What You Need To Know
About Thyroid Symptoms & Root Causes
Thyroid 101! Let’s get into this dense but important topic ladies! As a Hashimoto’s warrior this topic is so near and dear to my heart. When I started my journey to heal my thyroid, 9 years ago, it was such hard work to find someone to listen to me, to find the right diagnosis, and to figure out what was causing my thyroid to get all whacky.
If you prefer to listen to your education please head over to the podcast, Episode 30 which mirrors this first blog on THYROID HEALTH 101: What You Need To Know About Thyroid Symptoms & Root Causes.
What is the thyroid?
It’s a butterfly shaped gland in the front of your neck and it manufactures thyroid hormone which is a small protein hormone made from tyrosine and iodine. It also produces hormones line Tri-iodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). Thyroid hormone is your ignition switch and it’s found in every single cell of your body. It stimulates the burning of calories and manufacturing or protein. The thyroid absorbs iodine and combines it with tyrosine in order to create T3 & T4. It mostly produces the inactive form T4 and then through various processes in the body we convert T4 to T3 (the active form and usable form of the thyroid)
The thyroid hormones impact every body system from your GI tract to your cardiovascular system, brain, gallbladder, liver, protein metabolism, body temperature.
With all these different body systems involved you can understand that like so many other people dealing with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s I had numerous symptoms that at the time I thought were completely unrelated to one another. This is why so many women dealing with undiagnosed thyroid conditions are sent to a million different specialists for different ailments. This is a classic example that treating symptoms will NEVER resolve the actual problem.
Here are some of the symptoms of Hypothyroidism (almost all of which I had!):
- massive fatigue
- brain fog
- dry skin
- being cold even when it’s warm out
- hair loss
- brittle nails unexplained rapid weight gain
- heavy periods
- low sex drive
When you have Hyperthyroidism or the autoimmune disease, Graves’ which is much less common but still affects between 3 and 10 million people, you can be dealing with the complete opposite symptoms.
Hyperthyroid/Graves’ Disease Symptoms:
- Hot flashes, sweating
- Unintentional weight loss
- Frequent stools, loose stool or diarrhea
- Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
- Anxiety, irritability, or constant fatigue
- Elevated heart rate
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Reduced libido
- Bulging eyes
- Thick red skin on shins or feet
- Increased appetite
- Hand tremors
- Muscle weakness
So let’s dive into why I keep saying words like “Hashimoto’s” and “Graves”. I remember when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I was like Hashi’s what?! I thought it sounded like a mystical dragons name!
WHAT IS HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS?
- The most common Autoimmune disease in this country
- 97% of Hypothyroid conditions are caused by Hashimoto’s in the US yet most are not tested appropriately for the autoimmune component
- In the presence of autoimmunity, the body imposes an inappropriate assault on itself
- With Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism), antibodies attack and damage the thyroid gland
In the presence of autoimmunity, the body imposes an inappropriate assault on itself. Confusion reigns in the body as there is seemingly no differentiation between self and non-self. In these cases the immune system has gone awry, whereby normal tissue (self) is confused with a pathogen or other trespasser (non-self) and a rogue immune response launches a seek-and-destroy mission on otherwise healthy tissue. With Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism), antibodies attack and damage the thyroid gland. I always thought of this like a prison break! Like those spot lights operated by the guards in a prison were hyper-vigilant!
So I hope this makes sense, you can have hypothyroidism (slow thyroid) WITHOUT having an autoimmune response but in MOST cases in the US, the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s is actually the cause of the thyroid slowing down because it is under attack by the immune system.
Okay, so what if you’ve been told you have Graves disease?
Graves’ disease accounts for roughly 60-80% of all hyperthyroid cases. When thyroid hormones are too high, energy metabolism will speed up, causing the body to burn through nutrients too quickly. This can result in malnutrition and chronic illness.
Graves is often said to be “the opposite of Hashimoto’s.” But in my opinion it’s not really the opposite because at a fundamental level these two conditions are the same – they are both autoimmunity so from what to do about it from a functional nutrition level, it’s the same approach, the only thing that is different is symptom management.
There have also been cases shown where you can also switch back and forth, like I did, where you go from hypo to hyperthyroid making matters so much worse. It’s a push-pull scenario where antibodies show the presence of both conditions and it’s like you have one foot on the gas and one on the brakes – you have symptoms of both low thyroid function and an overactive thyroid that can cycle in and out.
