FEATURE — Muscle fatigue, inward trembling, tiredness, weight gain, depression, morning headaches, hair thinning, dry skin and scalp, brain fog, night sweats and heart palpitations are just a few of the potential symptoms that accompany those struggling with hypothyroidism.
The illness has been a source of frustration for many people, particularly because of the lack of understanding of the root cause, variance in dosage standards and, often, a lack of results with hormone replacement therapy.
“About 4.6 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and older has hypothyroidism,” according to the 2009 “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.”
This illness occurs when the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland directly on the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple, under produces hormones that have a large affect on overall health, including the metabolism.
Some find their conditions improve with treatment while others continue to suffer even after they receive the standard thyroid hormone replacement treatment, which usually consists of taking synthroid, levoxyl, levothyroxine or Armour. Many people battle thyroid problems their whole life.
Treatment dosages vary highly depending upon the medical professional giving the prescription. Some use dosages based on medical standards and a patient’s weight, while others treat based on symptoms.
Victoria Bone is a second-year medical student and uses a large dose of levothyroxine to manage her hypothyroidism.
“I am happy to be able to see a doctor who is willing to increase my dose based on my symptoms because I know many people don’t have that chance,” Bone said. “This is my biggest issue with the diagnosis and care of hypothyroidism: the replacement dose a person receives is highly variable depending on their doctor.”
Despite dosage variations, Regan Archibald, a functional medical provider, said he still found that many patients found the treatments did not solve or get to the root of the problem.
“I would see the desperation on the faces and in the eyes of the patients I treated,” Archibald said. “They were yearning to have someone listen to them, to spend the time necessary to get to the bottom of their problem and, most importantly, to help them break the chains their illness had put on their lives.”
Rebecca Kenneally, mother of six, was diagnosed five years ago with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease. Even on two thyroid hormone replacement medications, she struggles daily through hair loss, brain fog, weight gain, depression, fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
“Hard to keep up when you feel like you are swimming through mud,” Kenneally said.
Archibald described an intense personal journey of research and investigation, seeking to understand hypothyroidism and a solution to the issue plaguing so many people.
Addressing the immune reaction
“I found that most of the patients we had previously had the least success with had some type of immune reaction as part of their condition,” Archibald said. “Since it was an immune mechanism, meaning the body’s immune system had gone haywire and began attacking the thyroid gland or other tissues, we knew we had to focus on calming the immune system if we were to stand a chance at managing these patients.”
Archibald’s approach took functional neurology, functional endocrinology, functional blood chemistry analysis, science-based nutrition and functional immunology and began helping patients in a new way. For most thyroid sufferers today, the immune system will never be addressed, Archibald said.
The number one cause of low thyroid function worldwide is iodine deficiency, but in the United States, the most common cause is autoimmune related, said a report by the Mayo Clinic. In an autoimmune attack, your body’s immune system is targeting and killing your own thyroid tissue, which leads to the loss of enough thyroid cells and function that it presents as primary hypothyroidism.
When the thyroid does not work adequately – in this case, because the cells are being destroyed – the pituitary gland increases the production of thyroid stimulating hormone, TSH, as an attempt to increase thyroid gland activity.
Over time, people with autoimmune thyroid start to develop the symptoms of low thyroid function, which will prompt them to have their thyroid checked by their medical doctor. When the TSH is measured, it will usually be found to be elevated, representing low thyroid function, and they are typically diagnosed as having primary hypothyroidism. They are then placed on thyroid-replacement hormone for the rest of their lives without considering how the other factors in their bodies could be making the problem worse over time.
“The patient is having their TSH managed but not the real underlying mechanism for their loss of thyroid function,” Archibald said. “In the replacement model, when the TSH is ‘normalized’ from taking the thyroid-replacement hormone, any symptoms that remain after the normalization of the TSH are attributed to something else.”
In Kenneally’s case, her condition causes excess pain and depression, for which she takes antidepressants and over-the-counter pain medication.
In autoimmune thyroid, your body is literally chewing up your thyroid tissue, Archibald said, and the longer you go without regulating and calming the immune attack, the more thyroid cells you lose.
The starting point for autoimmune attacks
Most low thyroid sufferers start with a genetic susceptibility that predisposes them to the disorder. At some point, the genes for the disease “turn on” and the destructive immune attack against thyroid tissue begins.
Possible triggers that are known to “turn on” autoimmune attacks in general are:
- Environmental compounds such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides
- Hormonal imbalances
- Stress responses, including chemical, physical and emotional
- Antigen responses such as bacteria, viruses, mold and parasites
- Food allergies and sensitivities
Any number or combination of these factors combined with some genetic susceptibility can “turn on” the autoimmune response and lead to the slow, gradual destruction of your thyroid cells by your own body, Archibald said.
“Most importantly, we must understand that once these genes ‘turn on,’ we have no way of completely turning them off,” Archibald said.
There are over 20 different dysfunctional thyroid patterns that can lead to your thyroid dysfunction and the job of your medical provider is to determine what went wrong in your body.
Triggers of hypothroidism
In the case of hypothyroidism, there are several triggers including:
- Food sensitivities | Foods to which you are sensitive flare up your immune response every time you eat them, furthering the attack on your thyroid, leading to even further thyroid destruction
- Iodine | Iodine-containing supplements can actually trigger an immune response against your thyroid gland
- Hormone imbalances | This is especially true when looking at estrogens and pregnancy; it is very common to have a woman deliver her baby and then, months later, be diagnosed with hypothyroidism
- Insulin surges | The insulin surges actually stimulate the immune proteins responsible for creating the immune attack; insulin surges occur in diabetics, prediabetics and hypoglycemics
- Hypercortisolism | When there is an active stress response (from chemical, physical or emotional stress) or a defect in your brain’s ability to modulate stress, you will have increased cortisol production; the increased cortisol promotes insulin resistance and, therefore, insulin surges
- Gastrointestinal infections | When the balance between good and bad bacteria is skewed, called dysbiosis, it is known to promote autoimmune inflammatory responses
The thyroid hormone replacement is making up for decreased internal thyroid production, but it does not address the root cause of the problem.
Immune-suppressing drugs are going to create long-term side effects and greater problems in the future.
“This truly is a fascinating, developing area of research,” Bone said. “There are people out there who believe many of these autoimmune ‘inflammatory’ conditions are related and that Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism just happen to be part of this inflammatory spectrum. I aspire to enter OB-GYN, and it is my goal that by the time I am practicing independently, there will be more clear scientific evidence for some of these ideas so that we can treat the underlying problem rather than just throwing random doses of thyroid replacement at our patients and hoping it treats their symptoms.”
While the science improves in this budding area of research into hypothyroidism, Archibald recommends a functional approach, taking into consideration the entire scope of wellness, avoiding triggers and acknowledging sensitivities.
Discuss all of your symptoms with your health care provider.
• S P O N S O R E D C O N T E N T •
- Regan Archibald can be reached at 435-773-7790, East West Health, 558 E. Riverside Drive, Suite 208, St. George
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