9 Common Causes of Thyroid Imbalance and How You Can Help
By Kristen Bobik, DC, DABCA
How you sleep, how easily you wake up, and how much energy and stamina you have during the day are directly related to levels of the thyroid hormones. The thyroid is heavily involved in many more processes in the body as well.As chiropractors, it's important to understand the potential causes of thyroid problems — and how you can help restore balance naturally.
Hypothyroidism is a common health condition in the U.S., and may cause symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, pale and cold skin, constipation, high cholesterol levels, weakness, and joint pain; while hyperthyroidism may result in symptoms such as weight loss, tremors, heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, and so forth.
But naturally, our patients won't typically present with a "textbook" description or even have all symptoms occurring at the same time. It could be something as subtle as reporting they "just can't make it through a day without coffee anymore"; or presenting with symptoms despite their MD repeatedly running thyroid panels that are within normal ranges.
Here are nine causes of thyroid imbalance and what further steps you might want to explore with patients:
The body is shutting down because it's exhausted. The two most common examples of environmental factors affecting the thyroid gland are high stress levels and lack of sleep. Sleep is literally the body's time to heal itself; depriving ourselves of adequate sleep has a much greater effect than most of us realize.
Constant stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system will cause excess cortisol in the body, which is a hormone linked to increased risks of heart disease (and other conditions), elevated blood pressure and decreased function of the immune system.
Here are some tips to pass along for sleeping well and lowering stress: deep breathing exercises, use of lavender essential oil, elimination of electronics from the bedroom, and yoga / meditation / stretching.
2. Gastrointestinal Function
Not only does our digestive system break down food to use as nutrients, but it also contains almost 80 percent of our immune system! Food intolerances are a common cause of digestive problems, and there is a strong link in the research between gluten intolerance / celiac disease and thyroid imbalances.
A common sign of toxicity in the body can be bags underneath the eyes. Liver is our main organ responsible for detoxing the body, and the body requires elimination of waste from what we eat, drink, think and expose our skin to. If you determine a need for detox exists, it can involve dietary changes, reduction of chemical exposure in the home, and nutritional supplementation.
4. Hormonal Imbalances
Potential causes of hormonal imbalances include pregnancy, contraceptive use, estrogen / hormone replacement therapy and bowel dysfunctions. Too much estrogen will increase the activity of the thyroid gland. Research on hormone replacement therapy (estrogen as medication) suggests it does not protect patients from incontinence, Alzheimer's, heart disease and so forth, and actually increases the risk of cancer.
Natural ways to resolve a hormonal imbalance, especially around menopausal age, include acupuncture and nutritional supplementation.
5. Consumption of Soy Products & Non-Organic Dairy
Soy and non-organic dairy both will increase estrogen in the body and therefore affect the thyroid gland. I recommend anyone (regardless of their health condition) eliminate both of these items from the diet. Remember, both of these items are hidden in many processed foods.
Too many toxins being recycled in our bowels from lack of elimination will put extra estrogen into the system. My favorite, most effective and natural solutions for constipation are acupuncture; dietary changes like eliminating sugar and grains; probiotic supplementation; food intolerance testing; and other lab measurements that could enlighten the reason for constipation.
7. Nutritional Deficiencies
These include deficiencies such as B12 or iron deficiency. Some of the signs of nutrient deficiencies are similar to symptoms of hypothyroidism. Potential causes of nutrient deficiency could include lack of nutritional dietary habits or heavy-metal toxicity (which is actually much more common than it sounds).
Hair analysis is the best long-term blueprint of the body to assess for heavy-metal toxicity or nutrient deficiencies.
8. Immune System Dysfunction
Immune system dysfunction, such as adrenal problems, which increase cortisol in the body, increase your risk for heart disease (among other conditions) and keep your body in constant "flight or fight" panic mode. Adrenal imbalances are typically measured with easy-to-perform, take-home saliva testing.
9. Chronic Candidiasis
Chronic candidiasis may cause additional symptoms such as white patches in the mouth, memory problems, issues with sugar handling, gas and bloating, mucous in the stool, and cold hands or feet. Candida is typically measured via bloodwork.
Solutions for candidiasis may include dietary changes, detoxification, and the use of herbs or nutritional supplements.
Testing for Imbalances
The bloodwork performed by an MD is typically a "basic" or "expanded" thyroid panel, with T3 the most frequent measurement. Normal lab values are constantly changing. There are other simple, low-cost methods to assess the thyroid gland, including a Barnes temperature test or an iodine patch test.
I always use as many reasonable methods as possible to measure and track a patient's progress. Although being healthy is about how well the body functions, it's still important to include a subjective questionnaire for patients to rate or track their symptoms.
One of the main functions of the thyroid gland is to help regulate body temperature. The Barnes temperature test takes an average body temperature upon waking to see how active the gland is.
The thyroid gland requires iodine to function, and iodine is common now in the standard American diet. For an iodine patch test, the patient will apply iodine in a square patch to their inner forearm and track how long it takes to lighten over a 24–hour period. If it lightens very quickly, the thyroid may not have sufficient iodine.
In addition, the thyroid gland also helps the heart utilize cholesterol, and that can be another sign that the hormones in the body aren't functionally optimally.