The thyroid is the largest gland in the body. Located in front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple, it produces hormones that are critical to many bodily functions. A weak, under-productive thyroid is associated with symptoms such as obesity, fatigue, hypertension, hair loss, difficulty concentrating, frequent infections, and constipation.
To identify thyroid problems, as well as determine the proper dose of medication, doctors look at hormonal levels in blood tests. The most important hormone in evaluating thyroid issues is actually one created by the pituitary called the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Think of TSH as a message of encouragement. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, the pituitary sends more TSH to tell the thyroid to increase production. A TSH level that is higher than normal indicates that the thyroid is failing to respond to the pituitary’s message because it is too weak to meet the body’s needs.
The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is a synthetic version of thyroxine (T4)—the most abundant hormone that the thyroid produces. The drug is known as levothyroxine or the brand name Synthroid. It is the most prescribed drug in America, with over 21.5 million prescriptions given last year alone.
In conventional treatment, the patient is given T4 to satisfy the pituitary’s request for thyroid hormones. TSH drops, and symptoms disappear.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Yet many patients exhibit classic symptoms of hypothyroidism, while their TSH remains in the normal range. Other patients show a low TSH, but when they’re prescribed an appropriate dose of T4, symptoms still linger.
According to Dr. Annette Schippel, a chiropractic physician specializing in functional endocrinology in Jacksonville, Ill., conventional medicine is missing the big picture.
Schippel believes that while so many doctors and patients are focused on the thyroid, they’re overlooking a problem rooted deeper in the endocrine system—the adrenal glands.
The Epoch Times talked to Schippel to better understand the nature of thyroid problems, how the adrenals come into play, and a drug-free approach to treatment.
Epoch Times: There are so many people today on thyroid medication. Even people with normal TSH levels are taking Synthroid. What is going on?
Dr. Annette Schippel: What I think is going on is that people exhibit the symptoms while thyroid values are still normal because it’s not primarily their thyroid. I think it starts with the adrenal. It’s the adrenal issue that makes people tired, affects their metabolism, their weight management, it even affects the hair loss. With these symptoms, thyroid and adrenals go hand in hand.
A lot of times the thyroid is compensating for weaker adrenals. So what happens is you might not even have a thyroid test, if you tell them you’re tired and you can’t lose weight, a lot of women are being put on thyroid medicine. But the Synthroid, Armor, levo—all of those are contraindicated in adrenal insufficiency—because it can make it worse. This is in the Physicians’ Desk Reference.
So we have these people who go on it, they feel a little better at first and then they plateau so then they want more. If you take away the job of the thyroid gland—you give it what it’s supposed to be producing—what are you going to have now? You’re going to have a lazy gland. If you quit working one arm for two weeks, watch and see how the muscles atrophy.
We’re missing this when we only focus in on the thyroid. Conventionally, it’s easy to look at the thyroid, but you have to be more savvy. You have to think about it differently. You have to look at the adrenals and look at them appropriately.
But guess what? If you’re in the realm of allopathic medicine, there is no prescription drug for weak adrenals. They know it’s dangerous to just put people on cortisol [an adrenal hormone] , or prednisone [a prescription steroid]—that’s not given out lightly. So it becomes easy to say, either everyone has a thyroid problem, or if your adrenals get tired enough or sick enough to drag the thyroid down—because the thyroid will compensate and go slower for a weaker adrenal system—and then it might finally show up in a blood test, but at that point they’re still addressing the wrong thing.
So they’re overlooking the deeper issue which is the adrenal deficiency. And that is manifesting the symptoms that we associate with a hypothyroid.
Epoch Times: What about in situations where people have a high TSH indicating a true hypothyroid problem. Could an adrenal issue still be the root cause?
Dr. Schippel: Absolutely. Think about the analogy of two horses drawing the cart. One is the thyroid and the other is the adrenal. So if the adrenal is getting weaker, the thyroid isn’t going to try to drag them along. It will actually slow down to compensate for its weaker partner.
So even if someone is on thyroid medication, and even if they’ve had their thyroid removed, then thing they need to do for their own health, vitality, and immune system is to support their adrenals.
Epoch Times: What causes adrenal weakness?
Dr. Annette Schippel: As you can imagine, it isn’t a simple answer. The adrenals are considered the stress handling glands but have an impact on the immune system, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, energy, hormones, etc. Which is to say, in a nutshell, it’s prolonged and cumulative stress that leads to adrenal insufficiency and ultimately adrenal fatigue.
Some of the factors leading to it are excessive worry, anxiety, abusive relationships, prescription medications such as birth control, thyroid meds, HRT (which deplete the body of nutrients and can compromise liver function), excessive antibiotics, and antacids.
Excessive exercise or not enough excessive, stimulants or caffeine, negative stressors, emotional stress, nutritional deficiencies, a poor diet high in refined foods, smoking, alcoholism, trauma, and surgery.
