Thyroid Problems – the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’

Thyroid Problems – the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’

Most people think of health problems being about disease and ‘something’ (usually an organ) failing on some level. However, in my experience of working with hormones, they illustrate that there are often functional reasons behind problems being experienced.

This may be why so many health problems seem to have no identifiable cause, because medicine looks for problems at the organ level – it looks at ‘form’. When it comes to thyroid problems it looks at the ‘form’ of the gland – is it diseased or failing? Is this the only reason for the thyroid-related signs and symptoms listed below?

  • Cold body temperature
  • Loss of libido
  • Memory and thinking problems
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Fatigue and loss of stamina
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin and brittle nails
  • Weight management problems
  • Aches and pains
  • Headaches

There is quite a selection of problems across the physical, mental and emotional levels, showing the extent of thyroid problems and how they can impact wellbeing.

Many people who believe they have a thyroid problem go to their family doctor and may get a thyroid blood test. However, that test is likely to be a very limited snapshot of the individual’s thyroid ‘form’, or how the gland is performing. It often comes back as ‘normal’. But it’s all very well having hormone levels – what if they aren’t ‘functioning’ properly?

Interference Factors

Stress and Cortisol

Stress is a major interference factor when it comes to thyroid hormone function. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, can interfere with conversion of one thyroid hormone T4 (thyroxine) to another, T3 (thyronine) by being too high or too low. T3 is the thyroid hormone that does most of the work and if levels are depleted you will be exhibiting underactive thyroid problems. Yet this hormone is rarely evaluated in clinical practice because it’s more about ‘function’ than ‘form’.

Other ways that cortisol can interfere with thyroid hormone function are:

  • if its levels are too low T3 will lose its ability to connect with tissue by as much as 50%;
  • conversely, if its levels are too high it will create thyroid hormone resistance, blocking the hormone from its tissue receptors or docking stations; and,
  • it is also necessary for the proper release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) from the pituitary, or hormone master gland, in the brain.

There’s a big link between thyroid hormone and cortisol and the whole stress picture, but stress and cortisol are not usually considered in clinical practice unless it’s from a general psychological perspective.

The Pill or HRT

Many women find that they can gain maybe 7 lbs (3 Kg) or so when they go on the Pill or HRT, which are oestrogen-based drugs. Some women also find that they have enhanced mood problems as well. For these women it’s important to make the connection with thyroid hormone function and interference by oestrogen.

The nub of the matter is that higher oestrogen levels increase production of Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). TBG binds to the thyroid hormone making it less available for the body to use. (The body needs ‘free’ or bio-available hormone to make its connections.) This is why women who are on Levothyroxine (the usual prescribed medication for an underactive thyroid) find that if they are subsequently prescribed the Pill or HRT their dose of Levothyroxine needs to be increased, to make up for the hormone being lost to the extra TBG.

These are just a couple of examples of how your body can run interference on your thyroid function and I see them frequently in my clinics. One of the main factors is to be able to look at hormones as being part of system so that they are not considered as individual buttons to be pressed for resolution of a health problem.

Support Your Thyroid Function

Here are some easy tips to support your thyroid hormone function:

  • Good levels of selenium are essential to support the conversion of T4 to T3.
  • Vitamin E, whether by diet or supplementation, will protect thyroid hormone from being broken down too quickly.
  • Supporting Phase II liver detox will help your body to get rid of excess steroid hormones, such as oestrogen and cortisol, if they are known to be a problem.
  • Supporting adrenal function is imperative (the Broda Barnes Institute recommends that in cases of thyroid problems always treat the adrenals). Adrenals need to be looked at holistically because behaviour, psychological factors, supplementation and good diet can play important roles … as can good quality sleep! Bear in mind that most people (around 80%) with poor adrenal function will have poor thyroid function. From a supplementation point of view herbal adaptogens (herbs that are known to support the stress response mechanism) may be appropriate and vitamin C will certainly be of benefit because the highest levels of Vitamin C can be found in the adrenal glands (and the brain), and when you are stressed the urinary output of vitamin C increases.
  • Look at food cravings because a propensity for carbs and caffeine can be another indication that energy and stamina are low because of poor thyroid function.

A simple prescription of thyroid hormone is what many people think will be the answer to their prayers when it comes to losing weight or having more energy and feeling better, but I hope that this article illustrates that function is actually just as important as performance!

Recommended Additional Reading:
“Thyroid Balance Traditional Alternative Disorders”
“Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ”

A great resource for thyroid health information is Thyroid UK: www.thyroiduk.org.uk


© Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD
Hormone & Holistic Health Specialist
Harley Street – Jersey – International

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill is a leading holistic hormone health specialist with practices in Harley Street, London, Jersey in the Channel Islands and an international virtual clinic with patients all over the world. She is a fervent supporter of the charity Thyroid UK, being a Trustee and on their advisory panel, supporting their aims of promoting better thyroid health.

Alyssa has a background in health that stretches over 20 years – with an academic background in health promotion (MSc) and a PhD focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis’. More recently she has published a book ‘Weight Loss Winners & Dieting Downfalls’. More information about her and her book can be found by following the link below:
www.dralyssaburns-hill.com


With many thanks to Alyssa for this excellent article. If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.

Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
[email protected], 01684 310099


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3 thoughts on “Thyroid Problems – the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’

  1. Hi Elaine

    Thanks for your comment and for your recommendation of Thyroid UK. It is a great charity that helps people learn more about thyroid health problems. There’s the Conference in October for anyone who wants to learn more – a great place to meet fellow sufferers and learn about how you can help yourself.

    I’m glad you found the genetic route helpful – it’s certainly worth exploring!

    all best wishes,

  2. Very interesting – 4 doctors have said I could have a thyroid problem – each did a blood test which did not confirm it. Even though I have a lot of the symptoms!!

  3. I had no symptoms but doctors kept saying my thyroid was under active. One put me on medication which l reacted to. I read up on it and supported both adrenals and thyroid with supplements and test came back normal. I eat a lot of laverbread and it is stable. For five years l went for checks and nothing changed so refused to continue. GP can’t believe l have solved the problem with diet and supplements. Obviously, if l did have symptoms and felt unwell l would go to my GP to check it out.

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