Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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Hypothyroidism, a common yet often misunderstood condition, is characterized by the thyroid gland’s inability to produce enough thyroid hormone, crucial for our bodies’ metabolic processes. The prevalence of hypothyroidism is significant, affecting about 5% of the general population, with an increased incidence in women and those over 60. However, it’s worth noting that a substantial number of cases may remain undiagnosed due to the subtlety of symptoms, making understanding this condition even more critical.

In my practice as a functional medicine doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how an integrative approach can profoundly affect the management of hypothyroidism. Integrated medicine, combining conventional medical treatments with functional methodologies, provides a comprehensive approach that not only manages the symptoms but also addresses the root cause of the condition.

This approach is especially vital for conditions like hypothyroidism, where symptoms often interlink with other aspects of overall health and well-being. By recognizing and addressing these interconnected factors, we can work towards restoring balance and optimizing health, rather than merely managing the disease.

Understanding the Thyroid (Through Integrated Functional Medicine)

In the realm of integrated functional medicine, we often refer to the thyroid gland as a “powerhouse” of the body. This small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower front of your neck has an immense role in your overall health and well-being.

The primary function of the thyroid gland is to produce thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are crucial for regulating the body’s metabolism – the process by which our bodies convert food into energy. A well-functioning thyroid maintains a careful balance, providing just the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism operating optimally. Too much or too little can have widespread effects on your body.

A vital player in this delicate balance is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), which is released by the pituitary gland in your brain. TSH acts as a signal to the thyroid gland, instructing it on how much T3 and T4 to produce based on the body’s current needs. When the thyroid is not responding adequately, the pituitary produces more TSH in an attempt to stimulate the thyroid, leading to elevated TSH levels in certain types of hypothyroidism.

A functional medicine approach views the thyroid gland not in isolation but as an integral part of your body’s complex, interconnected system. Thyroid health can be influenced by various factors, including nutrition, stress, gut health, and other hormonal imbalances, which underscores the need for a comprehensive, holistic approach to its treatment and care.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the thyroid gland, I invite you to read my other article, “All About Thyroid: Understanding This Powerhouse Gland“, where I discuss in detail its functions, the vital hormones it produces, and its impact on our health.

Types of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. In my career as a medical practitioner, I’ve seen several types of hypothyroidism, each with its own characteristics and causes.

  • Primary Hypothyroidism: This is the most common type of hypothyroidism, caused primarily by issues directly affecting the thyroid gland itself, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition), iodine deficiency, or damage to the thyroid due to surgery or radiation.
  • Secondary Hypothyroidism: This type is less common and occurs when the pituitary gland fails to secrete enough Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), which directs the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones.
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism: This type is present at birth and can lead to physical and mental development issues if not diagnosed and treated promptly.
  • Subclinical Hypothyroidism: This type is characterized by normal levels of thyroid hormones but a slightly elevated TSH level. It may not present significant symptoms but can potentially progress to overt hypothyroidism over time.

Integrated medicine can play a crucial role in treating these various types of hypothyroidism by addressing not just the symptoms, but also the underlying causes and associated health factors. By combining conventional treatments such as thyroid hormone replacement with functional approaches like dietary modifications, stress management, and gut health improvement, we can help create a more balanced, healthier state of well-being for those living with hypothyroidism.

It’s crucial to understand that each patient’s journey with hypothyroidism is unique, and therefore, treatment must be personalized. Through integrated medicine, we can provide care that is tailored to you, taking into account your specific type of hypothyroidism, its cause, your symptoms, and overall health.

Causes of Hypothyroidism (A Holistic View)

While hypothyroidism can be influenced by numerous factors, as a functional medicine doctor, I often see certain causes recurring more frequently. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland, gradually destroying its ability to produce hormones.

Autoimmune thyroiditis is a broader term, which includes Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions that lead to inflammation and damage to the thyroid gland. It’s important to note that while the root cause of these autoimmune responses is still not fully understood, we do know that they result from a combination of genetic susceptibility, environmental triggers, and lifestyle factors.

Genetic factors indeed play a role in the predisposition to hypothyroidism, especially in autoimmune thyroid diseases. If you have a family history of thyroid disorders, you may be at a higher risk.

Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals or radiation, can also contribute to the development of hypothyroidism. Moreover, certain medications used for treating other conditions can also affect thyroid function.

Lifestyle factors like poor nutrition, especially iodine deficiency, can contribute to hypothyroidism. Stress and gut health are also critical considerations, as chronic stress can disrupt the hormonal balance, and an unhealthy gut can contribute to autoimmune responses.

