Millions of people in the United States take levothyroxine, a synthetic form of T4, the inactive thyroid hormone. In fact, levothyroxine is the #4 most prescribed medication in the U.S. The liver, gut, and other tissues into a form that the body’s cells can use must convert T4 into a usable, or “active,” form. This active form, called T3, is key in the production of cellular energy. Every cell in the human body has T3 receptors.
Shockingly, 70% of people taking prescription thyroid hormone continue to suffer thyroid symptoms! Why? Because only one specific type of hypothyroidism, called primary hypothyroidism, will respond well to this conventional treatment. Primary hypothyroidism is not nearly as common as assumed in conventional medicine. There is usually much more going on, and some detective work is in order to uncover the real cause of the person’s symptoms.
Secondary hypothyroidism can result of a stressed-out pituitary gland, but this is far less common even than primary hypothyroidism.
Secondary hypothyroidism as a result of overworked adrenal glands, however, is far more common. In fact, many diagnosed cases of hypothyroidism can be completely resolved without thyroid medication by simply getting your HPA axis back into healthy balance.
What’s an HPA Axis?
This is the interaction between the hypothalamus (a region in your brain), the pituitary gland (which is located in the brain), and the adrenal glands (two walnut-sized glands that sit atop your kidneys). When the HPA axis is imbalanced, out-of-sync biochemical signals create imbalances in the hormones that the pituitary and adrenals produce. This can mean that the wrong amounts are produced, they are produced at the wrong time, or both.
HPA axis dysfunction affects thyroid function in several ways:
- In times of stress, the adrenal glands signal the thyroid to produce less thyroid hormone, as a signal to the person to slow down and rest. In today’s world, who actually does this?
- In times of stress, the adrenal glands convert more active T3 hormone into an inactive, unusable form called Reverse T3. Reverse T3 binds to cell receptors for T3 but are useless in helping the cell create energy.
- Stress affects the balance of “bad” to “good” bacteria in the gut. Good bacteria have the job of converting 20% of inactive thyroid hormone to an active form. Stress causes dysbiosis, allowing the bad bacteria to proliferate, leaving fewer beneficial bacteria to do this thyroid hormone conversion.
- For our cells to produce energy, both cortisol and active T3 thyroid hormone must dock with receptors on the surface of the cell. When we lack either hormone, energy levels suffer.
- Adequate cortisol levels are essential in regulating autoimmune response. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis flares up when cortisol levels drop.
- Sufficient cortisol is needed for healing leaky gut. Leaky gut is a major cause of food intolerances that contribute to autoimmunity. Leaky gut also suppresses healthy immune response that prevents infections such as Yersina enterocolitica or Lyme disease, which are connected to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
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