A Functional Medicine Guide to Hypothyroidism: Causes & Reversal

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Your thyroid affects every single cell in your body. It makes sense that a thyroid disorder, like hypothyroidism, can greatly disrupt your daily life. Hypothyroidism arises when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, causing levels of thyroid hormone to drop. 

Hypothyroidism is often classified as an autoimmune disorder and an endocrine disorder. This thyroid disorder frequently results from an immune system attack on the thyroid gland. It can lead to muscle weakness, sensitivity to cold, impaired memory, weight gain, and so much more.

Most doctors will prescribe drugs for the rest of your life, laden with side effects. However, by treating the root causes, your hypothyroidism may be less permanent than others would lead you to believe.

Here at PrimeHealth in Denver, CO, we have seen countless patients whose progress shows that “permanent hypothyroidism” is often curable with the right treatment plan. Schedule a free consultation today.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Men & Women of All Ages

Knowing the common symptoms of hypothyroidism is the most helpful health information to consider when you are considering seeking an official diagnosis from a healthcare provider.

When your thyroid is underactive, leading to low levels, these symptoms may follow:

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What are the symptoms of thyroid problems in females? Women, in particular, can experience heavier than normal menstrual periods when thyroid issues are present. These menstrual changes can affect fertility.

What are the symptoms of thyroid disease in men? Men may experience accelerated hair loss as a symptom of thyroid disease.

What happens if it is left untreated? Untreated hypothyroidism develops into myxedema. Myxedema refers to hypothyroidism making your skin puffy (most noticeably with a puffy face).

Heart disease, nerve damage, myxedema coma, life-threatening illness, and even death have been recorded in extreme situations where hypothyroidism is left untreated.

Newborns are required to be screened for hypothyroidism. If left untreated, infant hypothyroidism can lead to irreversible mental deficits. If you exhibit hypothyroidism symptoms, be sure to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Hypothyroidism, Anxiety, & Depression

Because hypothyroidism leads to chronic fatigue, many people feel helpless to fight their constant drowsiness. This can lead to anxiety and depression.

If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, it’s important to have your thyroid function checked thoroughly. This may help to correct any possible imbalances that are leading to your mood disturbance.

Weight Loss With Hypothyroidism

Since hypothyroidism lowers your metabolism, your body doesn’t process what you eat as efficiently as it should. A slow metabolism means more weight gain. Hypothyroidism can make weight loss very difficult.

If you’re having trouble losing weight and are currently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it’s possible that your thyroid treatment is not addressing the root cause. You may also have additional hormone imbalances that need to be investigated and corrected.

Functional Approach to Reversing Hypothyroidism

The functional approach for treating hypothyroidism can be simple. However, there are so many aspects to holistic treatment that I will only touch on the major points here. The primary ways to address hypothyroidism include:

  • Diet and supplements
  • High-quality sleep
  • Stress reduction techniques
  • Peptide therapy

A full eight hours of sleep is important, as is sleep quality. To get better sleep, try cutting out blue light exposure an hour before bedtime. Blue light is emitted from most electronic devices, like your TV and phone. 

To receive 10% off of our favorite blue light-blocking glasses by Ra Optics, enter code “PRIMEHEALTH” at checkout. 

Stress is a major factor in adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism. Meditation is one easy way to alleviate stress and lessen symptoms of hypothyroidism.

An exciting area of medicine is peptide therapy. Peptides are just proteins, except they have much shorter molecular chain lengths. The use of peptides has gained popularity recently. Certain peptides reduce inflammation, important in treating hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism Diet

Altering your diet to cure hypothyroidism is one of the most effective approaches. 

In patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an Autoimmune Condition that is responsible for the majority of hypothyroidism cases, our first-line approach is to start an autoimmune Paleo diet (also known as autoimmune protocol or AIP diet). 

This restrictive diet is usually only necessary for 1-6 months as we identify each patient’s individual food allergies and sensitivities.

