How I Used A Holistic Approach to Reverse My Hypothyroidism
Updated: Oct 23, 2017
What you are about to read is definitely the most fulfilling article I have yet to write. I’m not going to lie, the past few years have been incredibly difficult due to a variety of health issues that I have grappled with. Yet the pure joy and relief I have felt by uncovering the root to these issues has been the most gratifying experience. I chose to write about these experiences with the hope that I will help empower others with similar conditions to seek treatment or find healing in a way that speaks to the intuition of their own body.
Yet I cannot think of an issue I have chosen to address holistically that has challenged my mind, body, and soul more than my experience with Hypothyroidism. There is so much emotion tied up in this experience that being able to write about how I have finally overcome this condition on my own terms is incredibly meaningful for me, so I ask that you take this into consideration as you read on.
Before I get into sharing the details of my healing story, it might be useful for you as the reader to have a brief introduction to the Thyroid gland and its function in the body.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits below the Adam’s apple and is responsible for producing several hormones that act to regulate body temperature, metabolism, and brain development among other functions. Every cell in your body has a receptor for two hormones: thyroid and vitamin D. This ubiquity highlights the critical role this gland plays in the body and preludes to the mass chaos that ensues when thyroid hormone is not regulated properly.
The Thyroid System
There is a delicate balancing act that the thyroid gland performs by controlling the ratio of inactive to the active hormone that is available for utilization. The thyroid gland also acts as a gatekeeper that regulates the quantity of hormone that is available for the body and responds to signals sent from the hypothalamus in the brain telling the thyroid to either increase or decrease production of the hormone. The hypothalamus is the kick ass part of your brain that acts as a control panel (think of the control panel from “Inside Out”) for the autonomic nervous system in that it controls other endocrine glands, sleep, etc. So, when the hypothalamus detects that the body’s homeostasis is not being maintained (body temp, hormone levels, energy regulation) it sends a signal in the form of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid to either increase or decrease the production of a prohormone known as thyroxine (T4). It is easiest to think of a “prohormone” as the inactive building blocks of another hormone that actually exerts and effect on the body. The active form of thyroid hormone is known as triiodothyronine (T3) and this is the molecule that every cell in your body has a receptor for. Therefore, the T3 molecule is essentially what regulates metabolism and having low levels of T3 is considered “hypothyroidism”, hypo = low while having high levels of T3 is considered “hyperthyroidism”, hyper = high.
There are several factors that influence the efficiency of converting T4 (inactive) to T3 (active). Nutrition is one of these factors, and poor or insufficient nutrition is a very common denominator when evaluating thyroid health. The enzymes that convert T4 into T3 are both iodine and selenium dependent molecules, and therefore will not function without proper levels of these minerals in the body. This is why it is commonly advised by the health community to eat sea vegetables, use iodized salt, eat brazil nuts and brown rice, or use a good supplement for iodine and selenium to support thyroid function! There are several other factors including genetics, stress level, and age that influence thyroid function so these should not be discredited when evaluating the root cause of abnormal thyroid function!
*Fun fact: 1-2 Brazil nuts supply your daily needs for selenium and 1 tsp of iodized salt supplies your daily needs for iodine!
So with that introduction, let’s get started on my experience with being diagnosed with Hypothyroidism.
In September of 2017, I made an appointment with my OB/GYN to discuss some concerns I was having about my absent period. I decided to go off hormonal birth control nearly 13 months prior, so the prolonged absence of a normal cycle was really starting to freak me out. This was not my first unsuccessful attempt to go off birth control and this made me really question the health of my reproductive system, which of course led to me questioning my fertility and ability to mother children if I so chose in the future. Back in 2014 was my first attempt to get off the pill after being on it for nearly 5 years. I was greeted with almost immediate mood swings, insomnia, and a complete lack of energy, which ultimately led me to go back on the birth control pill within 3 months of stopping.
I wish I then had the resources I have now because I truly believe my first attempt would have been successful and perhaps I could have avoided this whole mess, but I digress.
