Thyroid Epidemic: Part 1

Written for The Healthy Planet by TJ Williams, DC, PhD

The United States has a thyroid epidemic. Here are just a few of the sobering facts concerning thyroid disease in our country:

  • Twenty million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60% of these people are unaware that they have the condition.
  • One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
  • Levothyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone, is the 4th highest selling drug in the U.S.
  • Thirteen of the top fifty selling drugs are either directly or indirectly related to hypothyroidism.
  • The number of people suffering from thyroid disorders continues to rise each year.

One of the biggest challenges for those with thyroid issues is that the current standard of care for detecting and treating thyroid problems is hopelessly inadequate. For example, the current approach for thyroid testing is not working because there are not enough thyroid tests being ran. I often hear patients tells me they thought they might have a thyroid issue, but their thyroid has been tested and “it is fine.” However, once we thoroughly test their thyroid, it is often not fine.

Currently an allopathic approach to thyroid testing is to test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, which is actually a pituitary hormone and not a thyroid hormone) and Free T4 and occasionally Free T3. However, there are no less than 10 tests that need to be ran to appropriately check thyroid function. Testing for at best 30% of something that impacts every single cell in the entire body and thus affecting the entire body is definitely not good enough. Imagine if you went to work and only did 30% of your job. My guess is that you would not keep your job for long. So why are we accepting 30% when it comes to testing thyroid function, a gland that has an impact on 100% of your body?

It is important that thyroid conditions be completely and accurately addressed because every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones are responsible for basic aspects of body function which impacts all major systems of the body including the brain, cardiovascular system, liver and gall bladder function, steroid hormone production, metabolism, and body temperature regulation. If the thyroid is dysfunctional, the body is dysfunctional. It is that simple.

Next, the treatment of thyroid conditions is inadequate in both conventional and alternative medicine. The go-to treatment for thyroid dysfunction in conventional medicine is levothyroxine (synthetic T4) and occasionally Cytomel (synthetic T3). In alternative medicine, the go-to treatment of choice is supplemental iodine. Both may provide some relief initially, but neither is usually effective long term. Why? Because hypothyroidism (low functioning thyroid) is almost always caused by an autoimmune disease. The autoimmune form of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s disease and studies show that 90% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s disease. In fact, Hashitmoto’s is the most common autoimmune disorder in the U.S., affecting 7-8% of the population. However, most people with Hashimoto’s disease are unaware that they have the condition. And even if they know they have a thyroid issue, they have generally just been told that they have hypothyroidism. This is because, as mentioned above, the thyroid test that would indicate a person has Hashimoto’s disease is hardly ever ran even if a thyroid issue is suspected. This is due to the fact that the treatment offered in both conventional and alternative medicine will be the same whether the test is positive or not.

So, for example, in conventional medicine, a patient who tests positive for hypothyroidism will likely be prescribed levothyroxine. That is usually the same treatment used in conventional medicine if a patient is known to have Hashimoto’s disease. Since the treatment would be the same whether or not a person tests positive for Hashimoto’s, the test for Hashimoto’s is usually not run—it would not alter the treatment the patient receives. Unfortunately, levothyroxine, Cytomel, and iodine are going to do very little to address Hashimoto’s disease. What does work is identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the autoimmune condition. That is what we do in functional medicine and it is why we have so much success in treating thyroid conditions.

Be sure to check out next month’s article where we discuss why the current standard of care approach to thyroid health makes it difficult to identify autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s disease).

If you would like more information regarding thyroid testing and treatment or any of the testing, treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at the Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 3:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1 and is available as a podcast on iTunes.

Related Post: