Thyroid Disorders on the Rise?

Why has the topic of thyroid become so prevalent?  I myself have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis- a problem I probably suffered symptoms for some 25 years before a correct diagnosis and protocol dramatically improved my health.

An estimated 27 million Americans suffer from thyroid related illnesses, the majority of them women, and the number is growing.  Why is the topic now becoming so prominent?  Probably because it’s becoming more apparent that thyroid related diseases are often poorly diagnosed, and there is much about their treatment that warrants greater clarification and study, and the fact that these undiagnosed or poorly managed thyroid disorders are the root of so many chronic diseases (i.e. fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, chronic fatigue, etc.).

Though it weighs less than an ounce this butterfly shaped gland is a huge force in the intricate physiology of the human being.  Its function or malfunction seems to affect everything.  The thyroid is the spark plug for energy production, controlling its rate and intensity.  It maintains body temperature, helps regulate the growth of a child and profoundly affects brain chemistry, thus influencing mood (think depression) and emotions.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Everything slows down in hypothyroidism, (a slow functioning thyroid).  The immune system is affected, the gall bladder slows down and starts to malfunction, the liver can’t detox, you can’t make enough red blood cells and you get constipation, which in itself causes a constellation of other symptoms.

When one sees the thyroids function within the intricate physiological and biological matrix of the human body, one starts to understand why the medical model of thyroid hormone replacement therapy appears to be insufficient and failing the vast majority of today’s thyroid patients.  How can one medication affect a balance in all of these systems: it can’t.  And let me just state right here I’m not anti-medicine nor am I saying that thyroid hormone replacement therapy is never indicated.  But given the complexity of the body and taking into account the reciprocal relationship between  the immune system, hormone balance, and brain function, it becomes more apparent that addressing the entire body- all at once- not piece by piece, is a very logical way to support the thyroid.

Back to the 27 million Americans suffering from thyroid dysfunction (this is accorded to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists).  Half of these, not unlike myself, go undiagnosed.  Of the detected cases of hypothyroidism it is estimated that between 50 and 95 percent (according to an almost two year old lab corp. memo) are due to an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease, in which the immune system attacks and destroys thyroid gland tissue.  Where I feel the present model of care is weak, I believe, is that no one seems to ask the question of why did the thyroid gland quit working?  Indeed to my knowledge- with the exception of cancer- the question rarely comes up.

Thyroid symptoms are there for a reason.  They are there to hopefully steer you in the right direction as to what is wrong:  But the standard for thyroid management today in both conventional and alternative models, often treats the thyroid as a car part that simply needs replacing or “lubricating”.  Thus “bioindentical” or “natural” or synthetic human replacement therapy (HRT) is administered in hope of wiping out a number of symptoms in one fell swoop.  Problem is this approach doesn’t work most of the time.

A much better approach would seem to be to ask what the dysfunctioning thyroid says about the entire body and vice versa, and then proceed from there.  In functional medicine this approach addresses the conditions that caused the thyroid to slow down (or in some cases, speed up) in the first place.  Frequently we will find supporting the gland itself either isn’t necessary or requires only basic herbal and nutritional therapy for a few months.  The conditions creating the thyroid symptoms, however, more than likely call for lifestyle changes and lasting support.  I understand some doctors and patients too, might wish to immediately begin with a thyroid “prescription”, whether conventional or alternative.  After all, popping a pill seems much easier than making lifestyle changes.  Functional medicine prescriptions for wellness are not always easy, and they rarely are quick, which is why our patients are required to commit to following our clinical protocols for at least six months (People who want quick fixes invariably seem to return after a year or two of trying other methods).  Pill popping is easier on both the patient and the doctor, lifestyle changes are not.  But life style changes based on specific history, and examination findings as well as blood, saliva and stool testing adopted to that patient’s specific nutritional needs and requirements produces consistent long term results and returns the “power” or control over one’s health back to the patient by producing precise dietary, neurological and/or herbal protocols to control and manage thyroid symptoms on their own well into the future.

This article is not about criticizing other approaches, including the use of thyroid hormones.  In fact in my own practice it’s not uncommon to come across a person whose thyroid dysfunction is so advanced that thyroid hormone replacement is necessary.  Nevertheless it remains still crucial to address the above mentioned factors by addressing the biochemical matrix of the whole body to maximize the potential of the medication and prevent further damage.  For many people however, drugs simply aren’t necessary.

 

References:
-Kharrazian, Datis, DHS,DC,MC, Why do I Sill have Thyroid Symptoms When my Blood Tests are Normal.
-Facts about thyroid disease 2005 American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists  http//www.aace.com/public/awareness/tam/2005pdfs/thyroid_desiease_fact_sheet.pdf

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