What is Hypothyroidism?
The thyroid, which is located right below your Adam’s apple, is a part of the endocrine glandular system, and its job is to control many functions of the body. It is the conductor that orchestrates the symphony of the body and the function of the organs. When things in the body go awry and there are imbalances, the glands, including the thyroid, could weaken and malfunction.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid is underactive and can produce less thyroid hormone due to three types of reasons – the thyroid gland is itself damaged, the pituitary gland fails to create enough thyroid-stimulating hormone to signal to the thyroid to produce its hormones, or the hypothalamus doesn’t produce sufficient thyrotropin-releasing hormone.
Hypothyroidism is characterized by a body whose metabolism functions are underactive, which leads to sluggish functions of all the tissues and organs. It impacts overwhelmingly more women than men, mostly because women are more prone to hormone fluctuations. It is estimated that approximately 20% of women and 10% of men suffer from an underactive thyroid in the US, although about 60% are undiagnosed.
The most common form of hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s, where the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid, believing it is a foreign substance. In this hyperthyroid condition, both the thyroid and the immune system are dysfunctional.
However, about 95% of all hypothyroid cases occur from problems in the thyroid gland itself. Secondary and tertiary hypothyroidism cases arise mostly from problems of the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
Many hypothyroid symptoms are relatively silent. Many individuals have few symptoms that usually never warrant a doctor’s visit, meaning they live with symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, impaired memory, and depression – among other symptoms – thinking it is just how they’re built and learning to live with the health card they’ve been dealt.
Most health conditions are simply the result of multiple imbalances in the body that may stem from a completely different cause than their expression. If there is a pain in one area of the body, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the organs associated with it are the culprits.
The pain may actually point to another reason that is more holistic and not really related to the generalized location of the symptoms. There may not be anything wrong with your skin, per se, but rather your nervous system and the lymphatic system could be weaker or stagnant – which is expressed through problem skin such as eczema, acne, and rashes.
What Are Causes of Hypothyroidism?
The most common causes of hypothyroidism have a genetic basis that is exasperated by diet and lifestyle, which includes certain habits, medication use, exposure to chemicals, and consumption of processed foods (including the SAD diet – the standard American diet).
If you are predisposed to glandular weakness, due to modern stressors and lifestyle, it is more likely that you would develop thyroid problems. Any weak tissue or organ becomes even weaker with time – being weakened by general metabolic processes as well as acids that are the byproduct of elimination, heavy exercise, and toxicity.
We tend to develop disease in the weakest areas of the body, since acidosis (chronic inflammation) will affect all areas of the body simultaneously, weakening the most delicate parts.
A few organs’ relationship with the thyroid also highlights the possibility that our thyroids could be healthy but are malfunctioning because of a faulty connection to other glands and organs. For example, if the pituitary gland, which is the main orchestrator of all glands and their function, is weak, all the other glands, including the thyroid may take a hit.
The exhaustion of the adrenal glands also plays a big role in thyroid performance; but did you know that a malfunctioning gallbladder is the hidden source of many illnesses, particularly the thyroid?
The gallbladder breaks down fats and fat-soluble vitamins so that they can be assimilated and used by our cells. However, a sluggish gallbladder can lead to malabsorption and assimilation of vitamin D, which is necessary for glandular health. Likewise, overwhelming the gallbladder with too much fat can cause it to get clogged with gelatinous sludge of fat and bile.
Here, a catch-22 would occur where an underperforming thyroid would not be able to signal the gallbladder to empty its bile properly, which leads to many digestive problems and health imbalances.
Several studies report an association between hypothyroidism and problems with bile formation and flow, as well as gallstone formation. And when bile doesn’t flow properly, the body reabsorbs and retains toxins rather than purging them. One of the ways to know that bile is not flowing properly is if your stool is pale or yellow-tinted and if you suffer from frequent constipation or diarrhea.
Inevitably, diet is one of the most essential aspects of health, since it should provide our bodies with the ideal fuel our cells require to function normally and have the energy to process, eliminate, and regenerate.
Without adequate energy from foods (through correct digestion and assimilation of nutrients), our cells not only degenerate over time but don’t have any way to keep our bodies in a state of balance without committing to the last resort – the process of “compensation.”
The body will compensate for the lack of nutrition and energy by leaching vital electrolytes – particularly calcium which it uses to alkalize the body – from tissues and bones that are not as pertinent to its immediate survival. If this keeps on happening without any energetic supplementation from vital, alkaline foods, these other areas of our body will further degenerate and weaken.
Therefore, a hydrating, alkaline diet is the most efficient way to keep the body in a balanced state where all functions work together to keep the body healthy and thriving.
A few healthy-seeming but thyroid-unfriendly foods that have been found to diminish thyroid performance over time are soy (including tofu), rice, millet, caffeine (coffee, chocolate, and green/black tea), gluten (and other gut-damaging lectins), meat, industrial seed oils, dairy, beans, and too much iodine. Limit or eliminate these foods, and your thyroid will thank you!