Back to the present. After various testing, ultrasound imaging, and physical exams, it was determined that I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) characterized by a lack of period, acne, weight gain, cystic ovaries, and other unfortunate symptoms. However, something else was detected in my blood work that raised immediate concern for my doctor. My TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) was way off the charts and my T3 (active hormone) was low. I vividly remember sitting in the examination room, listening to my doctor explain that I would need to be on hormone replacement therapy for the rest of my life because “the thyroid simply does not heal itself”. After a review of my blood work (see below), she wrote me a prescription for hormone therapy, ordered more blood work, and left the room.
I sat there stunned and utterly defeated. I couldn’t understand how this had happened. I ate healthy food, I exercised, I avoided processed junk, WHAT THE HELL?! I immediately began tearing up, much to the dismay of the awkward phlebotomist who came in to draw more blood.
I left the doctor’s office with a tissue in one hand and a prescription in the other and spent the rest of the day researching hypothyroidism and alternative treatments. I began reading about foods to eat and other holistic methods of reversing hypothyroidism. To be honest, I was so struck by this diagnosis that I felt a bit paralyzed despite the tremendous amount of information online about how to heal hypothyroidism holistically. In my overwhelmed state, I frantically reached out to the holistic health practitioner that I had worked with before and who had diagnosed me with Epstein Barr Virus the year prior.
During our meeting, she reassured me that the hypothyroidism was just stress and that I needed to focus on relaxing. Stress is such a pervasive enemy when it comes to both overall health and especially with thyroid health. Too much cortisol in the body from overstimulating the stress response interferes with hormone production, which makes your thyroid work much harder than it ever should have to. So, I tried to head her advice and work on stress-reduction and prioritizing rest.
I applied this advice for about a month hopeful that things would turn around for the better, but towards the end of October I still felt tired, run-down, and exhausted. To top things off, my hair began falling out in clumps and I started to get cystic acne all over my chin, cheeks, and jaw.
My hopes began to dwindle, and I began to concede to the statements my OB/GYN had made about the inability of my body to recover from Hypothyroidism. I thought to myself “Ok, I have tried my best to heal this naturally and without medication. I feel worse than when I started, so maybe I truly do have an irreversible issue with my thyroid?” I had read about how previous run-ins with Mono and EBV can predispose you to have thyroid issues, so maybe that is why I was experiencing this?
I fought with myself for about a week trying to make a decision, and eventually accepted my doctor’s orders and filled the prescription for the hormone therapy.
The first day I took the medication I remember holding the capsule in my hand, terrified of what this treatment plan had in store for me. I had read online that for people with Hypothyroidism, starting a therapy regimen feels as if someone has turned the lights back on. My doctor promised that I would have more energy, that my acne would clear up, and that my PCOS would resolve itself in a matter of months. So, I popped that capsule, washed it down with some water and continued on with life.
Little did I know the difficulty that would ensue only a few weeks later.
The first few weeks on hormone replacement didn’t really feel all that different than life without the medication. I felt a bit more “wired” and I noticed that my heart rate was faster than normal but other than that I didn’t feel much different. However, within the first month of being on thyroid medication, I had gained nearly five pounds and my horrible insomnia that plagued me all through college had returned. My hair continued to fall out and my IBS-C symptoms had flared up severely. I began having terrifying dreams and mood swings….oh the mood swings. I literally felt like I was going insane. I would be happy and bubbly one minute and tearful and moody the next. I knew something was just not right, so back to the doctor I went.
After describing my symptoms, my doctor said “Sorry! Hormone replacement therapy takes a bit of tinkering to get just right so you will probably experience difficulties for a few more months until we figure out the optimal dose”.
UGH!!! A few more months of this craziness?!!
I tried to be as understanding and compliant as possible, so off I went to the pharmacy for a new experimental dose of thyroid medication. I stayed on different strengths of medication for nearly 7 months, trusting that this diagnosis was accurate and that the hormones would help me to function. Yet my symptoms had not improved, I now had to take an additional medication to be able to sleep at night, and I was getting fed up with the creeping weight gain of nearly 15lbs that had occurred since I started the medication.
I was done. I was angry for choosing to go on medication, and I was finally ready to let my body take over and do what it is innately capable of doing: heal.
I went into my doctor’s office one last time and explained that I no longer wanted to be on medication. After telling me that I “needed” to be on hormone therapy and that I would not be able to function without it, my doctor explained that all the claims about healing hypothyroidism naturally were produced from “naysayers” and that I would be doing myself a huge disservice in the long run by ending the therapy.
