The thyroid is hailed as “the master gland” of our complex and interdependent endocrine (hormonal) system. It’s the spoon that stirs our hormonal soup. Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormones and this gland controls a toggle that flips on the genes that keep cells doing their jobs.
It’s the boss of our metabolism and many people are unaware of how vital a role the thyroid plays not only in weight management, but also in immune vitality, blood sugar regulation, appetite, body temperature, reproductive capacity, emotional wellbeing, mood, and hair and skin health.
Thyroid hormone replacement is a mere piece of a complex puzzle and won’t be effective on its own unless diet and lifestyle are addressed. Many people simply don’t respond well to conventional thyroid drugs and are left bewildered about how to become well.
In the presence of autoimmunity, the body imposes an inappropriate assault on itself. Confusion reigns – there’s no differentiation between self and non-self. The immune system has gone awry, whereby normal tissue (self) is confused with a pathogen or other trespasser (non-self) and a rogue immune response launches a seek-and-destroy mission on otherwise healthy tissue. With Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism), antibodies attack and damage the thyroid gland.
Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune condition in the U.S. It’s estimated that a whopping 97% of those with low thyroid function have Hashimoto’s. But most aren’t getting tested – much less treated – for the autoimmune component of their condition. They’re simply getting a prescription for thyroid hormone replacement. To us, this approach is barking up the wrong tree. It can leave people mismanaged, miserable, and prone to developing another autoimmune condition because antibodies have been given free reign to smolder on.
The adrenals are two grape-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys. They’re tiny but mighty – they help to balance more than 50 hormones and have a wide-reaching impact on our health. Their primary role is to activate the life-critical fight or flight response by producing stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – in a calculated and temporary way so that we can fight or flee. And then rest.
The problem is, today, we’re fighting and fleeing differently than our ancestors. Ideally, like them, we’d experience a surge in adrenaline and cortisol, and it would pass. For many in the modern world, it never passes. We’re not running from saber-toothed tigers, but many are experiencing periods of near-constant, intense stress and our adrenal glands are either on overdrive or depleted, both of which can wreak havoc on our health and wellbeing.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition where antibodies attack hair follicles and cause patchy hair loss – and sometimes complete hair loss. Like other visible manifestations of autoimmunity such as psoriasis or scleroderma, alopecia can take a considerable emotional toll.
The condition is unpredictable in nature. There is no pattern to the loss, some can go periods of time with no bald spots, and some will see sporadic or total regrowth.
None of the conventional treatments get to the root of the condition – autoimmunity. So while they may promote hair growth short-term, they don’t necessarily prevent future loss and it’s often a game of whack-a-mole: “the practice of repeatedly getting rid of something, only to have more of that thing appear.”
Many with total scalp loss feel that a wig is their only option. But regrowth is possible.
A widespread misconception about perimenopause and menopause is that weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, being scatterbrained, and mood swings are normal. Women are lulled into believing that this is “how it is.” Unfortunately, these symptoms are, indeed, a common experience for many. But they’re not normal. “Normal” would be gradual cessation of your menstrual period. End of story.
“Perimenopause” wasn’t even part of our vocabulary until the last 20 or so years. As a result of adrenal issues (unrelenting stress) and hypothyroidism, for some women, perimenopause is starting eight to ten years before menopause – sometimes earlier. Many women are experiencing heavy periods (sometimes hemorrhaging), night sweats, hot flashes that last throughout the day, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and uncontrollable weight gain. (These are all symptoms of estrogen dominance.)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a largely underdiagnosed condition that affects up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age. The condition is characterized by irregular ovulation and, in many cases, infertility.
There are other signs and symptoms that can occur with PCOS, including insulin resistance and high circulating androgens (“male” hormones like DHEA and testosterone), but vary from person to person. Often, the pituitary gland and ovaries aren’t communicating, which leads to irregular ovulation and irregular build-up and shedding of the uterine lining.
In recent years, the functional medicine community has begun to understand PCOS as more than one set of symptoms. As naturopathic doctor, Lara Briden writes, “PCOS is one of several whole-body hormonal conditions (all called PCOS) that affect the ovaries. Hormones are the problem. Ovaries are the victim.”
Graves’ disease is often said to be “the opposite of Hashimoto’s.” But it’s not really the opposite. These two conditions are the same disease – autoimmunity. It is true that Hashimoto’s is autoimmune hypothyroidism and that Graves’ is autoimmune hyperthyroidism. So in that sense, they’re opposites.
But underneath it all, all autoimmune conditions should be treated similarly, with some important differences depending on how the autoimmunity expresses itself, including considerations for appropriate symptom management.
Graves’ disease is the primary cause of hyperthyroidism. The condition is rare, whereas Hashimoto’s is rampant. But it’s not uncommon to start with a Graves’ diagnosis that later becomes Hashimoto’s. We frequently hear that, “I was diagnosed with Graves’ in my 20s, but now I have Hashimoto’s.” Both conditions can cause an enlargement of the thyroid gland.