Low thyroid is a common culprit for many different health conditions. While this likely has to do with both the obesity epidemic as well as the resultant weight loss mania, it is true that proper thyroid function controls our metabolism by affecting how quickly energy is produced. Our metabolism therefore controls how quickly we produce new cells or fix old ones, helps maintain proper body temperature, and strongly influences how much energy we have as well. And of course everyone, both patient and doctor, would like to have a magic bullet (i.e. thyroid replacement) to solve the many issues hypothyroidism can cause.
But the reality is that while many people are affected by hypothyroidism, it is a relatively low percentage of the population that is affected – by most estimates being 0.3-4% of the American population. And of course this single condition cannot account for all the obesity, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and constipation so many people experience.
The other fact I have come to understand over time is that very little occurs in the human body occurs in isolation. Low production and/or function of thyroid hormone does not occur haphazardly, but is typically a reaction to something else. Even in its most common presentation, the autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid trouble is often triggered by other factors. Diet, nutrient deficiencies and excesses, food reactions, stress, and even pregnancy can all trigger low thyroid. Our thyroid metabolism can be affected anywhere from the pituitary gland in our brain to thyroid receptors on our cells with a multitude of possible factors influencing these. In fact, it seems that the more we learn about thyroid, the more things which discover impacts thyroid function.
Our bodies do an amazing job at coordinating the many systems and processes with input from our own environment, state of nutrition, or states of health or illness. And there are many situations where the body needs to reduce overall metabolism to maintain health. The mechanisms for this can be complex are still being discovered by researchers, but giving thyroid hormones to counteract the changes the body is intentionally producing makes as much sense as a cat chasing its tail! Like so many chronic health conditions, abnormal thyroid function is sometimes simply a sign that something else is not right. Working with, instead of against the normal processes of the body is far more effective at producing lasting change, and to do this we must address the underlying causes first.
As with most chronic health conditions, the first step is to find what is out of balance and work to restore proper function. Optimizing digestion, treating infections or dysbiosis, identifying nutrient deficiencies or food sensitivities, balancing immune function, and addressing physical and/or emotional stress can oftentimes normalize the reason for low thyroid function and result in long term health that doesn’t require medication.