Hypothyroidism May Not Be a Thyroid Problem

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Did you realize that the great majority of hypothyroid conditions are not really a thyroid problem at all? Most of the time, something else is going on underneath the surface that just so happens to slow down thyroid function. Uncovering the root cause of hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone problems is key to finding a solution that will actually work.

In this article, I will cover:

Hypothyroidism medical document with pills, injections, medications around.


Why you aren’t having any luck treating your hypothyroidism

So many people with hypothyroid conditions go to the doctor, get prescribed a thyroid medication… and then they never really get any relief. They get on the medication, but the problem never seems to resolve and it just keeps going on and on. Many times they don’t lose weight, they are still tired, and they have other symptoms of hypothyroidism that won’t go away.

That is because they are trying to solve the wrong problem.

If you look up hypothyroidism, you will see that the cause of the condition is stated as low thyroid hormones. And yes, you do end up with low thyroid hormone production when you have a hypothyroid problem. But what is causing the low thyroid hormones in the first place? Why is that occurring, and what might be underneath?

Saying that low thyroid hormones is causing your hypothyroidism is like saying a fever is the cause of an infection. It’s certainly a result and a symptom, but what is triggering it in the first place? You have to look underneath to uncover the root of the problem.

Trying to solve your hypothyroid problems by taking a thyroid medication may mitigate some of your symptoms, but it won’t solve the problem at its root. You need to understand what is really going on – what the real problem is – to have success.


The most common cause of hypothyroidism: autoimmune dysfunction

90% of all hypothyroid cases are a condition called Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. This is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid gland, causing it to become inflamed and unable to function at full capacity.

An autoimmune condition is when the body’s immune system mistakenly starts to see something in your own body as a foreign invader and attacks it.

With Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the autoimmune response just so happens to involve the thyroid gland. And while it does greatly affect the thyroid in a major way, the thyroid isn’t the original culprit. Your immune system is.

Autoimmune disorder text on piece of paper with paperclip, medical documents and stethoscope.

This is an example of a hypothyroidism condition that is not actually a thyroid problem. It is an immune dysfunction problem.

If you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, somewhere along the way something went wrong with your immune system. Certain parts of it got disrupted, and it started to attack your own body. Your thyroid gland became a target and is now collateral damage that got harmed in the process.

But what can trigger this kind of immune dysfunction in the first place?

Autoimmune problems are often related to one of two things:

1. Virus activity

Oftentimes, viruses like Epstein-Barr virus (the virus behind mono) can cause dysfunction in the immune system.

When you contract a virus like this, it wreaks havoc on the immune system. It blocks things like vitamin D, it steals nutrients, and it otherwise upsets normal immune functioning.

And viruses like Epstein-Barr are quite tricky. They go in and out of remission, and they can get reactivated in the body at different times.

If you have had a virus like Epstein-Barr in the past, it may still be affecting you and causing you problems. It may just be behind your autoimmune problems.

2. Gut problems

There is also a big link between gut problems and Hashimoto’s autoimmune hypothyroidism.

70% of your entire immune system is found in your gut. So if you aren’t taking good care of your gut health, that can cause immune problems.

For example, maybe you are consuming a lot of bread or gluten. That can actually tear up your gut, disrupting immune activity and leading to autoimmune conditions.

Chalk drawing of human digestive system, gut health, gut microbiome, healthy digestion.

The solutions

If you have an autoimmune condition that is the true root cause of your hypothyroidism symptoms, the solution isn’t a quick little remedy or a cure-all fix. You’ll have to take a big-picture approach to getting your body healthy and supporting yourself to get back in balance.

Here are some of the key steps to take to improve your Hashimoto’s thyroiditis:

  1. Restore gut health. Getting your gut healthy again means changing up your diet. I recommend the healthy version of the keto diet (Healthy KetoTM) and intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is particularly important, because a lot of the damage to your thyroid in Hashimoto’s comes from inflammation. Intermittent fasting can get rid of inflammation and bring back the health of your thyroid gland. You’ll also want to get rid of harmful foods like grains and gluten, and any foods that you are personally sensitive to.
  2. Decrease stress. Addressing your stress levels is a vital thing if you want to start seeing some improvement in your condition. Viruses like Epstein-Barr can become reactivated at different times – and one of the major causes for their activation is stress. So if you want to keep the virus away and minimize its effects, you’ll need to keep your stress low.
  3. Take zinc and selenium. Both zinc and selenium are essential for your immune system. These supplements will support healthy immune function so you can address some of the dysfunction going on.
  4. Try garlic. Garlic is another great thing for helping mitigate the effects of a virus. It is one of the best things you can take for viruses in general, and it can help to decrease the viral load if a virus is involved in your condition.

