Brain Fog and Thyroid Health
Today we’re going to talk about thyroid health and brain fog, and how you can reclaim your energy.
I would consider thyroid issues a healthcare crisis. Often, things like fatigue or brain fog are common symptoms of thyroid issues. And they frequently go misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed, or the medical professional may not seem all that concerned about thyroid health as the root cause. They don’t run enough tests and some people are on medications that aren’t working or are wrongfully overstimulating the thyroid.
There are all kinds of things that happen in the body that aren’t necessarily clinical, but become problems when you dig into the information.
Why is it important?
Today we’re going to discuss how important the thyroid is to your health. Sometimes we’ll see patients that have medications for thyroid issues that are constantly changing – because the thyroid is dependent on many other organs and functions in the body. If that particular organ or function changes, then that can change how the thyroid functions as well. But these medication changes don’t always accurately reflect that.
Like most things we see in our office, the symptoms are being addressed, but the underlying cause is not.
Thyroid disease is very common. Around 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease and 60% of people that have thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. This is because the labs for thyroid testing can be run and come back with “lab normal” results – but that doesn’t guarantee that the thyroid is necessarily functioning correctly.
The Western Approach
When a lab test is run from a Western medical perspective – they’re really only looking for pathology - or really serious medical conditions.
Most of the thyroid issues that we see are “subclinical” meaning they won’t necessarily have a symptom or an outright problem that can be diagnosed on a lab test. So those thyroid issues are not being caught by medical professionals.
Patients could be telling their doctor that they feel sick, but the lab work shows no issues because it’s focused on “normal” ranges designed to cover a broad range of people rather than “functional” ranges that are individualized.
The Integrative Approach
This is why - when we see a patient presenting with brain fog or fatigue - we always choose to test and not guess. In functional medicine, we’re driving most of our decisions based on laboratory testing – not hearsay.
In traditional medicine, a thyroid panel would cover free t4, free t3, and TSH levels. We will often run a much more extensive panel. As we discussed, there are so many things that can affect how the thyroid functions, and therefore a whole host of tests that don’t normally get run unless you see an integrative or functional medicine practitioner. When we test, we’re going to look at thyroid antibodies to see if there’s an autoimmune disease that could be causing the thyroid to malfunction. We’re also going to look at iron and total iron binding capacity, percent saturation, and salivary cortisol to see hormone levels. We’ll also check b12, d3, magnesium, potassium, and sodium levels.
Thyroid Issues: Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
There is another condition called hypothyroidism in which there’s a need to “turn on” the thyroid. This condition is often treated with synthetic medications such as Synthroid or levothyroxine. There are also glandular medications like armor thyroid and nature thyroid. The challenge here is that these medications are usually a large dose of t4, which is an unconverted form of thyroid, and usually the last thing that the thyroid needs. The extra thyroid is not converting because the function of the thyroid isn’t working, to begin with. So these forms of medical management might result in the patient feeling like they aren’t getting any better because it’s actually the wrong treatment.
In rare cases, we see hyperthyroidism in which the thyroid is overactive. In these cases, the thyroid is overproducing t4 so the medical management is often some sort of radioactive treatment or surgical removal. The issues with these treatments are fairly obvious – they cause permanent damage to the thyroid – leaving you with the inability to manufacture thyroid hormones.
The Drug Philosophy
In a traditional – or Western – medical approach, the philosophy is based on the treatment of symptoms. Meaning, if you have a problem then you’re given some sort of drug, injection, or surgery to address the symptoms. However, these symptoms usually only occur when something has been going wrong for some time. The approach looks at what condition you have, and then what drugs you need to address that condition. This is how we’ve been educated. And it’s the reason why 60% of the commercials on tv teach you to think that you need a drug for any issue that you’re suffering from.
This type of philosophy has allowed for-profit drug companies to convince people that life-long medication for issues such as thyroid malfunction and diabetes is crucial. If you take prescription drugs for life – you’re a great customer.
How Are We Different?
