Are Thyroid Problems Really the Problem?
Thyroid disease is more common than most people think. In fact, an estimated 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease. Even worse is the fact that up to 60% of people with the condition are unaware that they have it!
The good news is that thyroid issues are treatable. The bad news is that most doctors merely look at thyroid hormone levels and prescribe medication as the primary approach to solving thyroid problems.
While this may help some patients, for many, this approach simply doesn’t help. Here’s what you need to know about other potential underlying cause of thyroid dysfunction.
Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
Thyroid conditions often go undiagnosed for so long because the symptoms aren't typically alarming. Some of the most common symptoms of a problematic thyroid include:
Thyroid issues may also cause muscle weakness, anxiety, and even problems sleeping. Women may experience irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Some patients who experience these symptoms undergo testing, only to be told that their thyroid is normal based on their TSH blood marker. Others are told that they have too high or too low T4 and are prescribed medication.
But what if your thyroid treatment isn't helping you to feel any better? The bottom line is that a condition can only be treated properly once the root cause is identified.
What you need to know about brain-body communication dysfunction
Your body has a wide range of different hormone messengers that ebb and flow on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. When these normal rhythms become disrupted it can lead to a wide range of health problems. Chronic stress can lead to rhythm imbalances. These rhythm imbalances have been linked to thyroid issues along with a host of other health issues. The HPA axis refers to the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands, which are all part of the endocrine system. The brain communicates with the pituitary gland, which then signals certain parts of the body to secrete hormones.
While the adrenal glands don't exactly lose function entirely, the body becomes less sensitive to the hormones produced by them. In essence rhythm imbalances or HPA-Axis dysfunction is a brain-body communication problem.
Stressing in all of it’s various forms (emotional, physical and chemical) triggers the release of cortisol. This hormone triggers the fight-or-flight response and suppresses the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems. It also triggers the release of glucose for a boost of energy, but this isn't sustainable in the long-term.
Over time, chronic stress conditions the brain and body to be in a constant fight-or-flight state. This leads to HPA-axis dysfunction, which is known to cause:
Unsurprisingly, HPA-axis dysfunction has also been linked to thyroid issues.
Acute stress is part of life, but chronic stress has a notable impact on physical health. Healing HPA-axis dysfunction is as simple as reducing stressors in your life. Get more sleep. Embrace routine exercise. Meditate and spend more time outdoors. The less stressed you are, the healthier you are from the inside out.
Other underlying causes of thyroid dysfunction
HPA-axis dysfunction is often the real root cause of thyroid issues. There are many other chronic health problems that also impact how the thyroid functions. Here are some other known contributing stressors that can result in thyroid problems.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland in which the immune system creates antibodies that attack the thyroid. The condition is known to cause hypothyroidism, which is when the thyroid can’t make enough hormones due to damage. But again, the important thing to remember or consider here is what ultimately led to the autoimmune problems in the first place. That answer more often then not is some type of initial stressor.
Insulin and leptin resistance
Research has shown that insulin resistance is quite common in those with hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones directly impact metabolism and blood sugar, which means that they may also contribute to insulin resistance. At the same time, insulin can also impact the thyroid.
One hormone that's often overlooked in its relationship to insulin is leptin. Leptin tells the brain when we're full. But over time we can develop leptin resistance, which causes the brain to become numb to the “I'm full” signals.
This leads to weight gain and affects thyroid function. High leptin levels also cause the body to convert T4 into reverse T3. High reverse T3 levels can lead to thyroid resistance and causes symptoms of hypothyroidism.
So, while you may have normal T4 and T3 levels, but reverse T3 levels will be elevated, which leads to thyroid dysfunction.
High estrogen levels
Hormones interact with each other. Estrogen increases thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG), which a protein that binds to thyroid hormones. For thyroid hormones to act on the cells, there must not be any TBG present. High TBG often leads to low free thyroid hormone levels.
High estrogen levels are one of the most common hormonal imbalances in women. Excess estrogen can be caused by hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, increased body fat, and an impaired metabolism.
Thyroid resistance occurs when thyroid receptors no longer respond to T3. The condition can happen due to many reasons, including high levels of reverse T3, which can be caused by HPA-axis dysfunction, poor sleep, leptin resistance, and low-calorie diets.
Thyroid resistance also occurs when the receptor’s sensitivity to T3 is imbalanced. It’s thought that this occurs when there are low thyroxine-binding globulin levels. This causes high amounts of T3 to overwhelm thyroid receptors. In turn, they stop listening and shut down.
Excess androgens and inflammation have also been linked to thyroid resistance.
T3 conversion problems
The problem is that most doctors only review TSH and T4 levels when analyzing thyroid hormones. But T3 levels need to be evaluated as well. It’s not uncommon for a patient to have normal T4 and low T3.
T4 is converted to T3 in the gut and liver. Poor conversion is often caused by poor liver function. Liver dysfunction can be caused by poor diet, imbalances in gut bacteria, and certain nutrient deficiencies
Treatment you can trust
Do you suffer from common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction? If so, don't settle for conventional testing and treatment options. We see many patients who have tried all of these common approaches only to find no real answers. At Align Integrated Medical, our mission is to uncover the “why” so that we can improve your health and quality of life.
Learn more about our unique approach to thyroid problems and other common chronic health issues schedule an appointment by calling our office at 208-639-1397 or use our online contact form.