The thyroid is an under-appreciated organ, yet it is of prime importance since it controls the body’s metabolism — the chemical process of your body turning calories into useful energy and that energy into the building materials that your cells need. Through controlling metabolism, the thyroid affects temperature regulation, brain development, and growth and weight.
A lot of standard life events and habits can change the functioning of the thyroid, such as smoking, pregnancy, exposure to toxins, and aging. Between 5% and 10% of Canadians – about 1.75 and 3.5 million – have some form of thyroid disease. Amazingly, almost 200 million people throughout the world have some form of thyroid disease, and thyroid disorders are four to seven times more common in women. Although treatable for the most part, left untreated, thyroid disorders can lead to serious problems in other parts of the body.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck. Weighing only about 20 grams, it packs a powerful punch by secreting hormones that are essential to all growth and metabolism and regulates all body functions.
Among the types of thyroid disease are hypothyroidism (under activity) and hyperthyroidism (over activity). Common symptoms include:
- Weak, slow heart beat
- Muscular weakness and constant fatigue
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to cold
- Thick puffy skin and/or dry skin
- Slowed mental processes and poor memory
- Rapid, forceful heartbeat
- Tremors in the hands
- Muscular weakness
- Weight loss (in spite of increased appetite)
- Restlessness, anxiety and sleeplessness
- Profuse sweating and heat intolerance
- Eye changes
What someone with thyroid disease experiences, depends on if they have hyperthyroid, meaning their thyroid works too much, or hypothyroid, meaning that their thyroid works too little.
Thyroid function is measurable and problems are treatable. The biggest trouble most of the time is that typical testing only looks at a single hormone at play in thyroid function, the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), when there is an entire host of hormones that have a role. Further, the range considered to be healthy and functional here is very large – more than twice that of the United States – so what may be considered a hypoactive thyroid in other parts of the world is considered normal here. Treatment also supplies one synthetic hormone, thus missing potential underlying causes and even hormones that directly affect the thyroid. It’s a one-size solution that may or may not work as intended.
As always, the first step is proper diagnosis and testing. Evaluation of thyroid function by our Calgary naturopathic doctors involves comprehensive testing that measures a number of markers. Basic blood tests measure TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). A high TSH level indicates that the thyroid gland is failing (hypothyroidism). A low TSH level indicates the thyroid is producing too much hormone (hyperthyroidism).
A full testing panel also measures FreeT4, Free T3, reverse T3 and two thyroid antibodies; anti-TPO and anti-TG. These tests are conducted along with the testing of other hormones such as Cortisol and DHEA, as adrenal hormones can affect thyroid function.
If antibodies are elevated, then additional testing may be necessary to identify other factors of autoimmune response such as celiac testing, food sensitivities and heavy metal testing.
When testing and treating thyroid problems at the Nardella Clinic of Calgary, our naturopathic doctors ensure your body is getting exactly what it needs instead of providing a one size fits all solution. Perhaps most important is that we look at the entire body – as it is now and what brought it to this point – and ask “what’s causing this in the first place? Hormone imbalance? Food allergies? Undetected infection? Mineral deficiency? How best can we deal with that to ensure we don’t get caught in an endless cycle?” Through all of these careful methods we can ensure that we don’t miss anything, and that your body – thyroid and all – comes back into balance.
Thyroid disease is not rare, and is getting more common thanks to greater awareness and better testing, but it’s not inevitable that you experience troubles. Some factors may be out of your control, your age and family history, for example. Other factors are definitely within your abilities, some with and some without help. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Ensure you get adequate nutrients through diet of supplements
- Minimize soy intake
- Minimize exposure to heavy metals, radiation (such as repeated neck x-rays), and other toxins
- Do not smoke
- Get routine thyroid testing to catch problems early
Therapies Used for the Treatment of Thyroid Disorders
- Ultra Violet Blood Irradiation
- Pharmacological, Herbal and Nutrient Therapy
- Weight management
- Nutrition Optimization