Thyroid problems are at an all-time high. Rarely does a week go by at The Wellness Way without a new patient coming in who is on some form of thyroid medication. That makes sense because the thyroid medication levothyroxine was the #2 best-selling drug in the United States in 2020 (before Covid-related drugs rose to the top). If you’re on thyroid medication, it’s more than likely that you, too, are on levothyroxine.
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, as many as 30 million Americans suffer from thyroid problems. But if you look at all the symptoms associated with thyroid disease, more out there are likely suffering. They have simply not yet been diagnosed. The American Thyroid Association estimates up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of it. Thyroid conditions occur more frequently in women than in men (10-to-1) and are more common after age 60.
However, most women learn they have a thyroid issue between the ages of 30 and 50.
The thyroid may be a small gland, but it has many responsibilities. The thyroid helps with fat metabolism, temperature regulation, bone metabolism, growth hormone production, blood sugar metabolism, estrogen metabolism, bowel motility, and much more. Every cell in your body has a receptor for thyroid hormone except for your red blood cells. That means thyroid hormones influence every other cell in every organ of your body.
What Are Signs Your Thyroid Needs Help?
Because it’s so heavily involved in metabolism, temperature regulation, hormone balance, and digestion, an underactive thyroid can create a wide variety of symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms that may occur if your thyroid is having trouble are:
- Weight Gain
- Cold hands and feet
- Increased cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Dry Skin
- Hair that falls out easily
- Excessive sleep yet still tired
- Memory issues
After reading this list, you may be able to relate. Yet, your doctor may have told you that your thyroid was completely normal based on your test results. Unfortunately, the results your doctor is basing his/her analysis on are an incomplete assessment of your thyroid function.
TSH Doesn’t Tell You What You Need to Know
The thyroid is like a battery or fuel source for the body. Depending on what your body needs, it can either speed up or slow down your body’s processes to adapt to changing conditions. When the body is under stress, and we need some extra “oomph” or energy, the brain perceives this need and sends a signal to the thyroid to “work harder.” That brain-to-thyroid hormone is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – TSH. This hormone causes the thyroid gland to release another hormone T4 (thyroxine).
T4 then needs to convert to the active form, T3, so it can bind to receptors and essentially “push those buttons.” T3 (triiodothyronine) is the active form that does everything, but levothyroxine (a generic thyroid medication) is a synthetic form of T4 only. So, if you’ve never tested your T3 levels, you’ve never really tested your thyroid. You don’t know whether you’re converting T4 to the active T3 your body needs to function. This mainly happens in the liver, so if you have liver problems, you might not have adequate T3.
Additionally, if you’ve only had your TSH tested, you’ve never tested your thyroid hormones; you’ve only tested a thyroid-related brain hormone.
Most doctors out there base their treatment of the thyroid on the TSH results alone. If TSH is high, the diagnosis is hypothyroidism (TSH increases to get the thyroid to work). For hypothyroidism, doctors will prescribe some form of medication to drive that TSH value down to its assumed normal. Often, that is levothyroxine. Even while on this medication, it’s common to still have some symptoms of low thyroid while having normal numbers. You can look good on paper and still not feel great.
Why? Our challenge is that these doctors are not addressing the cause.
What Do Doctors Miss When Testing the Thyroid?
The most commonly diagnosed thyroid disorders are the underproduction of thyroid hormones, referred to as hypothyroidism, and the overproduction of thyroid hormones, referred to as hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid condition worldwide. It can be caused by a variety of stresses on the body, including nutrient deficiencies like iodine. While hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the most often diagnosed thyroid conditions in the United States, they are not the most common.
The most common thyroid condition in the United States and other developed countries is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, also referred to as chronic autoimmune thyroiditis. While the symptoms of hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s are the same, the cause of Hashimoto’s symptoms is not an underactive thyroid, it’s autoimmunity to the thyroid tissue. This means that the immune system attacks the organs and tissues it is there to protect.
There is an easy way to tell the difference between hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and it goes back to our Wellness Way motto: We don’t guess — we test!
There are two blood markers we can measure to tell if an altered immune response is the cause of a thyroid condition. These two markers are thyroid peroxidase antibody (TPO antibody) and anti-thyroglobulin antibody. The presence of TPO antibodies in your blood tells us that the cause of your thyroid disease is due to an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s disease, also known as autoimmune thyroiditis.