Think of all of these things being piled on a camel’s back until it finally breaks! The adrenal glands are supposed to respond to stress and then go back to allostasis [homeostasis achieved through a physiological or behavioral change]. They were not meant to be in a state of high alert! Our perception or reaction to stress is just as important as the physical component.
Epoch Times: How is iodine important to thyroid health?
Dr. Schippel: We don’t want to forget about iodine. Iodine is a natural antiseptic. It’s anti-parasitic. It’s anti-viral, antibacterial, and gets rid of the toxic allergens. It becomes incredibly important. It doesn’t mean we need to overdose people on it. But we have to keep it going.
It seems to be when someone is on conventional treatment such as Synthroid, or levothyroxine in particular, it increases the iodine deficiency.
Epoch Times: So the root problem is made even worse?
Dr. Schippel: Yep. Plus we don’t have these storage sites for the nutrients that feed the adrenals like the thyroid does. The thyroid can get away with stuff for quite some time with the ability to store iodine everywhere in the body and some places in higher concentrations.
Back 40 or 50 years ago, everything when it came to the thyroid, hypo or hyper, Hashiomoto’s or Grave’s—didn’t matter—everything was treated with iodine and everybody got well.
Epoch Times: So why have we drifted away from it?
Dr. Schippel: I want you to look up Dr. Guy Abraham because he’s so good at pointing all the things that were wrong with it, but essentially there was this poorly done study that determined we couldn’t handle more than 200 micrograms of iodine per day. Keep in mind that the whole body’s needs are somewhere between 12 and 13 milligrams [12,000 to 13,000 micrograms]. But in the study they decided that more than 200 micrograms would cause iodism, which is an allergic reaction to iodine.
Coincidentally, right after that study Synthroid came on the market. The study made everybody afraid to take iodine, yet iodine is really inexpensive. It’s natural, and you can’t patent it.
They used to put iodine in bread as a dough conditioner, and after the study they replaced it with bromide. Well, bromide is a toxic halogen to the thyroid and it displaces iodine in the body. It actually makes an iodine deficiency problem worse for people who have lots of bromide in the diet.
And if that wasn’t enough, fluoride and chlorine are the other two halogens that also displace iodine. They put fluoride and chlorine in drinking water. We’ve made this problem excessively worse. This is a huge reason why we have so many cases.
There is a huge population that’s misdiagnosed because of an adrenal issue. I think there is this component of just a mineral deficiency, an iodine deficiency. They just see that TSH is up and T4 and T3 are low so you have hypothyroid. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just the thyroid trying to do its job.
So why don’t we feed the body what it needs so that will satisfy TSH? Instead, they’re just looking at numbers and not looking at people. And they’re not looking at the big picture.
Epoch Times: I think this describes a common criticism with modern medicine. It’s like cholesterol or anything else they test for. There’s tunnel vision about the diagnostic numbers, and all the other evidence, clues, and context are swept aside.
Dr. Schippel: Yeah, and you bring up a good point. Cholesterol became the bad guy. That’s wrong. If cholesterol is going up, then ask why.
That used to be the way they diagnosed hypothyroidism: elevated cholesterol and elevated triglycerides. If they saw that, they gave you iodine.
And if someone had too low of cholesterol and too low of triglycerides, that could indicate a hyperactivity state of the thyroid or adrenals. But they’re not even considering that anymore. They say if cholesterol is up, we have to smack it down…. Shoot the fireman on the way to put out the fire.
Epoch Times: One of the foundational pieces of your protocol for any endocrine imbalance is stabilizing blood sugar. Why is this so important and how do we achieve it?
Dr. Schippel: Both thyroid and adrenal can influence blood sugar. The thyroid, if it is truly hypo or hyper, can have an influence on the function of insulin.
What you start to see is that every gland in the endocrine system—thyroid, pancreas, adrenals, ovaries in women, testes in men—interacts with each other. But the adrenals have a stronger influence on blood sugar, because where cortisol goes, blood sugar follows. This means that if the blood sugar is too low, the body will surge cortisol to try to bring it up. The problem with that though, is that if we get surges of cortisol in an exhausted individual who can’t make the surge of DHEA—the other hormone the adrenals produce—to balance the high cortisol, cortisol will antagonize the function of insulin.
This is really important. If we’re under stress, don’t we want to mobilize sugar for quick energy? If we’re in a stressful situation we would want to mobilize that cortisol surge. If blood sugar comes up, DHEA is supposed to rise too. DHEA counteracts the effect that cortisol has on insulin. Where cortisol would antagonize insulin, DHEA would make it more sensitive. Therefore they balance each other out. That would be an appropriate stress response. What happens though is that people get more and more and more exhausted and it brings a favoritism to cortisol at the expense of DHEA.
The reason that the balance of blood sugar is so necessary is that it’s important that energy gets stabilized. The body is very sensitive to that, but if we’re creating these hormonal surges because we’re not regulating our blood sugar, we’re creating more chaos in the rest of the system.