This happened to me — Under a period of extreme stress about 3 years ago I started to rapidly lose a ton of weight, have panic attack type of anxiety and racing heart, insomnia. I remember thinking at the time – I must be crazy. So if this is happening to you know that you are not crazy and there is hope as to what to do and I’m going to do a part II where I talk all about solutions!
But first let’s talk about the root causes:
In western medicine there is no known cause of thyroid dysfunction however many functional medicine doctors believe that the thyroid can get out of whack for a myriad of reasons. In my experience with my own thyroid and with working with so many women struggling with thyroid conditions I’ve seen a handful of main culprits repeat themselves over the years.
Potential Causal Factors of Low Thyroid Hormone
Inadequate production of thyroid hormone due to HPA Axis Dysfunction (aka STRESS!)
High cortisol and corticotropin releasing hormone BOTH stop TSH production. PLUS it slows the conversation process T4 to T3.
Bottom line: STRESS of any sort can cause the thyroid not to create enough useable thyroid hormone
Endocrine disrupting chemicals known as xenoestrogens
Persistent Organic Pollutants are industrial chemicals like Dioxins and PCBS that can affect our thyroids in multiple ways. They’ve been shown to damage the thyroid by reducing the output of T4, also by impairing the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine, and finally by disrupting the HPT axis and are even linked to thyroid cancers. BPA causes estrogen dominance which is another cause for thyroid issues.
Bottom Line – thyroid hormone & chemicals DON’T get along
Too much estrogen can prevent the thyroid hormone from being able to get into it’s thyroid receptors.
Bottom Line: It’s worth considering how all your hormones are interacting with one another. That’s why I run the DUTCH test inside EmpowerHER.
Nutrient deficiencies like selenium, iodine, vitamin D, and certain amino acids
Iodine is an essential building block of thyroid hormones. No iodine = no thyroid hormone. Without it the thyroid can become enlarged (goiter) in an attempt to absorb as much iodine as possible. This is considered quite rare in Western culture because of iodized salt but recent studies are showing that this deficiency is now back on the rise. Similarly the thyroid needs nutrients like vitamin D and selenium in order to function properly.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t eating or absorbing the necessary amounts of nutrients for your thyroid it could start to have issues. Everyone’s needs are different so it’s important to take a customized approach.
Poor conversion of T4 to the active T3 hormone
There are A LOT of reasons why you could be having issues converting T4 to T3. However two big ones are issues in the gut and liver. 20% of conversion happens in the liver and 20% happens in the presence of friendly gut bacteria.
Bottom line: It’s important to work with a trained professional on how to support these organ systems as well as identify any other reasons why you may not be converting the hormones well.
As I mentioned, the Autoimmume Disease Hashimoto’s is the cause of the majority of hypothyroidism in the US.
Bottom Line: It’s important to find out if you are autoimmune and then to take steps to calm that dang immune system working with a provider!
Leaky Gut & other GI Issues
Digestive health is essential for thyroid health – they work synergistically. I would say it is impossible to have optimal thyroid health without optimal gut health. Studies have shown that bacterial gut infections reduce thyroid hormone levels, dull thyroid hormone receptor sites, increase the amount of inactive T3, decrease TSH and promote autoimmune thyroid disorders!
BOTTOM LINE: Investigating and supporting your gut health is a crucial step to supporting thyroid.
Hormonal Birth Control
There are several ways Hormonal Birth Control may affect the thyroid. In short it can be inflammatory, contribute to immune dysfunction and cause leaky gut and dysbiosis in the gut. For more info on this mechanisms check out the podcast I did on this.
GLUTEN and other inflammatory foods
a GF diet has been shown to reduce thyroid antibodies and improve thyroid function in patients with celiac disease. Ee know the best natural treatment for autoimmune disease is to stabilize the immune system and that inflammatory foods like gluten can cause the immune system to become hyperactive.
BOTTOM LINE: There is a lot of evidence that a gluten free diet and further an anti-inflammatory diet could prove to be useful for people with thyroid issues.
Stealth infections like Epstein Barr Virus
Infection may play a role in AI thyroid disease, for example Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) has been shown to be a possible cause of Hashimoto’s Disease. If the virus reactivates it can trigger or worsen thyroid disease
BOTTOM LINE: Work with a practitioner to investigate whether you have a stealth infection like EBV that could be triggering your thyroid not to work well.