Understand this condition better by knowing the causes of hyperthyroidism and how you can possibly avoid it. Treatments, like functional medicine can also help a great deal.


Thyroid diseases are not new to us. In fact, they are some of the most common medical conditions affecting millions of the world’s population, especially those areas where iodine deficiency is high and the risks and complications from thyroid disorders are increasing despite major efforts to increase iodine in the diet.

This is even the reason the World Health Organization mandated the iodization of salt to meet the ideal iodine dietary allowance of 150 micrograms per day for regular individuals and up to 290 micrograms per day for pregnant and lactating women.

In the United States alone, at least 20 million people are suffering from some form of thyroid disorder and more than 12% will develop a thyroid condition during the course of their life.

There are two major types of thyroid disease: hypothyroidism, which is the most common form and hyperthyroidism that affects just 1.2% of the American population. That’s 1 in every 100 individuals, which make it less prevalent than hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism: What It Is and How Functional Medicine Can Help

To get a better understanding of what hyperthyroidism really is, it’s best to start with its origin. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ in the lower part of your neck that’s responsible for producing thyroid hormones tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) that primarily regulates the metabolism by influencing the way cells utilizes energy.

In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes overactive causing an excess production of either T3 and T4 or both thyroid hormones, which causes a variety of signs and symptoms depending on the severity of the condition.

What causes hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism has been linked to these common causes:

To get a better understanding of what hyperthyroidism really is, it’s best to start with its origin. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ in the lower part of your neck that’s responsible for producing thyroid hormones tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) that primarily regulates the metabolism by influencing the way cells utilizes energy.

In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes overactive causing an excess production of either T3 and T4 or both thyroid hormones, which causes a variety of signs and symptoms depending on the severity of the condition.

  • Graves’ disease

    Known as the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune disorder in which the immune system starts attacking the thyroid gland by creating thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), an antibody that protects against viruses and bacteria, but it attacks the thyroid gland causing it to make more thyroid hormone than the body needs.

    Also called toxic diffuse goiter, this disease was named after Dr. Robert Graves, an Irish surgeon who described the condition in 1835.

    Graves’ disease is primarily characterized by exophthalmos or the bulging of the eyes that affects up to 80% of patients diagnosed with the medical condition.

    The exact cause of Graves’ disease still remains unclear, although a combination of environmental and genetic factors have been linked to the condition. In the United States, Graves’ disease affects 1 in every 200 people and it is more common in women.

    Excess iodine

    With iodine deficiency disorders being a major global public health problem, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund recommended universal salt iodization (USI) in more than 120 countries around the world.

    In the United States, the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 1,100 microgram per day for adults, but excess iodine intake has also become a problem in some populations.

    Iodine-induced hyperthyroidism (IIH) is believed to be a side effect of excessive iodine supplementation known as “Jod-Basedow phenomenon” and it is more prevalent in populations that follow recent iodine fortification and in individuals with thyroid nodular changes.

    Iodine is a key ingredient in producing T4 and T3, so any excess iodine in the body will result to an overproduction of these hormones.


    In some cases, the thyroid gland could become inflamed causing cell damage and destruction that results to the leakage of thyroid hormones into the blood.

    If left untreated, this will lead to hyperthyroidism and eventually to a condition called thyrotoxicosis.

    Once the thyroid hormone leaks out of the thyroid gland, it could cause hyperthyroidism that lasts up to 3 months followed by hypothyroidism that lasts up to 18 months or even permanently in some patients.

    There are three types of thyroiditis. Subacute thyroiditis is characterized by a painful and enlarged thyroid gland and it’s usually caused by an infection.

    Postpartum thyroiditis occurs in women who gave birth. Then there’s silent thyroiditis where the patient doesn’t feel any pain or enlargement of the thyroid gland.

    The exact cause of thyroiditis is still unknown, but studies reveal that the ability to make anti-thyroid antibodies tend to run in families.

    Thyroiditis may also be caused by an infection that results to the inflammation of the thyroid gland. Drugs such as amiodarone and interferone have also been linked to thyroid cell damage leading to thyroiditis.

    Benign thyroid nodules

    A thyroid nodule is a lump that grows in the thyroid gland. Over time, the nodules can grow or multiply causing concerns of cancer.

    Fortunately, only 5% of all thyroid nodules are malignant and the rest are colloid nodules, multi-nodular goiters, thyroid cysts or hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules. If left untreated, however, thyroid nodules could later cause hyperthyroidism.

What are the risk factors for hyperthyroidism?

Aside from the most common causes of hyperthyroidism, you are also at a higher risk for the disease if:

  • You are a woman. Studies showed that women are up to ten times more likely to be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism than men. The risk also increases as you reach more than 60 years old.
  • You have a family history of thyroid disease. Most medical conditions or abnormalities that cause hyperthyroidism run in families. So if you have family members who suffer from hyperthyroidism, it’s best to have yourself tested on the right signs and symptoms of the medical condition.
  • You are pregnant or have been pregnant within the last 6 months
  • Your diet consists of large amounts of iodine-rich foods such as kelp or you are taking medications that contain iodine
  • You have pre-existing medical conditions such as primary adrenal insufficiency, pernicious anemia or type 1 diabetes


What are the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

When there are high levels of T4 and T3 in your body, your metabolism also increases causing you to be in a hypermetabolic state.

