Did you know that an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease? And up to 60% of those folks aren’t even aware that they have it? This is huge! As a health care provider working with women and their families, I have been concerned and curious about why I am seeing such an increase in the amount of people who struggle with thyroid issues. I’ve decide to take some time and learn for myself why thyroid issues are so hard to diagnose and treat.
Do you or someone you know have thyroid issues? You are not alone. A recent study showed that nearly 13 million Americans may be unaware of and undiagnosed for a thyroid condition. One out of 8 women will develop thyroid disease in her lifetime. And Levothyroxine, a synthetic hormone used to treat low thyroid, is the #4 sold drug in the nation. This is big news, don’t you think?
What’s the big deal with the thyroid?
The big deal is that EVERY single cell in your body has receptors for thyroid hormones. EVERY major system in your body is directly affected by these hormones: your brain, GI tract, heart, gall bladder, liver, temperature regulation, and the metabolism of bone, red blood cells, lipids, cholesterol, and proteins. Do I have your attention now?
And hypothyroidism, or having low thyroid hormones, is the most common form of thyroid disease. I recently read that about 4.6 percent of the U.S. population age 12 and older has hypothyroidism. Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- dry, cold, scaly skin
- coarse, brittle hair
- sensitivity to cold
- muscle stiffness
- difficulty losing weight
What blows my mind about all of this is that there are so many people who either have these symptoms and are not diagnosed OR are diagnosed but can’t seem to get proper treatment. What’s the deal? Why is Western medicine so severely lacking in this department? I want to know.
5 Reasons Thyroid Disease is Hard to Treat
#1 It is mostly caused by an autoimmune disease.
Did you know that? Not many people do. Research shows that 90% of folks with hypothyroidism are making antibodies to thyroid tissue. This means that the immune system will attack and destroy the thyroid, leading to lower levels of thyroid hormone over time.
And since conventional medicine does not know how to adequately treat autoimmune diseases, folks with autoimmune thyroid disease (called Hashimoto’s disease) are often poorly treated. Using steroids and other immunosuppresive medications, as is often done with autoimmune disease, is not an option for Hashimoto’s disease.
Instead, doctors wait until the disease progresses enough to affect the thyroid then throw thyroid replacement hormone at it. Then when other symptoms like depression and insulin resistance arise, you get antidepressants and insulin. But what about the underlying problem? Your immune system is still attacking your thyroid. These measure are only putting a band-aid on a gushing wound.
#2 Standard lab ranges are based on sick people.
Lab ranges used to diagnose thyroid problems are not based on research on what healthy thyroid function looks like. Normal ranges are based on a bell curve of values obtained from all the people who get their lab values tested. But who gets their thyroid levels checked? People who are sick, right? So we are basing our “normal” values on an average of all the sick people who are exhibiting symptoms of having thyroid issues. Doesn’t make sense does it?
#3 Many thyroid issues do not show up on standard lab tests.
This is not a one size fits all kind of problem. Thyroid issues come in a wide range of patterns. Conventional medicine assumes that all thyroid issues share the same cause thus need the same treatment. Because the production, conversion, and uptake of thyroid hormone is such a complex process, you can have several factors that are causing your thyroid issues.
Testing for just TSH and T4, which is standard in conventional medicine, you are likely to miss out on many thyroid issues. For example, in hypothyroidism cause by pituitary dysfunction, there is nothing actually wrong with the thyroid itself. Due to chronically high cortisol levels in the body (caused by infection, stress, pregnancy, blood sugar issues, etc.) the pituitary gland gets tired and can no longer send the signal to your thyroid to keep releasing thyroid hormone. But your standard lab tests may actually show normal levels of TSH and only slightly low levels of T4.
And if your hypothyroidism is caused by the under conversion of T4 to T3, your lab values will be normal as well. In order for your body to use the thyroid hormone produces by the thyroid, it must first be converted from T4 to T3. But if all you are testing is T4 level, you will not know that there is an issue. Unfortunately, testing for T3 levels is not very common.
You get where I am going here? Without looking deeper than just the 2 simple tests done, we are going to miss a huge percentage of folks who are OBVIOUSLY having symptoms of hypothyroidism but do not show up on these lab values. Read more HERE about proper testing for thyroid issues.
#4 Thyroid hormone replacement isn’t always the answer.
All too often, if your thyroid meds are not working, the dose is increased. And if it still doesn’t help, increase it again. This approach doesn’t make sense when you understand that some thyroid issues are not just caused by lack of thyroid hormone.
If your body does not convert T4 into T3, if your cells are resistant to thyroid hormone (caused by high cortisol levels or stress), or if you have too much thyroid binding protein (the protein that transports thyroid hormone through the blood), your body WILL NOT be able to use thyroid hormone, no matter how much of it you take.
#5 Iodine is not the answer either.
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. I actually did not know that. And modern medicine decided that the way to fix that was to add iodine to our table salt. But adding iodine to all of our table salt sort of backfired on us. There has been a huge increase in the amount of autoimmune thyroid disease because increased iodine intake increases the autoimmune response on the thyroid.
Testing for iodine levels is a murky area. The testing done in conventional medicine is not very accurate. It is important to work with a care provider who is well versed in best practices for iodine testing.
And to add to that, there is a close connection to selenium deficiency and excess iodine when it comes to autoimmune thyroid issues. Very few conventional medicine doctors are aware that selenium can protect the body from immune flares caused by excess iodine. When is the last time your primary care physician recommended that you take a supplement that wasn’t dispensed from a pharmacy?
OK, so I know that was some heady stuff. But you can see why the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid issues can be such a problem. And you can also see why we have so many folks who obviously have symptoms of thyroid disease but are not diagnosed. I hope that you have found this helpful. Be sure to check out this great post on Thyroid Foods. I plan to continue to research this topic. Look for more posts coming soon.
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Interested in learning more about thyroid health? You’re in luck!
Our friend Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness put together a FREE online event called The Thyroid Sessions, with 23 expert interviews and cooking classes on all things thyroid — so you can get the answers you’ve been looking for.
Sean has brought together a stellar lineup of functional medicine doctors, bestselling authors, nutritionists, and chefs for this event! Here’s a sneak peek…
- Dr. Sara Gottfried shows you how to lose weight when your thyroid is off.
- Chris Kresser and Dr. Kelly Brogan reveal the shocking truth about “normal lab ranges”.
- Dr. Kelly Austin exposes thyroid-damaging fillers like gluten and lactose in thyroid medications.
- Christa Orecchio shares her best tips for using real food to heal an OVER-active thyroid.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- How any symptom you’re experiencing (any!) can be rooted in thyroid dysfunction.
- How “eating your healthy whole grains” can trigger autoimmunity and thyroid problems.
- What your morning shower may be doing to your thyroid!
- How a case of “mistaken identity” can leave your thyroid under arrest.
MISSED THE EVENT? You can order the whole package HERE
Photo credit: depositphotos@ CLIPAREA