductive system. I consider it a digestive organ as well because the first sign of something wrong with the thyroid, constipation can be a symptom.
A little anatomy now to give you some insight on what the thyroid produces. When people go into the doctor, they often get a test called TSH to determine if the thyroid is working correctly. The problem is, TSH is not secreted by the thyroid, but rather the pituitary gland. The thyroid secretes mainly two hormones, T4 and T3. T4 is an inactive form of thyroid hormone and makes up about 80% of what the thyroid secretes. T4 needs to go to the liver to be converted into T3. T3 is the “gas” as it is the active form your body uses to do all the wonderful functions listed above.
The reason I focus on the thyroid gland so much is because it acts as the “canary in the coal mine” for the body. It is your early warning signal that something is wrong in the body. As the title of this blog states, we not only consider issues with the thyroid gland itself, but determine what is causing the warning signal to go off. The most common things are stress, toxins, and infections. Let us discuss how each of these can cause hypothyroidism.
Stress is called the “Black Plague of the 21st Century” causing 75-90% of all office visits to a healthcare provider. When a person is under chronic stress, your body converts T4 hormone into T3 Reverse. T3 Reverse is referred to as the “brake” for your thyroid. Your thyroid is telling your body that it needs to divert blood flow and nutrients to your muscles rather than your digestive tract. This “brake” is what causes you to be cold, fatigued, and constipated. Using a lab test to determine if stress is causing the hypothyroidism is helpful.
Next on the list to consider is toxins. We know T4 needs to be converted into T3 in the liver. The liver is also a major detoxification organ and can get bogged down with a build-up of toxins and eventually fatty liver can occur. Toxic build up in the liver is due to a poor Phase 2 process, this then slows the conversion of T4 into T3. Patients with low conversion should do a detox program. After, they have more energy, they lose weight easier and faster, and their body feels better overall. This is due to in part the increase in T4 to T3 conversion.
Infections can cause hypothyroidism. Infections can begin in the gut and travel to other parts of the body. I link infections and gut health together because you must address the infection first if you want to improve gut health. Infections cause inflammation in the gut not allow absorption of nutrients needed to make thyroid hormone, and you can’t make something out of nothing. Once there is inflammation in the gut it causes a “leaky gut” allowing the infections spread throughout in the body. The two major infections are Candida (yeast) and Epstein-Barr Virus (Mono). Both can cause the body to make antibodies to the thyroid and begin to attack it. This is called Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune response by the body. Checking thyroid antibody results on lab work is essential in determining what is going on with the thyroid.
Stress, toxins, and infections make up the majority of causes of hypothyroidism. It is optimal to address all three in order to get the thyroid to function working like it is supposed to. Stress can cause toxins to build-up in the body. Infections grow faster in the gut, so we will start the process of healing there.
Cortisol is our main stress hormone. When someone is under chronic stress, they often will put on fat around the belly button. They can have anxiety, can’t sleep, and have poor digestion. I use a Stress ID questionnaire with our patients to determine the stress type and where the stress is coming from. Using adaptogens, L-theanine, and helping the body breakdown cortisol better helps the thyroid from converting T4 into T3 Reverse.
Working on infections that are present in the body is key. Using things like oregano oil, berberine, garlic, and different blends of homeopathic mixtures can eliminate the overgrowth of these infections. I address any inflammation in the gut and improve the terrain so that the infections don’t grow back. Dietary changes are also needed during this time. Getting off foods that feed the infections like gluten, sugar, processed foods, and dairy all are essential in healing the gut and helping the thyroid gland. Your food choices basically become whatever God makes. Eating all organic if possible.
When the infections and stress improve, we detox the body of all the chemicals that have been building up inside. I really like patients try to detox for one month as this sets the body up for success. When the environment is full of toxic chemicals, is hard to stay clean in a dirty world. Getting rid of the bloating, swelling in the ankles and hands, and boosting the conversion of T4 into T3 gives people more energy, improved metabolism, and weight loss.
Stress, toxins, and infections are root causes to poor thyroid function. They are often missed as it is easy to just medicate someone for the symptoms caused by these three things. Doing lab work, listening to the patient’s history, and checking how their body responds to different nutrients is key to getting your thyroid functioning the way it should.
-Dr. Brian Opp, Chiropractor