Can You 'Cure' a Thyroid Condition?
Can You 'Cure' a Thyroid Condition?
Answer: Yes and No - It All Depends on Your Definition of 'Cure'
Robyn Koumourou 2021
When a person is first diagnosed with a thyroid condition they can be told by their doctor one or more of the following explanations and diagnoses:
• You have a mild thyroid hormone problem, but don't worry, it will probably correct itself on its own.
• Your results are borderline so we'll keep an eye on things. We'll retest your thyroid function in 6 to 12 months.
• Your blood results show that you have a subclinical thyroid condition. Your TSH is outside of the normal reference range, but your T4 is normal, so treatment is not necessary.
• You have tested positive to thyroid antibodies and have elevated levels, but your thyroid hormones are all within normal range, so there's nothing to worry about at this stage.
• Your blood test results reveal you have an autoimmune thyroid condition which has caused your thyroid to malfunction. All you require is some medication to correct the imbalance and everything will be fine again.
• It appears you have a significant autoimmune thyroid disorder, and it is a lifelong condition that you will have to learn to live with.
• Your thyroid has been damaged by disease and is swollen, and needs to be removed for your safety
• You have developed a goitre, and have nodules, so it's best for you to go to a surgeon and have it removed. Then you will be on thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of your life.
A patient's greatest desire is to be given the keys to restore them back to full health
Your thyroid diagnosis
At first glance these responses may seem quite reasonable, and all too familiar, but when thinking about them more carefully, you may realise how inadequate most of them really are. Diagnoses like these often leave thyroid patients feeling frustrated, lost, confused, anxious and ill informed. Often these comments do not reassure a patient or give them any understanding of what is happening within their body, or any sense of hope to find some solutions to address the causes and processes at play. And, this is the point - many doctors often overlook the symptoms they have been described and focus on the printed test results to determine their next course of action. Poor health and symptoms is what has brought a patient to them in the first place. The person's body is revealing that something is seriously wrong and needs addressing, but what advice is being given to address the issues and improve the person's health. What further tests are requested to determine underlying causes. Are patients given any directions, or given any tools, for how they can improve and support their body and thyroid function in the meantime, while they wait for their next appointment in 6 months time. Unfortunately, all of this only reveals how poorly thyroid conditions are understood and how they affect the body and mind, and how the most common triggers, causes and cofactors in the development of these conditions are overlooked. This doesn't give many thyroid patients hope for a possible cure, or finding successful treatment protocols and lifestyle changes. A patient's greatest desire is to be given the keys to restore them back to full health so they can continue to thrive in the future. And, good doctors will help them on this journey.
So what are the best ways to tackle thyroid issues? Are there so-called 'cures'
It all depends on what you mean by 'cured'. And, it depends on the causes, the type of condition, and the severity.
I have often heard it said by enthusiastic people (or sales promoters) that all thyroid conditions can be cured and that it doesn't have to be a life long condition. What do they mean by this?
If 'cured' is defined as, resolving or relieving the symptoms of a disease, and restoring a person back to good health, then yes, thyroid disease can be managed, and 'cured'.
If 'cured' means completely healed of a disease with it's associated symptoms, and to never have it return again, then the majority of thyroid conditions cannot be cured. What do I mean by this?
Many thyroid patients live in hope that they will find a cure that will totally eliminate the disease completely from their body and that they will never have to contend with it again. When it comes to autoimmunity this scenario is quite rare. But what they can hope for and achieve is a restoration of bodily functions, relief of symptoms, and enough healing that can restore their health and well-being.
Often when I hear someone say that they have completely cured their condition and that everyone can do the same as they did, I imagine a magic pill that quickly and easily eradicates all sign of a disease, and that no more effort is needed on my behalf to improve anything else in my body or life. I always shudder inside feeling that these claims will invoke false hopes in others, and lead them down dangerous paths, looking for that one quick fix.
The truth of it is, there is no one quick fix, or magic pill approach, when it comes to thyroid conditions. No one pill or supplement will treat all varieties of thyroid disease. Health and healing will always require education, understanding, dedication, time, patience and discipline. Looking at the body as a whole, and the connectiveness of all parts that impact upon each other is vital when it comes to any treatment plan and supporting the body toward optimal functioning. A multifaceted tailored treatment approach will always be required.
So what is the verdict when it comes to thyroid conditions?
Every person with compromised thyroid function will have multiple triggers, causes and co-factors that have contributed to the development of their condition. Investigating and pinpointing these contributing factors will help to determine the best treatment protocols so as to address all underlying issues. Everyone is unique, and each person's thyroid condition will present differently, and the treatment a person will respond to will also be unique to them and tailored to their specific needs.
Are all thyroid conditions life-long? - No!
Thyroid conditions come in different shapes and sizes. Some are temporary or transient, or more easily rectified. Some are complex and more severe and will take time to stabilise. The majority, however, are life-long, but this does not mean it is a life sentence of continuous suffering and ill health. It simply means that interventions will be required to maintain healthy thyroid hormone levels that allowed a person to live a long healthy life. All thyroid conditions are treatable and can be managed well, and this is usually achieved through a combination of both natural/holistic protocols and conventional treatment regimes.
