A Holistic Approach to Hypothyroidism:

a post by Katherine Heineman, DO at Holistic Care Approach

What does thyroid hormone do?

Thyroid hormone is the body’s metabolic regulator. Every cell in the body from muscles to organs to arteries depends on adequate thyroid hormone levels to achieve and maintain optimal function. When the thyroid gland is releasing inadequate amounts of thyroid hormone to meet the body’s demands, the metabolic rate is reduced.

Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include the following:

  • Brittle nails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cold intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Poor memory
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Essential hypertension
  • Hair loss
  • Nervousness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Infertility
  • Irritability
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weight gain

What are some concerns for long-standing, untreated hypothyroidism?

Long-standing, untreated hypothyroidism can predispose patients to developing high cholesterol levels, which can lead to coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the number one killer in the US. However, when the hormonal system is re-balanced appropriately,  oftentimes, the cholesterol level will lower significantly, thus lowering events related to heart disease.

How is the thyroid gland stimulated?

The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in order to stimulate the thyroid gland. Once stimulated, the thyroid gland then secretes two major hormones, Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3). T3 is about 300 times more active than T4. T3 is responsible for increasing the metabolism inside the cells.

What does a conventional approach to diagnosing hypothyroidism look like?

The conventional approach to thyroid illness primarily revolves around the measurement of the TSH level. The TSH test has been the gold standard for conventional medicine to diagnose hypothyroidism for greater than 30 years. The reference range for ‘normal’ reported by most laboratories is 0.5-4.5 mIU/L.

What does a holistic approach to diagnosing hypothyroidism look like?

A holistic approach to diagnosing hypothyroidism will look at more than just the TSH levels. It is very valuable to also check T3 and T4 levels. Many times, patients will have normal T4 and TSH levels, but will have low T3 levels, bringing about the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. In addition, many people cannot adequately convert T4 into T3 because of nutrient deficiencies, medications, illness, stress, aging, and more.

Despite the ‘normal’ reference levels from most laboratories for TSH ranging up to 4.5 mIU/L, my experience has been clinically that the majority of patients have optimal thyroid function with a TSH between 0.3-2.0 mIU/L.

Which thyroid medication is the best?

There is no one “best” medication, as each patient is a unique biochemical individual. There are many options available to treat the underlying cause(s) of thyroid disorders. The conventional thyroid hormone replacement is Levothyoxine (Synthroid) which is an exclusively T4 thyroid preparation. Inactive ingredients of Synthroid include cornstarch, dyes, and lactose. In those individuals who cannot convert some, most, or all of T4 into T3, the T4 preparation may not be the best choice for thyroid hormone replacement.

What are other options for thyroid hormone replacement?

Amour Thyroid is a T4 and T3 thyroid hormone replacement derived from porcine (pig) thyroid gland. As it is glandular derived, it contains other active ingredients including calcitonin, selenium and thyroid hormones T2 and T1. Other porcine derived thyroid hormone replacements include Westhroid and Nature-Throid.

Cytomel is an exclusively T3 preparation. Cytomel contains sucrose and talc as inactive ingredients.

Compounding pharmacies can make various doses of T4 and T3 thyroid hormones without the additional additives and fillers. Sometimes it can be very beneficial to provide an individualized ratio of T4/T3 specific for each patient, or for those with allergy concerns.

Many times it can take a trial and error period to find the optimal dose for the patient. If you do not feel you are achieving the best results with your thyroid medication, I might suggest trying a different medication or altering the dose.

What are some common vitamin and mineral deficiencies that affect thyroid functioning?

In order for the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone, adequate amounts of iodine must be present. Other vitamins and minerals are essential for aiding in the conversion of T4 to T3. These include selenium, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin B12. When these vitamin and mineral levels are inadequate, symptoms of hypothyroidism may develop.

What else might be considered regarding hypothyroidism?

A holistic treatment plan for hypothyroidism may also include natural hormones, vitamin and mineral supplementation, dietary changes, and detoxification.

As you can see, treating thyroid disorders involves more than simply adjusting medications based on lab tests. Often times, thyroid disorder can be improved upon or corrected by simply improving the function of the thyroid gland with appropriate vitamins and minerals and by detoxifying the system.

There is lots of hope for patients with thyroid disorders. Educate yourself and don’t accept disease. You must be your own advocate in working toward achieving your optimal health.

grand rapids holistic doctorDr. Heineman is a fully licensed, board-eligible physician in Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. She specializes in the apprenticed art of osteopathy that has been passed down, literally “hand to hand,” over the last 150 years. At Holistic Care Approach, Dr. Heineman will work with all of the holistic health care offerings and provide her specific expertise to approach health care problems including low back pain, neck pain, other somatic pain, headaches, traumatic injuries, pain of pregnancy, and treatment of infants with chronic infections, colic, plagiocephaly, torticollis, or birth trauma.

An osteopathic approach to medicine is ideal for patients looking for alternative solutions to chronic health issues. Dr. Heineman will commonly screen for nutritional deficiencies and offer expanded testing for thyroid, adrenal and other hormonal dysfunction. She will explore alternative approaches that are used in place of, or in addition to, prescription medications. Dr. Heineman fully discusses treatment plans regarding any abnormalities found in testing.

: 616-361-9221



UpToDate: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/diagnosis-of-and-screening-for-hypothyroidism?source=search_result&search=hypothyroidism&selectedTitle=1%7E150. October 25, 2012

Brownstein, David. Overcoming Thyroid Disorders, 2nd Ed. Medical Alternatives Press: 2008.

Barnes, Broda. Hypothyroidism, The Unsuspected Illness. Harper and Row: 1976.

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This blog is for educational purposes only. The information provided by Donielle, or any contributor, is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition. If you are seeking medical advice, please search out a qualified health practitioner.

About donielle

Donielle is a natural momma of two, lover of real foods, and owner and editor of Grand Rapids Natural Living and Naturally Knocked Up. You can usually find her in the kitchen whipping up some nourishing foods, cuddled on the couch reading books to the littles, avoiding the laundry and Mt. Saint Dishes, or tapping away on the laptop. Her husband puts up with her sometimes crazy "hippie" ways, but loves her regardless. Welcome to my home away from home.