The AIP diet excludes:

  • All nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, okra, and peppers)
  • Industrial seed oils (canola, vegetable oil, etc.)
  • Beans/legumes (including peanuts)
  • All dairy products
  • All grains
  • All nuts and seeds
  • Sugar and all alternative sweeteners (stevia, erythritol, sucralose, aspartame, xylitol, etc.)
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • All processed foods
  • Dried fruits

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On this diet, recommended foods include:

  • Vegetables, except for nightshades
  • All proteins (poultry, eggs, beef, pork, seafood, etc.)
  • Non-dairy fermented foods (like apple cider vinegar or kombucha)
  • Herbs (like garlic and turmeric)
  • Gelatin, bone broth, and arrowroot starch
  • Green tea
  • Small amounts of honey, maple syrup, and fruits

Food plays a critical role in thyroid (and overall) health). That’s why we pair all our patients with a health coach to work together on dietary recommendations we make as part of treatment.

Hypothyroidism Supplements

Dietary supplements are very popular in America and across the globe. Several all-natural supplements can be useful in combating hypothyroidism and its root causes.

A major cause of hypothyroidism is general hormone imbalances. Particularly for female hormone imbalances, a combination of certain dietary supplements may work well, including those like:

  • Herbal supplements, like DIM
  • Chromium
  • Inositol
  • Chasteberry

Keep in mind, the particular hormone imbalance will determine which supplements are most effective.

Leaky gut occurs when there is inflammation in the digestive tract, allowing toxins from your gut to flow into your bloodstream. This leads to all sorts of immune problems, potentially hypothyroidism.

There are several supplements that can be used to heal a leaky gut, depending on your particular reason for having gut inflammation. We build a personalized program for you based on your specific situation. That program may include some of these supplements:

  • Oregano
  • Wormwood
  • Berberine
  • Quercetin
  • Curcumin (the bioactive ingredient in turmeric)
  • Marshmallow root
  • Licorice root
  • Probiotics

To combat thyroid-damaging toxins, there are some powerful supplements:

  • Glutathione
  • Milk thistle
  • Resveratrol
  • Activated charcoal
  • Dandelion root

Conventional Treatment for Hypothyroidism

Many doctors will take what they call a traditional approach to treating hypothyroidism. I prefer to call it “conventional treatment,” since “traditional” implies these drugs and surgeries have been around longer than functional methods, such as diet and lifestyle changes.

The most common conventional treatment is medication. Doctors will prescribe drugs like levothyroxine, a synthetic version of thyroxine (T4) for thyroid hormone replacement.

Levothyroxine is supposed to restore blood hormone levels to a normal level, either reducing or eliminating the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Clinical trials are still examining if levothyroxine can treat hypothyroidism by itself.

Most treatment plans keep patients on this medication their entire lives. This can exacerbate levothyroxine’s adverse side effects, such as:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Heart attack, heart failure
  • Temporary hyperthyroidism

The Thyroid Gland: Purpose & Function

In order to advocate for your thyroid health, it is important to have a full understanding of exactly what it is and how it works. The thyroid gland sits at the front of your neck. It’s shaped like a butterfly, and it gives energy to every one of your organs.

The thyroid regulates your heartbeat, your digestive process, and brain function — to name a few. When the thyroid produces enough hormones, your body functions at optimal capacity.

When your thyroid function is underactive, your body’s natural processes slow down. This can lead to the adverse symptoms listed above.

5 Types of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a type of thyroiditis that occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Inflammation of the thyroid gland leads to some adverse health problems. This condition is also called underactive thyroid.

There are 5 different types of hypothyroidism: 

  • Congenital: Affects infants and is caused by any number of genetic defects, iodine deficiency, or family history. Fortunately, the United States requires hypothyroidism screenings for all newborns.
  • Subclinical: Produces relatively mild symptoms, but patients’ low thyroid hormone levels are still within a normal lab range. One in four people who have subclinical hypothyroidism are estimated to develop full hypothyroidism in six years.
  • Temporary: Just as it sounds — temporary. Temporary hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is underactive, but the cause is very treatable. Temporary hypothyroidism sometimes occurs after pregnancy, external injury, or surgery.
  • Secondary: Secondary hypothyroidism is a form of hypothyroidism caused by a malfunctioning pituitary gland, usually due to a pituitary tumor.
  • Permanent: Also known as primary hypothyroidism, it is definitely treatable. Many doctors believe it can never be reversed. However, I disagree. 

Despite its name, the most common cause of “permanent hypothyroidism”, Hashimoto’s disease (responsible for 90% of cases) can be reversed — and effectively cured.

