A fair number of individuals, often once they have hit their thirties, forties or beyond have been told they have a ‘thyroid issue’. While there are many types of thyroid issues, some of the most common include ‘hypothyroidism’, ‘Hashimoto’s thyroiditis’ and ‘Grave’s Disease’. Typically conventional medicine determines this by certain lab tests that look for an ‘overactive’ or ‘sluggish’ thyroid, looking at tests such as TSH, T4 and T3, and thyroid ‘antibodies’ to determine this. Then usually a patient is put on a thyroid hormone medication to help ‘support their thyroid function’. Little else is often addressed or discussed however, including how the thyroid relates to the rest of the body, often setting the stage for more and further problems down the road.
Well for those of you reading this, it hopefully isn’t a shock that your thyroid, like all other organs in the body, doesn’t operate in isolation but rather is one organ that is influenced by the behaviour and ‘performance’ of many others! Thus by only treating the thyroid and no other related body systems, treatment unfortunately typically falls very short for many individuals and in some cases, can often cause more complicated problems later on.
Understanding the Neuro-Endocrine Pathways of Our Body
The vast majority of traditional doctors and even many ‘holistic’ healthcare practitioners don’t have a strong understanding of how many of our glands and glandular ‘parts’ of our organs (i.e. the hypothalamus and pituitary regions of the brain) fit together and work. The reality is is that they work together, connected by a series of regulatory feedback loops that communicate to each other, provoked from sensory stimuli, conscious thought, the brain stem and more. It truly is a complex system that we still don’t completely understand. That said however, there is much we DO understand and much we can take from knowing a little bit more about this!
The HPA Axis
This term refers to our ‘hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal’ connection. This particular ‘loop’ is in constant communication with each other and is instrumental in coordinating the production and release of things such as adrenal hormones like cortisol and DHEA as well as what we call ‘neurotransmitters’, which are diverse chemical messengers involved in everything from supporting our mood to quelling addictive behaviours to helping our ‘fight and flight’ response. All of these hormones and neurotransmitters have what we call ‘healthy optimal ranges’ we can test for in blood and urine tests, which help us gauge if there are disturbances, depletions, or overcompensations in these going on. The coordination of all of these various hormones and neurotransmitters, when working well, is akin to instruments in an orchestra all playing together at the right time at the right volume. It sounds wonderful and in harmony. And internally, when this happens, we feel and tend to act in balance and in harmony.
When Things Aren’t So Harmonious
While the list is much too lengthy to go into in this article, the potential issues arising from HPA axis exhaustion and imbalance is considerable. In fact, many conditions that people receive psychiatric medications for are often rooted in HPA axis dysfunction, such as depletion and imbalances in neurotransmitter levels. Examples of such conditions include: depression, anxiety, addiction, insomnia, bipolar disorder, and others. Interestingly, issues like hypoglycaemia, blood sugar and insulin spikes, weight gain, and premature hormonal decline are also linked to HPA imbalances and dysfunction. This HPA axis also greatly influences thyroid function and thus by neglecting to address and support it through lifestyle adjustments, using food as medicine, and targeted amino acid and nutritional supplementation, again we are falling far short of what we need to do to truly improve things in a balanced way for the long-term!