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Thyroid Health in Functional Medicine



Over 20 million Americans are affected by thyroid disorders. Many people are unaware that they have a thyroid problem since the diagnosis is often missed.  Incomplete lab work for thyroid disease is often one of the reasons the diagnosis is missed.  Many physicians will only test your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) if they suspect thyroid dysfunction and maybe a T4 (storage form of thyroid hormone).  If the TSH falls within the “normal” range, then the thyroid is working normally, though this may not be the case.  The normal reference ranges are too broad and are often inaccurate.  Your thyroid levels can be “normal” and you can still have thyroid symptoms.

Functional medicine doctors use optimal reference ranges when evaluating thyroid labs. To get a complete picture of a patient’s thyroid health I recommend obtaining a complete thyroid panel, which includes:

  • TSH
  • T4
  • T3
  • Free T4
  • Free T3
  • Reverse T3 
  • Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies
  • Thyroglobulin Antibodies

Again it is important to use optimal reference ranges to truly understand how your thyroid gland is functioning.

What is the thyroid gland? 

The thyroid gland is the master gland of your metabolism.  It is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck.  Since every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone, a malfunctioning thyroid gland will impact various systems in your body.

Hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid symptoms often include:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Weight gain/difficulty losing weight
  • Joint pain
  • Thinning hair/hair loss
  • Mood issues- anxiety, depression
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Hormone problems

Hyperthyroid or overactive thyroid symptoms often include:

  • Palpitations or racing heart
  • Weight loss or difficulty gaining weight
  • Anxiety/irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sweating

Thyroid and Autoimmunity

Ninety percent of people who have low thyroid function have an auto immune disease called Hashimoto’s.  Having autoimmunity means that there are antibodies in the blood that are launching an attack on the thyroid gland.  This leads to a gradual destruction of the gland.  It can cause hypothyroid AND hyperthyroid symptoms, like a pendulum, at varying times and can be very frustrating for patients.  Hashimoto’s is diagnosed by elevated antibodies, thyroid peroxidase(TPO) and thyroglobulin (TGB) antibodies.  Unfortunately conventional practioners often fail to look for these antibodies on blood work as it wouldn’t change their overall treatment recommendations.  If you develop one autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s, it puts you at risk to developing another autoimmune disease.  This is why it is vital to find and address the triggers of this over reacting immune system and develop a protocol to tame the inflammation and restore balance.  Grave’s disease is an autoimmune condition that causes hyperthyroidism.  Conventional therapies for Graves include anti-thyroid medications, radioactive iodine and surgery.

A functional medicine approach to thyroid problems addresses the same core issues common in Hypothyroid, and both Hashimoto’s and Graves - leaky gut, toxins, infections, stress, hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.  Every thyroid patient is unique and is treated based on individualized needs.  My goal in our wellness center is to help our patients regain their health and vitality by working together and addressing all aspects of thyroid health and not just treat the symptoms