The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine (hormone secreting) gland located in your neck beneath the cricoid cartilage, or “Adam’s apple” (as it’s referred to in males). Essentially its job, or the hormones it secretes, is to control your body’s metabolism. That is, it determines the rate at which your body builds, maintains, and breakdowns biochemicals (and ultimately energy). It is controlled by hormones released from the pituitary gland, which in turn is controlled by the hypothalamus. It secretes three hormones – T4(thyroxine), T3(triiodothyronine), and calcitonin. This article will focus on a common disorder known as hypo-thyroidism (decreased output of thyroid hormone), which refers to the levels of T4 and T3, as they are the two associated with metabolism. The “T” refers to the amino acid tyrosine, and “3” or “4” refers to the number of iodine atoms atttached to it. Calcitonin as its name implies helps regulate calcium metabolism.
Some of the thyroid’s main functions are to convert food into energy, help control body temperature, and basically affect the speed and efficiency of all biochemical processes. Additionally, it can have a profound effect on emotions, mood, cravings, and addictions because T3 influences brain chemistry.
I won’t go into the exact mechanisms of how these hormones exert their effects on the body, but I will discuss the end results. This leads me to the main signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. The main thing you want to think about is fatigue. Typically, the person with hypothyroidism will experience fatigue ALL day long. There is one major caveat regarding this however. These people may not completely notice how fatigued they really are. I say this because based on my experience in working with patients, they’ll tend to pack their day with things to do in order to keep going and going. Obviously they may be tired, but it won’t be as noticeable because they often stay so busy and can become preoccupied. Aside from fatigue, the next major symptom would be weight gain (or inability to lose weight); don’t be fooled by this though, as many normal or underweight individuals have (sub-clinical) hypothyroidism. Cold hands and feet is another common one; and I still have yet to see this symptom related to circulation, especially in people under 60 years-old. Dry skin, poor memory, constipation, goiter (swelling of the gland), muscles cramps (and musculoskeletal pain), high cholesterol, swelling of the extremities and face, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression and addictions, and chronic colds and flu can also be added to the list. Some cases will result in a loss of the outer-third of the eyebrows. This is not known why to my knowledge, however it’s interesting to note that the acupuncture meridian related to the thyroid ends at the outer edge of either eyebrow.
OK, so what causes hypothyroidism or a low output of thyroid hormones? According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common reported cause is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is an inflammation of the thyroid due to an autoimmune reaction when the body attacks its own thyroid gland (no cause of this condition is mentioned). The next are medical treatments for hyperthyroidism (designed to slow the thyroid), radiation treatment for cancers of the head and neck, thyroid surgery (removal of some or all of the gland), or side effects of drugs for other conditions.
Great, so now what? I was expecting the medical community to at least mention iodine deficiency. But all the major medical information I found basically states the same as Mayo Clinic as the “cause” for hypothyroidism. No wonder the first thing patients are recommended is drugs that contain synthetic (or sometimes natural) thyroid hormone.
Unfortunately, sub-clinical hypothyroidism is very common. This is when the blood tests show normal levels of thyroid hormones but the patient (sometimes, not always) has “all” (or some) of the signs and symptoms of an under-functioning thyroid. The obvious problem here is if a patient accepts that there is nothing wrong with them because their thyroid hormone levels are normal (sometimes the pituitary hormone- TSH is elevated, but not always). So then what? The usual scenario is that they go back year after year (while slowly getting worse, assuming they haven’t changed anything in their lifestyle) until the tests finally pick it up – then it’s “official”; and there is something that can be done about it. Drugs of course – again, synthetic or natural thyroid hormone. OK, it’s time to stop whittling people down to numbers on a piece of paper!!! Let’s pay attention to our patient’s symptoms and concerns, and not just their blood test results. Let’s look for the causes and begin treating ASAP! Keep in mind that some doctors will immediately start the patient on drugs (usually only if the TSH is high).
Here is what I see as the major contributors to sub-clinical or clinical (shows up on blood tests) hypothyroidism; in no particular order.
1) Structural imbalances in the cranium or TMJ (possibly affecting the pituitary)
2)Weakened/stressed out adrenal glands
3) Heavy metal toxicity
4) Imbalances in estrogen and progesterone (commonly thought of as female hormones) – however, males also produce these hormones
5) Vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies
6) Imbalances in the output of pituitary and/or hypothalamic hormones
7) Liver toxicity or malfunction
In order to not make this article too lengthy, I’ll leave it there and get into those 6 specific things in the next article.
I first wanted to get you familiar with the functions of the thyroid; the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism; and the medical approach. See you soon.
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology