Updated: October 2022
A lot has happened since I began doing lab tests and working with patients nutritionally. I’m healthier, and my family is healthier.
Some of the great joy that I have experienced are some of the wonderful patient experiences I’ve had have in treating my very own Mom and Dad.
It was around 2 a.m. over three years ago that I received a phone call from my Dad telling me that my Mom was in the hospital with a myocardial infarction (also known as a “MI” or in plain English – a heart attack).
I was just outside of St. Louis, Missouri at the time in a hotel room. Believe it or not, I was scheduled to attend a cardiovascular seminar the very next morning.
Stroke and Heart Attack Prevention
St. Louis is about a six hour drive from where I live in central Arkansas. The cardiovascular seminar contained information about how to help patients get healthier. In short, it was about stroke and heart attack prevention. And, prevention of cardiovascular disease. Doing so through natural methods.
I talked with my Dad about what he thought I should do and he said that they thought it was a minor heart attack and to wait until the next morning when we would learn more about Mom’s situation.
When I awoke that morning, I immediately called my Dad. He told me that the Drs. said it was a minor heart attack and that the heart catheter test showed no blockages. My Dad told me that my Mom wanted me to go ahead and attend the seminar.
Mom said that she wanted me to learn all of the information that I could so that I could come back to Arkansas and help her. She was sure that I would learn some information that would help her get healthy and recover from her heart attack.
How Can I Help Someone Who Has Had a Heart Attack or a Stroke?
The good news is that the seminar was not only about prevention of cardiovascular disease but also about how to help people recover from a heart attack or stroke.
I did learn a lot about cardiovascular health that weekend and returned to Arkansas ready to help my Mom. She was fully on board. To her credit, she was really motivated and followed ALL instructions that I laid out for her.
I’ve been in practice for over 15 years but at the time of her heart attack, lab testing and nutrition wasn’t the central focus of my practice like it is now.
Even though I had been doing functional medicine with my patients, I hadn’t treated or worked with my very own Mom and Dad. However, it’s easy to understand that following a life threatening event, she was eager to get healthier and I was determined to help her do so.
Undetected Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
I did laboratory testing on my Mom which confirmed that she had an autoimmune disease called “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis”. She had been dealing with “thyroid issues” for a long time but hadn’t had the tests performed to rule out that autoimmune disease.
It’s sad to say it, but she told me that she had asked her Dr. many times and her Dr. told her that her thyroid function was just fine. Come to find out, her Dr. didn’t dig deep enough.
There are specific lab tests that will show not only if your thyroid hormones are being produced by your pituitary gland, but also if you are getting proper conversion of thyroid hormones in your body. Oftentimes, these tests are overlooked or not performed at all.
It has also been my experience that even when the tests are performed, they are poorly understood by many physicians and the data just sits there and the course of treatment with the patient is unaltered.
Is Thyroid Medication the Cure?
There is one common finding that I see with many of my new patients. Here is what they tell me. “My Dr. said that I am hypothyroid and put me on thyroid medication.” I look at the labs the physicians performed and often, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is what was tested and usually no more than that one test.
How does the Thyroid Gland Work?
It is important to understand that the thyroid gland is a reaction gland. It responds to what the pituitary tells it to do. Its’ response is related to mainly one of two things: either not enough active thyroid hormone in the body or too much.
That’s pretty much it. If you see TSH of a 2.5 for example, that tells us that your pituitary gland believes that there is not enough active thyroid hormone in the bloodstream.
Therefore, the pituitary gland will make more TSH in order to get the thyroid gland to produce more T4 which is the storage form of thyroid hormone.
Thyroid Hormone Conversion is King
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen patients come to me with normal TSH. Some are on medications and some aren’t.
But, when I dig deeper, I often find that they still aren’t getting conversion of the thyroid hormones in the liver or peripheral tissues and are still in a state of subclinical or “functional hypothyroid“. It is very common. In fact, I see this more often than I don’t.
The reasons for this are many but in the case of thyroid medications, it’s pretty simple. Thyroid medications can cause blockage of an enzyme needed by your body to convert T4 to T3.
Why is Conversion of T4 to T3 so Important?
It is important to understand that your thyroid mainly makes T4. T4 is biologically inert. That means that it doesn’t do much. T4 is the storage form of thyroid hormone.
It is when an enzyme takes an iodine off of T4 and converts it to the active thyroid hormone called T3 that the magic happens.
T3 is what you want. But, many thyroid medications cause a drug induced nutrient depletion of selenium and other cofactors required for proper thyroid hormone conversion.
This last point is so important that I’m going to say it again differently: Thyroid medicines deplete nutrients like selenium from the body. Selenium (and other nutrients) are necessary for the enzymes to function properly. In this case, the enzymes take an iodine off of T4 making it the active T3.
When you don’t have proper conversion, your TSH can look perfect on your blood work tests but you can still be hypothyroid.
Another critical point: TSH is not enough testing to rule out an autoimmune thyroid condition. Neither is T4, T3, T3 Reverse, or Thyroid Hormone Binding Capacity.
You have to have specific thyroid antibody testing done to see if your immune system has built antibodies against your thyroid gland. These tests are needed to confirm an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease.
Despite my Mom’s persistence with her physician that there was something going on with her thyroid hormone function, the additional tests were never performed until she had her heart attack and I did them myself. My Mom also had high cholesterol, acid reflux, and chronic fatigue.
What are Causes of High Cholesterol?
