Thyroid Disease and Thyroid Dysfunction: What Causes It and What to Do About It
The American Thyroid Association estimates that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction or thyroid disease with up to 60% of them going undiagnosed. The ATA further estimates that 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid disorder in their lifetime. Currently, that’s about 38.3 million people in the U.S. alone who will be affected by thyroid disease. There’s no doubt that the standard American lifestyle is doing terrible things to our health. Our thyroid glands, like the canary in the coalmine, are the alarm signaling that big changes are needed.
The question then is, “What kind of changes?” It’s an excellent question because, as yet, current medical treatments for thyroid conditions do little to nothing to actually cure the disease. In the allopathic medical world, there’s no place for really getting to the cause (R1). Even in the alternative world, the same thing is happening. Alternative doctors look at the symptoms, and suggest vitamins and minerals that address to mitigate them. Few practitioners are tackling the root cause of thyroid dysfunction. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t strike thyroid disease at the root. A little investigation can yield big results. We’ve spent several of our Cellular Healing TV shows doing just that, taking a deeper look at the thyroid, how it works, and what causes it to malfunction.
Check out CHTV Episode 34: Thyroid and Adrenal Issues, the first of our video podcasts focusing on the thyroid, for more information on the connection between thyroid conditions and adrenal fatigue. But before you do, let’s take a quick look at what the thyroid is and how it works.
Function of the Thyroid Gland
According to the National Institute of Health (Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases division), “The thyroid is a 2-inch-long, butterfly-shaped gland weighing less than 1 ounce. Located in the front of the neck below the larynx, or voice box, it has two lobes, one on either side of the windpipe. The thyroid is one of the glands that make up the endocrine system. The glands of the endocrine system produce and store hormones and release them into the bloodstream. The hormones then travel through the body and direct the activity of the body’s cells.”
When the pituitary gland in the brain releases TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), a healthy thyroid releases several hormones, chief of which are thyroxine (T4) and L-triiodothyronine (T3, converted from T4 and considered the more metabolically active version of thyroid hormone). Both T4 and T3 bind to thyroid receptor proteins in the nuclei of cells throughout the body. They control DNA expression to help regulate and effect:
- Nervous system function
- Brain development and maintenance
- Heart and circulatory system, including cholesterol levels
- Weight control
- And more…
With so many systems affected by thyroid hormones, you can see how essential proper thyroid and endocrine health is to the body. The thyroid functions on a cellular level by acting on gene expression (R5). This, of course, has an effect on every system of the body. Consequently, when thyroid health is negatively impacted, it has ramifications for every system of the body.
The Causes of Thyroid Disease
To get to the root of thyroid dysfunction, it’s important to focus on how essential thyroid hormones are to the daily actions of our cells, and what factors would interfere with the process. Examining these influencers also reveals why so many who are taking thyroid hormone replacement meds still don’t feel well.
Continue your exploration of the causes of thyroid dysfunction and what you can do about it by watching CHTV Episode 67: Hashimoto’s Disease and Autoimmune Tips.
Thyroid conditions can usually be traced to three main causes:
- An inability to convert T4 hormone to T3.
- Blunted thyroid receptors in the cell membranes that are unable to take up T3.
- An autoimmune disorder leading to Hashimoto’s disease.
T3 hormone is the metabolically active version of thyroid hormone. T4 must be converted into T3, which binds to special thyroid receptors in our cells. When T4 isn’t properly converting to T3, stress is almost always the main cause. But remember, the body makes no distinction between types of stress. Be it physical, emotional, or mental, the physiological reaction to stress is the same. Chronic stress not only impacts the complex relationship between the glands of the endocrine system, but it can also trigger production of reverse T3 (rT3). rT3 is not usable in the same way that T3 is, and can actually block normal T3 hormone from binding to the cell membranes. This is a survival mode response in the body, designed to conserve energy. The problem comes when stress is chronic, leading to this survival mechanism constantly being triggered. The body will continually interfere with its own production and use of T3 hormone.
The second main cause of thyroid dysfunction is an inability of the thyroid receptors in the cell membranes to bind to T3. In this case, the body can actually convert T4 to T3, but the receptors are unable to make use of it. This can occur due to rT3 in the bloodstream, as previously described, inflammation of the cell membranes, or toxins in the system. Toxins can blunt thyroid receptors, rendering them unable to function properly. Certain halogenated compounds (called trihalomethanes) like bromine, chlorine and fluorine are notorious for binding to these cell receptors and disrupting intake of T3. Studies have shown a marked decrease of thyroid function from long term exposure to these compounds.
For more on environmental toxins that could be damaging your thyroid watch CHTV Episode 101: Detox Your Life.
Note that both of these causes are nearly impossible to detect with the usual thyroid function panel, which simply tests for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the blood. Prescription medications will drive down TSH and raise T4 levels, yielding test results that look normal, while you still feel unwell. Of note also is that levothyroxine, the standard drug used to treat thyroid disease, is a synthetic version of T4. If your body cannot convert it, or if stress is causing the conversion to shut down another path (rT3), then the meds will be ineffective.
The third main cause of thyroid disease is an autoimmune disorder, leading to Hashimoto’s disease. Autoimmunity is when your own body’s immune system is attacking specific cells or tissues in the body. Science names these diseases based upon what your immune system is attacking. Hashimoto’s disease is the thyroid being attacked by the body’s own immune system, and is far and away the leading cause of thyroid conditions today. The insidiousness of autoimmunity is that it can exist for years in the body before it actually shows up on a blood test. It’s common to the point of epidemic levels, but often goes undetected until it finally manifests as a chronic disease like Hashimoto’s.
Thyroid Disease: Healing at the Cellular Level
Since thyroid dysfunction happens at the cellular level, it makes sense that the path back to amazing health should involve a plan to restore cellular dysfunction. Fix the cell, fix the body. This involves a Multi-Therapeutic Approach (MTA) including finding and eliminating the triggers for the disease (R1), True Cellular Detox™, and working to restore the health of the cell membrane using diet, exercise and ancient healing strategies (like fasting and diet variation) to downregulate inflammation. We cover the MTA approach extensively in CHTV Episode 117. Always remember that everything happens at the cellular level. No matter what the cause of thyroid dysfunction, using the MTA and a personalized plan of action, with your doctor’s approval, can help you to achieve remarkable health.
The Thyroid and Autoimmunity
If your thyroid disease is a result of autoimmunity issues, then this will add an extra element to your self-healing plan: You’ll have to address any gut issues. Examining gut health is essential for healing almost all of the modern illnesses that we are plagued with today, but for autoimmune disorders, it’s nearly guaranteed that issues with the gut are connected. Digestive and immune health are deeply interwoven. Issues with one will invariably cause issues with the other and affect other body systems as well. Disruption or loss of beneficial bacteria, for example, can cause your immune system to decrease production of T-regulating cells, which are necessary for downregulating the inflammatory response. When it comes to approaching Hashimoto’s disease, consider a three-legged stool.
Ready for more? Watch CHTV Episode 69: Hashimoto’s Disease and Autoimmune Tips Part II for additional knowledge and tips on handling autoimmune driven thyroid conditions.
Imagine a three-legged stool with “autoimmune disease” labeled on the seat. This represents autoimmune disorder and the conditions that result from it, like Hashimoto’s. Treating it requires consideration of three factors:
- DNA, which gets triggered at the epigenetic, or gene expression, level. Stress, nutrition, and toxin level will determine which genes get “turned on” or off. Once a genetic predisposition for autoimmune disease gets triggered, working to restore genetic health becomes essential.
- Gut health. The gut is so important in fixing these autoimmune and unexplainable illnesses. Disruption of gut health will have repercussions on every other system of the body, including thyroid health.
- Stressors. These can be environmental, physical, emotional, or mental. The body doesn’t distinguish between types of stress. It will still react in ways that are damaging over time. Targeting and eliminating the sources of stress and emotional trauma are an integral part of healing.
To have a true solution to autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s disease, all three legs have to be part of the plan – part of the solution. If one of these legs is missing, what happens to the three-legged stool? It falls over.
NOTE: It’s important to have a doctor and practitioner experienced in coaching patients through thyroid conditions on your team when making changes designed to bring the body back to health. We would never recommend that you cease taking medications without a doctor’s approval. A personalized path for restoring thyroid health might involve:
- Starting with the 5R’s to downregulate inflammation and increase methylation.
- Building up selenium levels, often deficient with thyroid conditions.
- Building up antioxidant levels.
- Adding proper iodine supplementation, starting with very low levels and increasing slowly.
Remember to involve your practitioner during every step of the process.
The Thyroid: Toxic Top Five
Watch out for environmental toxins that particularly target thyroid hormone receptors in the cell, or can negatively impact the body’s ability to use iodine, a necessary element for thyroid health. We call the biggest actors the Toxic Top Five for thyroid health. They are:
These toxins easily bind to thyroid receptors in the cell membranes, interfering with proper thyroid function. Steer clear of them! Some things that you can do to reduce your exposure include:
- Consider a house or shower filter to remove chlorine and fluoride from the water that you shower in. Studies show that steam inhalation causes the highest exposure to chlorine (in the form of trihalomethanes) than any other typical exposure. The filtration systems that I use and recommend can be found here.
- Limit or eliminate hot tub and pool use. Both can have high levels of bromine and chlorine.
- Avoid brominated flour and brominated beverages (usually citrus flavored ones are the biggest culprits). Many processed foods also contain bromine, ALWAYS check the ingredient labels before you buy.
- Many pesticides also contain bromine, yet another reason to buy organic.
Most doctors simply address the thyroid without an understanding of the distant cell’s ability to receive the message. Bottom line: hormone resistance is a massive modern epidemic driven by cellular inflammation. The fact that hypothyroidism, as well as diabetes and other hormonal conditions, is approaching unprecedented numbers in this country is evidence that we are not understanding the true cause.
When you recognize how to target that cell membrane and how the membrane affects our genome, it opens up a whole new world to getting people well who have been on countless medications and supplements. There’s a solution beyond what people think, and it really boils down to what’s happening at the cellular level.