Thyroid Meds Don't Always Make You Feel Better. Here's What To Do If That's You
Did you know that up to 60 percent of people with the disease are unaware of their condition? It's true. The first step to healing your thyroid is all about getting it tested and understanding exactly what's going on, whether it be genetic or lifestyle factors—or a combination of the two—that is causing your thyroid to struggle. Common symptoms can be one or any combination of weight issues, anxiety, depression, gut issues, and certain food cravings.
That said, there are a ton of people out there on thyroid medications that aren't feeling better. The truth is that medication to simply balance out every pathway does not always improve how a person feels, may even worsen symptoms, or may cause people to hit a plateau despite normal blood work. Thyroid physiology is complex, and medication only focuses on one part of it, perhaps explaining why thyroid medication alone may not suffice. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle and natural modalities to address thyroid health from a holistic perspective. You can talk to your doctor about using these in conjunction with or in place of medication.
Getting to know all the thyroid hormones and what they do.
The thyroid is located at the base of our throat and is shaped like a butterfly that wraps mostly around our trachea. And as I mentioned before, its physiology is complex. Basically, messages from our brain cause the release of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) by the pituitary gland, which tells the thyroid to produce active triiodothyronine (T3) and inactive thyroxine (T4), which is converted to active T3 later. Other hormones like T1 and T2 are also produced and thought to be precursors and by-products of T3 and T4. Thyroid-binding globulin (TBG) is the main transport hormone and helps to transport thyroid hormones. Medication is commonly comprised of constituents around T4 or T3, mostly T4 as it stays in the body longer, and T3 has a higher potential to overstimulate people and cause high blood pressure, anxiety, and sweating. There are also medications that are a combination of both, as well as natural desiccated porcine options that include T1 through T4, as well as calcitonin and iodine, which are also helpful for thyroid function.
Having a healthy thyroid isn't as simple as taking one medication.
Proper conversion from T4 to T3 requires certain nutrients like selenium, iodine, and zinc, as well as an overall healthful diet. Any type of stress—from emotional stress to poor sleep to seemingly unrelated stressors like food intolerances—can actually cause T4 to convert to another metabolite called reverse T3, an inactive version of T3. Alcohol and caffeine can deplete many of the essential minerals needed for optimal thyroid health. Ongoing chronic stress also increases insulin resistance, which can cause cravings for more sugar, carbs, and stimulants. In addition, estrogen dominance—which is becoming more and more prevalent in both men and women—can increase TBG. All of this can also lead to obesity, elevated estrogen, inflammation, and blood sugar issues, which all exasperate thyroid issues. Knowing this, you can see why caring for your thyroid is way more complex than just popping a few pills a day.
A holistic action plan to boost thyroid health.
All this illustrates the many reasons someone's symptoms and blood work numbers may not be aligned and why medication, which acts on a single or a few of the many thyroid pathways, may not be sufficient. So what can we do about it? Here's an action plan for those of you who are on thyroid medications and don't feel your best or simply want to take your care to the next level.
Our foundation of health begins with a healthful diet, rich in dark leafy greens, protein, and healthy fats. Some specific foods to eat in honor of your thyroid include Brazil nuts, sea vegetables, avocados, sunflower seeds, and mushrooms. Cruciferous vegetables are great, but it's best to cook them to inactivate compounds that could inhibit thyroid conversion.
If you want to support your thyroid, adding lifestyle habits like movement, laughter, drinking enough water, getting to sleep before 11 p.m., and managing stress are musts. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and maca (which are both very nourishing to the adrenals and thyroid) are also great to lean on, especially if the thyroid is underactive. Bugleweed and lemon balm are herbs classified as nervines, which help relax the system and can be helpful if you are feeling overstimulated. The throat chakra, which is where the thyroid is located, can represent depression, anger, judgment, or unexpressed grief. This all has to do with communication and self-expression, so staying present, creating a balance of speaking and listening, judging yourself or others more fairly, and journaling are thought to help stimulate healing.
Creating a treatment plan that's as unique as you are.
We are complex beings, and despite the fact that two people can have the same health concern, the reasons they got there can be completely different. We each have our own history and emotions, our own unique DNA, and lifestyle factors that affect our health. It's important to remember that our treatment plan should reflect our individuality! A knowledgeable practitioner can help guide you through various treatments—natural and/or pharmaceutical—be mindful of any herb/drug/nutrient interaction, and create a plan of proper tests to help you reach your health goals and double as prevention. It's imperative we also learn how our body tells us when something is not quite right, as healing is an ongoing journey.