Can I regrow my thyroid tissue? Am I stuck on medication for the rest of my life?
These are two of the most common questions I am asked by my thyroid clients. There seems to be a universal feeling of uncertainty that looms with having a thyroid condition. With so many symptoms that can be the result of the thyroid not working properly, how are people to know what is a result of the thyroid verses something else in their physiology? Traditional western medicine offers a one size fits all “solution” for thyroid patients – medication. Within that, there are two choices, synthetic or glandular based, that your doctor may have offered you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Understanding your body and thyroid hormones can help bring clarity to what will serve you best when addressing your thyroid condition.
Let’s begin with a basic outline of your thyroid, the hormones, and glands associated with it.
- The Hypothalamus gland in your brain releases Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH). This stimulates your pituitary gland.
- The Pituitary gland in your brain releases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This is the most common and sometimes only thyroid marker tested and should be between 1-2.5 according to the American Endocrine Society. Yet medication is not recommended until it is above 10. TSH is released to literally stimulate your thyroid to make the enzyme Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO).
- TPO creates Thyroxine (T4), the main thyroid hormone. The thyroid secretes T4 into the bloodstream. (medication is recommended when T4 drops below lab range)
- T4 is converted into Triiodothyronine (T3) in the liver and gut. This accounts for about 80% of the T3 found in your body.
- T3 is the active thyroid hormone. 20% of T3 is secreted into the bloodstream directly from the thyroid gland.
In short: TSH increases to create more T4, which is converted to T3 to be utilized by you body. Too much T3 may result in Hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease (a very complicated condition that I am not going to address in this blog). Too little T3 can result in Hypothyroidism. The most common problem (over 95% of hypothyroid cases) is that our immune system begins to attack the thyroid gland and we begin to lose the ability to create T4 (Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis). Though the body makes more and more TSH, it is not able to make enough T4, and as a result there is not enough conversion to T3.
This is where functional medicine comes into the picture. Did you notice in the outline above that 80% of your T3 is made in your liver and gut? And did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system is also located in your gut? If your liver is stressed and your gut is not working ideally, it can be very challenging for your body to make enough T3. If you don’t have enough T3, you may feel consumed by your thyroid symptoms like anxiety and depression, fatigue, brain fog, cold hands and feet, weight gain, slow digestion, brittle hair and nails, and hair loss. I work extensively with my clients to address their underlying health conditions. We tackle the hard stuff, what a single pill cannot fix. Autoimmune Hashimoto’s patients need to address their immune system, and the first place to start is with healing a leaky gut. Interestingly, part of healing a leaky gut is to create new healthy cells…which requires THYROID HORMONES! Without thyroid hormones, you can’t heal a leaky gut and thus your immune system can’t be balanced. So what do you do?
Thyroid Hormones…when needed. Thyroid hormones are integral to your overall health. Many people with Hashimoto’s need to be on replacement hormones. Some people have enough thyroid tissue remaining to manage without replacement hormones and are able to heal their guts and address their immune system through diet and lifestyle. This is determined by your thyroid blood panel and your symptoms. Something to consider with your MD is whether synthetic or glandular replacement hormones are better for you. It is usually trial and error to determine which medicine and what dose works best for you. The advantage to synthetics like Levothyroxine or Synthroid is that the dosage on the bottle is 100% accurate and there will be no fluctuation in what you are taking. This allows for better tracking when levels are fluctuating due to the disease process. Unfortunately, they contain preservatives and have been known to be on shared equipment with corn, wheat and soy (anyone with Hashimoto’s should NOT take Cytomel as it contains gluten!). Glandulars like Armour have the advantage of containing both T4 and T3 which many people respond nicely to, but the manufacturer is allowed to have up to a 20% fluctuation of dosage from batch to batch of the medication. This can make it difficult to track with your own hormone fluctuations.
Staying on top of your own thyroid hormones as well as hormone replacement is essential to feeling your best. When addressing the underlying health of your body, your body heals itself with the proper support. You may notice that you don’t need as high a dose of thyroid replacement because your body has kicked into action again. This is always exciting when it happens, but is never a guarantee. (And only your MD can take you off or lower your hormone replacement dose.)
Is there anything else out there for helping me with my thyroid?
YES!! Low-level laser therapy. For the first time, a randomized, placebo control trial indicates that a very reasonable amount of low level laser therapy (10 sessions according to the trial) may increase thyroid hormone levels (T4), start the regeneration of the thyroid follicle cells to regrow thyroid tissue, and decrease thyroid peroxidase antibodies! WOW! This is a dream come true for those who have Hashimoto’s. The researchers actually suspended thyroid hormone replacement therapy after 30 days and remeasured levels 9 months later. They found that 22/33 (66%) patients in the treatment group were able to reduce or completely stop using replacement thyroid hormones verses one in the control group. Thyroid hormone therapy was reintroduced in 11/23 patients in the treatment group verses all of the control group. Additionally, none of the treatment group needed to increase their thyroid hormone replacement, but 8/20 in the control group did.
So what does this mean? Basically the researchers noted “increased echogenicity”, meaning thyroid tissue became fuller and the Swiss cheese texture from autoimmune damage was healing from the laser therapy! Now please don’t run to your nearest office with laser and discontinue your medication. At Red Tail we have noticed people decreasing their dosages in modest amounts but most importantly it seems to speed up the recovery and reduces thyroid related symptoms. It is not currently FDA approved, but as more medical trials like these come out there will be more pressure on the medical establishment to incorporate its use into current practice.
Understanding your thyroid, your health, and your options is essential to your well-being. I encourage all my clients to address their health through functional medicine because I know, together, we can make amazing changes in their health. And most importantly, I want to help them slow their autoimmune condition and not develop another! Did you know the number one reason for developing a second (or third or more) autoimmune disease is from having a preexisting autoimmune disease? Even if you have multiple autoimmune conditions, I can help guide you to better health, there is no lost cause. If your goal is to take control of your health and feel like yourself again, I encourage you to seek a great functional medicine practitioner who can guide, support and encourage you throughout your care plan of diet, lifestyle, supplements and therapies. I usually notice improvements within weeks! It may take 3-6 months of following my recommendations before you are “out of the woods” so to speak. I wouldn’t be surprised if your body begins to produce hormones on its own and you become more empowered to living the life you deserve!
Let Your Health Soar!
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSC, IFMCP