Hypothyroidism is a HUGE problem today. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease; women being 5 to 8 times more likely to develop the condition than men.
But did you know that hypothyroidism is often the diagnosable disguise that hides an underlying illness - missed by even most functional medicine doctors?
That being said, up to 60 percent of people with thyroid disease are unaware their condition, which is the culprit of symptoms like chronic fatigue, digestive issues, low body temperature, hair loss, cold intolerance, hormonal problems, and more.
These symptoms are real, and can truly lower the quality of life of those suffering. However, a very different health problem can also result in nearly IDENTICAL symptoms as hypothyroidism, and can often be overlooked by most health professionals.
For this post, I am speaking to those who have been chronic dieters, over-exercisers, stress-addicts, perfectionists, workaholics, people who have trouble saying 'no' and people who have a history of disordered eating.
Maybe you are someone who exercised religiously and ate a “clean” diet for years with great results; but recently you have noticed fatigue and weight gain - despite the fact that you keep your calories low and hit the gym 5 days a week. You’ve also noticed changes in your hair, everything you eat seems to upset your stomach, your moods are consistently low, and your menstrual cycle had changed and/ or stopped altogether.
Taking these symptoms to your family doctor (and even most naturopaths) will result in the ordering of a blood test for TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone). If your results fall outside of the “normal” range, the Doctor will likely prescribe Levothyroxin/ Synthroid (pharmaceutical route) or Naturethroid/ Armour (holistic/ natural route). If you fall within the normal range, you will likely be prescribed an antidepressant and told to eat less and exercise more.
Reliance on TSH alone is a very outdated approach to thyroid health (read more about that here)
but since this post is meant to reach those who are falsely presenting as hypothyroid, let’s get to the root of what’s REALLY going on in your body.
First, here are the symptoms of hypothyroidism and malnutrition presented side by side:
Clearly, it is no surprise that being undernourished often results in a diagnosis of hypothyroidism; especially in a culture where dieting is praised and disordered eating is still widely misunderstood.
So, if you are someone who is experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism AND have a history of restriction, over-exercise, stress or chronic dieting, here are a few things you can do to determine whether your problem is truly hypothyroid in nature, or if you simply need to eat and rest:
- Monitor your carbohydrate intake - Carbohydrate are needed for the production of T3 (the active thyroid hormone responsible for things like energy, metabolism, etc.). Are you consistently eating too-low carb, either on accident or due to weight loss efforts? If so, here is your permission to carb-the-fuck up with nutrient dense sources like fruit, sweet potatoes, starchy veggies, and gluten free grains if you tolerate them. If it is the fear of weight gain or another mental block that is holding you back, make sure to get support from someone who can help in both these areas!
- Assess your stress - Are you stressed about your job, your kids, the weather, your health? The onset of stress releases a hormone called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) which tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol and CRH both suppress TSH levels, as well as impair the conversion of thyroid hormones T4 to T3 (<— T3 is needed for things like metabolism, energy, hormone production, healthy hair and skin)
- Get your adrenal hormones tested - Testing your adrenal hormones (cortisol levels specifically) is a good way to determine whether your thyroid is being down-regulated as a result of adrenal fatigue. Low adrenal function leads to low thyroid function, thus slowing the metabolic rate order to enhance survival and preserve energy. Adrenal hormone testing can be done easily via saliva testing (Shawn is an expert on this )
- Exercise - Do you feel addicted to exercise? Do you feel the need to work out in the morning in order to feel alert? Or do your workouts leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a nap? These are all signs that you are pushing your body too hard, and further stressing your adrenal glands which will only exacerbate your “hypothyroid”-like symptoms. Try to incorporate things like yoga, walking, and deep breathing while you try to heal.
- Get support - working with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about holistic nutrition, as well as the mental/emotional aspect of food and nourishment is key. (And hey i’m accepting clients 😃 )
Hopefully these tips will help you determine whether your symptoms are stemming from simply being under-nourished. If you have ruled out each of these possibilities but are still suffering from classic hypothyroid symptoms, I recommend getting a FULL thyroid panel (blood test) done including:
Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies
This test will give you a comprehensive look at exactly what is going on with your thyroid, including if you test positive for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis: an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks it’s own cells (i.e. the thyroid)
If this is the case, an intensive (yet doable!) nutritional protocol, in addition to supplemental support for your thyroid will be essential in restoring your health, energy and vitality.
Tell me: have you experienced 'hypothyroid' symptoms? What did you do?