Watch the LiveStream video: Amber Ratcliffe and Justine Shults discuss thyroid disease and why it may be what is holding you back from feeling your best.
When your thyroid is not functioning optimally, you can feel dull, tired, constipated, gain weight, have dry skin, hair can become dry and even fall out, muscles and joints might ache, periods become irregular, you might have fertility problems, brain fog, sugar and carb cravings (your body is desperate for energy!), high cholesterol (even if your diet is amazing), and a host of other large and small symptoms.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with thyroid disease during her lifetime
The most common form is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition
Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems
As many as 15 million women have an undiagnosed thyroid problem
It is affecting girls as young as 6 years old, largely as a result of toxins
Did you know that most cases of thyroid disease are autoimmune in nature but can be reversed if caught early through comprehensive testing not usually performed by most primary care doctors?
Hashimoto’s is a progressive autoimmune condition that results in the destruction of the thyroid gland and leads to hypothyroidism... and in some cases, to other types of autoimmune conditions.
The autoimmune trigger usually occurs years before the condition is diagnosed… but knowing what to look for early on can often times help us reverse the condition.
Women often ask whether or not Functional Medicine can get them off of their medication. The answer to that question is – it depends…so read on.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at front of your neck and sets your entire metabolic rate. Thus it controls your weight, whether you feel sluggish or energetic, mentally crisp or foggy, cheerful or blue, and is involved in the control of everything from your cholesterol to your female hormones.
The thyroid plays a central role in our total health, and when it slows down, as it does in hypothyroidism (the autoimmune form of which is called Hashimoto’s), it can lead to a host of symptoms – and some serious problems.
Untreated Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism can cause:
Fatigue and exhaustion
Weight gain leading to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
High cholesterol due to the role of the thyroid in fat metabolism.
Anxiety & Depression – as many as 15% of women on antidepressants have an undetected thyroid problem as the root cause of their depression. That’s one reason that antidepressants don't help a subset of women – they have been misdiagnosed and mistreated.
Decreased cognitive function a.k.a Brain Fog – even slight thyroid dysfunction can impair memory and concentration. Studies of women in their 60’s have shown that even marginally slow thyroid function can cause dementia-like symptoms, and that treatment can dramatically improve cognitive function and have a brain-protective effect.
Increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias and congestive heart failure due to the regulatory control of the thyroid on heart rate and rhythm.
Poor Bone health and strength
Low Libido – if you have no energy, you’re not going to be in the mood, understandably.
Autoimmune conditions - Women with Hashimoto’s are also at risk of developing additional autoimmune conditions which are a whole-body process - often more than one system gets attacked.
Hair loss that often accompanies Hashimoto’s can have a tremendous impact on a woman’s self-confidence about her appearance.
Impaired thyroid function can also have a devastating impact on fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood, and is often an undetected source of anguish, loss, and struggle because it can cause:
Increased risk of miscarriage and preterm birth
Higher risk of developing prenatal and postpartum depression - making what would otherwise be a beautiful time in their lives potentially traumatic.
Higher risk of developmental problems and autism
If this resonates with you, request a free 20-minute consultation to see if Functional Medicine might be right for you.
The impact of hypothyroidism on women’s lives is often dramatic and sometimes devastating, with fatigue and poor concentration, for example, impacting career and financial success, and also affecting personal relationships.
Because the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism – weight gain, depression, anxiety, brain fog, sleep problems, and fatigue – are also among those that are the most likely to be chalked up by doctors to “just stress” or even depression. Many women are offered anti-depressants as a solution to their problems.
Women can go for years without a proper diagnosis, leaving many blaming themselves, feeling like they’re doing something wrong or aren’t doing enough to have more energy and feel better.
Women are driving themselves crazy dieting but can’t lose weight, beating themselves up for not being happier people, and suffering from the grief of fertility problems and miscarriages – all because of a problem for which there’s easy detection and treatment.
Many factors can interfere with thyroid function, which requires healthy thyroid tissue, the ability to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormone, conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone to its active form (this largely happens in the liver), and the effective binding of thyroid hormone to your cellular receptors – a key and lock type of effect that activates all of the thyroid’s activities in your body.
