Published March 13, 2011
Updated October 4 2014
Anybody with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition who is looking to restore their health back to normal through natural thyroid treatment methods will most likely need to have other areas of their body addressed besides the thyroid gland. In other words, directly focusing on the thyroid gland itself, which is what most endocrinologists do, usually won’t restore your health back to normal. All this accomplishes is to manage the symptoms, which no doubt is important, but shouldn’t be the only goal for people who have a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid disorder. Most people simply accept the fact that they have a thyroid condition and will need to take medication for the rest of their life, or will resort to other conventional treatments such as thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine. But for many people there is hope of restoring their health back to normal.
However, it can be a challenge finding the underlying cause of any thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. This is why it’s important to consult with a natural endocrine doctor, rather than trying to self-treat your condition. As for finding the actual cause of the disorder, in most cases it comes down to addressing one or more of the following four bodily systems:
1. Digestion System. I’ll begin here, because most people don’t link the digestive system to proper thyroid gland function. And even though I specially mention the digestive system, I’m actually referring to the entire gastrointestinal tract. Gastrointestinal issues can lead to all sorts of problem in the body. It really does make sense when you think about it, as we need to consume the proper nutrients and minerals, and then digest and absorb them in order to maintain the health of every cell and tissue in our body. But when you look at the eating habits of most people, then it’s really not a big surprise that most people are in a poor state of health. Of course it usually takes many years for this to happen, as a person can eat poorly for decades before they become symptomatic.
Most people have a tendency to overlook common digestive issues, which serve as warning signs that we are not eating the proper foods, and thus are not getting the proper nutrients. For example, frequent bloating and gas is not normal, yet many people figure that such symptoms aren’t a big deal. Constipation is another common problem which usually indicates problems with gastrointestinal health. Most people either just live with the symptoms and continue eating junk food on a regular basis, or they cover up the symptoms with over-the-counter medication. But the combination of poor eating and taking this medication continues to affect the digestive system, including the acidity of the stomach and the gut mucosa, and can lead to many health issues.
Many people have an increase in intestinal permeability, also known as a leaky gut. This is when there is damage to the tight junctions which hold the cells of the small intestine close together. When this happens, larger proteins and other molecules can pass through and enter the blood stream, and since the immune system sees these as being foreign it will mount an immune system attack, and this in turn can trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. A leaky gut can be caused by a food allergen such as gluten or dairy, a pathogen such as H. Pylori, and even stress can be a factor. And someone who has a leaky gut needs to get this corrected in order to address the autoimmune component of the condition, which of course is the main factor which is causing the thyroid gland problem in people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
So when beginning a natural thyroid treatment protocol, one of the first goals is to restore your gastrointestinal health. In fact, if you visit just about any natural healthcare professional for ANY condition, most will begin by telling you to eat quality foods, minimize refined foods and sugars, drink plenty of purified water, and to correct any nutritional deficiencies. And a big reason for this is to help improve the health of the gastrointestinal tract. I take the same approach when consulting with a new patient, as one of the first things I’ll recommend is for the person to clean up their diet, which alone might not heal a leaky gut or correct intestinal dysbiosis (an imbalance of the gut flora), but is a necessary first step.
2. Adrenal Glands. I’ve mentioned many times in previous articles how weak adrenal glands can cause a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. Yet, most endocrinologists don’t evaluate the adrenal health of their patients. The only exception is when they suspect that someone might have an extreme condition, such as Addison’s Disease. But in most cases they just focus on the thyroid gland itself, and rather than trying to get to the underlying cause of the disorder, they almost always recommend lifetime symptom management.
I’m not going to go into great detail regarding the physiology of the adrenals, but I’ll briefly explain why poor adrenal health is so common in our society. There are actually two main reasons: eating refined foods and sugars on a consistent basis, as well as dealing with chronic stress. Both of these have an effect on the hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands. If a person frequently eats refined foods and sugars, then this will cause the adrenal glands to constantly secrete cortisol, which over a long period of time will affect one’s adrenal health. So in addition to affecting one’s gastrointestinal health, poor eating habits will affect the adrenal glands as well.
