Thyroid issues can cause dramatic symptoms in health, wellness, and appearance. Because of their wide-sweeping and generalized effects on the body, these disorders can be difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to interpret. As a holistic medicine practice, we think understanding your body is the first step to healing it, so we’ve laid out the basics around this powerful little gland.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that rests in the front of the throat. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in impact: As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid produces and secrete thyroid hormone (TH) which regulates several functions of the body including brain development, mood, and bone growth. However because the most well-known symptoms of thyroid disorders involve weight gain and loss, the thyroid is best known for its regulation of metabolism.
There are two main disorders of the thyroid: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the gland is overactive, producing too much TH. It most commonly results in intolerance to heat, increased metabolic rate (causing weight loss and increased appetite), rapid and irregular heart rhythms, irritability, and hair loss. In women, it can also cause irregular menstrual cycles.
In the case of hypothyroidism, just the opposite occurs: the thyroid is underactive and produces too little TH. The effects on metabolism and symptoms reflect the opposite of hyperthyroidism as well, resulting in intolerance to cold, decreased metabolic rate (causing weight gain and decreased appetite), and low heart rate as well as fatigue, poor memory, depression, and stiffness of muscles.
Both disorders can be caused by autoimmune diseases like Grave’s Disease (which causes hyperthyroidism) and Hashimoto’s Disease (which causes hyperthyroidism, then eventually hypothyroidism) as well as other environmental and hereditary factors. Some women experience thyroid dysfunction as a result of postpartum thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid after birth. Like Hashimoto’s, the condition begins as hyperthyroidism. In the first 1-4 months after birth, the gland is damaged due to inflammation and secretes more TH than normal. In the 4-8 months after giving birth, women experience hypothyroidism as the gland recovers from losing too much TH. Postpartum thyroiditis affects about 10% of women, but not all experience both hyper- and hypothyroidism.
In addition to the symptoms regarding metabolism, heart rate, and mood, thyroid disorders can contribute to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even infertility. Clearly maintaining regular thyroid function is incredibly important to overall health.
Women are between 5 and 8 times more likely to experience a thyroid issue than men (though the scientific community is not entirely sure why). Because thyroid disorders affect the hormones that regulate ovulation, they can inhibit a woman’s ability to get pregnant or maintain a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is disagreement in the medical community about what constitutes a healthy level of hormone secretion, making diagnosis of hyper- and hypothyroidism more difficult.
Because of these ambiguities, Denver Holistic Medicine’s integrative treatment approach is ideal for many patients experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder. After receiving results of a blood test, some patients may land clearly on one end of the spectrum or the other, making it obvious that medication is the best course of action. However many others may land further towards the middle. And even though their diagnosis isn’t clear cut, they still may be experiencing uncomfortable symptoms.
In these cases, holistic options provide a more moderate treatment while still alleviating symptoms. Dr. Sturm and her team combine the principles of both Western and Chinese medicine to determine the best plan for each patient, be it herbal supplements, acupuncture, or treatment with medication.
Even more important than determining treatment, though, is determining cause. Alleviating symptoms improves overall wellness, but a patient will have to continue managing their symptoms indefinitely unless they figure out the underlying cause. To get to the root of the problem, Dr. Sturm examines a patient’s overall health, taking into consideration diet, exercise habits, intake of supplements and medication, and lifestyle.
While these factors won’t show up on the results of a blood test, they are huge contributors to our wellness. Sometimes subtle shifts in diet or lifestyle can drastically change how the body behaves. By taking them into consideration, Denver Holistic Medicine aims to understand more fully how your body is functioning and what changes might be best for you.
If you feel like you’re experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder, please reach out to us. We’d love to help you feel like your healthiest self.
Written by Ali Weeks