Published on April 30th, 2016 | by Natural Awakenings Staff0
Thyroid Health: A Functional Perspective
By Dr. Thomas Krieger Fritsch
The thyroid gland is sometimes referred to as a sentinel gland, meaning that it is sensitive to changes in the body’s internal environment. The thyroid is intertwined with all the systems of the body and its dysfunction is often a reflection of another system under stress. With the rapid changes in our daily environment, it should be no surprise that thyroid dysfunction directly affects an estimated 50 million Americans every year, and many of the top selling prescribed drugs are related to the treatment of hypothyroidism and cost American consumers billions of dollars each year. The majority of people struggling with a thyroid disorder are women (approximately 1 in 8), with hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid hormone activity) being the most common type.
Standard treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement therapy (THRT) in the form of synthetic thyroxin (T4-called Levothyroxine), which is the inactive form of thyroid hormone. Studies show that the majority of hypothyroidism, around 90 percent, is autoimmune in nature, reducing the thyroid’s ability to produce hormone. However, the autoimmune process is ignored because most doctors have no effective way to intervene in this process.
The nature of thyroid disease is reflective of thyroid hormone’s direct influence on every cell, tissue and organ in our body. In hypothyroidism we see symptoms that are reflective of a relative slowing of cellular activity: mental fog, depression, dementia, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, cold intolerance, irregular menstruation, musculoskeletal pain, infertility, etc.
As a result of the standard approach, some patients suffering from hypothyroidism fail to achieve long-lasting resolution to their symptoms. Typically, symptoms fail to resolve because there is no attention paid to the root cause of the dysfunction and therefore the process driving the disease continues to worsen. Thyroid function is interconnected with other systems in the body therefore the reasons for the autoimmune process or thyroid hormone dysfunction can be multidimensional.
For example, thyroid health is intimately connected with the health of the gut. One cannot be healthy without the other. Inflammation and autoimmunity are often broadcast by immune dysregulation originating in the Gastrointestinal Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). The GALT makes up about 80 percent of the immune system. This autoimmune process will lead to less circulating thyroid hormone. Lower levels of thyroid hormone, consequently, will lead to a dysfunctional intestinal barrier (i.e. “leaky gut syndrome”) and poorer gut health, which further potentiates the systemic inflammatory process leading to more autoimmunity. This cycle cannot be broken without simultaneously treating both the gut and the thyroid dysfunction.
Thyroid health is also interconnected to adrenal health. The adrenal glands produce cortisol along with other hormones related to our stress response. Many situations such as chronic infections, food intolerances, environmental toxins, blood sugar imbalances, and psychological
stress can cause chronically elevated stress hormones which can suppress thyroid function in many ways. Chronic stress will reduce Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) by depressing hypothalamic and pituitary function further degrading immune barriers like the above mentioned leaky gut, making cells less responsive to thyroid hormone and causing widespread hormone imbalances (estrogen/testosterone) which circle back causing further thyroid hormone dysfunction. Thyroid health cannot be achieved without addressing the triggers of the stress response.
Thyroid health is also interconnected with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome occurs when there is insulin resistance, hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, abdominal obesity, and inflammation, and is a significant risk profile which can lead to a cardiovascular and cerebrovascular event. The large fluctuations in blood sugar that ultimately cause insulin resistance increase the autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland, and increase stress hormone production perpetuating the effects discussed above. In turn, the decreased thyroid hormone activity perpetuates the insulin dysfunction, blood sugar fluctuations and weight gain. Again, to break the cycle, the thyroid and metabolic syndrome need to be treated simultaneously.
Thyroid health is interconnected to many other factors: nutrient deficiencies, gluten intolerance, other hormone imbalances or sources of immune dysfunction, and sleep, to name a few. Ultimately, if you are still suffering from symptoms of hypothyroidism after treatment, it is likely because the root-cause of the disease has not been addressed.
Dr. Thomas Krieger Fritsch practices at Taos Chiropractic Health Center in Taos. He can be reached at 575-758-8498 or by visiting TaosChiropractic.com.