The thyroid is responsible for producing several hormones essential for a healthy body, including regulating cholesterol and maintaining weight.
When the thyroid doesn’t function properly it can mean that we produce too little or too much of a certain hormone. Here we take a look at thyroid diseases and dysfunctions and how a functional medicine approach can make a difference for patients.
Understanding Thyroid Disease and Thyroid Dysfunctions
- 20 million people have some form of a thyroid condition.
- It’s estimated that 60% of these affected individuals are not even aware they a thyroid-related condition.
- Women are far more likely to suffer from thyroid disease.
- Most conditions are life-long, though they can be managed effectively once diagnosed.
What Is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around the trachea (windpipe). It works in conjunction with the pituitary gland to control metabolism, helping the body to draw energy from food and use it efficiently.
Two specific hormones are called T4 and T3 and their role is to ‘tell’ cells how much energy they should use. When working properly, the thyroid ensures that your body functions optimally.
What Is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease is a term for a range of different conditions that affect this gland. For example, when it is not working properly, the thyroid may produce too much of a certain type of hormone. This makes the cells use too much energy and is called hyperthyroidism.
If the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, the cells don’t burn as much energy and individuals can gain weight and feel fatigued all the time. This is called hypothyroidism.
Both conditions can be caused by different diseases and some of the most common are Grave’s disease, goiter and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Symptoms of Thyroid Disease
The symptoms vary depending on what type of condition a patient has:
- Hyperthyroidism typically makes the individual feel more anxious and restless. They may have a racing heart and feel irritable. Other symptoms include muscle weakness and loss of weight.
- Hypothyroidism has almost the opposite effect. The affected individual may feel fatigued, have trouble concentrating and may be prone to weight gain. Depression is not uncommon and the heart rate is typically slowed down.
Causes Thyroid Disease
The vast majority of thyroid diseases involve the gland either being too active or not active enough. The condition can also occur temporarily in pregnant women who have just given birth. In some cases, the disease is caused by a deficiency or excess production of iodine in the body.
As the thyroid works closely with the pituitary gland, any disease or damage to this can have a knock-on effect.
Other Thyroid Disorders
Several specific conditions lead to dysfunction in the thyroid. These include:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: The most common type of hypothyroidism caused by an autoimmune reaction.
- Grave’s disease: A hereditary autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid, can cause hyperthyroidism.
- Goiter: A condition causing enlargement of the thyroid through iodine deficiency.
Conventional Medical Approaches to Thyroid Disease
The conventional medical approach to thyroid disease is to treat the associated symptoms. That can mean giving the patient anti-thyroid drugs and radioactive iodine, as well as performing surgery on the patient, to reduce the production of hormones.
Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is generally used if the gland is producing insufficient hormone levels.
The Functional Medicine Approach
The functional medicine approach is to look at the root causes of any thyroid dysfunction and remedy that rather than simply treating the symptoms. It takes a holistic view of the individual and develops a tailored healthcare solution that is more likely to produce longer-term results and improve the overall health of the patient.
At Miskawaan Health, this approach to healthcare is the focal point of our overall treatment philosophy.
Each individual is biochemically unique and it’s important to understand their physiology beyond their hormonal levels and symptoms. Assessing someone fully involves looking not just at their biological make-up but also their environment, their nutritional history and even their social situations.
For example, switching to nutrient-dense foods and maintaining a healthy diet can improve the functioning of the thyroid in many ways. Foods that contain healthy fats and certain vitamins are known to support the thyroid. Combined with removing highly processed foods that cause inflammation, this approach can make a big difference.
For others, there may be an issue with low iodine levels. Iodine can be found in healthy food choices such as seaweed, eggs and shellfish.
Wellness approaches are also a big part of functional medicine. Chronic stress plays an important but negative role in personal health. It produces cortisol which can have a direct impact on the thyroid gland. Introducing therapies such as meditation can help to reduce stress levels and enhance the patient’s wellbeing.
- Being more active and exercising regularly as well as finding ways to achieve adequate sleep plays a role too.
- In the environment around us, we’re exposed to a range of toxins and these can also affect the healthy functioning of the thyroid.
With any health condition, including thyroid dysfunction, the functional medicine approach focuses on the root cause of the issue rather than solely looking to alleviate the associated symptoms. This treatment philosophy is an integral part of Miskawaan’s approach to healthcare and one which yields effective and long-lasting results with the ultimate aim of improving our patient’s quality of life.