What is the Cause of Your Thyroid Problems and What do you do About it?

Did you know there can be many causes or should I say triggers for hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s?  

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism after my second child, a boy, was born. He was born in January 2002 and I went to the doctor in early summer for nerve pain which I thought was from sitting all the time while nursing him. I told my doctor how tired I was and he decided to test my thyroid. My TSH was at 150 when conventional lab normal range is not above around 5.5. So he put me on Levothyroixine. He said it is common for women to get pregnancy induced thyroid problems and that was probably the case for me. That, and my mother all of her siblings have thyroid problems and my grandmother had them too. One of my Aunts and my uncle have Graves Disease. My mom has never been diagnosed but she probably has Hashimoto’s like me.  

It wasn’t until 2010 that I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s by a Naturopathic Doctor. She was also the only one to test my Free T4, free T3, and reverse T3 along with the TPO test to check for autoimmune anti bodies. I switched to NatureThroid a couple of years ago and feel much better because of it. When I don’t manage my stress or diet very well I do pay for it though with irregular sleep patterns and mood swings. Can you relate?

Medication, while needed for some with thyroid problems is not always the answer for everyone. Not everyone needs the hormone replacement therapy. Yes, thyroid meds are hormones. You are replacing the hormone because your body doesn’t make enough of it. Sometimes your thyroid is slowing down because it is trying to tell you something. Maybe you need to slow down perhaps?

So what are the causes or triggers for people with hypothyroidism?

You can be born with thyroid problems like congenital hypothyroidism. Maybe your mother had hypothyroidism or just low thyroid function and it got passed on to you in utero. If you are pregnant and have thyroid problems but are on medication and everything is balanced out then you have no worries. It would be a situation where your thyroid is not working properly and you are untreated while pregnant. 

Your thyroid can go wonky after surgery or radiation treatment (Your thyroid is like a magnet for radiation.) or you could have a problem with your brain (hypothalamus) where it just isn’t communicating right about getting the hormones out in to the body. 

If you are low in iodine there can be low thyroid function. Take caution about adding it to your diet though. If you have Hashimoto’s you want to be careful because it can make your condition worse. Somewhere around 80% of hypothyroid patients also have Hashimoto’s and as much as 60% of those people are not aware. Standard of care in conventional medicine doesn’t change so people are often not tested. You also need to make sure you are getting just enough iodine. Too much or too little can be problematic. 

You can have a hormone imbalance (women would suffer from this more than men). If you don’t have enough estrogen it can really mess things up. 

Your thyroid condition could be triggered by a virus, a parasite, mold, heavy metals,  trauma, chronic stress or even poor diet. 

How do you go about treating your thyroid condition?

First and foremost you want to find a doctor that will listen to you. One that will treat your symptoms and not just your labs. One that will order more than a TSH test for you. If you can find one that will help you figure out what the cause of your hypothyroidism is that is really an ideal situation. You can google “functional medicine doctors” in your area and you will find a list. Some of them even take insurance! 

I used a nauturopathic doctor to help me with my symptoms but still needed a medical doctor to write me a prescription and it was a bit of search to find one that would even write me a prescription for my natural desiccated thyroid hormone. A lot of doctors think that the T3 in natural thyroid hormones will cause problems with your heart, making it palpitate or beat too fast. For some that may be the case. For me, it wasn’t. They have to be willing to try out a few things to see what makes you feel best. 

You also want to look at making some lifestyle changes. Sleep is really important for everyone but especially those of us with thyroid problems. Ideal is 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Diet changes are a huge help for you as well. That is where nutritional therapy can really help. I did all my own research and made diet changes on my own. Some people don’t even know where to begin. Don’t worry, I can help you with that!

You will want to make sure you are eating enough and eating real whole foods that nourish your body. So many women, myself included, don’t eat enough. I actually didn’t have that problem while I ate the Standard American Diet because I filled up on bread and baked goods every day, all day long. Now that those are gone from my life, I eat a little less because it is more work to prepare food. If you have hypothyroid symptoms of fatigue you know the feeling. Anything that is too much work usually doesn’t happen unless I am feeling really good or really motivated. 

Don’t over exercise. I joined a really cool gym in Minneapolis for three weeks. Just lifting weights two days a week for those three weeks was enough to push my hormones over the edge. I pushed myself too hard that last day I was there and ended up on the couch the next day for the whole day. Gah! How frustrating. So, I do yoga one day a week and try really hard to get out and go for a walk a couple times a week too. 