If you’re surging the sugar, the insulin keeps getting bombarded and the cortisol is going with it. You’re basically creating an insulin resistance. How long do you get away with it until you’re in that diabetic range? Nobody really knows, but when we’re talking about maintaining that blood sugar this is one of the reasons why, because we’re taking stress out of the system. Too much sugar is inflammatory. What’s your most potent anti-inflammatory hormone? Your cortisol.
In one aspect it’s so amazing when you understand how all these glands interact together, but it also makes you really appreciate the balance of it.
Dietary changes, improving fiber and protein intake will all play a huge role in stabilizing blood sugar. Herbs, minerals, and vitamins can also help.
B vitamins are really important for carbohydrate metabolism. They’re also very important for healthy thyroid and adrenal function. When you look at it, it’s pretty cool—you find that if you give the body what it needs it will find its balance, every single time. The body wants to be well. If you cut yourself, see if it heals. Of course, it heals! You don’t have to think about it, because it wants to be well.
Epoch Times: The conventional understanding is that once you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism you’re on medication for life. Are there alternatives to synthetic hormones, and can thyroid imbalance be healed?
Dr. Schippel: I don’t believe someone has to be on medication for life. There are unbelievable alternatives to the synthetic hormones, and if they haven’t destroyed the thyroid gland through medication, or suppressed it and caused atrophy because of taking a really high dose for years and years and years, of course the thyroid imbalance can be healed.
There are a couple of key herbs. One is bladderwrack. It is specific for hypothyroid. What’s amazing about bladderwrack is that it’s been shown to be restorative. So it’s not just the fact that it improves TSH, T4, T3, and the conversion and all that, it actually is restorative to the thyroid gland.
Another key herb is ashwagandha, sometimes called withania. Ashwaganda is also been shown to improve TSH. So anything that improves TSH is essentially improving the HP axis (hypothalamus pituitary axis)—the regulator of the endocrine system. But ashwaganda also improves the production of T4, T3, the conversion of T4 to T3 and also helps normalize cortisol, and helps the body adapt to stress.
And you can’t leave out iodine, we can’t leave out the trace minerals—selenium and magnesium—because those are the things necessary for the thyroid to function properly.
You have to ask the question: if the body isn’t producing enough of a hormone then why? Is it getting the proper signal from the pituitary? So think of this scenario: TSH is up. Free T4 and T3 are down. The pituitary is fine but the thyroid is not responding. So then we have to consider what help it needs. Instead of just giving it T4, which is the conventional medicine response, why not just look at the nutrients that are necessary? Why don’t we look at iodine, the broad base of B vitamins, trace minerals? Why not do that instead and let the thyroid improve because now it’s getting the nutrition that it needs.
This is one of the limitations in conventional treatment, without a doubt, because they never address nutrition. They say that iodine doesn’t matter and once you’re on the drug you’re always going to be on it.
Epoch Times: Looking through your treatment protocol, there’s definitely not a one size fits all thing here. There are so many factors and variables to consider. We don’t have the time or space to go into detail about all of them, but could you list the kinds of considerations you make when you’re evaluating someone’s endocrine system.
Dr. Schippel: It always starts with a good health history. There can be value in looking at blood chemistry. And until we get some really good saliva testing for the thyroid, blood is still going to be the place to look. You just have to be more complete.
You have to have a more complete look at the thyroid, but you have to evaluate the adrenals with this.
The complexity of the case depends on the level of testing. The most complex cases I would be looking at mineral status, blood chemistry, and looking at the adrenals in saliva testing, getting a window into the gut and seeing what’s going on. But everybody is so individual, everybody is so unique.
From there I look for things that multitask. For instance, if I have someone who is in an autoimmune state, I know that there’s a chronic inflammatory cascade going on. We need to turn that off, as well as support the immune system. I look to herbs like boswellia and turmeric that I know will turn off the inflammatory cascade. Then I look at what the state of the thyroid is in and what the state the adrenals are in. By combining particular herbs I can create a really solid foundation to feed both the thyroid and adrenals.
From there, I use whole food B vitamins, whole complete [vitamin] C, iodine or kelp, something to start feeding that gland as well. I make sure they have adequate minerals and good fats. This becomes the foundational part from which to build on.
To me, the diagnosis is so far downstream from everything else that led up to this moment. Upstream, I think about what does the communication look like from the pituitary on down. And further back, I think adrenal, immune system, gut, liver. You know, the conversion of T4 to T3 primarily happens through the liver. What if you’ve got a bogged down liver?
So you take it back and feed the body what it knows it wants. Then it will prioritize. It will say, “first thing, I’ve got to calm down the inflammation.”
Again, the body wants to be well, and it’s smarter than we can ever be. So when we’re smart and not over the top—this is not like 50 different supplements—when we’re smart about what we choose and feed the body what it needs, It will prioritize itself.
But if the body doesn’t have what it needs, it will rob Peter, to pay Paul, to pay Tom, to pay Bill or whoever else, all day every day.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.