Your thyroid affects every single cell in your body. It makes sense, then, that a thyroid disorder can greatly disrupt your daily life.
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder. It can lead to muscle weakness, sensitivity to cold, impaired memory, weight gain, and so much more.
One type is called “permanent hypothyroidism” — most doctors will prescribe drugs for the rest of your life, laden with side effects.
However, here at PrimeHealth in Denver, we have seen countless patients whose progress show that “permanent hypothyroidism” is often reversible. By treating the root causes, your hypothyroidism may be less permanent than others would lead you to believe.
Below, let’s talk about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatments, and potential reversal of hypothyroidism.
What is 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 five different types of hypothyroidism: congenital, subclinical, temporary, permanent, and secondary.
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 is 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.
Permanent, or primary hypothyroidism 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.
Secondary is a form of hypothyroidism caused by a malfunctioning pituitary gland, usually due to a pituitary tumor.
The Thyroid Gland: Purpose & Function
What is the thyroid gland? 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 some adverse symptoms.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Men & Women of All Ages
You might ask, “How do I know if I have hypothyroidism?” Self-identifying common symptoms of hypothyroidism can be a helpful starting point.
When your thyroid is underactive, these health problems follow:
- Weight gain
- Hoarseness and/or snoring
- Muscle aches, tenderness, stiffness, weakness
- High levels of cholesterol
- Cold hands and feet
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Impaired memory
- Enlarged thyroid (a goiter)
What are the symptoms of thyroid problems in females? Women in particular can experience heavier than normal menstrual periods. These menstrual changes can affect fertility.
And for men? Men may experience accelerated hair loss.
What happens if it is left untreated? Untreated hypothyroidism develops into myxedema. Myxedema also refers to hypothyroidism making your skin puffy.
Heart disease, nerve damage, myxedema coma, 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 retardation.
If you exhibit these symptoms, be sure to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Thyroid Treatments (Conventional & Functional)
There are several treatments for hypothyroidism — since there are several root causes.
Can hypothyroidism be cured? Here at PrimeHealth Denver, our patients say yes.
I’ll split up this section into the more conventional treatments and a more functional approach.
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.
Medication & Side Effects
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
- Mood swings
- Heart attack, heart failure
- Temporary hyperthyroidism
Functional Approach to Hypothyroidism
The functional approach for treating hypothyroidism can be simple. However, there are so many aspects to holistic treatment, I will only touch on the major points here.
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.
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 length. The use of peptides has gained popularity recently. Certain peptides seem to reduce inflammation, important in treating hypothyroidism.
Altering your diet to fight this condition can be an effective approach. Which foods should be avoided with hypothyroidism? Which foods are helpful?
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.)
- All processed foods
- Dried fruits
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.
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:
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:
- Curcumin (the bioactive ingredient in turmeric)
- Marshmallow root
- Licorice root
To combat thyroid-damaging toxins, there are some powerful supplements:
- Milk thistle
- Activated charcoal
- Dandelion root
Desiccated animal extracts are taken from a pig thyroid gland and turned into a powdered form. This provides both T3 and T4 hormones.
Six 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:
- General hormone imbalances
- Food sensitivities
- Leaky gut
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Toxin Exposure
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:
- Chronic stress
- Adrenal fatigue/stress
- HPA axis dysfunction
- History of eating disorders
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
- Dysbiosis of the microbiome
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Frequent antibiotic use
- Chronic stress
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:
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
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:
- 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:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH levels are regulated by the pituitary gland)
- Total T4 levels
- Total T3
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Reverse T3
- Anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin (Hashimoto’s antibodies)
- TBG (thyroid-binding globulin)
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
- Fine, brittle hair
- 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 lead to fatigue and muscle 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.
Hypothyroidism, Anxiety, & Depression
Because hypothyroidism leads to chronic fatigue, among other symptoms, 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
Can you lose weight if you have hypothyroidism? Actually, hypothyroidism can make weight loss difficult.
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.
If you’re having trouble losing weight and are currently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it’s possible that your thyroid treatment is not substantial. You may also have additional hormone imbalances that need to be investigated and corrected.
Can hypothyroidism be cured for good?
Many types of hypothyroidism can be reversed. The process may not be simple, but it is possible.
Even some cases of so-called “permanent” hypothyroidism can be effectively treated.
If you exhibit the following symptoms, sign up for a free 30-minute in-person consultation!
A brief review of symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain
- Depression, anxiety
- Muscle soreness
- High cholesterol
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Trouble with memory or concentration
- Irregular menstrual cycle, infertility
- Enlarged thyroid gland (a goiter)
Hypothyroidism is reversible. Here at PrimeHealth, our patients prove it.
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