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  • Patricia Pearce, ND

Naturopathic Medicine & Hypothyroidism: An Alternative Approach to Hashimoto's Disease

When I am asked the question, "What condition do you see most often in your office?"

My answer is by far autoimmune hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto's.

Why is this? Why are people with hypothyroidism seemingly disproportionately seeking naturopathic care? To make a long story short, naturopathic medicine and Hashimoto's are, in my estimation, simply a good fit. That is, the underlying cause of Hashimoto's disease (autoimmunity) responds surprisingly well to the lifestyle-based interventions like diet and supplementation employed by NDs.

We see a wide variety of chronic conditions, most often exhibiting symptoms like fatigue, widespread pain, GI issues, headaches, and mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. On our intake forms, we ask our clients to list the 5 symptoms, goals, or conditions they wish to address, and the list often looks something like this:

1. BRAIN FOG (almost always capitalized for emphasis)

2. Fatigue

3. Can't lose weight

4. Anxiety/depression

5. Constipation

It isn't until their first office visit that clients mention, almost as a side note, "I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism two years ago," to which my follow-up question is invariably, "Did the doctor tell you it's autoimmune? Does the name Hashimoto's ring a bell?" More often than not, the answer is, "Well, that's what I think it is, but I was told there was no point in running the antibodies, since the treatment is the same."

There are two issues here that I want to draw your attention to. One is that, despite the fact that a whopping 90% of all hypothyroid cases in the US are due to an autoimmune process, more than half of my clients with hypothyroidism have never had their antibodies run and don't have a formal diagnosis of Hashimoto's. It is also interesting to me that, for the most part, people don't even include hypothyroidism in their "top 5," and for good reason. People want their healthcare practitioners to address their SYMPTOMS, because guess what? Symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and anxiety have significant impact on an individual's life, happiness, and sense of well-being. To drive home my point, I have yet to see someone list these goals:

1. Bring TSH value within normal lab range

2. Bring T4 value within normal lab range

But ironically, that is the conventional approach, and it is very simplistic and linear. If your thyroid hormones (TSH & T4) fall outside the normal range, you are given thyroid hormone pills to take indefinitely. Period. You might have your dosage adjusted, perhaps the doctor will recommend you take an anti-depressant for your mood, but for the most part...that's it. I see so many clients with hypothyroidism in my office seeking alternatives because this approach is OFTEN (but not always!) ineffective at completely resolving symptoms. It's excellent at correcting lab values, but THAT ISN'T WHAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT.

People care about being able to get up in the morning to go to work, and take care of their kids without having to drink an entire pot of coffee, they care about being able to think clearly, they care about the fact that they have intractable abdominal pain and debilitating headaches on a daily basis. When these symptoms remain unresolved and health goals aren't met (and in some cases, when they are outright dismissed with the infamous phrase, "you'll have to learn to deal with it") people seek alternatives.

I tell my clients that diagnostics are an invaluable tool in medicine, without them, we would be living in the dark ages. However, for me, they aren't the bottom line. The bottom line is addressing, mitigating, and hopefully resolving the symptoms that are being presented. What if, instead of ignoring the autoimmune process occurring in Hashimoto's and simply prescribing thyroid hormone, we used clinically proven dietary, exercise, and nutritional interventions to address it? When using this approach, in conjunction with thyroid replacement hormones, amazing things can happen, and why wouldn't they? If we create the conditions for health, vitality and wellness suddenly become achievable goals. Naturopathic medicine by no means offers a complete cure for autoimmunity, but it is certainly an effective and valuable approach for people who are ready to take control of their health.

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