According to the ancient Indian healing science of Ayurveda, certain lifestyle habits weaken the thyroid. For example, going to sleep late can deter the body from regenerating properly and creating the hormones it needs for optimal function (which is mostly the job of the endocrine glands, including the thyroid). Another lifestyle habit that is seen as one of the major thyroid disruptors is stress.
Stress exhausts the body’s energy levels and weakens the adrenal glands that pump adrenaline and cortisol hormones to deal with the inflammatory effects of stress on the body, meaning adrenals are less likely to function optimally in an inflammatory state.
Likewise, both the adrenals and the thyroid are known to be the batteries of our bodies, and if one of them is down, the other will have a tougher time keeping up with the body’s regulatory and hormonal needs.
The other very common cause of thyroid weakness over time is exposure to endocrine disruptors – plastics and chemicals that mimic endocrine hormones and confuse the glands so that they don’t do their job properly.
Other major causes are cell poisoning, excessive iodine levels, pesticides, selenium deficiency, as well as exposure to heavy metals and chemicals, including fluoride in tap water and toothpaste.
Most of the time, it is the synergetic effect of genetic predisposition, poor diet, medical intervention (vaccines, surgeries, or pharmaceutical medication), and experiencing a stressful time in life that can be the perfect storm for bodily dysregulation and a catalyst for weakening all of its systems.
By understanding how to correct course when you are the most out of balance with the correct diet and tools to help you elevate your cellular function and overall energy levels of the body, you can make it less likely that any one physiological, emotional, or mental period will deplete us to the extent that our body cannot take any more hits.
Overall, since the body operates holistically, by correcting its major imbalances whose origins are usually caused by chronic inflammation, we can also strengthen the function of the thyroid. This includes alkalizing the body, going to sleep early, leading a more Zen way of life (and applying the right relaxation tools when it comes to stress), and moving the body to promote energetic flow (best done through light exercises like stretching, yoga, and Qi Gong).
The Major and Minor Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Approach the overview of your symptoms holistically when it comes to the list of physical and psychological hypothyroidism symptoms below, since having only a few symptoms on the list wouldn’t necessarily mean that you suffer from hypothyroidism.
However, if you find you suffer from a number of the following symptoms, you should be examined by a naturopathic doctor or endocrinologist (preferably an Ayurvedic or TCM practitioner) that understands how the thyroid is connected to other parts of the body and how to detect thyroid problems even without a blood test (which conventional doctors use but which does not necessarily showcase if anything is wrong with the thyroid).
For example, you may go to a regular doctor and get perfect bloodwork for your thyroid, even though you suffer from many thyroid-related symptoms. This could be for several reasons: the standard thyroid panel usually includes only TSH and T4, testing ranges vary from lab to lab, and the standard bell curve of the testing range is used from a compilation of tests given to individuals that went to the lab to get tested.
When you believe that something is wrong in your body, no matter if a specialist tells you that it is not, you should always believe your intuition and experience! Look for alternative advice and keep seeking answers until you are sure that you’ve stumbled upon the correct one.
And another piece of advice is to never rush into taking prescribed medications or undergoing medical protocols that you don’t feel comfortable with, since this can further add to the imbalances in the body and make your symptoms worse over time. It’s best to wait and investigate all options before committing to an extensive thyroid treatment plan.
Now that you are more familiar with what are causes of hypothyroidism, check if any of the following symptoms fit the bill of an underactive thyroid.
- Long-term fatigue and low energy levels
- Unexplained weight gain
- Difficulty drawing deep breaths
- Brittle nails, dry hair, and skin
- Bloating and indigestion after eating
- Grinding teeth during sleep
- Adrenal fatigue
- Hair loss
- High cholesterol (due to high cortisol levels in the body)
- Slow heart rate
- Heavy periods in women
- Feeling cold
- Inhibited sweating
- Sore muscles and joints
- Problems with concentration
- Puffy face, legs, feet, and hands
- Numbness in legs, toes, arms, and fingers
- Hearing problems like tinnitus and deafness
- High blood pressure
- Slow pulse
- Frequent painful migraines or pressure headaches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Slow thought process and motor function
- Impaired fertility
- Panic attacks
- Easy upset
- Mood disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Hearing noises and voices in the head (psychosis)
- Desiring solitude
- Mental sluggishness
- Loss of libido
- Lack of confidence
The Least Understood Causes of Hypothyroidism From a Naturopathic Perspective
In her book, Healing the Thyroid With Ayurveda, Marianne Teitelbaum writes about the most overlooked reasons for the development of an underactive thyroid that mostly emphasizes nutritional deficiencies and organ dysfunction:
As the last chapter described, proper thyroid function involves the conversion of T4 to T3, a process in which both the liver and the gut flora play a key role. In addition, the following nutrients are needed for this conversion to occur: iodine, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, B12, and D. Many people will be deficient in these nutrients at some point in their lives and therefore suffer disruptions to their thyroid function. To stave that off, pay attention to your diet and ensure that you are eating a variety of foods that contain the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy thyroid.