In the context of integrated functional medicine, it’s crucial to view hypothyroidism not merely as a standalone condition but as a symptom of an imbalance in the body’s overall functioning. Understanding the causes of hypothyroidism from this holistic perspective allows us to go beyond simply managing symptoms, to identifying and addressing the root causes. Whether it’s optimizing nutrition, improving gut health, or managing stress, an integrated functional medicine approach can provide a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan to restore thyroid function and enhance overall well-being.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism and the Integrated Functional Medicine Approach

Hypothyroidism Underactive-Thyroid - Symptoms Causes and Treatment | Dr. Meena
Hypothyroidism Underactive Thyroid Symptoms | Meena Malhotra MD

Hypothyroidism, as a disorder of the endocrine system, can present with a multitude of signs and symptoms, some of which are commonly associated with other conditions, thereby making diagnosis challenging. These symptoms can range from physical manifestations like fatigue, weight gain, constipation, and hair loss, to psychological ones like depression and memory loss. More subtle signs can include dry skin, sensitivity to cold, slowed heart rate, and even changes in menstrual patterns in women.

What’s crucial to understand is that these symptoms, while varying in severity, reflect an imbalance in your body’s overall health and well-being. This is where the role of integrated medicine becomes vital. My aim is to see the bigger picture – to understand how these symptoms connect and relate to each other and to other aspects of your health.

Often, patients come to me having experienced these symptoms for months, sometimes years, without realizing they could be connected to their thyroid health. It’s important to remember that while these symptoms might seem unrelated or trivial, they could be indicative of a deeper issue like hypothyroidism.

Through the lens of integrated functional medicine, we aim to identify these subtle, interconnected symptoms and their underlying causes. This approach allows us to create a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan that not only targets symptom relief but also aims for long-term health optimization.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and feel concerned, don’t wait. Your health deserves attention and care. Contact the wellness coordinator at Heal n Cure Medical Wellness Center in Glenview (IL) for a free 15-minute discovery call. Together, we can navigate your journey toward improved health and well-being.

Diagnosing Hypothyroidism

Ascertaining a diagnosis of hypothyroidism involves a blend of clinical assessment and laboratory testing. From the conventional medicine standpoint, the primary diagnostic tool is a blood test measuring Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormone levels, namely Free T4 and sometimes Free T3.

A high TSH level coupled with a low Free T4 level typically indicates hypothyroidism. In some cases, however, symptoms of hypothyroidism persist even with “normal” test results, which can make diagnosis more complex.

This is where the integrated functional medicine approach comes into play. In my practice, I take a comprehensive view, conducting an in-depth evaluation of a patient’s medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle factors. In addition to the standard TSH, Free T4, and Free T3 tests, we may consider testing for thyroid antibodies to identify autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Further, we also recognize that thyroid function doesn’t exist in isolation; it’s part of a complex network involving other bodily systems such as the adrenal and gastrointestinal systems. Hence, if necessary, we may look at other tests to gain a holistic view of your health status.

An integrated approach is essential for an accurate diagnosis of hypothyroidism. By looking beyond just the basic lab results and incorporating a broader health perspective, we can better determine the root cause of your symptoms and subsequently develop a tailored, effective treatment plan. It’s not just about diagnosing hypothyroidism; it’s about understanding your health as a whole.

Integrated Functional Medicine and Hypothyroidism Treatment

In the treatment of hypothyroidism, conventional medicine typically prescribes synthetic thyroid hormones like Levothyroxine. This medication works by supplementing the deficient thyroid hormone levels, thus helping regulate the body’s metabolism. However, while effective for many, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some people with hypothyroidism may still experience symptoms despite having ‘normal’ thyroid hormone levels.

Here is where integrated functional medicine shows its strength. We do not simply aim to normalize your lab numbers but to optimize your health and well-being. Our approach includes a thorough exploration of natural remedies and lifestyle modifications. For instance, certain dietary changes can support thyroid health, such as increasing the intake of iodine and selenium-rich foods, which are key to thyroid hormone production. Similarly, regular exercise and stress management techniques like meditation can significantly impact thyroid function and overall wellness.

As part of the integrated functional medicine approach, we might also look into additional supportive treatments like supplementation with certain vitamins or minerals or the use of naturally desiccated thyroid medication, depending on individual needs.

But what truly sets integrated functional medicine apart is the emphasis on personalized treatment plans. Everyone’s body, health history, and lifestyle are unique, and so should their health care. In my practice at Heal n Cure Medical Wellness Center, we design a unique treatment plan for you that encompasses not just medications but also diet, lifestyle, stress management, and more.

By combining the best of conventional and functional medicine, we can offer a comprehensive, tailored approach to managing hypothyroidism that targets not just the symptoms, but also their underlying causes. It’s about treating the whole person, not just the disease.

Living with Hypothyroidism: An Integrated Medicine Perspective

Untreated hypothyroidism can have far-reaching consequences on your overall health, affecting everything from your energy levels and mood to your heart health and metabolic function. Living with this condition does pose challenges, but with the right approach, it is manageable.

In the realm of integrated medicine, the management of hypothyroidism goes far beyond medication alone. A holistic, comprehensive approach is key to managing this condition effectively. Diet, for instance, plays a significant role. Certain foods can support thyroid health, while others might interfere with thyroid hormone production or absorption.

Physical activity is another crucial aspect. Regular exercise can help increase energy levels, enhance mood, and improve sleep – all areas which can be negatively impacted by hypothyroidism. Moreover, it can also support a healthy metabolism, counteracting weight gain that’s often associated with this condition.