Thyroid conditions that can be cured or rectified:
Nutritional Deficiencies - Thyroid dysfunction as a result of nutritional deficiencies can be easily rectified, such as hypothyroidism due to iodine, selenium, iron or zinc deficiencies. Correcting these deficiencies through diet and supplementation will restore thyroid function and cellular metabolism back to normal.
Transient thyroid conditions that resolve on their own:
Subacute viral thyroiditis is an acute infection of the thyroid gland by a virus, causing inflammation and swelling which lasts for around 6 weeks to a few months. It usually resolves on it's own without the need for more serious interventions.
Postpartum Thyroiditis (PPT) is an inflammation of the thyroid gland that occurs immediately after childbirth. It usually has an autoimmune component where antibodies are present and causes swings in thyroid hormone levels until it slowly resolves over a 12 month period. Most women regain normal thyroid function, but some develop more permanent autoimmune disorders resulting in hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Non-thyroidal Illness refers to the body's response to severe medical conditions, injuries, operations or acute illness, where the levels of T3 drop temporarily to reduce metabolic activities to conserve energy and encourage healing. It is a protective response to preserve brain and organ functions. Once the illness or trauma has passed, or been treated appropriately, T3 levels will return to normal.
Secondary thyroid dysfunction due to other conditions, generally resolves on its own with time or when other conditions are treated. Interventions may speed up recovery time, and thyroid abnormalities may be seen as being cured once the thyroid gland returns to normal function and symptoms resolve.
Medication interactions and side effects:
Medications for other conditions can interfere with iodine uptake and thyroid hormone synthesis, transport and conversion, such as, antidepressants, Lithium, heart medications, HRT with oestrogen, cholesterol lowering drugs, and antacids. When the medications are withdrawn thyroid function usually returns to normal. Long term drug interactions, however, may cause more long term abnormalities, and interventions may be required to correct the imbalances.
Thyroid conditions that are more complex or severe:
For some, thyroid disease can be mild or moderate, and may not cause extremely debilitating symptoms. These can sometimes be easily corrected through diet, nutritional supplementation and life style changes. For others, natural interventions may only bring minimal relief and then conventional medications will be needed to correct imbalances and restore thyroid hormone levels to a place that renders the patient as symptom free as possible. Unfortunately, some patients develop more serious and aggressive thyroid disease that can become all consuming, debilitating and even life threatening. In these circumstances a patient is not able to wait for months to see if more natural remedies will work. They will require immediate medical attention to address their thyroid dysfunction to bring their body back to normal functioning as soon as possible. This avoids more adverse consequences. Once the initial condition is brought under control, then a holistic treatment regime can continue to promote better healing for the long term.
Medical procedures and drugs for treating hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules or cancer:
These usually involve antithyroid medications, RAI ablation and surgery, to remove diseased thyroid tissue. This will often result in permanent hypothyroidism due to lack of functioning or remaining tissue. Life-long thyroid hormone replacement will then be required to replace insufficient hormones and avoid long term consequences. These procedures and thyroid medications may be considered a cure by treating the initial condition, returning circulating thyroid hormone levels to normal, and restoring the homeostasis of the body.
Extremely aggressive thyroid conditions can be life threatening for some individuals, and these will not respond to natural interventions. A 'Thyroid Storm' is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention and hospitalisation to save a person's life. Severe thyrotoxicosis, which can also lead to a thyroid storm, needs to be treated immediately to avoid heart failure or stroke. Once brought under control, these conditions can be treated and managed successfully through both conventional and natural therapies.
Can holistic and natural approaches be seen as a cure?
It is understandable that most people would love to find the most natural ways to address their thyroid issues and avoid medications and procedures that are more invasive or have possible side effects.
Can natural therapies resolve thyroid problems?
Yes, in some cases, and for others, a holistic regime is a necessary adjunct to complement traditional thyroid treatments for healing, prevention and future health.
Many thyroid patients have had great success is minimising the symptoms of their thyroid condition through more natural methods, as opposed to medications alone. The major focus for their healing incorporates the following:
• changes in diet, removing overly processed foods, and consuming whole clean foods.
• initiating a diet free from gluten, dairy and soy, and eliminating foods that cause an allergic response or intolerance.
• correcting nutritional deficiencies, particularly iodine, selenium, iron and zinc
• addressing inflammation, avoiding inflammatory foods, and treating ongoing infections
• eliminating toxic chemical exposure• detoxing and supporting gut and liver health
• supplementing with herbal preparations to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
• lifestyle changes to address physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs
As you can see, this is no small undertaking, but the rewards are worth the effort. Many have managed to reduce their need of thyroid medications, or required less hormone replacement, and some have not needed any conventional medications at all. Addressing all underlying issues can dramatically improve thyroid health and the ability to become almost symptom free. Can this be considered a cure? It is when 'cure' is defined as eliminating the symptoms of a disease and restoring health. It may not be a complete cure when it comes to eradicating autoimmunity, which could rear it's ugly head at any stage if the healthy protocol is not continuously followed, but it is the closest thing to a natural cure that someone could find.
Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions - Hashimoto's and Graves' - are they for life?
In the conventional medical arena autoimmune thyroid disorders are considered life-long conditions, where the immune system is turned towards thyroid tissue to deal with foreign substances or abnormal cellular activity. Autoimmune processes are not easily turned off once they have started, however, medical interventions, both natural and conventional, can successfully reduce autoimmune responsiveness and antibody levels, and thyroid hormones can be normalised. Various treatment protocols can bring a thyroid condition under control and restore a patient back to health, but lifelong hormone replacement will usually be required for the majority.
Thyroid hormone replacement: is it a cure?
For many patients with more pronounced hypothyroidism, or those requiring replacement therapy after RAI ablation or a thyroidectomy, the right type of thyroid hormone replacement can restore hormones back to normal levels and relieve the symptoms of this condition. When the body is given the hormones that are lacking or failing to be produced, all bodily systems generally return to optimal functioning. In the majority of cases with adequate and effective thyroid hormone replacement, pressure is taken off the immune system and antibody levels drop. This could be seen as a cure, if 'cure' is defined as relieving the symptoms of a disease and restoring health. But thyroid hormone replacement is only one side of the coin, and while it can be extremely effective on it's own, it does not address the underlying causes of the original disease and the processes involved. The other side of the coin to truly bring the body back into healthy functioning is to also address underlying infections, toxic overload, nutritional deficiencies, and imbalances and stresses on the gut, liver, kidneys, adrenals and immune system. All of these factors would have contributed to a malfunctioning thyroid gland and affect the cellular response to thyroid hormones. When a more complete whole body approach is taken, the body is enabled to heal more completely, and is less likely to fall again into a hypothyroid state.
Side note: It is not uncommon for some hypothyroid patients to find little relief when taking thyroid hormone replacement medication on its own, particularly if it is only T4 that is being prescribed. The inadequate or negative effects could be due to the type, dosage and formulation of medication, whether it is synthetic or from an animal source, whether it involves active T3, or whether other underlying issues are being addressed at the same time, as mentioned above.
Finally, it is not unusual for thyroid patients to suffer with multiple health conditions at the same time, and more than one autoimmune condition. Patients will then require a multifaceted treatment program to address all underlying conditions. Treatments protocols will often be quite tedious and complex, and require time, dedication, discipline and patience.
Can an autoimmune thyroid condition actually be cured?
Around 90% of thyroid disorders are due to autoimmune disease, having a genetic link, and often triggered by infectious agents and environmental toxins. While these autoimmune conditions can be treated and managed with diet, nutrition, detoxification, supplements and medications, the underlying disease process will always remain. Once an immune system response has been triggered it cannot be completely turned off. As soon as another trigger arises, such as a major stress, trauma, infection, or illness, the autoimmune process can kick back into gear. This could also be initiated by stopping a healthy diet or natural treatment plan, going off thyroid hormone replacement medication too quickly, or taking a new medication or supplement that interferes with thyroid hormone metabolism. The immune system will always have an acute sensitivity and reaction to anything that can infiltrate thyroid cells or negatively impact thyroid function. Autoimmunity cannot be completely 'cured', but its activation or aggression can be reduced to a point of having minimal affect. When instigating a holistic treatment regime that targets underlying imbalances throughout the body, and addresses all known triggers and causes that are harmful to the thyroid gland, the signs and symptoms of thyroid disease can be brought to a halt. Thyroid antibodies can be brought into remission. The body can then work its healing magic when given the right ingredience and prevent continuous disease pathways from hijacking the body, and allow it to heal.
Can you 'cure' a thyroid condition? Answer: Yes, and no!
It does depend on the type, cause and severity of the condition, and on your definition of 'cure'.
From one person to the next, the causes, symptoms and management of thyroid dysfunction will vary considerably. No two people will be exactly alike, and this uniqueness will be revealed in clinical symptomology and response to various treatment protocols. The good news is, thyroid conditions are treatable, and they can be 'cured' when it comes to correcting abnormal bodily functions, relieving symptoms, and restoring health. However, most thyroid conditions are for life, the majority having an autoimmune component which cannot be completely eradicated or cured. Therefore, lifelong measures to keep thyroid conditions under control are always necessary, whether that be through traditional medical approaches, natural medicine and lifestyle changes, or a combination of the two. Generally, if a thyroid disorder is detected early and interventional protocols and treatments are instigated, the progression of the disease can be reduced or stopped in it's tracks. Working closely with medical specialists and alternative health practitioners, and taking positive action, will prevent the development towards more severe, permanent thyroid dysfunction and other health complications. A patient can be equipped with all the right tools and information to find the right treatment regime that works for them. Thyroid hormone levels can be optimised, and underlying causes can be addressed. The health of the entire body can be restored when a whole body approach to healing is taken. The aim should always be to provide the body with everything it needs to heal and rejuvenate, and restore to optimal health and wellbeing.
Thyroid conditions are treatable. They are not a life sentence, but definitely a life challenge!