The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ that is responsible for some vital roles in the body, from controlling our metabolism to regulating our brain development. It also influences our heart rate, body temperature, muscle strength, body weight, and even cholesterol levels. The thyroid gland makes up part of the endocrine system, which is a combination of glands that produce, store, and release hormones into the bloodstream for the purposes of cellular communication. The three main hormones involved in thyroid function are TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4 (triiodothyronine), and T3 (thyroxine).
Unfortunately for some, the thyroid ceases proper functioning and a whole host of symptoms often emerge. Determining what treatment will be best to treat a thyroid hormone imbalance begins by first determining what the root cause of the dysfunction is.
The most common causes of thyroid dysfunction include:
- Deficiencies in iodine, selenium, and iron, leading to inadequate production of thyroid hormone
- Poor conversion of inactive to active thyroid
- High reverse T3 causing competitive inhibition of active hormone
- Poor supply of hormones from primary failure of the thyroid gland
- Drug-induced by the following medications: amiodarone, nitroprusside, sulfonylureas, thalidomide, interleukin, lithium, perchlorate, and interferon-alpha therapy (1)
- Autoimmunity attacking the gland and/or receptors (Hashimoto's or Graves’ Disease)
There are two primary thyroid hormone imbalance types: an overproduction of thyroid hormones, called hyperthyroidism; and an underproduction of thyroid hormones, called hypothyroidism.
Whether you have been diagnosed with hyper or hypothyroidism, knowing if it is autoimmune-related is important. In essence, autoimmune disorders cause the body to attack itself by releasing antibodies to destroy self-tissue, ultimately disrupting hormone production. If your thyroid condition is related to an underlying autoimmune disorder, treatment should include management of the autoimmune disorder as well as addressing the thyroid hormone imbalance.
Testing for Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions
Fortunately, determining whether or not your thyroid hormone imbalance is caused by an autoimmune disorder is relatively simple. A blood test can help determine the presence of antibodies, indicating autoimmunity.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that some people present with mild (or subclinical) hyper or hypothyroid symptoms before the TSH, T3, and T4 become abnormal. This can be a result of antibody presence. Just because you’ve been told your “thyroid hormones” are normal, it does not rule out the presence of autoimmunity. If you have symptoms, your antibodies should be assessed.
Several treatment options have been shown to improve symptoms related to autoimmune thyroid hormone imbalance disorders.
It's important to understand the cause of thyroid dysfunction before treatment is initiated. For example, jumping to thyroid hormone replacement would be preemptive if the cause if nutrient deficiency. Furthermore, if the gland has unfortunately failed, spending time with herbs and minerals will only delay the inevitable need for hormone replacement (Natural Desiccated Thyroid, or synthetic T4: Synthroid, levothyroxine, etc).
For more information about thyroid hormone imbalance treatment options, and to discuss the use of Natural Desiccated Thyroid as an option for your thyroid management, please contact your Toronto Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Courtney Holmberg at 647-351-7282 to schedule an appointment today.