Chronic stress will also take its toll on the adrenal glands. It’s not the actual stress itself that’s the problem, but instead the way we handle the stress. Some people deal with a lot of stress on a daily basis, but have excellent stress handling skills. Unfortunately, this doesn’t describe most people, as most don’t do a good job of managing stress, and this again will cause the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, which over a prolonged period of time will create health issues.
Although many doctors talk about adrenal fatigue, in most cases the adrenals aren’t actually fatigued. While the adrenal glands secrete cortisol and DHEA, keep in mind that the pituitary gland is what signals the adrenals to secrete these hormones. And the hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland. But when someone deals with prolonged chronic stress, this will result in dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and so while giving adrenal support to the patient might be beneficial, most of the time it is also important to provide support to the HPA axis.
For someone who has a thyroid condition and is looking to restore their health back to normal, it is essential to address any issues with the adrenal glands and/or HPA axis. And while one can provide some support in the form of nutritional supplements and herbs, the person needs to eat well and do a good job of managing their stress. While it isn’t possible to completely eliminate the stress from one’s life, most people can do a much better job of managing it. And if you don’t do a good job of managing your stress, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fully restore your health back to normal.
3. Immune System. Anyone with an autoimmune thyroid condition has a compromised immune system which needs to be addressed in order to restore their thyroid health back to normal. Every medical doctor knows this, yet most don’t do anything to address the immune system, which is absurd. Neglecting to address the immune system not only will make it impossible to fully recover from an autoimmune thyroid condition, but it also will leave the person more susceptible to other autoimmune conditions in the future.
Autoimmune conditions involve proinflammatory cytokines, which are similar to hormones, but they modulate the immune system and are regulators of host responses to infection, immune responses, inflammation, and trauma. I’m not going to discuss proinflammatory cytokines here, as my goal is to make this article basic and easy to understand. But if you want to learn more about proinflammatory cytokines, after reading this article I would check out a post I put together entitled “The Role of Cytokines In Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions “.
In order to suppress the autoimmune response it once again comes down to modifying certain lifestyle factors, and incorporating certain nutritional supplements and herbs. Just visiting your local health food or nutrition store and purchasing some antioxidants or an immune system support formula isn’t going to do the trick. If you have ANY thyroid condition and are looking to restore your health back to normal then you really should consult with a competent natural healthcare professional who deals primarily with endocrine conditions. And this especially is true if you have an autoimmune thyroid disorder, as both Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are serious conditions that shouldn’t be self-treated under any circumstances.
4. Sex Hormones. The sex hormones can play a big role in the development and/or exacerbation of a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. Many people have hormonal imbalances, and once again, these usually are ignored by most endocrinologists, as well as other types of medical doctors. One of the most common conditions involving an imbalance of the sex hormones is estrogen dominance, which involves the hormones estrogen and progesterone. In most cases, this condition is caused by a deficiency in progesterone, and can lead to some severe symptoms. For someone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, correcting this imbalance is essential to restoring the person’s health back to normal.
There can of course be an imbalance in other sex hormones as well. This is why anyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition who is suspected of having a hormone imbalance should obtain a complete male or female hormone panel. In addition to evaluating progesterone and estrogen, other hormones to look at include testosterone, DHEA, as well as the pituitary hormones LH and FSH. Since hormones interact with one another, one can’t just look at one or two hormones and determine the person’s state of health based on these findings. And by the way, you can’t always rely on blood tests when looking at these levels because they usually measure the bound form of the hormone, and not the free form. This is why many natural healthcare professionals prefer saliva testing, as saliva only contains the free form of the hormone.
In summary, these are the four primary systems of the body that will need to be evaluated in anyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. Most endocrinologists and other types of medical doctors will only evaluate the thyroid gland itself, which as you know by now is a big mistake. For anyone who is looking to do more than just manage their symptoms, and who truly wants to use natural thyroid treatment methods to restore their health back to normal, then evaluating these four areas is important to determine the underlying cause of just about any thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition. By the way, other factors besides the four I mentioned here can also play a role in one’s condition, and I will be discussing some of these in future articles and blog posts.
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