She further writes about the nature and quality of our food due to modern food production and shipment practices:
Industrial food production breaks the basic laws of nature and makes a mockery of nutritional guidelines. As the ancient doctors of India counseled, to have value, all food should retain its pranic energy. It is this vibration that gives your cells the impulse to perform all their metabolic functions and the ability to communicate with each other. The more it is processed and the longer it sits on the shelf, the less nutritional value and pranic energy it retains.
Since most naturopathic practitioners understand that energy is required for healing and that raw, alkaline food – especially fruit – has the most energy out of any other food in our modern world, to heal, we have to utilize its fuel and pranic vibration to correct the most delicate and difficult to heal areas of our bodies – the endocrine glands and the nervous system.
In fact, in Vedic knowledge, the glands are associated with primary energy vortexes of the body, or the Chakras. They are the physical expressions of the energy hubs that connect and run our bodies physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Their health also correlates with our ability to be at our highest potential of power and vibration.
Applying this knowledge to the thyroid, its location in the throat corresponds to the Vedic location of the vishuddha, or the throat/5th chakra. Its health provides us with the capacity to express ourselves, communicate with full authenticity, be confident about our opinions, and speak our truth.
Given that how our energy shows up in the world has a tremendous impact on the body, if we fail to exercise the throat chakra virtues, we can weaken its power, which will always show up physically in the last stages of energetic loss.
Indeed, environmental and social causes such as experiences in childhood and early adulthood can also leave a mark on our glandular performance, including thyroid dysfunction. In Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body, Western Mind, she points out that blockages to the energy flow in the throat can also occur due to our inability or fear of self-expression.
This could have occurred due to certain experiences in life as well as the type of discouragement we received from being in our full expressive authenticity in childhood. She states that certain environments can stifle our ability to self-express such as having overprotective and critical parents, being in families where secrets were kept and certain subjects were taboo, environments that weren’t safe and felt inconsistent, environments of neglect, and homes that bread fears due to fighting and frequent punishments.
Vedic prescription for a blocked throat chakra (the 5th chakra) is to chant the bija mantra “ham,” which is pronounced “hum.” Likewise, breathing the yogic breath helps both the thyroid and the parathyroid glands.
Overall, this means that you can improve your thyroid function by practicing throat chakra virtues and adding more energy into your body for physical healing and proper energetic flow. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the healing art of acupuncture helps the body correct its energy flow by activating certain major and minor meridians.
In turn, improved energy flow helps oxygenate diseased tissue and correct imbalances. Simply redirecting energy and oxygenating areas that are depleted energetically will help all the organs and glands rebalance and function more optimally.
Foods That Help With Hypothyroidism
Do enjoy these thyroid-friendly foods often, and make sure they’re organic! But don’t overdo it by eating packets of seaweed daily or gorging on sweet potatoes galore. Too much of any one thing is never good for you and can cause further imbalances. Remember, even poisonous substances can be used in small amounts as healing medicine, but too much of them can be extremely dangerous.
- Seaweed and sea vegetables
- Brazil nuts
- Onions (contain selenium)
- Sweet potatoes
- Bitter greens (mustard greens, dandelion greens, watercress, arugula,
- Berries (known to heal the endocrine and nervous systems)
- Apples and pears
- Coconut oil and coconut water
- Tropical fruit
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Cilantro, parsley, and dill
- Limes and lemons
Herbs That Help Heal The Thyroid
- Lemon Balm
- Barberry Root
- Pau D’Arco
- Irish Moss
- Milk Thistle
- Chaste Tree Berry/Vitex agnus castus
The body is truly an ecosystem of processes and functions that are all interrelated and important to the overall health of our bodies. If one system is down, all systems take a hit and the body is left to compensate for the imbalance. This compensation is also very costly, since it further depletes the body of vital energy needed for healing. It likewise weakens the function of cells and leads to chronic inflammation if not rebalanced in time.
The thyroid is a major vortex of energy that helps regulate our internal metabolism and organ function. If it is not working properly, there are many ways to correct it naturally through diet, lifestyle, and detox protocols.
Although it is important to keep in mind that the dysfunction may not necessarily be associated with the thyroid itself and could be linked to gut permeability, pituitary, hypothalamus, and other endocrine system problems, by investing in body cleansing and regeneration, all systems will rebalance naturally and proper function to all cells, tissues, organs, and glands will return.
Although symptoms of disease are localized, the cause of disease is usually multilayered and to heal the symptoms, we need to bring more alkaline chemistry and energy into our system.
Once the body has the pranic/energetic substance it needs, it will use its own innate intelligence to heal the most compromised areas that may lead to chronic disease if not corrected. All we need to do is give it proper fuel, and leave it to let it do the rest!
I truly hope this article’s reflections on what are causes of hypothyroidism illuminated more information about the importance of thyroid health and how you can nourish it naturally.
And if you’d like to learn how best to detoxify safely and effectively, my e-book, How to Detox Your Body Naturally and Safely, can teach you all you need to know about your body, proper foods and herbs to consume during detox, and ways to keep your body in a state of perpetual balance and vitality!