Functional medicine is an approach that emphasizes the identification and treatment of underlying causes of disease rather than simply treating symptoms. This approach is particularly relevant in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Traditional treatment for Hashimoto’s typically involves thyroid hormone replacement therapy, but functional medicine practitioners take a more holistic approach.
- One key aspect of functional medicine in the treatment of Hashimoto’s is the interpretation of laboratory test results. Conventional reference ranges for thyroid hormone levels are often too broad, leading to underdiagnoses and undertreatment of thyroid dysfunction. Functional medicine practitioners use narrower optimal ranges to more accurately diagnose and treat thyroid issues. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Thyroid Research found that using narrower reference ranges for thyroid hormone levels resulted in more accurate diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction.
- Another important aspect of functional medicine in the treatment of Hashimoto’s is addressing root causes of immune dysfunction, rather than simply prescribing thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This may involve testing for and treating underlying infections, such as chronic viral infections or gut dysbiosis. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Autoimmunity found that gut dysbiosis may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s.
- Functional medicine practitioners also customize diets for Hashimoto’s patients based on laboratory tests. This may involve identifying and eliminating food sensitivities, which can trigger inflammation and exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that an elimination diet reduced symptoms in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies is another important aspect of functional medicine in the treatment of Hashimoto’s. For example, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to the development of autoimmune thyroid diseases. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation found that vitamin D supplementation improved thyroid function in patients with Hashimoto’s.
- Stress and poor sleep can also contribute to immune dysfunction and exacerbate autoimmune symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners may recommend stress-reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga, and may address sleep issues through sleep hygiene recommendations or supplementation with natural sleep aids.
- In addition to thyroid hormone replacement therapy, functional medicine practitioners may recommend other supplements and medications to address imbalances in other hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. This may involve testing for these hormones and treating imbalances with targeted interventions. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Thyroid Research found that regulating testosterone improved symptoms in male patients with Hashimoto’s.
- Despite normal laboratory test results, many patients with Hashimoto’s continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and brain fog. This may be due to poor conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to the active form T3, as well as inflammation blocking the action of thyroid hormones. Functional medicine practitioners may use medications such as T3 or natural thyroid hormone extracts to address poor conversion, as well as anti-inflammatory supplements or medications to reduce inflammation.
In conclusion, functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach to the treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, addressing underlying root causes of immune dysfunction rather than simply prescribing thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This approach may involve interpretation of laboratory tests based on optimal reference ranges, customized diets based on laboratory tests, and addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, infections, stress, and sleep issues. Targeted interventions may also be used to address imbalances in other hormones and to improve thyroid hormone conversion and reduce inflammation. Overall, functional medicine offers a promising approach to the management of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.