Managing stress is also of utmost importance when living with hypothyroidism. Chronic stress can disrupt your body’s hormonal balance, worsening symptoms. Practices like mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing activities can be vital components of a comprehensive hypothyroidism management plan.

In my practice, I’ve seen the power of this integrated approach firsthand. I’ve worked with individuals who, despite taking prescribed medication, were still battling fatigue, brain fog, and other symptoms. Through personalized treatment plans that incorporated dietary changes, tailored exercise routines, and stress management techniques, we were able to improve their quality of life significantly.

Living with hypothyroidism, while challenging, does not have to dictate your life. With an integrated medicine approach, you can manage your symptoms, enhance your well-being, and lead a fulfilling, active life. To explore this integrated approach to managing hypothyroidism, don’t hesitate to schedule a free 15-minute discovery call with the wellness coordinator at Heal n Cure Medical Wellness Center in Glenview (IL).


As we’ve discussed throughout this article, hypothyroidism is a complex health condition that can significantly affect one’s life. It’s crucial to understand the various aspects of this condition, from its symptoms and causes to the different types and effective diagnosis methods. However, understanding is only the first step.

Taking a comprehensive, integrated approach to managing hypothyroidism can make a meaningful difference. By combining conventional treatments with holistic practices and lifestyle modifications, we can create a personalized treatment plan that targets not just the symptoms, but also their underlying causes. This approach puts you, the patient, at the center, offering a path towards optimized health and wellness.

Remember, you don’t have to navigate this path alone. Integrated medicine providers like myself, and the team at Heal n Cure Medical Wellness Center, are here to support you on your health journey, providing personalized care that takes into account your unique needs and lifestyle.

Ready to take control of your health? Start your journey towards wellness today. I invite you to schedule a free 15-minute discovery call with a wellness coordinator at Heal n Cure Medical Wellness Clinic. Let’s work together to create a healthier, more vibrant you.

Key Takeaways

1.Hypothyroidism is a common condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, impacting multiple bodily functions.
2.The thyroid gland plays a crucial role in the body’s overall metabolic function and energy production.
3.Several types of hypothyroidism exist, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune condition, and subclinical hypothyroidism.
4.Causes of hypothyroidism range from autoimmunity and genetic predispositions to environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
5.The symptoms of hypothyroidism can be subtle and may mimic other conditions, underscoring the importance of a comprehensive diagnosis.
6.Diagnosis is typically through blood tests, including thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) level tests.
7.An integrated medicine approach combines conventional treatments with lifestyle modifications and natural remedies to manage hypothyroidism.
8.Living with hypothyroidism involves managing the condition through appropriate treatment and lifestyle adjustments to maintain a high quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, leading to the slowing down of various body functions.

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can range from fatigue, weight gain, and depression to constipation, dry skin, and slowed heart rate. However, these symptoms can vary and may be subtle, particularly in the early stages.

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?

Hypothyroidism is typically diagnosed through blood tests that measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4).

What are the treatments for hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is usually treated with daily hormone replacement therapy to normalize thyroid hormone levels. An integrated approach to treatment also emphasizes lifestyle modifications and natural remedies to support overall health.

What is an integrated medicine approach to hypothyroidism?

An integrated medicine approach to hypothyroidism combines conventional treatments with holistic practices and lifestyle modifications. It focuses on treating not just the symptoms, but the root causes, providing a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan.

Can lifestyle changes help manage hypothyroidism?

Yes, lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep can significantly help manage hypothyroidism and improve the quality of life.

What is the impact of untreated hypothyroidism on overall health?

Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to various health problems, including heart disease, infertility, joint pain, and in severe cases, myxedema, which can be life-threatening. Hence, it’s crucial to manage hypothyroidism effectively.

References

The information provided in this article is based on the current scientific and medical knowledge available up to the time of writing. In an effort to maintain accuracy and credibility, the sources used in the creation of this article include:

American Thyroid Association. (2021). Hypothyroidism. https://www.thyroid.org/hypothyroidism/

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020). Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism

Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Hypothyroidism: Overview, Causes, and Symptoms.  https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/hypothyroidism-a-to-z

LeFevre, M. L. (2015). Screening for thyroid dysfunction: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Annals of internal medicine, 162(9), 641–650. https://doi.org/10.7326/M15-0483

Chaker, L., Bianco, A. C., Jonklaas, J., & Peeters, R. P. (2017). Hypothyroidism. Lancet (London, England), 390(10101), 1550–1562. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30703-1

The information provided in this article is not intended to replace the relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is always recommended to consult with your healthcare provider for a personalized approach to managing hypothyroidism. 

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Dr. Meena Founder / Medical Director
Founder of Heal n Cure, Dr. Meena is Double Board Certified, ABOM, and ABIM (American Board of Obesity Medicine, American Board of Internal Medicine) and is committed to healing disease at the root cause through an Integrative Functional Medicine approach. This principle mission is Dr. Meena’s guiding light toward a change in healthcare to a true path of wellness and vitality for each practice member