Thyroid disorders: improve your hormonal balance naturally
Feeling crabby? Gaining weight? Feeling tired all the time? Or maybe you have a racing heart? Excessive sweating? Trouble sleeping? These symptoms could be down to your thyroid not functioning properly.
Thyroid disorders are widespread. As many as 200 million people globally are diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and many more are unaware they have a disorder. Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have a thyroid problem.
But integrated medicine can help to heal thyroid disorders.
The thyroid is a very important gland as it is essentially controlling the metabolic function of every single cell in your body. This is why when you have a thyroid condition so many different symptoms can arise.
Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating a wide variety of functions such as metabolism, heart rate, temperature, weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, cholesterol levels – even the rate at which your body digests food!
When your thyroid is underperforming (also known as underactive /hypothyroidism) it doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone which causes symptoms such as fatigue, cold intolerance, irritability and weight gain.
When the thyroid is overworked (also known as overactive / hyperthyroidism) it makes too much thyroid hormone and the body’s processes speed up. This causes symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, excessive sweating, diarrhoea and weight loss.
Medical treatment is usually to provide T4 hormone replacement, which is the commonly prescribed thyroid medication known as Levothyroxine.
At IMI our practitioners identify the underlying drivers and triggers of your thyroid condition and create a personalised treatment plan to correct them. This enables your thyroid to sufficiently produce thyroid hormone and reduce or even eliminate symptoms.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland at the front of the neck. A healthy thyroid acts as the ‘conductor’ of the body as it releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach numerous receptor sites. When the thyroid is working correctly the whole body plays in tune, however when thyroid function is suboptimal the whole orchestra is out.
Most conventional doctors will use only one or two tests (TSH and T4) to screen for thyroid problems, however it is very important to test FT3, FT4 and thyroid antibodies.
TSH can sometimes be higher than optimal when the antibodies are normal. It is usually a stress/adrenal issue that needs to be treated accordingly, and sometimes there is no need for replacement thyroid hormones.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Fatigue despite having adequate rest or needing to take a nap daily
- Mind issues such as brain fog or memory loss
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight, especially around the middle
- Cold hands and feet, or feeling cold when others are not
- Dry skin and hair, brittle nails and excessive hair loss
- Mood issues such as depression or anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Hormone imbalances such as irregular menses or heavy menstrual bleeding or low libido
- Muscle pain, joint pain
- Constipation or sluggish digestion
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Appetite change (decrease or increase)
- Hair loss
- Irritability or moodiness
- Sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures
- Trembling or shaking in your hands
- Missed or light menstrual periods
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Heat intolerance or increased sweating
- Problems with fertility
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent bowel movements such as diarrhoea
There are multiple causes of thyroid problems and it is crucial to address the root cause to have the best response to treatment.
Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease - Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an inflammatory autoimmune condition where your immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. Autoimmune diseases are likely the result of more than one factor. Some think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe genetics may be involved. However it happens, these antibodies affect the thyroid's ability to produce hormones.
Nutritional deficiencies - The trace mineral iodine which is found primarily in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil and iodized salt is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. Further nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin D are used for the production and conversion of thyroid hormones. Nutritional deficiencies more common in Hong Kong where most food is imported from China, or imported from overseas meaning it may lose nutrient value.
Ongoing high stress - Your thyroid works in conjunction with the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands handle small or short durations of stress well as they release cortisol, a hormone that enhances various bodily functions. However long term stress and cortisol work by slowing your body’s metabolism which causes thyroid hormones T3 and T4 to fall, which can handicap thyroid function and can worsen symptoms.
Poor gut health - Things like leaky gut and food intolerances cause a prolonged heightened immune response which can trigger antibody production against healthy tissue creating autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Additionally, long-term inflammation and damage may ensue causing the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol which over time can suppress thyroid function. Conditions such as H. Pylori are also linked to poor thyroid health.
Pregnancy - Some women can develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy often because they produce antibodies to their own thyroid gland. Left untreated, hypothyroidism increases the risk of miscarriage or premature delivery.
Medications - There are a number of medications that can contribute to hypothyroidism such as lithium, which is commonly prescribed for bi-polar depression, or long term steroid use such as cortisone for arthritis.
Radiation therapy - Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect your thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
Pituitary disorder - A relatively rare cause of hypothyroidism is the failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) usually because of a benign tumour of the pituitary gland.
We believe in a more personalised, holistic approach to thyroid health management.
Even when you are taking a thyroid pill and being monitored by your doctor, symptoms can still occur. Other factors impact such as hormonal dysregulation, high stress levels and fluctuating blood sugar levels will have an impact on how effective the medication is.
The good news is that there are many different ways to improve and heal your thyroid. These include eating the right diet and eliminating any food intolerances; taking prescribed herbal medicines, vitamins and nutritional supplements; developing strategies to combat stress and balance hormones and repairing a leaky gut.
We look at addressing whole body health through nutrition, botanical medicine, stress management, elimination of reactive foods and detoxification from heavy metals and toxins. These therapies help strengthen your body’s own healing power for a long term sustainable result.
Naturopaths are a great match for treating thyroid conditions as they look at the whole body and treat holistically to boost thyroid function and eliminate symptoms. A naturopath will look at how diet, lifestyle and genetic factors have combined to result in an underactive thyroid and make sure you have a diet plan to support thyroid health. In addition a detailed evaluation of other related systems such as your sex hormones and adrenals are essential in achieving good thyroid health.
Herbal and nutritional supplements can also have a huge impact, “Ashwagandha, which is also known as Indian ginseng and one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, can really help with the thyroid and adrenal glands,” says IMI’s senior naturopath Dr Benita Perch. If you are currently medicated with thyroid hormone through your doctor, an experienced naturopath can work with this and help your body respond to the medication more effectively, which will help reduce your symptoms.
When treating thyroid conditions your naturopath will look at reducing inflammation of the thyroid, correcting nutritional deficiencies that may be driving poor thyroid function, address any underlying infection or heavy metal toxicity and balance the immune system where needed.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) regards both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as a yin/yang imbalance. It also involves the energetic functioning of the kidneys and spleen organs, both yang organs. When treating either condition, TCM will use acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy to rebalance your yin and yang energies.
Homeopathy - homoeopathic treatment can also be very useful as a supportive therapy for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Homoeopathy is an energetically matched medicine that bases treatment on your individual constitution. Homoeopathic remedies work by stimulating your body's own healing power and stimulating your body to restore thyroid function.
Additional support such as receiving counselling or attending our weekly Monday mindfulness and meditation classes can help to reduce stress levels and support long term thyroid health.