In functional medicine, we look at what the underlying cause of a problem could be. There are four main things that influence your health, and we’ll always want to first consider physical traumas – things like car accidents, slips, trips, falls, and other issues that have externally impacted your body. We also look at emotional stressors – do you have job stress, spend too much time on social media, if you’re having issues at home with your loved ones, etc? Many things can fall into the emotional realm. Next, we consider what you’re putting in your body chemically – what food you’re eating, your environmental exposures, etc. Lastly, we look at your immune system – how healthy or run down is your body, and can your body’s immune system effectively do its job?
With all of this in mind, what if there really is a better way to address thyroid issues? What if we could discover the cause of thyroid problems and not just treat the symptoms? What if we could run those lab tests and uncover whether the thyroid is the real issue? What if we could find out that there were other health problems that could be contributing to your thyroid function? And what if we could balance your hormones without drugs or surgical intervention?
The good news is we can. We’ve figured out a simpler way to recover thyroid immunity and brain health. We have a special approach here at Vitality Integrative Wellness – and when it comes to your health, you can take a reactive approach to deal with symptoms as they appear, or a proactive, preventative approach.
In a proactive approach, we’re conducting evaluations, screenings, and regularly checking things to make sure that when you experience an issue, you’re getting out in front of it. With this approach by and large, you won’t even feel that anything is wrong. This approach allows you to be empowered to take control of your health. It teaches you to listen to your body. When we’re in a preventative mode, we no longer have to treat symptoms, we can fix root causes.
We love to provide patient testimonials so we’re going to feature Nancy today. When she came to us, she was constantly tired, in pain, and full of anxiety. She had some weight issues so she tried all kinds of trendy diets, spent thousands on supplements, and after multiple visits to her primary care doctor, still had no idea what was wrong with her. She was at rock bottom – having trouble focusing at work, reliant on sugary iced coffee, and crashing every day at 2 pm. Still, her doctor told her that her labs were normal.
But our patients are smart, and they know, even if they’re being told otherwise, that something inside doesn’t feel normal. That’s what was really bothering Nancy. When she came to see us, we expanded our testing and looked at all the different types of factors that might be leading to her issues. We provided lifestyle guidance and support through the entire process so that she wasn’t going through these changes alone. And we periodically re-tested to ensure that we were catching any recurring issues. After two months, Nancy’s energy levels had doubled, her knee pain went away, and her mental clarity returned. She experienced no more brain fog or anxiety and was able to start exercising again. Nancy’s issue wasn’t actually her thyroid at all – it was in her gut. She was pre-diabetic and had high cholesterol which was the ultimate cause of her thyroid malfunctioning. She didn’t need thyroid medication, she needed nutritional therapy and lifestyle changes to help her feel like she wanted to feel.
By performing the right lab tests, and reviewing those tests with her, she understood where the problems were and how they all linked together. We were able to explain to her that her immune system is really what was attacking her thyroid, ultimately due to lifestyle choices. So, by managing her lifestyle correctly, she was able to gain control of the issue.
The Thyroid and You
If you're wondering how important the thyroid is, this is just a short list of
the things that the thyroid is connected to your:
- Immune system
- The brain and nervous system
- Gastrointestinal bowel function
- Regulating growth and sex hormones
- Metabolism and your ability to burn fat
- Insulin regulation and glucose metabolism
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Proper stomach acid
Your thyroid works in tandem with your adrenal glands, so when you encounter stress your adrenal glands release cortisol- a stress hormone. But stress itself doesn't cause a thyroid disorder. It's actually the impact that stress has on your body. That can be to slow your metabolism and can also lead to your body to cause T4 to not be converted to T3.
Stress can also contribute to raising of blood sugar levels which is a response to stress ultimately this can lead to anxiety and depression and that can be symptoms of hypothyroid.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it demonstrated why it's important to look at root cause and not just the symptoms. So if you’re struggling to find the cause behind your symptoms, give us a visit. Our practitioners would be delighted to get you on the right path to your best life.