A common sign of hypothyroid is high cholesterol. That is because when someone is hypothyroid, their metabolism will be slow. When you have a slow metabolism, the liver will make the cholesterol but your body won’t metabolize it. Aka: It won’t break it down. Therefore, the levels of cholesterol will stay high in the blood.
Another common driver of high cholesterol is when someone is chronically inflamed. Cholesterol heals body tissues. When there are tissues in the body that are inflamed, the liver will make more cholesterol and release it into the bloodstream.
How Can Cholesterol Protect Me?
The elevated cholesterol can act as an antioxidant to protect against free radical damage but also will attempt to repair the damage from the chronic inflammation. So, when you are inflamed, your cholesterol can go really high.
When you have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, your thyroid gland is going to be really inflamed. In fact that is what the suffix “itis” means. Itis = inflammation.
Your thyroid gland is under attack by your very own immune system. Your immune system builds antibodies against your thyroid gland and attacks it just the same as it would a virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasite.
So, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroid) patients will have both: Inflammation and a slow metabolism.
Is Autoimmune Disease Permanent?
The problem with autoimmune disease is that once those antibodies are there, they are there for life. Your immune system has a really, really good memory.
It will keep those antibodies and can create chronic destruction of your thyroid tissue. It’s putting a plan together to identify the drivers and irritators/aggravators or “triggers” of these conditions real the real art comes in.
And trust me, it is an art. You can’t know about or understand one area of the body or a specific system. You have to know how to go from A to B and all of the way through Z to help someone with these types of conditions.
What can be Done to Help Hashimoto’s?
That is why I am constantly attending seminars on natural healthcare. Even though the antibodies are there for life, there are ways to improve immune system function and decrease inflammation.
Enzymes are very sensitive to inflammation. By helping body systems regulate, enzymatic processes can work better and you can feel better.
A deep understanding of all of these systems and how they interrelate with each other is needed to help people who suffer with these types of conditions.
There can be many causes of this but I have seen great success performing Food Sensitivity Testing, repairing a leaky gut, and using natural antivirals to help my patients. Viruses suppress the function of the hypothalamus.
Could a Virus Cause my Fatigue?
It is the hypothalamus that sends signals to the pituitary gland which in turn sends many signals to the thyroid gland and other organs in the body.
When the hypothalamus is suppressed, it is very common for people to complain of severe fatigue. All of this makes complete sense when you understand the science behind it.
Some of the key drivers and findings with my Mom were when I ran several tests. One of which showed that she has a severe sensitivity to gluten. She also has Celiac Disease. By targeting gut health and identifying drivers of my Mom’s autoimmune disease, she has been able to become much less inflamed and healthier overall.
How is Gut Health tied to Immune System Function?
Gut health is so important! When you digest food, blood goes from small intestine to the liver where the liver cleans and filters the blood.
It also performs many other functions but one of the most fascinating to me is the immune function of the liver. The liver has specialty white blood cells that only live there. They are called “Kupfer Cells” which are macrophages that kill off foreign particles that don’t belong in the blood.
So, if you have an unhealthy digestive system such as irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth you will be unhealthy. When undigested food proteins are leaking out of your gut, you will develop food sensitivities due to the chronic activation of the Kupfer cells in your liver.
Could an Infection cause Hashimoto’s?
When you have an infection such as bacteria, viral, parasitic, protozoal, or fungal such as candida overgrowth, etc … the white blood cells in your liver will constantly be active and bringing in cytokines and inflammatory proteins which will keep your entire body in a state of hyper-inflammation.
That is another reason why asthmatics tend to see great improvement after identifying Food Sensitivities and staying away from the foods that they react to.
So, the good news is that my Mom was able to get herself much less inflamed. I worked with her to help her lose weight. Weight that she couldn’t lose for over 40 years. She has more energy.
Her hair isn’t thinning like it was. Her complexion is better and her skin isn’t as coarse and dry. Her cholesterol has come down (naturally without using medications).
She doesn’t have acid reflux any longer and hasn’t had to take medications for cholesterol or antacids now for several years. And, her heart is doing great!
Can Ferritin cause Fatigue?
My Dad had some severe health problems one of which was high ferritin. The easy way to explain ferritin is that it is the storage form of iron in the body. You need iron and without it, you will be anemic, suffer from a lack of oxygen and ultimately die if you don’t have enough.
An often untested and undiagnosed condition related to iron overload is elevated ferritin. Ferritin over a level of 500 can cause destruction of joints and organs in the body. My Dad had a level of 1,357.
This article is not about ferritin. However, ferritin is an acute marker of inflammation. I’ve also seen many female patients who had low ferritin who had chronic fatigue and thinning hair.
Low amounts of ferritin can contribute to hypothyroid and subclinical anemia. When you are dealing with anemia, you don’t get oxygen to tissues throughout the body and become hypoxic (lack of oxygen). This can affect your brain and all other tissues in the body.
These are health problems that you can’t see by just checking serum iron on a bloodwork or fix by taking an iron pill. Serum iron can be perfectly normal on a blood work but the iron storage unit (ferritin) could be depleted in an effort to maintain serum iron.
Can Low Iron or Ferritin Cause Hypothyroidism?
Low ferritin levels has been associated with hypothyroidism. I wrote an article Thyroid Health and Iron/Ferritin Levels that goes into more detail.
Anyway, my Mom and I were talking on the phone last week about her improvements in health and she thanked me for saving my Dad’s life.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Feel free to share it with anyone you know who may be suffering from poor health.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie