This amazing guest post was written by Stephani Fenk, holistic nutritionist, and health blogger. We encourage you to check out her website!
Hyperthyroidism vs Hypothyroidism
Our hormones are the messengers of our bodies. It is thanks to them that our different systems can talk to one another. Endocrine disorders, which are characterized by dysfunction of these messengers, have been estimated to affect 12% of the US population (6). It’s possible you’ve already heard about the symptoms associated with thyroid disorders since they are one of the most prevalent of the endocrine disorders. Hypothyroidism affects 4.6% (5) of the US population and hyperthyroidism impacts 1.2 percent (4).
Due to the integrated network that these hormones are part of when one hormone goes haywire, it will often affect other systems. This is why, for holistic healing to occur in treatment, it is very important to address the root causes that may be at play.
Two Main Types of Thyroid Disorders
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Hypothyroidism: What is it? What are the symptoms?
Hypothyroidism means that your thyroid gland is underactive and there is too little of the thyroid hormone in the blood (2). Symptoms do vary from person to person, but a clear signal that you may have hypothyroidism is the inability to lose weight despite a healthy diet and regular exercise.
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With low thyroid hormone in the blood, many systems processes slow down. Therefore, a lack of energy, sluggishness and tiring very easily are common. Without a revving metabolism, the body temperature of those affected is lower so they often feel cold, especially in the hands and feet (2). A telltale sign of low thyroid hormone is when the eyebrows are thinning on the outer edges (2). Due to the slowing down of all systems, a common complaint from one with this disorder is constipation. Anxiety and depressive episodes are also possible among those who suffer from hypothyroidism (2).
Hyperthyroidism: What is it? What are the symptoms?
Hyperthyroidism means that there is too much thyroid hormone present, or that the thyroid is overactive (1). Just as hypothyroidism affects our metabolism, so does hyperthyroidism but in the opposite way by speeding up functions.
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism aren’t surprising given that your system is on hyperdrive. Those with hyperthyroidism can experience nervousness, anxiety and irritability, increased perspiration and heart palpitations (1). Trouble sleeping, thinning of the skin and fine brittle hair, as well as, muscle weakness may also appear (1). Women may also have a lighter menstrual cycle or not one at all. Initially one may experience a lot more energy. However, with time, this increased metabolism eventually wears on the body and lack of energy emerges (1).
Causes of Thyroid Disorders
The traditional health system looks to a variety of reasons for the cause of the development of thyroid disorders. Some cases of these disorders are due to the body’s immune system mistaking thyroid gland cells and their enzymes as attackers to the system. This type of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (2). Cases with too low of thyroid hormone is called Graves disease which affects 70% of those with hyperthyroidism (1). Both these types of thyroid disorders run in families and there are still questions as to why people develop them.
Hyperthyroidism may also arise due to the development of nodules on the thyroid that gradually grow and increase the output of thyroid hormones in the system (1). Theses lumps are called goiters. Some individuals must undergo surgical removal or radiation treatment to the thyroid because of goiters or treat thyroid cancer. This consequently leads to a lack of thyroid hormone production (1).
Other causes include having too little or too much iodine in the system, being born with it (congenital), inflammation of the thyroid gland and damage to the pituitary gland (1, 2, 8).
How to Detect and Treat
If someone is presenting with some of the symptoms listed above, blood work is done to confirm if the thyroid hormones are within a ‘normal’ range. Listen to your body if something doesn’t feel quite right. Symptoms of these disorders can often be missed or misdiagnosed for general fatigue. It is estimated that 60% of those who have a thyroid disorder don’t even know it (3)!
Doctors typically test for thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH (2). It is also common to look at T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, and T4, a precursor to T3 (2). To rule out one of the autoimmune disorders, antibodies may also be tested (2). Conventional treatment of hypothyroidism is the prescription of a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine (2, 7). This mimics the action of your own T4. When treating hyperthyroidism the treatment varies based on the patient. Anti-thyroid drugs, that block production of your own thyroid hormones, may be used (1). In other instances, beta-blockers, radioactive iodine or surgeries are used (1).
Addressing the Root Causes
Although conventional treatment of prescription can work for some, we are still not getting at the root cause of thyroid disorders by simply taking a pill. In my personal experience of dealing with this disorder myself and from talking to clients, I have learned that many people suffering do not feel their best when treated solely with medication. A complete treatment of thyroid disorders involves looking at the root causes and making diet and lifestyle changes that help the body thrive under its circumstances. Furthermore, these disorders have a strong link to the expression of emotions, so be ready to look deeper.
Functional medicine doctors and holistic nutritionists can look at the big picture and help clients reinstate balance to the body and enhance optimal living. Many holistic practitioners look to a variety of potential root causes. Certain key environmental factors that play a big role include leaky gut, diet, toxins, infection, and stress (8). If the holistic practitioner suspects the disorder may be autoimmune in nature, food sensitivities, especially gluten, and digestion are looked at (8). The thyroid also needs several key nutrients to function at its best so it is possible that addressing nutrient deficiencies, such as selenium and zinc, may be a factor in treatment (8). Other hormones, like cortisol and the sex hormones, should also be tested due to the integrated nature of the endocrine system (8).
In the treatment of thyroid disorders, keep in mind that your body has its own ‘normal’ and finding a good practitioner that will help support you in examining all possible root causes is key to achieving it.
- American Thyroid Association. Hyperthyroidism (2014). Retrieved May 9, 2017 at < http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Hyper_brochure.pdf>
- American Thyroid Association. (2014). Hypothyroidism. Retrieved May 9, 2017 at < http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Hypo_brochure.pdf?pdf=Hypothyroidism?pdf=Hypothyroidism>
- American Thyroid Association. Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disease (n.d). Retrieved May 9, 2017 at < http://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/>
- Bahn R.S, Burch H.B, Cooper D.S, et al. Hyperthyroidism and other causes of thyrotoxicosis: management guidelines of the American Thyroid Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Endocrine Practice. 2011;17(3):456–520.
- Garber J.R, Cobin R.H, Garib H, et al. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Hypothyroidism in Adults: Cosponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Endocrine Practice. 2012;18(6):988–1028.
- Golden S. H., Robinson K. A., Saldanha I., Anton B., & Ladenson P. W. (2009, June). Prevalence and incidence of endocrine and metabolic disorders in the United States: a comprehensive review, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 94(6), 1853–1878. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19494161
- Mandel, S.J., Brent, G.A, Larsen, P.R. (1993). Levothyroxine Therapy in Patients with Thyroid Disease. Ann Intern Med .119(6):492-502. Retrieved from < http://annals.org/aim/article/706728/levothyroxine-therapy-patients-thyroid-disease>
- Myers, A. (2016). Think You Might Have A thyroid Imbalance? Here’s A Checklist To Bring To Your Doctor. Retrieved from < https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-27075/think-you-might-have-a-thyroid-imbalance-heres-a-checklist-to-bring-to-your-doc.html> May 9.
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