6 Risk Factors and Causes of Hypothyroidism

Hashimoto’s disease (also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) is an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in America. The following risk factors can cause Hashimoto’s and therefore hypothyroidism:

1. Hormone Imbalances

If your hormone levels are out of whack, this may trigger an underactive thyroid. General hormone imbalances (including abnormal testosterone levels) can be caused by:

2. Food Sensitivities

Food allergens can trigger a hormone imbalance and/or a damaged thyroid. Common food sensitivities include:

3. Leaky Gut

When your intestines weaken and allow outside biotoxins into our bloodstream, the tight junctions in your intestines may let toxins escape from the gut into the bloodstream. Leaky gut is actually both a cause and a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Leaky gut can also be caused by:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Infections
  • Parasites
  • Candida
  • Dysbiosis of the microbiome
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • Frequent antibiotic use
  • Chronic stress

4. Infections

Tick-borne infections like Lyme disease and viral infections like Epstein-Barr may trigger Hashimoto’s disease and, therefore, an underactive thyroid.

5. Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies can trigger hypothyroidism and other health problems. Usually, simple dietary changes can treat this cause of hypothyroidism.

The most common nutrient deficiencies are:

  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • B vitamins
  • Iron

6. Toxin Exposure

Harmful toxins can infiltrate your body and wreak havoc on your thyroid, among other organs and glands.

Toxins to watch out for include:

  • Mycotoxins
  • Heavy metals, like mercury and lead
  • Chemicals like pesticides, plastics, and other industrial chemicals

Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism

Before we can treat hypothyroidism, we need to diagnose it by doing a physical exam and looking at blood tests that measure the function of your thyroid gland.

Traditional endocrinologists will check one or two diagnostic markers: TSH and free T4.

However, there are several other blood tests that are necessary in order to comprehensively evaluate the thyroid gland and its function:

Occupational exposure to toxins is also an issue. If you work around industrial chemicals, for instance, we could focus our diagnostic tests on identifying those toxins and detoxing your system.

We occasionally check for hyperthyroidism (hyper, not hypo), a condition in which the thyroid overproduces hormones, if the patient presents with symptoms that indicate it.

Determining the nature and severity of your condition can require hours of investigation. But we encourage personalized diagnostic plans, since everyone develops and experiences hypothyroidism differently.

Hypothyroidism vs. Hyperthyroidism

There are two ways a thyroid gland can malfunction. What are the differences between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism?

Hypothyroidism describes an underactive thyroid. (Hypo- means below normal.) Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism. We discussed the symptoms of hypothyroidism earlier in this article.

Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, occurs when you have an overactive thyroid gland. (Hyper- means above normal.) It can be treated with radioactive iodine, among other methods.

An overactive thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, which can cause these symptoms:

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased body temperature
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Fine, brittle hair
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Trembling in your hands
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • More frequent bowel movements

There are some shared symptoms between the two. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause an enlarged thyroid gland, which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck. This is called a goiter. Both hypo and hyperthyroidism cause fatigue and weakness as well.

Statistics & Prevalence of Hypothyroidism

  • 5 out of 100 Americans have hypothyroidism (over the age of 12).
  • Hypothyroidism is most common in adults over 60.
  • Up to 60% of those with a thyroid disorder are unaware of it.
  • Women are up to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid problems.
  • 1 in 3,000 newborns has hypothyroidism in the United States. This can lead to irreversible mental retardation. Fortunately, screenings for newborn hypothyroidism are mandatory in all 50 states.


What is the best treatment for hypothyroidism?

The best treatment for hypothyroidism is the one that treats the root cause of your particular condition. Lifestyle changes, including a balanced diet and stress management, along with supplements addressing nutrient deficiencies, are almost always effective.

What lifestyle causes hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism can be influenced by various lifestyle factors, including chronic stress, inadequate sleep, nutrient-poor diets, and exposure to certain toxins.

What does hypothyroid fatigue feel like?

Hypothyroid fatigue is often characterized by persistent feelings of extreme tiredness, sluggishness, and a lack of energy, making daily activities challenging.

What should I do if I have hypothyroidism?

If you suspect hypothyroidism, it’s crucial to seek professional medical help for a thorough diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan that addresses the root cause.

If you exhibit the symptoms of hypothyroidism and live in Denver, Colorado, schedule a free 30-minute in-person consultation today! Our functional medicine providers want to help you find healing at the root cause of your illness.


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