Many people don’t realize that these symptoms are frequently caused by a thyroid disorder or imbalance. In fact, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. And, the number of women suffering from thyroid disorders continues to rise each year. However, women are not the only people susceptible; men and children can also have symptoms of poor thyroid function. Unfortunately, when it comes to men and children, many doctors simply overlook low thyroid.
And when it comes to addressing thyroid disorders, the key to choosing the best treatment is an accurate diagnosis. If the diagnosis isn’t correct, the treatment will be ineffective—or worse yet, cause more harm. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is common in the management of hypothyroidism.
When it comes to testing for thyroid function, many conventionally trained clinicians will simply run a TSH test and call it a day. However, this misses critical information you need about your thyroid metabolism. TSH testing only tells you how well your pituitary gland is functioning based upon circulating levels of thyroid hormone as well as TRH from your hypothalamus. When it comes to testing, I always recommend a combination of thyroid markers including TSH, T3, T4, free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies. Additionally, I may also recommend reverse T3 and 24 hour cortisol testing.
In today’s medical management, if a person visits a doctor with hypothyroid symptoms, she/he will simply be given replacement hormones without any further inquiry into the cause of her/his condition. What is worse, if she has hypothyroid symptoms but her lab tests are “NORMAL”, the patient will be told that they are “fine.” And if the patient insists that they are not “fine”, they might be sent home with an antidepressant, but no further clue about the cause of their symptoms.
The problem with this approach is that thyroid physiology is complex. The production, conversion, and uptake of thyroid hormone in the body involves several steps and requires several nutrients. A malfunction in any of these steps or a deficiency in any of the necessary nutrients can cause hypothyroid symptoms, but may not show up on standard lab tests. It’s incorrect and even negligent to assume that all cases of hypothyroidism share the same cause and require the same treatment. Yet that’s exactly what the standard of care for hypothyroidism delivers.
Conventional medicine is almost exclusively oriented toward “disease management”: using drugs or surgery to suppress symptoms. In functional medicine or nutritional medicine, we focus on addressing the underlying cause of disease so that patients can get well and stay well without unnecessary drugs or surgery. That is not to say that I am against medication, because a prescription for thyroid hormone replacement is sometimes necessary and can help to ease a patients symptoms, however, the first step should always be to determine why the thyroid is malfunctioning in the first place. Sometimes addressing the underlying cause of the thyroid problem is enough to resolve it without resorting to thyroid hormone replacement.
If you suspect that you are suffering from a thyroid condition, or you would like more information on natural remedies to address the cause of your symptoms, you can reach me, Dr. Patrick Ess at Stanly Wellness Center by calling 980-355-7600.