A Naturopathic View of Thyroid and Hormone Balance

Kevin Passero, naturopath, naturopathic
Kevin Passero, ND, a naturopathic physician

Naturopathic doctors, or naturopathic physicians, depending on what state you're in, are clinicians that have been trained as primary care doctors with an emphasis on utilizing natural means of healing and a focus on the prevention of disease states.

They treat all the same medical conditions that a conventional physician does, but with a more holistic outlook.

The information in this article is from an extensive interview with Kevin Passero, ND, a naturopathic physician who specializes in thyroid and hormonal imbalances.

What Naturopathic Doctors Do

A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) graduates from a four-year graduate level holistic medical school, learning all the same basics as conventional doctors but focusing on holistic and natural healing. Right now, 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all have licensing requirements for naturopathic doctors. In the states where they're licensed, NDs operate as primary care physicians with the rights of most medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathy (DOs), including the ability to order any type of diagnostic test or image, perform physical examinations, perform minor surgical procedures, and prescribe an array of prescription medications.

An Integrative Approach

One of the most valuable things NDs offer when dealing with thyroid care is an approach that's tailored to each person's specific needs. This is based on many different factors, including lab tests, feedback from you, and thorough assessments of all aspects of your health. NDs believe that no part of your body operates in complete isolation from the rest of the system, so there must be a holistic perspective when addressing a health concern.

An ND may discuss the aspects of how nutrition affects thyroid disorders and make sure that you have a diet plan that works to support your thyroid health. In addition, detailed evaluation and treatment of other related systems, such as sex hormones and adrenals, are essential in order to achieve optimal outcomes when working with thyroid disease.

In addition, an ND will work with you to determine which treatment is the best for your thyroid situation. There are many different types of thyroid medication available, as well as natural treatments for certain thyroid conditions, and different people need different ones in order to thrive.

Importance of the Adrenals, Sex Hormones, and Diet

There's perhaps no other system related to thyroid health more overlooked than the adrenal glands. These small glands located above the kidneys are responsible for managing all the stress in your body. What most people don't understand is that thyroid hormone in its own way is a stress on the body. Take, for example, a person who has been prescribed a slight overdose of thyroid medicine. They feel anxious and jittery, have trouble sleeping and often experience heart racing, all symptoms related to stress. If your adrenal system isn't strong, your thyroid will automatically alter the way it functions so it can accommodate a weaker resilience to stress.

People with borderline thyroid issues often have those issues fully resolved just by doing appropriate therapy with the adrenal system. In the majority of the other thyroid cases, the adrenal system plays an equally important role, even though the thyroid needs to be addressed directly. The interplay of adrenal hormones, particularly cortisol, and thyroid hormones are so closely related, it's a huge disservice to not take both into account. Properly testing and assessing adrenal hormones is a critical part of managing thyroid disorders.

Sex hormones, particularly estrogen, also play an important role in thyroid hormone balance and thyroid function. It's a well-known fact that thyroid function can change drastically during pregnancy due to estrogen surges. This interplay between the hormones can play out in a more subtle but equally important fashion when sex hormone imbalances exist. Properly testing and assessing sex hormones is a critical part of managing thyroid disorders.

Lastly, diet and nutrition have a significant impact on thyroid function. For example, food sensitivities, particularly reactions to gluten, play a critical role in the autoimmune process associated with Hashimoto's disease. The nutrient content of food including selenium, zinc, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, B6, and iodine are also very important when it comes to thyroid function and thyroid hormone balance. Proper testing of nutritional status and evaluation of diet is critical in order to have people enjoy the best possible outcomes.

One System Imbalance Affects Them All

These three systems, adrenal, thyroid, and reproductive, operate in balance with each other, not in isolation of each other. Dysfunction in one area will affect the others. Imagine a triangle, and at each intersection of lines, there is one of these organ systems.

If you tip one end of the triangle, you will cause a resultant tip at the other ends of the triangle. This is a simple way to understand how an imbalance in one area will affect the other areas. These three systems are intimately interrelated and it's critical to create balance in all three in order to achieve balance in your triangle.

Many NDds emphasizes a core belief that the body has a profound ability to heal and restore balance from within. Their tools and therapies are intended to support that process and remove the obstacles blocking the healing process from occurring.

Weight Challenges

Weight issues are often the number one concern in thyroid patients, so it's very important to understand all of the factors that might be contributing. These are some of the key issues to consider:

  1. Proper thyroid hormone balance must be established in the body. Detailed evaluations of all thyroid related hormones, including TSH, Free T3, Free T4, and Reverse T3, must be performed and checked to make sure the proper thyroid hormone balance is present. This is probably the most common reason many thyroid patients cannot lose weight despite being on thyroid medication. It's critical to consider several additional issues related to thyroid hormone balance:
    • One major factor is your ability to convert T4 to T3. Because T3 is your most active thyroid hormone, if your body has trouble with conversion, you may be lacking the key signal for firing metabolism and weight loss. Your body's ability to carry out this conversion can vary based on a variety of factors. Genetic makeup, nutrient and mineral status, and the influence of other hormones like cortisol all play a significant role in conversion rates.
    • Stress hormones like cortisol can cause problems with thyroid hormone balance by affecting T4 to T3 conversion, increasing reverse T3 production, and reducing TSH output. It's critically important to take into consideration the amount of stress you're under, how your adrenal system is handling it, and if your cortisol levels are elevated or depressed.
    • Sex hormones are another important piece of the puzzle. In particular, estrogen can significantly impact thyroid hormone balance and female hormone balance must be taken into consideration.
  1. Different types of thyroid medication can create different reactions from person to person. Sometimes a thyroid hormone prescription exacerbates weight gain even though it might help with the low energy or brain fog issues associated with your thyroid disorder. In other people, no improvements in symptoms are seen when the medication is started, and yet in other cases, people actually report feeling worse when the medication is started. Keep in mind that in all of these examples, the TSH and T4 levels will normalize and look perfect on lab tests. This adds to the intense confusion regarding thyroid disease and is a major factor contributing to why so many people being "appropriately treated" are still suffering so immensely. In these cases, other medication options must be considered, and when the correct match is found, weight loss and symptom management improve dramatically.
  2. Diet and lifestyle factors also play an important role in how the body manages weight. Combining the right advice regarding nutrition and exercise with proper thyroid management will usually result in successful weight loss.

    Advice From a Naturopathic Doctor

    Try not to get frustrated and know that you can enjoy amazing and vibrant health. Managing a thyroid disorder can be complicated. There are many different tests and medications to consider and other dynamic processes occurring in your body that will affect the overall outcome. Under the right guidance, this complexity becomes a valuable asset. If each consideration is properly evaluated and addressed, you end up with an individualized approach to your condition that has been tailored in a way to exactly meet what your body needs. The cookie cutter approach to managing thyroid disease falls by the wayside and you end up with a strategy that will nurture your body and your health for many years.

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