Here are some of the top factors that can interfere with these processes:
Environmental Toxin Exposure and Detoxification Overload: We are living in a veritable sea of environmental toxins – about 80,000, in fact, from hormones to heavy metals – that can interfere with thyroid function. This toxic burden, which affects us from a very young age, even before we are born, can cause both direct damage and also overloads our ability to detoxify fast enough to keep up. The daily and cumulative impact of these are often overlooked, but they are taking a toll on our thyroid health. Pesticides on non-organic foods, lawn chemicals, personal care products with perfumes, household cleaners, plastics, makeup, water and air pollution all add up in a big way.
Vitamin and Mineral Insufficiencies & Deficiencies: Studies show that many of women are low in several nutrients essential to thyroid health, most notably, iodine, which keeps the thyroid humming along in its work of making thyroid hormone, but also vitamin D, selenium, zinc, and iron. However, most of us are not deficient enough to develop the most serious symptoms doctors would notice (such as a goiter in the case of iodine deficiency). Instead, we have nutritional insufficiencies, which fly under the radar of a diagnosis but can still cause subtle symptoms.
These “insufficiencies” can be associated with plenty of bigger problems, too – low zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A, and selenium are all associated with Hashimoto’s. Magnesium, vitamin D, and chromium are all needed to regulate blood sugar; low levels are linked to elevated blood glucose, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Low magnesium can cause heart arrhythmias too and zinc and vitamin A are essential for the health of the gut lining. In addition, insufficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids and other essential fatty acids can lead to depression and cognitive function issues.
Stress Overload: The thyroid doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Dysfunction can be a signal of a larger imbalance in your stress response system, which starts in the brain, includes the adrenal glands, and culminates in the production of adrenaline and cortisol which lead to the familiar fight or flight feelings we get when we’re stressed out -which for a lot of us is a lot of the time. Chronically elevated cortisol levels due to chronic stress inhibits thyroid hormone production and suppresses the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone, Free T4, to the active form, Free T3.
Trouble in the Digestive System: Intestinal hyperpermeability (Leaky gut) and imbalance in your gut microbiome (dysbiosis) have both been shown to contribute to autoimmune disease. Common causes of leaky gut and dysbiosis include hidden food intolerances, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, antibiotic overexposure, as well as gluten intolerance – which is far more commonplace than was previously known and is now recognized as a major trigger for autoimmune conditions.
Hormone Imbalances: Though estrogen is a naturally occurring hormone in our body, the synthetic forms of estrogen we’re exposed to from the environment (called xenoestrogens) are pro-inflammatory and have been found to trigger autoimmune disease by actually changing the shape and functioning of specific immune cells. These xenoestrogens come from sources like plastics in our food packaging, cosmetics, and agricultural chemical residues in our foods. As women, even our own natural estrogen fluctuations throughout our life cycles have been found to be a trigger for autoimmune disease in susceptible women who are dominant in the more inflammatory estrogen types.
Immune System Confusion: Environmental toxins, chronic stress, nutritional insufficiencies, leaky gut, food intolerances, being overweight, and having chronic inflammation are all factors that can lead the immune system to become confused and eventually start to attack our own tissue — which is exactly what is happening in Hashimoto’s.
Yes! If you’ve been suspecting that small, subtle symptoms you have might be connected to something bigger, do get appropriate testing.
For the estimated 28 million women with known energy and metabolism problems due to hypothyroidism, the trouble usually creeps up. It’s not a flash flood that takes out your whole house – it’s a dripping faucet that might erode the foundation over time.
Comprehensive testing provides the information needed for a definitive diagnosis before starting any medication or other treatment plan for healing your thyroid. Unnecessary treatment and over-treatment in the integrative and functional medicine practitioners may be as common as missed diagnoses and under-treatment are by conventional doctors.
Generally, primary care providers only test for one of the Thyroid hormones so they may miss out on a definitive diagnosis. For a comprehensive look at Thyroid health you need to test for the following:
**If you want to really dig into the scientific nitty gritty of the various tests and medication options, click here to get a free PDF guide.
If you do have a thyroid problem, getting proper treatment can be a total life-changer for you. My patients have described it as having had the lights turned back on, someone flipping the on-switch on their energy, and getting jump-started with jumper cables!
