The Functional Medicine Approach to Hypothyroidism

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Functional medicine has emerged as an innovative approach to healthcare, focusing on addressing the root cause of disease rather than simply treating symptoms. In the context of thyroid health, functional medicine offers a comprehensive approach to understanding and treating hypothyroidism.

This article will discuss the functional medicine perspective on the thyroid, the potential issues that can arise, and preventative measures that can be taken. Additionally, we will explore the connection between gluten and Hashimoto's, the importance of gut health, and the impact of toxins and infections on thyroid function.

How Your Thyroid Works

The thyroid gland, located at the base of the neck, produces thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, and development. These hormones, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), are synthesized by the thyroid gland from iodine and tyrosine.

On the other hand, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland regulate the production and release of thyroid hormones via the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis.

The hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH then stimulates the thyroid gland to produce and release T4 and T3.

When the levels of these hormones are sufficient, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland receive feedback, leading to a decrease in TRH and TSH secretion, thus maintaining a balanced hormonal state.

If you need help supporting your thyroid health, schedule a call with Dr. J by clicking here

What Causes Hypothyroidism?


Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormones, leading to a slow metabolism and a wide range of symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, and depression. Several factors can contribute to the development of hypothyroidism, including:

– Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis

– Iodine deficiency

– Inflammation or damage to the thyroid gland

– Certain medications or treatments, like radiation therapy

– Congenital disabilities

– Pituitary gland disorders


How to Prevent or Reverse Thyroid Disease

Functional medicine takes a personalized approach to preventing and treating thyroid diseases by identifying and addressing the underlying causes. This may involve:

– Ensuring adequate iodine intake through diet or supplementation, be careful with iodine and autoimmune attack. 

– Reducing stress and supporting adrenal function

– Addressing nutrient deficiencies, such as selenium, zinc, and vitamin D

– Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities or allergens

– Balancing blood sugar levels

– Promoting gut health


The Caveat with Iodine and Hashimoto's


While ensuring adequate iodine intake is essential for thyroid health, it is crucial to understand that excessive iodine supplementation can sometimes exacerbate Hashimoto's thyroiditis. 

Research has recently shown that high levels of iodine can trigger an autoimmune response in individuals genetically predisposed to Hashimoto's or who already have the condition. This response occurs because excessive iodine intake can lead to the increased production of thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme involved in thyroid hormone synthesis, a common target of autoimmune attack in Hashimoto's.

Functional medicine practitioners recommend a balanced approach to iodine supplementation for those with Hashimoto's:

– Assessing individual iodine levels through comprehensive testing before starting supplementation

– Providing personalized guidance on the appropriate dosage and form of iodine based on individual needs and risk factors

– Monitoring thyroid function and antibody levels regularly to ensure that the supplementation does not trigger or worsen autoimmune thyroiditis

– Encouraging a balanced diet rich in natural sources of iodine, such as seaweed, fish, and dairy products, as an alternative to supplementation in some cases


Gluten, Hashimoto's, and Hypothyroidism Connection


Recently, many people with hypothyroidism have suffered from Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Research has shown a strong correlation between gluten sensitivity or celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, can trigger an inflammatory response and increase intestinal permeability, leading to a leaky gut. This allows undigested food particles and toxins to enter the bloodstream gradually, potentially triggering an autoimmune reaction.

So, by adopting a gluten-free diet, many individuals with Hashimoto's have reported improved thyroid function and reduced symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners often recommend a grain-free diet as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism and help prevent gluten-free grains like rice, corn, or oat from attributing your immune system.


Healing Your Gut to Help Your Thyroid


The gut plays a crucial role in thyroid function, as approximately 20% of T4 is converted to active T3 in the intestines. Also, an unhealthy gut can contribute to inflammation, impaired nutrient absorption, and an imbalanced gut microbiome, which can negatively affect thyroid function.

Functional medicine practitioners emphasize the importance of gut health in managing thyroid disorders by recommending the following strategies:

– Eating a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins

– Identifying and eliminating food sensitivities or allergens, which can contribute to gut inflammation and impaired thyroid function

– Supplementing with probiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome and improve digestion

– Incorporating prebiotic foods, such as artichokes, onions, and garlic, to nourish beneficial gut bacteria

– Reducing stress and practicing relaxation techniques, as stress can negatively impact gut health and exacerbate thyroid issues


How Toxins Can Impact Your Thyroid

Most of the time, exposure to environmental toxins can significantly impact thyroid function. For example, certain chemicals, such as perchlorate, bisphenol A (BPA), and phthalates, have been found to interfere with thyroid hormone production and metabolism. And these toxins can be found in various sources, including plastic containers, personal care products, and industrial pollutants.

Functional medicine practitioners recommend reducing exposure to these toxins by:

– Choosing organic foods and avoiding pesticide exposure

– Using glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic

– Selecting natural and non-toxic personal care and household products

– Ensuring proper ventilation and air filtration in the home


How Infections Impact Your Thyroid


Ideally, bacterial and viral infections can impact thyroid function by causing inflammation and dysregulation of the immune system. In addition, chronic infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have also been linked to developing autoimmune thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease.

Functional medicine practitioners address the role of infections in thyroid disorders by:

– Identifying and treating underlying infections through comprehensive diagnostic testing and targeted therapies

– Supporting the immune system through nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle modifications

– Managing inflammation and promoting optimal gut health to prevent the development or exacerbation of autoimmune thyroid conditions




Therefore, the functional medicine approach to hypothyroidism offers a comprehensive and personalized framework for understanding and treating thyroid disorders. By addressing the root causes, such as gluten sensitivity, gut health, toxin exposure, and infections, functional medicine practitioners can help patients prevent or reverse thyroid disease and achieve optimal health.


If you need help supporting your thyroid health, schedule a call with Dr. J by clicking here


Product Links: 

Iodine Synergy

Thyro Replete 120 caps

Thyro Balance 90 caps




  1. The effect of gluten-free diet on thyroid autoimmunity in drug-naïve women with Hashimoto's thyroiditis: A pilot study


  1. Association between Selenium and Other Micronutrients and Thyroid Cancer Incidence in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study


  1. Effects of Bisphenol A on Thyroid Hormone Receptor Alpha (TRα)-Mediated Transcription


  1. Role of Iodine in Pathogenesis of Hypothyroidism in Chronic Autoimmune Thyroiditis: A Pilot Study


  1. Role of Gut Microbiota on the Development of Hypothyroidism


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