We are in the midst of a thyroid epidemic. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that 27 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and one woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. What’s worse, up to 60% of people with thyroid dysfunction don’t even know it!
As thyroid dysfunction becomes more prevalent, patients remain frustrated with the treatment plans carried out by their doctors. Enter Functional Medicine physician, Dr. Amy Myers, who is changing the way thyroid patients approach thyroid dysfunction and the way doctors diagnose and treat them. After being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune hyperthyroid condition, during medical school and being failed by conventional medicine, Dr. Myers has become an expert in thyroid and autoimmune disease. She has helped thousands of patients get to the root of their illness and take back their health.
In her new book, The Thyroid Connection, Dr. Myers explains the true underlying causes of thyroid dysfunction, how to address them, and how to work with your doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment. The book also includes a step-by-step 28-day plan to restore thyroid function and jumpstart your health.
Dr. Myers joins us today for a Q&A on thyroid health!
What are the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction?
Your thyroid is your body’s engine, it controls all of your metabolic processes. When your thyroid is underactive, and hypothyroidism, everything slows down, leading to weight gain, fatigue, poor concentration, constipation, infertility, low libido, depression, slow heart rate, and low body temperature. When it is overactive meaning you have hyperthyroidism, your metabolism speeds up, leading to weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, fast heartbeat, and loose stool.
Why are so many people with thyroid dysfunction undiagnosed?
Many of the thyroid symptoms listed above are vague. So conventional doctors frequently write them off as a symptom of aging, depression, or stress. Also, most doctors spend only a few minutes talking with patients to sort out the cause of their symptoms. These two factors make diagnosis very challenging and patients may not receive a proper thyroid diagnosis for years.
Problems with lab work are also rampant. As I explained, many doctors aren’t even checking for thyroid dysfunction, especially in men and in women who aren’t in the age range most common among thyroid patients. In addition, most conventional doctors use only one or two tests, such as TSH and T4, to screen for problems. They are not checking Free T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone), Reverse T3, or thyroid antibodies, which are just as problematic when out of range. Once your doctor does get your lab results back, they are probably using the “normal” lab reference ranges as their only guide. In functional medicine, we use “optimal” lab ranges that are more narrow and ensure patients are put on a much more appropriate supplemental thyroid hormone dose. I provide a full list of all of the thyroid lab markers I check, as well as their optimal ranges in my book The Thyroid Connection.
You write that conventional medicine also fails to address the root causes of thyroid dysfunction, what are those root causes?
Based on the latest research, and my own experience treating thousands of thyroid patients and overcoming my own thyroid disease, I’ve identified five key environmental factors that cause thyroid dysfunction.
These factors are leaky gut, diet, toxins, infection, and stress. In most thyroid patients, and particularly those with autoimmune thyroid (Hashimoto’s or Graves’ Disease), there are more than one of these factors at play. To put it plainly, our modern lifestyles full of processed foods, untested toxic chemicals, and constant stress are making us sick. I explore all five of these in-depth in my book, and the 28-day plan in the book is designed to address each of them through a delicious, nutrient-dense meal plan, daily stress relief, and high-quality supplements.
Diet is a big part of the plan in your book, what kind of diet do you recommend for people with thyroid dysfunction?
When I work with thyroid patients, we focus on getting all of the nutrients needed to produce healthy levels of thyroid hormones and convert inactive thyroid hormone to its active state. This means eating plenty of the four essential nutrients for thyroid health – iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron. Each of them play a vital role in producing and regulating thyroid hormones. You’ll also want to eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods that support overall health, including grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught proteins, vegetables, healthy fats, and fruits.
An equally important part of optimizing your diet for thyroid health is removing inflammatory, toxic, and processed foods. These raise inflammation, wreak havoc on your gut, and put you at risk for long-term health issues. Ditching toxic foods such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and junk foods is one of the best things you can do for your health! I recommend that all of my thyroid patients eliminate gluten (more on that below), dairy, soy, and corn because they are all highly inflammatory. During the healing process, I also advise patients to cut out grains, legumes, nightshade vegetables, eggs, nuts, and seeds. After you’ve restored thyroid function and eliminated your symptoms, these can be added back in one at a time to determine which ones you tolerate well and can be added back into your diet. This leaves plenty of variety in your diet and many of my patients rave about the delicious new foods and spices they discover while following a thyroid-supporting diet.
Why is gluten such a problem for thyroid patients?
Gluten wreaks havoc on your gut, increases your inflammation, and can directly cause your immune system to attack your thyroid. When anyone, whether they have gluten sensitivity or not, eats a gluten-containing food, the gluten proteins make their way through the stomach and arrive at the small intestine, where the body responds by producing zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal walls to open up, creating temporary permeability.
Now that your small intestines are open and permeable this allows toxins, microbes, and partially digested food to leak into your bloodstream, your immune system goes on high alert to neutralize all of these threats. Unfortunately, the gluten that caused your gut to become leaky makes it even more likely that you will develop thyroid dysfunction (autoimmune and non autoimmune), thanks to a phenomenon called molecular mimicry. In molecular mimicry, the immune system is fooled into attacking molecules that look like the antigens or “invaders” but are actually your body’s own tissue, causing autoimmune disease. In the case of thyroid dysfunction, your immune system mistakenly your thyroid, thinking that it’s gluten.
You write in your book about the role of halides in thyroid dysfunction. What are halides and how do they impact thyroid health?
Iodine, one of the building blocks of thyroid hormone, is part of the halogen or halide family, which includes chlorine, fluorine, and bromine. Halogens all fall into the same column of the periodic table, which means they have very similar properties. Chlorine (found in our water), fluoride (from our water and toothpaste), and bromine (common in plastics, pesticides, and flour) are similar enough to iodine that your thyroid will absorb and store them in place of iodine, effectively “displacing” iodine.
If these chemicals are displacing iodine, your ability to produce thyroid hormones is reduced, which can lead to low thyroid hormone levels and hypothyroidism. The higher the concentration of these chemicals you have in your body, and the lower your iodine levels are, the more likely it is that your thyroid function will be negatively impacted.
How does stress contribute to thyroid dysfunction?
The primary stress hormone in your body is cortisol. Since its function is to provide you with a burst of energy, cortisol increases your blood sugar, suppresses your immune system to save energy, and begins breaking down your storage of protein and carbohydrate. This flooding and eventual plummeting of stress hormones has many negative impacts on the thyroid. It slows thyroid production and reduces your ability to convert thyroid hormones to their active form, causing hypothyroid symptoms.
Stress also increases thyroid hormone resistance. Inflammatory immune cells called cytokines are released in the stress response, which make thyroid receptors less sensitive to thyroid hormones. This means that even if you’re taking supplemental thyroid hormone and your thyroid hormone levels are normal, you can still be suffering from underactive thyroid symptoms.
Are you ready to overcome thyroid dysfunction and take back your life?
Dr. Amy Myers’ new book, The Thyroid Connection, covers all of these topics (and more!) in depth and provides a step-by-step, 28-day plan to restore thyroid function and jumpstart your health.