Understanding Thyroid Dysfunction
If a trusted mechanic who truly knows the inner workings of a vehicle – any system within the vehicle – once they figure out WHAT is wrong with your car, they work through the system to find out WHY that is happening. That way, you don’t keep coming back with the same problem, spend more and more money, and get to a point where you trade it in for a new car (hint: if that is happening to you, maybe it’s time to find a new mechanic?).
Well, the same can be said when it comes to our health. A truly good physician will not stop at WHAT is wrong, they will think through the systems involved, trace back through the physiological processes to find out WHY that is happening in the first place. Why? So you don’t keep having the same problem(s), keep spending more and more money on appointments and prescriptions, and instead, begin the journey to optimal health. Plus, you can’t trade in your body for a new one, that is the only exception with this analogy – which makes it that much more impactful.
Keeping this Functional Medicine approach in mind, lets understand the thyroid! More specifically hypothyroidism which is a condition in which your body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormones to help regulate our metabolism, hormones, and body temperature. A good FM practitioner has to understand the processes involved with making thyroid hormones in order to understand where and why that dysfunction could be happening. Your body doesn’t just all of a sudden get tired of making it, so it stops or slows down, there is always a source for that dysfunction.
How do we produce healthy levels of thyroid hormone?
There are two main thyroid hormones, Thyroxine (T4) our main thyroid hormone, and triiodothyronine (T3). In order for our body to produce these hormones that aid in maintaining a healthy metabolism, hair, skin, body temperature, hormone balance, etc., the thyroid needs to be in constant communication with our hypothalamus and pituitary gland located in the brain. Communication starts at the hypothalamus which sends thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) to the pituitary gland, then knows to send what is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) over to the thyroid so it can release T4 and T3 and they can take action where needed to keep our systems running smoothly. There are receptors for thyroid hormone on every cell in our body.
HYPOTHALAMUS —> sends TRH —> PITUITARY—> sends TSH —> THYROID —> Releases T4 & T3
Where can things go wrong within this system and Thyroid Hormones?
Taking what we now know about the chain of events that take place in order to release our thyroid hormones, you can see there are actually many opportunities for that system to breakdown, and for a message gets missed. We certainly won’t go into all of them here in this article, but we can touch on common ones related to hypothyroidism.
So, what is the first test run by physicians to see if your Thyroid is “good”? Any guesses? TSH, the hormone that stimulates the thyroid to release our much needed T4 and T3 hormones. If TSH levels are healthy and the thyroid is getting stimulated, then everything is working optimally, right? Not exactly, symptoms of thyroid dysfunction (or what seems to be thyroid dysfunction initially) are very real, and the cause of them needs to be discovered, but testing just one component of a whole system, typically won’t find that cause for you. The key is to be thorough right out of the gate to ensure nothing is missed – by checking the whole system.
At STRONGLIFE Functional Medicine we test everything downstream within this intricate system, which includes our T4 (total), free T4, T3 (total), and free T3 levels, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies and a handful of other markers. These 4 particular levels of our thyroid hormones (T4, T3, Free T4, Free T3) can tell us whether there is true dysfunction coming from our thyroid, and what kind of dysfunction could be occurring. Such as T4 underconverting into T3, or if there is a binding issue that isn’t allowing those hormones to travel to our liver, kidneys, intestinal tract, etc. to perform their jobs.
Another opportunity where dysfunction presents itself, is low TSH levels. In this case the thyroid wont know to produce more T4 and T3 and it can have many of the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. However, the issue isn’t with the thyroid, it’s whatever dysfunction is occurring upstream, preventing TSH from getting released. Which could be a result of poor hypothalamic or pituitary functioning, caused by factors related to dopamine/serotonin irregularities, dysbiosis in our gut, inflammation, heavy metal toxicity, etc.
Many other abnormalities can be found by simply running more thorough tests from the start, and as you can see, there are many intricacies that can easily get missed and overlooked! Which makes catching irregularities before they progress and beginning the process of understanding where in the system the dysfunction is coming from is so crucial to your wellness.
Now that you have a baseline understanding of thyroid function – what can you do?
Have you had thyroid concerns in the past, or present, and possibly have some of these symptoms that could help connect the dots to the root cause of your concerns:
- Cold extremities
- Weight Loss struggles
- Depression/mental health concerns
- Dry/brittle skin and nails
- Hair loss
- Bowel irregularities
If so, at STRONGLIFE Functional Medicine in Lithia, FL, Dr. Justin Scott can help you address any
underlying issues, whether you realize they’re there or not, and improve your overall health.
“I hope that you found this as valuable as my patients have over the years. If you’re interested in a patient-centered process that takes into account all aspects that affect your health, then I would encourage to visit our website at www.stronglifefunctionalmedicine.com to see how we help our patients improve their health and to find if you are a good candidate for a Functional Medicine approach.”