Local Space and Treasure Coast Experts Explain the Functional Medicine Approach to Thyroid Health
Nov 01, 2019 12:00PM
By Julie Peterson
The thyroid gland, although quite small, plays a major role in the body. When imbalanced, it can cause a multitude of symptoms.
Practitioners of functional medicine commonly see patients who have undiagnosed or mismanaged thyroid disorders. The consensus within our local community of functional medicine doctors is that this is due to conventional medical doctors being trained to test only for thyroid-stimulation hormone (TSH). A TSH test can show normal levels in a patient who, when given a wider range of tests, is found to have an imbalance.
Additional tests can reveal underlying problems in the body or the surrounding environment causing a dysfunctional thyroid. Poor gut health, toxic body care products, nutritional deficiencies, too much stress, too little sleep along with hormones being out of whack can provide important clues, that once discovered, can often be resolved and improve function of the thyroid.
Another issue that functional medicine providers agree on is that there are better approaches to treating thyroid malfunctions beyond the synthetic pharmaceuticals typically offered by conventional medical doctors. Functional medicine doctors generally prefer a natural thyroid medication such as Armour or treatments that include bio-identical, compounded or combination T4/T3 therapies. Depending on what is triggering the dysfunction, prescribed remedies may include supplemental iodine or vitamins, diet changes and herbal or homeopathic remedies.
The Space and Treasure Coast area is fortunate to have multiple functional medicine practitioners who are helping people with their troubled thyroids.
Dr. Deborah DeMarta at The Institute of Health & Wellness in Stuart points out that functional medicine is so much more than just analyzing the numbers that tests provide, it’s about discovering all of the symptoms a patient presents with and then digging deep into these issues and finding out why they exist. Even when test results seem to be normal, if a patient has bothersome symptoms, further investigation needs to take place.
In addition to a thorough consult, DeMarta’s patients get a full lab workup to look for hormonal imbalances, nutritional issues and toxic burden. By taking into consideration a patient’s comprehensive exam and the complex interaction between genes and the environment, the Institute of Health and Wellness offers individualized therapies to restore health and balance and improve function.
Dr. Rebecca Hunton at Radiantly Healthy MD in Indialantic says that they commonly see patients who have been dealing with mismanaged thyroid disorders.
The functional approach to a thyroid imbalance at Radiantly Healthy MD starts with an in-depth analysis of the patient to look at the foundations of a healthy immune system, including the gut’s microbiome, genetics, nutrient deficiencies, lifestyle, toxicity and sleep. Comprehensive diagnostic and laboratory tests thoroughly analyze a patient’s health.
Gut health is very important because gluten is a potential trigger of Hashimoto’s since the gluten protein is thought to be very similar to that within the thyroid gland. “If your gut-immune barrier is impaired, your immune system may create antibodies to your thyroid,” says Hunton. [JP2]
There is also a test for a genetic trait that indicates whether gluten is likely to impact autoimmune disease. Hunton says that traditional labs can look like a normal thyroid panel while the antibodies can wreak havoc with metabolism and energy; which is why it’s important to have a good partnership between the patient and the healer to find the root cause of symptoms that will dictate the personalized treatment plan.
Dr. Steve Alukonis at Space Coast Advanced Health in Melbourne says that they often have patients state that their general doctor did blood work and everything was normal, but the patient is still tired, weak, gaining weight or losing hair.
Space Coast Advanced Health does a wider range of tests to look for thyroid antibodies, yeast, bacteria, plaque and parasites. There is also a saliva test to look for cortisol and adrenal levels. In addition, the patient fills out a metabolic questionnaire that assists Alukonis to find the root cause.
As a chiropractic doctor, Alukonis encourages patients to get chiropractic adjustments weekly during functional medicine treatments. In some cases, exercises, low level laser, ultrasound therapy, adrenal support and nutritional coaching are recommended.
Dr. Melissa Dean at Dean Wellness Institute in Vero Beach says that the thyroid does not function on its own, it works in collaboration with the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, which is our central stress response system.
“The thyroid affects every organ system in the body, so it's important to look not just at the thyroid function, but the associated systems as well,” says Dean, who will evaluate these systems to find the breakdown.
Dean points out that how a patient feels clinically is always more important than the lab values and that undiagnosed or untreated autoimmune disorders can lead to full-blown thyroid dysfunction.
“If we are able to catch these autoimmune disruptions earlier, we can better control the thyroid,” says Dean.
Dr. Brian Walsh at Care Natural Wellness Center in Melbourne is a chiropractic physician who uses functional nutrition, blood tests, saliva tests and genetic testing in addition to looking at lifestyle, emotional wellness and environmental factors when evaluating thyroid function.
“Nutrition response testing, a form of muscle testing, helps determine the cause of ill health and the best remedies for an individual’s physiology,” says Walsh.
In addition, because the causes of thyroid problems are often multi-factorial, once the problems are identified, a Designed Clinical Nutrition program is recommended to heal the gut, detox, strengthen the immune system and nourish the thyroid gland.
“Lifestyle issues to address stress management, diet and exercise are an integral part of the healing process,” says Walsh.
Terri Pinder, ARNP at Intentionally Well in Palm City uses a comprehensive approach that includes alleviating toxic burden and addressing effective digestion and nutrition for thyroid function.
“The evidence is mounting that the increasing load of toxicants in our environment, food and other personal products, combined with the inflammatory effects of ongoing emotional stress, is resulting in a defensive response that leads to immune dysfunction that is at the root cause of much of the thyroid dysfunction people are struggling with today,” says Pinder.
Normalizing sleep, blood sugar and insulin balance are all addressed in Pinder’s comprehensive program. She implements a group setting to encourage that the lifestyle changes take hold. In addition to individual visits she provides telephone support with a nutritional and health coach, self-paced, on-line education and group visits shared with others on the same journey.
Yale R. Smith, M.D. at The Center for Anti-Aging Aesthetic and Rejuvenation Medicine in Viera feels it is imperative to check TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, ATA and TPO as well as a four-point salivary cortisol level. He feels hypothyroidism is especially common in women. “Common symptoms include excessive tiredness, weakness, thinning hair, brittle nails and an overall low energy level,” says Dr. Smith. “Hashimoto's disease is the most common autoimmune disease of the thyroid.”
Depending on the test results, Dr. Smith may prescribe anything from replacement of thyroid hormone to using natural T-Cell modulating pharmaceutical supplementation, such as Moducare. Some patients may also require a low dose of Naltrexone for autoimmune disease.
Dr. Smith is an advanced fellow of an esteemed board made up of national and international physicians who meet weekly to discuss difficult cases. “This dialogue creates a more diverse outlook of different physiological issues and concerns and how to remedy them holistically,” says Dr. Smith.
Local functional medicine practitioners concur that the treatment of any and all thyroid conditions provides the best long-term results when the whole person – mind, body and spirit – is considered.