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The Root Causes of Thyroid Imbalance

The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones that regulate your metabolism, control heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development, and bone maintenance. The hormones produced by the thyroid activate your mitochondria (the energy center) of every cell in your body, so when thyroid function declines, so does the function of every other tissue in your body.

Thyroid disorders are very common, yet conventional diagnosis and treatment is far less than ideal. A complete thyroid blood panel consists of 9 markers, yet most physicians only check 1-3 of these, which leaves the patient with an incomplete diagnosis. In addition to these thyroid markers, a comprehensive functional medicine blood chemistry should be done to uncover the root causes affecting thyroid function (i.e. infections, adrenal stress, liver stress, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, heavy metals, etc). Read on to discover 8 different causes of thyroid disorders and how we can help you!

1) Thyroid gland dysfunction. This common cause of under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism is due to chronic infections and/or toxins disrupting thyroid function. In order to heal this type, you must focus on proper detoxification, removal of toxins, and identify and heal any underlying or lingering infections.

2) Anterior pituitary dysfunction. This is a type of hypothyroidism cause by a problem with your pituitary gland and the HPT axis (how the brain communicates with the thyroid). Toxins, infections, tumors, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause this type.

3) Hypothalamic dysfunction. The hypothalamus is the control center of the brain. It is the main link between the endocrine and nervous system, and it keeps your body in homeostasis. The hypothalamus is also responsible for sending a signal to the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). If there is a problem with your hypothalamus (caused by brain injury, concussion or tumor) this signal becomes disrupted and the thyroid is negatively affected.

4) Thyroid conversion problem. This type of thyroid dysfunction is caused by a problem converting inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to bioavailable thyroid hormone (T3). Ninety percent of the conversion of T4 to T3 happens in the liver; therefore, if the liver is stressed, your thyroid hormones are affected. In order to treat this type, it is imperative that the liver be supported. It is also very important to investigate and address exactly what is stressing the liver (i.e. heavy metals, medications, and/or toxins).

5) Autoimmune disease. Hashimoto's thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid) and Graves' disease (autoimmune hyperthyroid) are caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid. Autoimmune thyroid issues are identified by having your thyroid antibodies (TPO and thyroglobulin antibodies) tested. With autoimmune disease, it is essential to regulate your immune system and heal your gut. Gluten in the diet is a problem with this type because it is butterfly-shaped just like the thyroid gland, which causes the body to attack it along with the thyroid. Going gluten-free is an essential part of healing for this reason.

6) Thyroid resistance. This is very common thyroid problem caused by adrenal stress. When you are under stress, your stress hormone (cortisol) elevates. Too much cortisol, caused by prolonged stress, actually blocks the production of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and inhibits the conversion of T4 to T3. In order to heal from this type of thyroid dysfunction, stress must be addressed and adrenal support is needed. Acupuncture is wonderful for this type of thyroid issue because it lowers cortisol and gets the body in parasympathetic (rest) mode.

7) Nutrient deficiency. Iodine and selenium are the major nutrients required for the thyroid gland to functional properly and they are often lacking in the American diet. Seaweed is the best source of dietary iodine and brazil nuts are the best source of dietary selenium. Organic seaweed snacks (teriyaki is my favorite) and 2-3 brazil nuts daily will provide you with these thyroid-loving nutrients.

8) Heavy metal toxicity. This is the most common root cause of thyroid dysfunction. Mercury, aluminum, cadmium and lead can all cause damage to the thyroid when there is either an acute high level exposure or less exposure over a prolonged period of time. Sources of heavy metals include: amalgam dental fillings, deodorant, cosmetics, vaccines, antacids, cookware, food additives, plastics, pollution, fertilizers, paint, and seafood.

Heavy metals can cause levels of TSH to rise, trigger thyroid enlargement, cause thyroid nodules/goiters/cancer, inhibit or lower iodine uptake, limit thyroid hormone production, trigger the immune system to attack the thyroid and/or oxidize the thyroid. Heavy metals often don't show up in urine testing because they can be trapped in the liver, thyroid and/or brain, but there are specific markers in a functional medicine blood chemistry that can indicate heavy metal toxicity. For these cases, heavy metal detoxification is done strategically and safely using specific supplements while identifying and removing the source.

Standard treatment for hypothyroidism (Synthroid or levothyroxine) doesn't address these individual factors or root causes, which is why patients with thyroid issues often don't notice much change in their symptoms even on the medication. This is why functional medicine is so important in the healing of thyroid disorders. We figure out what is stressing your thyroid and help you to heal by addressing the root cause using physician-grade supplements and diet/lifestyle changes.

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