The movement of practitioners towards functional medicine and functional nutrition is a growing one for conditions like thyroid disorders and more, where treatment options tend to be limited and generally incomplete using modern medical practices.
Many practitioners in healthcare are seeking better ways to help people beyond guideline-based practice. They want to help people get to the root of their problem and empower them to heal faster.
Functional health is about optimizing what you want to do with your body and remove limitations that are caused by disease.
What is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is evidenced-based medicine that encompasses a closer look at risk-benefit analysis than standard conventional medicine. It is a very personal approach, not necessarily aiming to treat a diagnosis, but to get to the root cause of illness by working carefully to examine a patient’s history and triggers.
For example, the risks of nutrient deficiency are many, and the benefits of repletion of these deficiencies are high. These parameters, benefits, risks, odds, costs, and stakes are carefully considered. Conventional medicine routinely overlooks nutrition and food considerations in the healing process.
Functional medicine is a science-based field of medicine that focuses on healing rather than symptom management. Healing thyroid disorders is no exception.
It is a more comprehensive approach than today’s band-aid approach to medicine.
Functional medicine practitioners can be physicians, dietitians, naturopaths, and other certified health practitioners. Functional medicine training is post-graduate and is a highly rigorous type of training.
In this blog, the focus will be how all types of advanced-practice providers can learn to help heal their patients with the functional nutrition approach.
What is a Functional doctor? Functional doctors have advanced training over and above general practitioner degrees or internal medicine degrees. Typically they receive training through the Institute for Functional Medicine.
How to Define Functional Medicine
The functional medicine definition is essentially this: treating the root cause of illness.
Functional medicine is based on the premise that if you give the body what it needs, it has an immense ability to heal. Rather than treating downstream symptoms, a functional medicine practitioner aims to get to the root cause of illness.
The root causes of thyroid disorders and most chronic diseases today almost always are related to inflammation. By getting to the root of inflammation, the healing process can happen.
Functional medicine focuses on the individual, not mass prescribing practices. While some functional medicine practitioners may use some prescriptions, the focus is on a healing approach and curing illnesses through natural approaches whenever possible.
What is Functional Nutrition?
How is functional nutrition different than functional medicine? They are very similar and overlapping. Functional nutrition is generally practiced by a registered dietitian and functional medicine is practiced by a physician.
According to the Institute for Functional Nutrition, functional nutrition therapy is a leading-edge, evidence-based, systems biology approach to patient care that focuses on identifying root causes and imbalances to significantly improve patient health outcome.
Functional nutrition is able to hone in on the most critical part of the healing process-what we put in our body. For thyroid disorders, you will learn that food is central to the healing process on this website.
How Functional Nutritionists Help You Heal Your Thyroid
Functional nutrition is the center of functional medicine and functional nutrition practitioners have specialized training in helping a patient heal by meeting the unique nutritional needs of the individual.
When you see a functional nutrition provider, you will get individualized attention to help you feel better. Let’s take a comparison of a standard approach versus a functional nutrition approach.
Standard Nutrition Approach for Thyroid Disorders
Here is an example of a case report using a standard approach to a thyroid disorder.
A client has high blood pressure and is overweight with a hypothyroid disorder and chronic fatigue. A standard nutrition approach would be to cut calories, follow a DASH diet, and monitor weight trends. Most likely, a standard approach wouldn’t even approach thyroid concerns.
While some improvement may be seen, the client never really gets over the fatigue, doesn’t lose much weight, and never feels empowered with their health.
Functional Nutrition Approach for Thyroid Disorders
True case report. The same client above with high blood pressure, overweight and thyroid disorder. We reviewed the client’s entire life story, identified root causes to stress, digestive concerns, the onset of fatigue, the onset of digestive issues, exposures to toxins, chemical sensitivities, sleep patterns, diet patterns, food triggers and more.
With this individualized approach, the patient was able to help set their own goals, identify their own triggers to fatigue, identify food triggers to their illness.
The patient returns in 3 months, after getting to the root cause of her illness by improving her gut function with diet approaches, including gluten free and dairy free elimination diet and key functional nutrition supplements. Her thyroid function greatly improved, weight decreased substantially, fatigue was gone, sleep was completely better.
Functional medicine benefits thyroid function, whereas conventional medicine overlooks the effects of diet on thyroid function.
By getting to the root causes with functional nutrition, we not only changed numbers in the labs and scale, but we also changed her life. Nutrition help was at the center of her care as you can see.
How to Become a Functional Medicine or Functional Nutrition Practitioner
You will need specialized training post graduation and after obtaining your RDN, MD, NP, etc.
Here are some good options for training by accredited institutions.
The Institute for Functional Medicine is the gold standard for functional nutrition and functional medicine training. It is the foremost leader in functional medicine training. Primarily physicians achieve certification here through a very rigorous process of modules and exam.
The Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy™ (IFNA™) is a clinically oriented online training and mentoring program founded by two of the nation’s premier integrative medicine nutritionists.
This is a practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. With over 5000 members and growing, DIFM offers a certification program in functional medicine.
Functional Nutrition Labs for Thyroid Function
A functional nutrition provider or functional doctor will obtain targeted labs that can address inflammation, gut dysfunction and more.
These labs can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Organic acids
- Gluten sensitivity testing
- Other food sensitivity testing
- Antibody testing,
- Microbiome analysis
- Micronutrient testing
Functional Nutrition Supplements for Thyroid Disorders
Functional nutritionists and functional doctors have a deep understanding of nutrient metabolism and genetic or epigenetic expression. Nutritional deficiencies are common in thyroid disorders.
An awareness that food sensitivities and concomitant autoimmune disease such as colitis make nutrient absorption challenging and supplements can become a requirement.
Functional nutrition supplements that may help the thyroid may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Vitamin D3
- Fish oil
- Essential oils can also be helpful
Restoring balance nutritionally can help heal leaky gut symptoms and provide nutrient substrates for thyroid tissue.
Functional Nutrition Thyroid Benefits
As described in the case study above, a patient-centered approach to healing is the premise for all health, including functional medicine thyroid benefits.
A functional nutritionist will have a deep and thorough understanding of the research of nutrients, foods and their effect on autoimmune thyroid disorders.
Thyroid disorders are generally inflammatory in nature and have autoimmune causes.
By understanding epigenetics, root causes of inflammation, and food triggers, functional medicine benefit for thyroid can be vast.
Eliminating food sensitivities to triggers such as gluten, dairy, soy, and/or corn, the immune inflammatory response can be calmed.
By replacing missing micronutrient and restoring gut function by reducing leaky gut, patients can help their thyroid function recover.
Functional Thyroid Doctor Versus Conventional Endocrinologist
A conventional thyroid doctor, or endocrinologist, has a few tools for thyroid disorder, which include surgical options, thyroid replacement drugs, advanced imaging, radioactive thyroid.
In contrast, functional nutritionists and functional doctors will focus on how to treat hypothyroid naturally in a way that best suits the individual patient.
How to Treat Hypothyroid Naturally Using Functional Nutrition
Treating the thyroid naturally is the cornerstone of functional nutrition.
Working with the patient to figure out ways to heal leaky gut helps tremendously (link to gluten blog).
Why do we address leaky gut? Leaky gut is related to most thyroid disorders.
Tight junction malfunctions in the gut it can lead to unwanted visitors including antigens, pathogens, bacteria, and viruses leaking out into the bloodstream.(R)
When the channels are constantly open the gut will be permeable and leaking substances, hence the term “leaky gut.” (R)
Gut infections due to candida or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the microbiome and result in leaky gut. These often occur due to nutrient-depleted diet, chronic stress, food intolerance, gluten, and medications such as antibiotics, steroids, and birth control pills (R).
While this barrier is the first line of defense, the body’s immune system provides other avenues of defense when the gut is compromised. When it detects a foreign invader the immune system will produce an immune response in the form of mucus, antibodies, and immunoglobulins.(R)
Once the gut becomes compromised it can set off a chain reaction of immune responses which can lead to autoimmune diseases such as thyroiditis (R)
Just like in other diseases, as tight junctions weaken, the intestinal barrier begins to erode, leaving the body exposed and susceptible to bacterial antigens. These foreign invaders can lead to an immune response which autoimmune conditions.(R)
How to reverse hypothyroid disorders? Address this gut barrier and autoimmune link.
While we know that prescription medications can’t reverse hypothyroid, functional nutrition can if the patient’s specific autoimmune triggers and antecedents are addressed.
Can we cure hypothyroid naturally? If it is caught early, it is very possible to treat the thyroid naturally.
Functional nutrition is highly effective at helping a patient decrease autoimmune thyroiditis symptoms and can even result in complete resolution of the autoimmune illnesses in some cases.
By getting to the root cause of this autoimmune disease, understanding epigenetics, and more.
Hypothyroid natural remedies, using a functional nutrition approach, include:
- Eliminating triggers and toxins
- Removing toxic insults
- Replace nutrients and antioxidants
- Restoring gut function
- Reducing stress
- Reinoculate with beneficial probiotics
Functional nutrition and functional medicine help get to the root cause of thyroid disorders for your patients. The focus of The Thyroid Nutrition Educators is to help you learn the concepts of healing using a functional approach.
Virtual diet detective work is her mission. With her inquisitive nature and open-minded personality, she is often able to find clues to help get at the root cause of illness. She has done this with her own thyroid issues and wants to to help you get your clients’ health in check. Learn more about her at her website.