I have seen so many cases of people with Hashimoto’s disease who come in stressed to the max and who have a lot of gut problems. When they reduce their stress, address their diets, and support their body with healthy nutrients, they see a huge improvement in their symptoms.

Stress free zone sign, red stop sign with nature mountain background.


The other 10%: Secondary causes of hypothyroidism

If you don’t have Hashimoto’s and are in the other 10% of hypothyroidism conditions, it is important to realize that your low thyroid function could be secondary to some other issue. In fact, this is most often the case.

Again, hypothyroidism and thyroid symptoms are usually not really related to a thyroid problem. They are related to a problem elsewhere in the body that just so happens to affect thyroid functioning. The low thyroid function is a result of some other imbalance in the body.

Here are some common examples:

1. Liver or gallbladder damage

Did you know that your liver is involved in the conversion of the inactive form of thyroid hormone (T4) to the active form (T3)? 80% of the conversion of T4 to T3 happens through the liver.

So if you have anything going wrong with your liver or your gallbladder (such as a fatty liver, gallbladder removal, etc.) that could mean you aren’t getting enough conversion of T4 to T3. As a result, you may not produce enough thyroid hormones and you could exhibit signs of hypothyroidism.

Learn more about the connection between the liver, gallbladder, and thyroid gland here.

Anatomy drawing of liver and gallbladder organ structures, bile duct.

2. Estrogen imbalance

High levels of estrogen in the body can also block the thyroid’s ability to function. Too much estrogen can actually block the thyroid, and it can even result in nodules forming in the thyroid.

Keeping your estrogen levels in check is very important, as excess estrogen is one of the major possible root causes of a sluggish thyroid.

The solutions

Here are my recommendations for supporting hypothyroidism secondary to some of the issues listed above:

  1. Support your liver and gallbladder. Take steps to improve your liver and gallbladder health. For example, learn how to reverse a fatty liver here, learn how to increase bile from the gallbladder here, and learn about my Gallbladder Support Formula here.
  2. Avoid soy. Soy has all sorts of problems in the body, especially when it comes to estrogen balance. Soy acts as an estrogen in your body, and it can easily disrupt hormone balance. Learn more about the dangers of soy here.
  3. Cut out gluten. Gluten can irritate your digestive tract and cause inflammation there. Thyroid problems can be a side effect of this irritation, so I recommend staying away from gluten in the diet (and all grains for that matter).
  4. Don’t necessarily stay away from cruciferous vegetables. You might have heard that cruciferous vegetables deplete iodine and cause health issues. That is actually a myth (learn more here). You’d have to eat a tremendous amount of these veggies to cause any problems. I actually believe cruciferous vegetables can help, rather than harm, because they can help to regulate estrogen levels. But if you have any concern about cruciferous vegetables, eat them steamed or fermented and consider sea kelp for some extra iodine.

The bottom line

Most cases of hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone issues are secondary to other problems.

Whether you are part of the 90% of hypothyroid sufferers who have Hashimoto’s thyroid disease or your hypothyroidism is secondary to a liver, gallbladder, or estrogen issue, it is important to realize that your thyroid itself is usually not the culprit.

Woman in black and white holding hand to throat, thyroid gland drawn in red.

Trying to solve your problem with thyroid medications doesn’t actually address the root cause and you will likely not have much luck over time.

Instead, look to uncover what is actually going on to cause low thyroid function, and give the solutions listed above a try.

For additional hypothyroid support, watch this video on How to Get Your Thyroid to Work Correctly, and consider these top hypothyroid supplements. This information can help you with supporting the conversion of T4 to T3 and helping your thyroid to function as well as it can.

Do you have hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone problems? Have you uncovered the root cause? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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