Do you grab for the blankets and need your cozy socks…even when it’s 70 degrees in your home? Or have you been noticing that some things are just off– your hair isn’t as thick and luscious as it once was, and your weight has shifted even though you haven’t changed your diet?
Something is up, and you’re wondering, “could I have an autoimmune thyroid disorder?”
Before going to your doctor, you’ll want to read this article to ensure you are getting the correct labs drawn and know what to ask for. Not all doctors take a full look at how your thyroid is functioning, so it’s essential to speak up or to find a doctor who does.
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. That tiny gland plays a significant role in your endocrine system. It helps to communicate messages about your metabolism, heart rate, temperature regulation, and even your mood!
Because your thyroid is responsible for regulating several bodily processes and functions, when your levels are too high or too low, communication gets messed up, processes don’t work optimally and symptoms start to appear.
Always feeling cold
Hair and nails thinning
Frequent bowel movements
Several factors can cause imbalanced thyroid levels, like medications, stress, inflammation, treatment, thyroid surgery, radiation therapy, and even lifestyle factors can play a role.
However, the most common cause of hypothyroidism (aka your thyroid not making enough) is actually an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Hashimoto’s disease. Whereas the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (your thyroid making too much) is from an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Grave’s disease.
Autoimmune thyroid disease is when your immune system attacks your own body, in this case, your thyroid, and inhibits it to produce the optimal amount of thyroid hormone (resulting in Hashimoto’s). Or in some cases, it may overstimulate your thyroid and cause Grave’s disease.
In the beginning stages of an autoimmune thyroid disorder or thyroid disorder in general, you may just show slight symptoms or they may be dismissed as other problems and it gets overlooked. However, if left untreated, it can progress into more severe health issues.
This is why you must get your thyroid checked with a comprehensive thyroid panel.
If you are struggling with a thyroid issue, getting care from a functional medicine provider is highly recommended. Many conventional doctors are taught to only check TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and Free T4 if you are on medications. Unfortunately, that doesn’t show you the full picture.
A functional medicine provider will order a comprehensive evaluation of multiple thyroid biomarkers to accurately see if your thyroid is working optimally and if your body is using it correctly.
Antibodies: Thyroid peroxidase antibody & Anti-thyroglobulin antibody
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is released by the pituitary gland and tells your thyroid how much hormone to make. Measuring TSH levels can tell us if the communication between your pituitary gland (within your brain) and your thyroid is optimal. If your TSH levels are too high, it suggests you may have hypothyroidism.
T4 is known as Thyroxine and it’s the main output that your thyroid produces. Knowing how much free FT4 is floating around in your bloodstream can tell us how much is still available to be converted into the active form.
When a specific area of your body needs energy, your T4 is converted into FT3. We need to measure these levels because your body may be producing T4, but not able to convert it to FT3. Chronic inflammation must be addressed to improve the conversion of Free T4 to Free T3. Unfortunately, this issue is very common and leads to hypothyroid symptoms.
T4 can also be converted into reverse T3. Since reverse T3 competes with FT3’s receptor’s sites, having elevated reverse T3 can lead to hypothyroidism symptoms. When this is seen on lab results, it’s mostly a consequence of systematic inflammation rather than from a thyroid issue.
These labs can tell us if you may have an autoimmune thyroid disorder. Thyroid peroxidase antibodies attack your enzymes that are responsible for producing your thyroid hormones. Thyroglobulin antibodies attack thyroglobulin, which is a protein that your thyroid uses to produce its hormones. If these levels are elevated, it’s a sign of Hashimoto’s.
This is why it’s vital to get a full thyroid panel workup. Your conventional doctor may miss the fact that your thyroid disorder is actually an autoimmune thyroid disorder.
You can see why we need the full picture to thoroughly understand the full picture of what’s going on with your thyroid. It’s not as simple as ordering a TSH and Free T4.
Even if your doctor does run a full thyroid panel, some doctors determine that your levels are “good”, but you don’t get the full story. When results come back “normal”, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are optimal. I always go by labs and symptoms when I treat my patients.
Your levels could be on the very edge of the “normal” thyroid level ranges. This means that certain processes in your body are not working at its full potential, and will mostly likely cross that line of “abnormal” given some time or may be causing symptoms.
If a functional medicine provider sees that your thyroid levels are within normal range, but are on one end of the spectrum, lifestyle, supplement and dietary changes and then it is monitored more closely. If your thyroid is not optimal and you are in need of medication management, it is important to have your thyroid managed by someone who is experienced.
Certain risk factors can increase your chances of having a thyroid disorder.
Increased Stress (This elevates your cortisol, which causes a cascade of events that ultimately impact your thyroid)
Another current autoimmune condition
Unlike conventional doctors who may hand over levothyroxine or another prescription for the rest of your life, functional medicine providers use dietary, lifestyle, supplement and sometimes medications to improve thyroid function.
It is important to know that thyroid medication can be life saving and sometimes necessary. But, we still believe lifestyle changes can make a significant impact in fixing your thyroid issues.
Avoid gluten: the structure of gluten’s protein is very similar to your thyroid. If you consume gluten, your immune system may react to your thyroid tissue as well by producing antibodies. This is known as molecular mimicry.
Prioritize sleep!: I know it may be hard for some of us mamas with little ones!
Manage stress levels: create a balanced work/life schedule. Write in your self-care days on the calendar so you so brush this aside!
Focus on gut health: grab one of my favorite gut healers… organic bone broth!
Consume an anti-inflammatory-rich diet. Inflammation caused by a poor diet can make your autoimmune condition even worse.
Consider supplementation: selenium, iodine, and zinc are all great thyroid-supporting nutrients
Throw out your toxic products and swap them with the trusted Branch Basics products
Address underlying infections: dormant infections can cause your autoimmune thyroid disorder to come out, especially in stressful times.
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