Approaches to Thyroid Disease Management: A Comparison of Conventional and Holistic Medicine

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in front of the neck that produces hormones important to regulate numerous metabolic processes in the body. Thyroxine, also known as T4, is the primary hormone released into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland also produces T3 or triiodothyronine. Some of the T4 is converted to T3 in the tissues. T3 is the active form of the hormone.

Regulation of Thyroid Hormone

The function of the gland is regulated by a feedback mechanism. When thyroid hormone levels in the blood are low, the hypothalamus in the brain produces a hormone known as thyrotropin releasing hormone or TRH that stimulates the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH. TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to release more T4 and T3.

Types of Thyroid Disorders

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Thyroid nodules
  • Thyroid cancer

Symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) include:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor Concentration
  • Mental Fogginess
  • Dry Skin
  • Constipation
  • Feeling Cold
  • Fluid Retention
  • High Cholesterol
  • Muscle Aches
  • Joint Pain
  • Depression

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Tremor
  • Nervousness
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Fatigue
  • Heat Intolerance
  • Increased Sweating
  • Increased Bowel Movements
  • Weightloss

Thyroid nodules are lumps or abnormal masses in the thyroid and may be benign or cancerous.
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder and is responsible for a lot of doctor visits and medications.
The medical diagnosis of hypothyroidism is based on laboratory tests. The primary indicator of low thyroid function is an elevated TSH. In the feedback mechanism described earlier, if the T4 is low the TRH will stimulate the thyroid gland to release more TSH. If the TSH stays elevated, the medical system interprets that as an inability of the thyroid gland to produce T4.

Medical treatment

The treatment for a low functioning thyroid is to give a drug that replaces the T4. That drug is levothyroxine. Patients are most often advised that they have to be on the thyroid medicine for the rest of their lives.

The Downside of this Approach

  • There is no attempt to determine the underlying cause of the thyroid dysfunction.
  • There is no attempt to heal the thyroid gland.
  • The treatment offered is to alleviate the symptoms of low thyroid by replacing the hormone.
  • From the regulation of thyroid hormone described earlier, it is clear that there many different factors that could affect thyroid function including at the level of the hypothalamus, pituitary, the thyroid gland itself or the conversion of T4 to T3 in the tissues.

Functional medicine approach

Functional medicine practitioners will go a little further in their diagnoses by measuring blood levels of T4 and T3 to determine if the problem is in the conversion of T4 to T3, in which case they would prescribe T3 medication such as Liothyronine. A comparison of the level of T4, T3, and TSH will also help the practitioner determine if the problem is from the thyroid gland, central control, or peripheral problems. The range of values considered to be abnormal is wider and allows for more cases to be diagnosed and treated. Some practitioners will also measure and compare the free vs total T4 to determine if there is a problem with the binding proteins. Some practitioners will measure antibodies to thyroglobulin. Reverse T3 or rT3 is an inactive form of T3. There are conditions that favor the conversion of T4 to rT3 instead of active T3.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland that reduces its activity and is caused by antibodies attacking the gland, hence autoimmune. Presence of antithyroxine and antithyglobilin antibodies will indicate an autoimmune thyroid condition such as Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease depending on the part of the gland bound and the effect on hormone production.

Graves disease is also caused by antibodies against the thyroid gland but in this case, it stimulates the gland to produce more hormones, hence hyperthyroidism.
The treatment approach for many functional medicine practitioners is to replace the thyroid hormone with drugs that contain both T4 and T3. These drugs include Armor thyroid, WP thyroid, Naturethroid, and NP Thyroid.

This approach is more effective than replacing with T4 alone. These are more natural sources of thyroid hormone derived from animal glands. They are comprised of a combination of T4 and T3. However, the proportions of the hormones do not resemble the levels found naturally in the human body.
Another downside again is that we are replacing the hormone without healing the thyroid gland or addressing the underlying cause of the dysfunction. The patients will still have to take these drugs for the rest of their lives with periodic dose adjustments.

Holistic Approach

The holistic approach places a lot more emphasis on symptoms as a diagnostic tool. Laboratory results are used by some practitioners as confirmation of clinical history.

Other practitioners, including myself, do not use laboratory values at all. We rely on the patient symptoms and the result of Nutrition Response Testing and or Autonomic Response Testing. These methods use the neurological reflexes of the body to identify areas of the body that are not functioning optimally. These tests are able to identify thyroid dysfunction even before they become apparent in laboratory tests. Nutrition Response Testing is noninvasive and relies on the body’s innate stress response.

The treatment approach is to determine the underlying cause of the thyroid disorder. Thyroid disease like a lot of chronic diseases are caused by one or more of these factors;

Nutritional deficiencies or food sensitivities, chemical and heavy metal toxicities, immune challenges with viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites as well as autoimmune conditions, stress and other factors that block the bodies ability to heal itself.

The Nutrition Response Testing and Autonomic Response methods are used to determine the underlying cause in each situation. Once the underlying cause is identified we find the appropriate remedy to neutralize that factor. People that have specific food sensitivities will have to stop eating those foods and take specific enzymes that help clear the remnants in their system. People that have a problem with chemicals and heavy metals will be recommended supplements that will help their body detox from those toxins. People with immune challenges are given supplements that will build their immune systems to help fight off those foreign organisms.

The supplement selections are specific for the individual. There are a few whole food nutritional supplement companies such as Standard Process R that have formulations that are directed specifically at detoxification processes, specific organ support, and enzymatic processes. They are not sold over the counter, but only through healthcare professionals to ensure appropriate use.

The next step is to determine supplements that can support the repair of the thyroid gland. Nutrition Response Testing or Autonomic Response testing is also used to determine which supplements the body needs to heal the thyroid. The methods can also be used to test the person’s ability to tolerate the supplements recommended.


The body has the ability to repair damaged organs if you create the right conditions for healing. The process of identifying the underlying cause of the dysfunction to eliminate or neutralize it, and then provide the desired supplements for the restoration of the thyroid gland will lead to a complete resolution of the problem. This process is called Nutrition Response Testing. It takes time for this healing to take place but in my experience, strict adherence to the program will produce healing in three to twelve months depending on the severity of the conditions and the stressors that are involved.

If you want to learn more about the differences between conventional and holistic medicine, schedule an appointment with Wize Nutrition Therapy today.