Although you may not feel anything during the early stages of hyperthyroidism, you will eventually start to experience a rapid heart rate, hand tremors and elevated blood pressure. You’ll also start to feel a low tolerance to high temperatures and sweat a lot.

Your thyroid gland will eventually start to swell into a goiter and you’ll suddenly lose weight, move your bowels more often and even experience irregular menstrual cycles.

If Graves’ disease is the cause of your hyperthyroidism, your eyes may also start to bulge, a condition called exophthalmos. Other signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Nervousness and restlessness
  • Increased appetites
  • Brittle hair and hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Itching

In some cases, patients will experience frequent rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness and loss of consciousness, which require prompt medical attention.

In older people, hyperthyroidism can be misdiagnosed as dementia or depression, especially since they may present different symptoms like sudden withdrawal from social circles or loss of appetite.

This is when functional medicine becomes especially beneficial because it doesn’t only look into the common parameters in diagnosing hyperthyroidism but also digs deeper into what really causes the signs and symptoms felt by the patient.


What are the complications if hyperthyroidism is left untreated?

If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health problems including:

  • Arrhythmia or irregular heart rate such as atrial fibrillation. This could lead to blood cloths, heart-related problems, stroke and eventually, heart failure.
  • Hypertension or sudden cardiac arrest
  • Osteoporosis due to lost bone mineral density caused by uncontrolled hyperthyroidism that pulls calcium and phosphate out of the bones
  • Graves’ opthalmopathy that causes light sensitivity, double vision and eye pain


How does functional medicine approach hyperthyroidism?

With conventional medical practice, a doctor will instantly order a physical exam and a battery of laboratory tests to diagnose hyperthyroidism.

Doctors will usually look for low cholesterol levels that could be a sign of elevated metabolism. Tests will also measure T4, free T4 and T3 levels in the blood, low thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels that’s considered the first sign of hyperthyroidism and low triglyceride levels that is also indicative of an elevated metabolic rate.

Although these tests are necessary for diagnosing hyperthyroidism, functional medicine digs a little further to identify the source of the condition to make it easier to address in the most natural ways possible:

  • Functional medicine uses different techniques in identifying the underlying issues and contributing factors to hyperthyroidism including nutrient deficiencies, the nature of the disease, intestinal permeability, structural abnormalities or toxic exposures.
  • Once all the contributing factors are determined, the functional medicine practitioner will recommend a complete elimination or reduction of these factors to help the thyroid gland recover back to its original state.

For instance, inflammation is targeted, toxic exposures are eliminated and any infections are addressed to prevent the disease from worsening.

  • Aside from addressing the root cause of the disease, functional medicine also focuses on helping the body detoxify itself to get rid of any substances that might contribute to the disease or slow the healing process.

This includes daily bowel movements, better hydration, adequate sleep, lymphatic drainage and even mental detox.

  • Immune system support. Since hyperthyroidism can be caused by an under-functioning or over-functioning immune system, adequate support is given to restore its balance and help the body heal and not contribute to the disease.

Patients are also given the necessary emotional and mental support that they need to get through the treatment plan successfully and enjoy the best outcomes.

  • Personalized care. Functional medicine believes that each patient should be treated uniquely even if they suffer from the same disease. This is why every treatment plan is personalized according to the specific needs of a patient in addressing the root causes of his hyperthyroidism and restore all the imbalances in the body to promote better health and wellness.
  • Hormone replacement. There are instances when a patient would need to undergo hormonal replacement to restore the balance of hormones within the body.

Some of the best functional medicine treatment options for hyperthyroidism include:

  • Full biochemical and functional restoration. This treatment lasts for 6 to 18 months depending on the severity of the condition and it is aimed at helping the thyroid gland produce the normal amount of thyroid hormones to avoid the complications of hyperthyroidism.
  • Molecular nutrition. Since hyperthyroidism can be caused by an over consumption of iodine and an inadequacy of other nutrients in the diet, functional medicine practitioners usually recommend a molecular nutrition based diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods that are low in carbohydrates and gluten. They also recommend foods high in essential nutrients to help the body heal and build a stronger immune system.
  • Lymphatic massage. This technique is used to stimulate the lymphatic drainage, which is a major detoxification pathway in the body to remove any harmful substances that trigger hyperthyroidism.

Of course, there’s always the importance of living a better lifestyle where regular exercise, a proper diet and the right mindset are combined to keep the body healthy and avoid any imbalances in the future that could cause not only hyperthyroidism but also a lot of other diseases.


The future of hyperthyroidism treatment

Functional medicine is beginning to be recognized as a legitimate form of treatment for patients suffering from hyperthyroidism, especially with studies revealing its efficiency in addressing even the most dreaded diseases.

So if you feel that you have hyperthyroidism, if it runs in your family or if you’ve already been diagnosed and have undergone several treatments without any results, it’s time to explore the wonders that functional medicine can bring to your life.

This unique approach to medicine will surely be the future of the practice. As we continue to come to terms with the reality that conventional treatments may not be as effective as they were before, functional medicine will be the new standard for giving patients the best chance at getting a full recovery from their disease and living a long and healthy life.

Ask around for a functional medicine practitioner in your area to know your options regarding treatment for hyperthyroidism and other medical conditions.