I tried my best to politely disagree and then left the appointment feeling scared but determined. I once again reached out to the holistic practitioner that I previously mentioned and explained my situation to her. After listening to my experience, symptoms, and other side effects, we decided on a treatment plan using various supplements and herbs to help heal and cleanse my body of the hormone replacement. I have included the treatment plan below, but I do want to explain that each body is different and as such, what worked for me may not work for others. This is not a definitive guide to healing hypothyroidism, and understanding each person’s unique case is VERY important when embarking on a journey to reverse hypothyroidism holistically. Please consult with a professional who is trained in herbalism, holistic health, or functional medicine before applying any of these modalities!
My treatment plan was as follows:
2 tabs of Thytrophin by Standard Process once in the morning
3-9 tabs of Drenamin by Standard Process throughout the day or as needed
1-3 capsule of Berberine to cleanse the liver every day
Sea salt/kelp for Thyroid support (whole food source of iodine)
1 capsule of Prolamine Iodine for thyroid support, taken in the morning
1-3 capsules of Black Cohosh for regulation of menstrual cycle
Along with these supplements I also added the following to my regimen:
Daily practice of meditation
Daily practice of slow, calming yoga
Kava Kava supplement at night for relaxation and sleep
Removing all sources of caffeine from my diet
I also adopted a completely plant-based diet composed of legumes, whole grains, LOADS of root vegetables, leafy greens, and as much healthy fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, etc as I desired.
During this time, I did not worry about how much I was eating. Instead, I focused on eating for energy and only ate the highest quality plant-based foods I could get my hands on in order to avoid chemicals, hormones, etc from poor quality food. In my opinion, this was one of the most important aspects of my healing process! Not only did eating plant-based give me more natural energy than I had ever experienced, it also helped me to realize that I didn’t actually need meat or dairy to feel amazing.
I had this image in my head of a fragile, emaciated version of myself that would SURELY result from me transitioning to a plant-based diet, but quite the opposite happened. Every aspect of my life became more robust when I transitioned to a plant-based diet.
My skin completely healed, my digestive system has literally never been better (I no longer need to depend on a probiotic to feel “normal”) my mood is more stable, and my energy is SUPER consistent.
I lived in the glow of feeling incredible on a plant-based diet WITHOUT medication for about 6 weeks. At this point, I realized that I slowly stopped needing the supplements that were a part of my treatment plan, and eventually I stopped them altogether.
My life living plant-based and being off the hormone replacement therapy was so dramatically different from what it had been only a few months prior, and I was astounded at how amazing I felt. At this point, I was eager to have my thyroid levels tested to see how much hormonal improvement had occurred.
I was SO nervous the day I went in to have my blood drawn. I kept reassuring myself that no matter what the lab results indicated, I truly felt amazing with my new lifestyle! I told myself that even if my levels were still off, I would continue down the road of healing myself holistically because I had gotten myself this far. A few days later the results came in, and I sat at my computer unable to open the file that would reinforce if I was healthy again. I felt this pit in my stomach that told me my results would probably not be as normal as I would like them to be, but it had to be better than it was back in September. After all, I felt AMAZING, how could there not be an improvement?
So I opened the file containing the results of my blood work and what I saw made my jaw drop.
HELL, they were optimal!!
I literally sprung out of my seat, jumped up and down, and even screamed a few profane words in celebration (I’ll let your imagination handle this one). Then the tears came, oh the tears! I was elated, relieved, grateful, proud, the list continues. After months and months of being told that my body would never be able to function without medication, I was completely healed.
This news was a lot to chew on. I took a complete roller coaster ride of emotions throughout the remainder of that day and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I started at the bottom with pure joy, relief, and pride from all the work I had put in to heal my thyroid. Then I began to ascend my first hill. I began thinking about how many months I had wasted feeling like my body had been taken over by some zombie-like being. I began to hate my doctor for convincing me that my body was defective and that I needed medication. I became furious after reliving that day in the doctor’s office when I explained that I no longer wanted to be on medication and was essentially laughed at and told I would be harming myself.
