We hear it all the time now, you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. 50% of my current patients have some kind of thyroid disorder and many are taking prescription medication to treat thyroid disease.
27 million Americans suffer from thyroid-related illnesses (majority of them female); this number continues to rise each year. The thyroid is located at the level of the Adam’s apple on the neck and is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It is one of the most sensitive glands to environmental toxicity. Unfortunately we are all at high risk for environmental toxins in the United States.
What does the Thyroid do?
It is literally the gas pedal in the car… if your hot- it will cool you down, if your catching a cold, it will kick start your immune system, if your over worked and over stressed, it tries to slow your system so you don’t have a breakdown in your bosses office. But in all seriousness, it affects all aspects of the body including, gastro-intestinal functions, brain functions, cardiovascular system, bone formation and metabolism, building blood, blood sugar regulation, liver and gallbladder functions, sex hormone production, and fat, protein and cholesterol metabolism- just to name a few.
To understand the medical function of the Thyroid we must look at key players – they thyroid and the pituitary gland. The pituitary senses the levels of T3 & T4 in the body when levels drop the Pituitary Gland produces TSH telling the thyroid to manufacture more T3 & T4. The Thyroid gland takes iodine, found in many foods, and converts this into thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodityronine (T3). Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body that can absorb iodine. These cells combine iodine and amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. Once these are released into the blood stream they are transported though the body where they control metabolism (conversion of oxygen and calories to energy). Every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of metabolism. The normal thyroid gland produces about 80% T4 and 20% T3. T4 is mostly inactive, while T3 is the active hormone. So while a very small amount of T3 is produced by the thyroid gland, the rest of the T3 is produced in different parts of the body, with the liver responsible for a good amount of this conversion. However, in order to convert T4 to T3, the enzyme 5′ – deiodinase is required. And certain minerals are required to activate this enzyme. As you can see the process of making Thyroid hormones is complex, the process of converting into usable form of T3 is even more complicated.
The majority of people diagnosed with thyroid disorders are suffering with Hypothyroidism – “under active” thyroid, or have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. These disorders are easy to differentiate by running a simple thyroid antibodies test. The antibody test is not often done because many doctors treat both conditions just the same, with a protocol of prescribing Levothyroxine or Synthroid, a T4 synthetic hormone replacement.
Unfortunately, this approach does not address the underlying auto-immune condition.
Diagnosing Thyroid Disorders:
Most medical professionals will examine lab results of TSH to determine thyroid dysfunction. This is like your child bringing a report card home that shows an “A” In Math, but no other grades. Its only shows a part of the whole picture. It is critical in determining Thyroid Function to request a Full Thyroid Panel including the Antibodies, so a complete picture of the disorder is able to be addressed. Remember, sometimes hypothyroid patients have labs that check out “fine”, if you are symptomatic with normal labs it is important to work with someone who is well versed in thyroid disorders so that you can get back to optimal health.
Treating Thyroid Dysfunction
Unfortunately, I also believe thyroid disorders are one of the most mismanaged diagnosis’ we have. Most of my patients believed once they began medication all symptoms will magically disappear, they are devastated when this doesn’t happen. Or, my patients were still riddled with symptoms, but because their labs were “in normal ranges” there was nothing to fix. With such a complex system, the problem may lie in many different areas of the body and body function. This is why it is important to take charge of your health and fully understand options in treating thyroid disorders. There are many cases in which medication is necessary, but is often not enough to fully return your body to optimal thyroid function.
Acupuncture for Treating Thyroid Disorders
An Acupuncturist practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine can be extremely helpful. We will look at the entire picture of systems and patterns, excess or deficiencies. Thyroid dysfunction can be broken down into a yin/yang concept. Many hypothyroid patients experience the yang deficiency; yang represents function and movement in Chinese medicine. The Kidney system in Chinese medicine controls the Thyroid. Just the slightest imbalance in kidney function can cause the thyroid to malfunction. What presents as a thyroid disorder may be a superficial aspect of a root problem in Kidney energy.
The major contribution of Traditional Chinese medi-cine is the way we conceptualize a disorder or condition. We think about the body as a whole process, taking into consideration a person’s stressors, traumas, and toxic exposures over a lifetime, symptoms, and whole body function. It’s not simply acupuncture points and herbal remedies.
Yet, there are many vitamins, supplements, and herbs that enhance the function of the Thyroid naturally. It is vital to work with an experienced practioner in determining supplementation. Not all Thyroid patients should be treated the same. Just because the bottle says “Super Duper Thyroid Vitamin”, doesn’t mean YOU should be taking it. Once a practitioner has done a full health history and symptom assessment, examined your lab results, diet, lifestyle, and current medications, he/she can determine and advise you on an individualized supplement plan.
Accumulative stress and active stress responses, busy lifestyle, poor diet, poor sleep, running on caffeine and a high consumption of carbohydrates to get through the day, chronic inflammation, or underlying bacterial or viral infections are all factors that influence thyroid function.
You have options to support your Thyroid health. Making food modifications can lead to symptom relief. Begin by eliminating gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and strongly resembles the thyroid gland. When gluten is ingested, the body’s immune system mistakes its identity and starts attacking the thyroid. Literature shows that over 85% of hypothyroid patients suffer from some sort of gluten intolerance. While I don’t think alone it will miraculously change your health in a week, it is a very good place to start.
Stress Reduction is also a huge importance to your overall health. You don’t need to sign up for the next yoga retreat you see, but it wouldn’t hurt either. Start by just scheduling 20 minutes of alone time each day. Make a list of things that give you joy, and try to incorporate more of those things into your schedule each day and each week. Exercise or just Move More! Try Acupuncture! Acupuncture is an ancient therapy that has been helping people cope with stress for thousands of years and offsets the negative physical manifestation of stress. While acupuncture is helping you handle stress it is also working to restore and support the integrity of the whole body, physically and emotionally.
We understand how difficult and frustrating it can be trying to manage symptoms of thyroid dysfunction while only taking the medication that was to treat this disorder. Happily, our practice is here to educate you on the best way to regain your health. Our office offers Acupuncture, Functional Medicine and Traditional Chinese Herbals, Holistic Nutrition, Massage, and Hypnotherapy. Our goal is to guide you to a greater awareness of what health means for you individually, by combining both Eastern and Western approaches to medicine, which is, in our belief, the best possible way to treat illness and practice prevention for the future. To better understand how to attain your optimal health, please contact our office at 561-819-0530.
Common Symptoms of an underactive Thyroid
• Poor Memory or Mental Fog,
• Unexplained Weight Gain/ Difficulty Losing Weight,
• Morning Headaches that wear off through the day,
• Slow Wound Healing,
• Dry Hair, Nails, and Skin,
• Edema and Facial Swelling,
• Loss of outermost portion of eyebrows,
• Lowered Body Temperature/ Hypersensitivity to Cold,
• Need excessive sleep just to function,
• Chronic Digestive Problems,
• Increased Susceptibility to colds/flu and difficulty from recovering
• Poor Circulation/ Numbness in hands and feet/Muscle cramps at rest,
• ……and these are just a handful of the most common symptoms.