The most prevalent thyroid problem is hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid. This leads to many health problems, the more common among them being a slow metabolism, hormonal imbalances, a weak immune system, muscle pain, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and heart problems. (1)
The thyroid is located in the front of the neck and it is made up of two lobes, the right and left lobes. Thyroid tissue known as the isthmus connect these two lobes.
The thyroid relies on hormones to properly regulate hormone production. When one gland or an organ is not working properly, the chemical messages that the body relies on are not relaying the correct signals. The whole endocrine system becomes stressed and begins to malfunction.
The follicular cells of the thyroid gland produce triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones affect metabolism. In order to make T3 and T4 the thyroid gland utilizes iodine. T3 and T4 influence the activities of all the cells in our bodies. The thyroid also secretes calcitonin. This hormone helps to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphorous in the blood.
Hormones produced in the brain regulate the thyroid. These hormones are generated from both the hypothalamus and the pituitary. When the hypothalamus senses that levels of T3 and T4 are low it releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone or (TRH). TRH in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
Hypothyroidism typically (but not always) shows higher levels of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and low levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. So the pituitary gland is pumping out TSH, which signals the thyroid to work harder. However, when someone is suffering from hypothyroidism the thyroid is unable to produce enough T3 and T4. While this is the most common manifestation of hypothyroidism there are other symptoms that can indicate hypothyroidism. A slow thyroid can present with low T3 or low T4 and not low levels in both. Also hypothyroidism can be present with normal TSH levels, or with seemingly normal levels of all three. (2)
Testing Thyroid Function
There are different methods that test for poor thyroid function. However, testing can be problematic. Many physicians tend to use outdated reference ranges when testing for proper thyroid function. Most physicians and endocrinologists believe TSH is the best indicator of the thyroid function of an individual. But this is a far from reliable measure. Someone can suffer from a significantly slow thyroid despite having a normal TSH, free T3, and free T4.
Naturopathic doctors take a different approach, often focusing on symptoms to make a more accurate diagnosis. In addition many naturopaths and many of the more progressive physicians and endocrinologists are using a combination of lab tests and looking at symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include a dry, flaky scalp, pain, tightness, or a feeling of joints being “out of place”, pain in the neck a feeling of the neck being out of place is very common. Other symptoms include pain and tightness in the trapezoid muscles, back pain, neck pain, pain in the shoulders, pain or a tingling sensation in the elbows, and wrists. Flat feet are also a symptom of hypothyroidism. (3)
A healthy thyroid relies on many factors, including but not limited to, a healthy endocrine system, stable hormone levels, healthy and balanced gut flora, a healthy liver, properly functioning adrenals, healthy kidneys, and clean, healthy blood.
Many medications can contribute or cause hypothyroidism. Some of these pharmaceuticals and over the counter medications are allergy medications, medications prescribed for mental health, sleep medications, and painkillers. (4)
Other Drugs (nicotine, caffeine, marijuana)
Any stimulant puts a strain on the thyroid and the adrenals. Long-term consumption of caffeine and other stimulants eventually leads to adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.
Marijuana use can disrupt the endocrine system, which affects all glandular hormone production. Smoking anything over time causes the blood to become thick with toxins, free radicals and carcinogens that can inhibit optimal hormone production. (5)
The thyroid gland works by converting iodine into thyroid hormones. Iodine is a trace mineral found primarily in seafood, seaweed, and plants grown in iodine-rich soil. Iodine is also found unrefined sea salt, and iodized table salt. Many people do not get adequate levels of iodine in their diet. This includes many people in developed countries, contrary to commonly held misconceptions. (6)
Healing the Thyroid
If you heal your gut and the diet is healthy, and stimulants are removed from the diet usually the thyroid will fully heal and return to optimal function. However this process can take a long time, often many months. With desiccated thyroid supplements, the process can be much faster, and relief from hypothyroid symptoms can be more quickly achieved. (7)
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