If your cause is iodine deficiency, work with a practitioner to figure out how much you need to take. You don’t want to just guess on that. It can really make things worse. If you have autoimmune thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s you need to work with someone who knows what they are doing. I wouldn’t take any iodine at all to start. It is a possibility after some healing has occurred and I would not recommend doing it alone. 

What kind of medication should you or can you take for your thyroid?

Everyone should always try to make the lifestyle changes but if you actually need medication you have two choices. I am not telling you one way or the other to take or not take a medication. That is for you and your doctor to decide. 

Synthetic thyroid hormones like Synththroid or Levothyroxine and a few others or Natural Desiccated Thyroid Hormones like Nature-Throid or Armour. 

Levothyroxine (actually levothyroxine sodium is the generic name for it). This is just a T4 medication. Your body has to convert the T4 in to T3 in order for your cells to get the hormone.

The only difference between all the synthetic brands are the fillers that they have. 

Let’s take a look. 

Levothroid (brand #1). It has cellulose in it (basically wood shavings- your shredded cheese has it too). It has magnesium and calcium in it too. Funny because calcium keeps your body from absorbing thyroid hormones. It is in the pill in a small amount but it’s there. 

Levoxyl is another T4 only medication. This has the same ingredients as Levothroid with the addition of some iodine. Not a good plan to take if you have Hashimoto’s. Synthroid also has iodine in it so you really want to ask to read the package insert on the drugs. Your pharmacist will be happy to help you with that. 

You can also get something called Tirosint which is a T4 only medication (levothyroxine sodium) that comes in a gel like capsule so there are no dyes and is a great choice for those of you who are sensitive to dyes and other ingredients. You may find this one won’t absorb in to your body as well though. 

Natural desiccated thyroid medications come from either cows or pigs. Armour is a popular one that many people use. It too has fillers like dextrose and cellulose (the formula changed in 2008) and the cellulose can make it hard to absorb so you can chew it. It also has lactose in it so if you have a dairy sensitivity you may want to look at something else. 

Nature-Throid and Westhroid are two other natural desiccated medications. They don’t have any dyes or food colorings but Nature-Throid has lactose in it so if you are sensitive to dairy, you may want to try Westhroid. 

You should also be aware that unless your doctor writes “dispense as written” on your prescription then the pharmacy is free to give you what they have (especially with the synthetics). One month you may get Synthroid and the next month you may get Levothyroid. This can be a problem if you do well on one formulation and not another. It is something good for you to check in to. 

You can take medication and still not make the conversion of the T4 to T3. Some other things in the body need to be working well in order for the conversion to happen. You need to make sure you are not deficient in selenium or zinc (and iodine) and that your cortisol from your adrenal glands is not constantly in use. 

This means you need to make sure you are managing stress and blood sugar so your adrenals are not always working overtime. 

You also want to make sure you don’t take your thyroid meds with calcium (think antacid over the counter meds) and you should always take it away from iron. Iron will keep your body from absorbing the thyroid hormones. Fiber will also keep your meds from being absorbed. You want to take your meds anywhere from 2-4 hours away from food to make sure you get the most out of the meds. 

If you are on a T3 only medication you should consider splitting the dose*** since T3 because it goes through your system so quickly. ***This is not medical advice. I am sharing with you what I have learned through my own research. You consult with your doctor before changing the way you take your medication.

How do you know which is best for you?

If you have Hashimoto’s (and remember most of the hypothyroid cases are Hashimoto’s). If you are lactose intolerant you may want to avoid the meds with lactose. Synthetic meds are a good one if you often forget to take your meds because they stay in your body longer than the natural meds. If you are willing to go through a trial and error phase, try a few to see what makes you feel the best. 

If you are on cholesterol lowering medications, birth control pills, take insulin, or antidepressants then you may have lots of thyroid hormone floating around your system being bound to proteins and not free to be used by the body.  If you are on those medications, make sure to monitor your thyroid closely especially the thyroid binding globulin (a test you can ask for). 

Bottom line here is that you need to do your research and be your own health advocate. Find a doctor that will listen and is open to trying new things. Work with a practitioner to help you change your diet and lifestyle. 

Most importantly, be well. 

In Health, 

Stephanie