In that moment, my lab results that indicated that I was healed felt like the biggest “F-you” I could serve to the medical community. I had been convinced that the thyroid cannot heal itself and that I would be naïve and reckless to assume it could. I began to think about the thousands of other men and women that probably had similar diagnoses, but didn’t have the resources to seek alternative treatment. I’m not going to deny that I was furious. I felt betrayed and misguided. I felt that I had been lied to and used as a pawn to support big Pharma when I went on hormone therapy.
I spoke to several other people about my triumph and frustration, including my boyfriend who is himself a member of the medical/scientific community. My anger and frustration were supported by everyone except him. At first, I turned my frustration on him thinking “he knows how hard I struggled, he watched me go through everything I have gone through, how can he not support me?!” I ruminated on this anger for a while until something he said began to resonate with me. After all the grumbling and bad-mouthing I had done about the doctor who put me on medication, he said “I understand your frustration and anger completely, but I don’t agree with you blaming the entire medical community for what you went through. That doctor was probably just trying to help in the way that she knew how”.
In my hot-headed state this only added fuel to the fire, but then I began recognizing that he was right.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in feeling that someone has wronged you which leads you to seek justification by slandering the reputation or intentions of someone else.
Am I still angry? In some ways yes, but the frustration is no longer towards doctors. I am frustrated with myself for making the choice to go on medication. I am frustrated with myself for not asking more probing questions to evaluate my doctors understanding of other factors that influence thyroid health. I am frustrated with myself for not focusing on stress management and ensuring that I was getting adequate nutrition. I am frustrated that our entire system is set up in such a way that institutes prescriptions as the first line of action in most, if not all states of illness. There was no talk of nutrition, or exercise, or sleep quality, or even stress level despite there being a tremendous amount of scientific literature supporting that these factors influence thyroid function!
These factors were not discussed because they are not a part of medical training, and ultimately no institution can profit from prescribing a specific diet or exercise regimen.
This is what must change.
We must start honoring the innate wisdom of our bodies and practice PATIENCE in its ability to heal. Unfortunately, we are living in an instant gratification society, this is not news. Yet when it comes to our bodies and our health, we need to start honoring the process (sometimes lengthy) that is required to benefit from holistic healing.
I can honestly say that I have never felt better than I do now, and I firmly believe that is because I stopped trying to live by the rules of my ego and instead allowed my body to step in and tell me what it needed. In my case, that was rest, quality nutrition, and TIME. I chose to share this story because I think it illustrates the framework that most of us operate within when we encounter issues with our health. Something is “wrong” so we go to the doctor, most likely are given a prescription that will help with our symptoms, but usually does not address the root cause.
I want to challenge that.
Instead of viewing a health concern as being something “wrong” with your body, view it as cause and effect. Symptoms and disease manifestation are the effect of something gone awry that has caused the result. Finding the cause is the only true way to heal what ails us, and ultimately it is US as the patient that has to decide how we address the cause to get the result we want. We have to take back control of our own health and do so responsibly.
I sincerely do not want to pigeon hole anyone that has tried to heal on their own terms and has been unsuccessful, please do not read this as an attack because that is the farthest from my intention. I simply want to convey that we are in much more control than we are made to believe because of direct to consumer advertising, big Pharma, and other governing bodies.
I chose to go on medication because I did not give my body a fighting chance to heal. Fortunately, I realized that medication was not the path for me and sought alternative methods. Yet I also recognize my privilege as an educated, middle-class woman who has the resources to seek alternative treatment. It is important to realize that this is not possible for everyone, but it sure as hell should be. I wish our world was one where you can choose how you want to address a health concern, whether that be with Western medicine, Eastern medicine, functional medicine, herbalism, and so on. Unfortunately, that is not the state of affairs that we live in.
This is why I write. This is why I share. This is why I work in the field that I do.
Every person deserves to feel empowered about their health, and it is my duty and the duty of others within the various health fields to share valuable information about the options that people should know they have. It is my dream that someday all alternative modalities of healing will be accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. I’m going to keep sharing my story, my resources, and my knowledge in the hope that this empowers someone somewhere who has felt like they don’t have the option to heal on their own terms.
If something you read here speaks to you, please share! If you would like access to reliable resources about your health concerns and don’t have the means to do so please reach out to me. I am here to help and serve as a resource for your healing and health!
Love, hugs, and all the best wishes for your health!