In autoimmune disorders, your immune system attacks your own tissue. If your body is attacking its own cells, there is something wrong. The body doesn’t make mistakes –but we do! Our traumas, toxins, and thoughts influence the cells of our body and can lead to unhealthy thyroid tissue leading to a seeming lack of self-tolerance. When your body attacks thyroid tissue, the result is inflammation, destruction, and impaired thyroid function.
The anti-thyroglobulin antibody is specifically directed against thyroglobulin, a key protein in the thyroid gland that is essential to the production of thyroid hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine). Therefore, the overproduction of anti-thyroglobulin antibodies damages the thyroid gland and affects its function.
We Don’t Guess… We Test!
Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common form of thyroid dysfunction, yet the only way to know is by testing the antibodies – and this is what doctors often miss. Very few people are being properly tested! Doctors should run this simple test every time they suspect a thyroid issue.
You can see an example below, where a young woman in her 30s came into The Wellness Way Green Bay with symptoms of hypothyroidism and general hormone imbalance. She had been put on levothyroxine by her medical doctor for low thyroid. But did she really have a thyroid problem? Or was it a body problem with an overactive immune response?
The first test result from May 2020, shows Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies at 1059 when they should be under 60. Thyroglobulin antibodies are at 64 – not as high, but still over the upper limit of 60. This indicates the immune system is behind the low thyroid condition. (Click on images to view full size)
In the second result, you can see that the Thyroid Peroxidase antibodies went from an extremely high level (a result of 1059) down to 253. The antibodies dropped by 76% in the time from May of 2020 to October of 2021. Thyroglobulin antibodies went from 64 down to zero! The patient is still under care, but her thyroid autoimmunity is under much better control.
How did this happen? Nurse Practitioner Nicole Saleske worked with her to:
- Test food allergies – This woman got her food allergies tested and was diligent about avoiding her list of reactive foods.
- Get a stool test – The stool test revealed lots of inflammation and yeast overgrowth.
- Lower inflammation – She followed a no-sugar diet and added herbal support to eliminate yeast overgrowth.
- Detox – She supported her body’s elimination pathways with lifestyle and dietary changes.
- Address her stress response – She addressed her stress response with California poppy and other calming herbs while also supporting her adrenal health.
- Switch to a purer medication that didn’t have all the fillers found in most levothyroxine medications. (Traditional thyroid meds often contain gluten, lactose, dyes, and preservatives that can negatively affect the thyroid). **Changes in medications can only be done by a medical professional that can prescribe.
As you can see, simply taking thyroid medication was not helping this young woman. That’s because ultimately, she didn’t have a thyroid problem; she had a body problem. Restoring her thyroid function required addressing her gut health, immune health, and stress response. That helped to lower the immune attack on her thyroid, reducing symptoms.
The Wellness Way offers a complete thyroid panel that includes antibodies. A typical thyroid panel run by the medical system will just include TSH and possibly free T4 levels. A complete thyroid panel additionally includes Total T4 and T3, along with Free T3, Free T4, cortisol, T-uptake, thyroid antibodies, reverse T3, thyroxine-binding globulin, vitamin D levels, ferritin, and DHEA-S.
The Wellness Way Approach to Thyroid Autoimmunity
If you suspect your thyroid is having problems, it’s important to seek out a practitioner who will investigate what is really causing your issues. Make sure you get a complete thyroid panel done –Getting a complete picture of how the thyroid is functioning helps us determine whether you have a thyroid issue, or a body issue. The body is designed to work as one whole, complete unit. So, addressing only one small piece without looking at the rest of the body is why so many people are currently sick and keep getting sicker. That’s why we don’t stop at thyroid testing – we look at the immune response, gut health, detoxification capability, and more. We think and act differently when it comes to thyroid health. Contact a Wellness Way Clinic today!
- The Top 200 of 2020 (clincalc.com)
- All About the Thyroid | American Association of Clinical Endocrinology (aace.com)
- General Information/Press Room | American Thyroid Association
- Hypothyroidism – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- How does the thyroid gland work? – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Hashimoto Thyroiditis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Clinical value of a bispecific antibody binding to thyroglobulin and thyroperoxidase (TGPO-aAb) in various thyroid diseases – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Self-tolerance and its loss – Immunobiology – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)