A Naturopathic Approach to Thyroid Dysfunction

Naturopathic Living | Unionville Markham Naturopath | Dr. Debbie Smrz

by Dr. Debbie Smrz, BSc, ND
Naturopathic Doctor

The thyroid gland. That little gland on your throat has a mighty role to play, and with us in Southern Ontario living in the ‘goiter belt’ and the thyroids’ delicate nature, dysfunctions of the thyroid are a major concern to Ontarians.

The thyroid gland is your master regulator of growth and metabolism.  It is involved in weight loss or weight gain, digestion, energy, reflexes, mood – the list goes on, but these are the big ones.  Over 50% of causes are undiagnosed as the medical world is only now acknowledging that testing can lead to false negatives and more credence has to be taken on symptoms than lab numbers.

The Thyroid is more complicated than we give it credit for

TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) is the most commonly tested thyroid hormone.  The most active thyroid hormone is T3 however, which can be free or bound, or can be convert to rT3 (reverse T3) which is believed to be metabolically inactive.  The body needs the necessary micronutrients such as iodine and selenium to convert T4 to T3 in the first place, so even if the thyroid is optimally being stimulated by TSH to produce the T4, it doesn’t necessarily mean the correct proportions of the other thyroid hormones are being produced.

Sub clinical hypothyroidism

If your thyroid lab numbers are ‘normal’, but your body says otherwise, you many be suffering from ‘sub clinical hypothyroidism’.  The most common presentation is low energy, cold hands and feet and an inability to lose weight.   See below for other signs and symptoms associated with thyroid issues.

Thyroid and other disease

Its not just about feeling tired and increased weight, but untreated thyroid can lead to cardiac disease, lupus, reproductive difficulties, diabetes, arthritis as well as many other health issues which are associated with a poor functioning thyroid gland. Research has shown that early thyroid treatment can, in many cases, reduce the incidence or severity of these high profile diseases.

Adrenal function and thyroid

The adrenal glands are two little glands that sit on top of your kidneys and help you regulate stress.  The adrenal gland and thyroid work closely together.  In fact, the adrenal-hypothalamus-pituitary loop is the bodies major regulator.  When the body is constantly under stress, this sets off a chronic inflammatory response in the body causing major dysregulation in numerous organs and glands, with the thyroid being one of the most affected.

Infection and Autoimmune thyroid disease

Infectious disease is proving to be a culprit of numerous autoimmune diseases, and Hashimotos thyroiditis is no exception.  EBV (Epstein Barr Virus) has been shown to change the immune status in susceptible individuals.  Other autoimmune conditions EBV is responsible for include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Sjögren’s syndrome, and autoimmune hepatitis.  As a side note, EBV and Streptococcus (my personal nemesis, learn more about my experience with PANDAS in my blog) are known co infections, opening the door for even further auto immune conditions, and / or inflammatory conditions, such as neurological conditions (depression and anxiety), cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Why didn’t my doctor say anything before

This is a question we commonly get, and the answer is quite simple.  Conventional medicine doesn’t have the tools to support a subclinical thyroid imbalance.  As a matter of fact, even your Naturopath may first want to treat something else, such as your adrenal glands, nutritional status or toxicity level (underlying cause) instead of jumping right at the thyroid.

Thyroid supplementation or medication

There are many choices for thyroid treatment.  Supplementing with the cofactors such as Iodine, selenium, tyrosine are a common first step.  Certain herbs such as Bladderwrack have been shown to support thyroid function, and bio-identical thyroid such as Armour or Natural thyroid can also be extremely helpful.  BUT, like all disorders, treating the underlying cause such as adrenal dysfunction or infection is essential.

Cause of thyroid dysregulation

The thyroid is very sensitive to chemicals, inflammation, infection, toxins and stress.  As a matter of fact, thyroid replacement has been reported as not beneficial during acute stress.  Lacking needed cofactors such as iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, Vitamin A, and fats are another very common cause.  Finally, genetics plays a leading role so if you have a close family member with thyroid dysfunction, take extra care to ensure you don’t follow the same route. (Naturopathic medicine can help with prevention of turning on those genes).

Medicine has only scratched the surface of this complicated gland, and patients are often reporting symptoms that respond well to thyroid treatment that aren’t on the ‘main list’ of commonly associated signs for thyroid disorder.  If you are starting to feel ‘off’, with low energy, brain fog, digestive issues or difficulty with temperature regulation, talk to your Naturopath about solutions – don’t wait until the lab numbers come back positive, so much can be done to prevent full thyroid disease from developing.

Hypothyroidism symptoms

  • weak slow heart beat
  • muscular weakness and constant fatigue
  • sensitivity to cold
  • thick puffy skin and/or dry skin
  • slowed mental processes and poor memory
  • constipation
  • goitre (increased size of the thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism symptoms

  • rapid forceful heartbeat
  • tremor
  • muscular weakness
  • weight loss in spite of increased appetite
  • restlessness, anxiety and sleeplessness
  • profuse sweating and heat intolerance
  • diarrhea
  • eye changes
  • goitre (increased size of the thyroid)

Ref (A possible link between the Epstein-Barr virus infection and autoimmune thyroid disorders) (A possible link between the Epstein-Barr virus infection and autoimmune thyroid disorders) (Anna Dittfeld, 2016)