In Functional Medicine, it is always about addressing the root cause of the symptoms to heal the body. The major components of treatment include:
Looking at your diet and sources of inflammation. Food can be the best form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison so it is always one of our foundational pillars of a treatment plan. We will work on identifying your personal food sensitivities, removing processed foods, and switching to organic whole-foods whenever possible.
Reducing environmental exposures and overall toxic burden. We help you identify hidden sources of toxic burden in your life – from cookware, to lawn chemicals, to water quality. We need to stop putting more bad stuff in and start supporting your body in getting it out – quickly and safely.
Stress management techniques and support. Our culture has most of us running at an unsustainable pace. We sooth ourselves with unhealthy habits, put ourselves last, and forget to take care of ourselves. You may be in an unhealthy relationship or an emotionally toxic work environment. We help you identify sources of stress, give you tools, and make a plan to reduce and manage your stress.
Addressing nutrient insufficiencies. It is almost impossible to get everything we need from food alone these days. We monitor your blood and look for where you need a boost to get your systems functioning at an optimal level again. Each person is different and each body responds in its own way so we keep checking along the way to see how you are responding and then update your plan.
Prescription medications**. Yes, prescription medications do play an important role for most people with thyroid dysfunction. There are multiple options, and each has its pros and cons that we can discuss. Most people have been put on a synthetic version of thyroid medication which works well for some, but many people are getting suboptimal results. There are other options such as desiccated thyroid medications which are isolated from the thyroid glands of pigs and are bioidentical to what we would normally produce in our own bodies. We can also design compounded medications which are not from animal sources but avoid some of the negative side effects of regular synthetic medication but are generally more expensive and need to be refrigerated.
**If you want to really dig into the scientific nitty gritty of the various tests and medication options, click here to get a free PDF guide.
Eat more organic, whole foods. Avoid processed food (made in a factory with many ingredients you cannot pronounce), artificial sweeteners, and additives. Visit the Environmental Working Group for resources on The Dirty Dozen, The Clean 15, and glyphosate.
Drink clean water. Avoid drinking water from plastic bottles. Filter your tap water (just make sure and re-mineralize if needed). Visit the Environmental Working Group for their clean water database to see what is in your water- just enter your zip code! Also, see our blog on Lemon Sea Salt water and why it is so good for you.
Identify your food sensitivities so you can eliminate them as a source of inflammation. This can be accomplished through an elimination diet or IgG Food sensitivity testing.
Work to rebuild your gut microbiome (this could be a whole blog post in itself). Make sure to take a quality spore-based probiotic (one that will make it all the way to your large intestine before it activates).
Use non-toxic products: household cleaning products, personal care products, and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great website where you can look up your products to see if they are safe - especially avoid all sources of “Endocrine Disrupters”. This can reduce your total toxic body burden rather quickly, particularly with healthy dietary changes.
Pay attention to nutrient insufficiencies: Most doctors get maybe an hour of nutrition training in medical school and residency, so we’re not on the lookout for these issues; therefore, you might have to ask for nutrient status testing. Unfortunately, what is considered ‘normal’ is based on a curve of the general population in your immediate area which is generally also nutrient insufficient – so you may need to be above ‘normal’ to actually be in good health. Make sure to get 8-10 servings of a variety of organic veggies and fruits (especially berries) each day, and consider a high-quality bioavailable daily multivitamin. With conventional farming, it is hard to get everything we need from our diets these days. Brands we recommend are O.N.E Multivitamin by Pure Encapsulations or Two Per Day by Life Extension.
Stress management: Mindfulness and meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep – the basics to help your body manage stress. See our previous blogs on Adrenal Fatigue and Managing Stress and Anxiety for more recommendations.
The modern thyroid epidemic is symptomatic of deeper problems in our world that we believe we all need to be aware of to protect our health and the health of our children.
Given the escalating rates of thyroid problems, the significant role that thyroid function plays in women’s health, and the fact that thyroid problems can be brewing for years before we see the physical signs, we all need to at least be aware of our thyroid health – how to protect it and how to detect problems early.
It is not just our thyroid health but our collective health as women. We are also seeing these issues in the escalating rates of other autoimmune conditions, PCOS, infertility, endometriosis, and early puberty that is on the rise, affecting girls as young as 6 years old.
Thank you for reading to the end!
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