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What is Hyperthyroidism?

Understanding your thyroid condition


Hyperthyroidism is the term given to an overactive thyroid, which causes the butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck to make more thyroid hormones than the body requires. As a result, people often experience weight loss and difficulty gaining or maintaining weight, even when eating more.

Hyperthyroidism is most commonly caused by Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune thyroid disorder that causes the body to produce antibodies that over-stimulate the thyroid gland. 


A deeper look

Graves’ disease is most common in people aged between 30 and 50, but can occur at any age, and is up to eight times more common in women than men. People with pre-existing autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anaemia, lupus, Addison’s disease, coeliac disease, vitiligo, and Type I diabetes, are also more likely to develop Graves’ disease than those without. In fact, around 25% of people with an autoimmune condition tend to develop three or more autoimmune conditions, likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A family history of Graves’ disease also increases the risk of developing Graves’ disease further.

Subclinical hyperthyroidism can occur when a person is experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, yet standard thyroid pathology results are not indicative of hyperthyroidism. Specifically, subclinical hyperthyroidism can be defined as low or undetectable TSH, with normal free thyroxine (T4) and total triiodothyronine (T3) levels.


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What causes eczema?

There isn’t one single cause of eczema but a range of potential contributing factors that are unique to each person. These include:

Genetics

Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.

Hormones

Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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Root causes and contributing factors of hyperthyroidism and Graves' disease

What causes hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism primarily occurs as a result of Graves’ disease, but can have several other potential causes too:

Graves’ disease: The most common cause of hyperthyroidism which causes the immune system to enlarge the thyroid and overstimulate hormone production.

Thyroid nodules: Benign lumps in the thyroid that become overactive and produce too much thyroid hormone, more common in older adults.

Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid which causes stored thyroid hormone to leak from the gland. This form of hyperthyroidism is usually short term, and followed by hypothyroidism.

Subacute thyroiditis: Causes painful inflammation of the gland, which may be triggered by an underlying infection or virus.

Postpartum thyroiditis: A form of thyroiditis triggered by hormonal and autoimmune disruption after pregnancy and birth.

Silent thyroiditis: Painless inflammation of the thyroid, likely autoimmune related.

Pituitary tumour: In rare cases, hyperthyroidism may be caused by a non-cancerous tumour on the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain.

Iodine overconsumption: The thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. In some people, consuming large amounts of iodine in iodised salt, seaweed, and processed food may disrupt hormone production.

Thyroid medication: Thyroid stimulating hormone medicine for hypothyroidism can sometimes lead to an overcorrection.

Underlying infections or toxicity: underlying infections like the Epstein-Barr or herpes viruses, and toxicity of pollutants like heavy metals like mercury, have also been shown to contribute or cause thyroid and immune system dysfunction.

Intestinal Hyperpermeability: Having a more permeable intestinal tract, commonly known as ‘leaky gut’,  can expose the body to undigested food particles, microbes, and toxins that can cause inflammation which can lead to autoimmunity.

Common and conventional treatments for hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease

How to treat hyperthyroidism

Early diagnosis and intervention are essential to avoid adverse effects on the heart, eyes and bone structure, which makes it important to consult with a practitioner experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism.

However, diagnosing hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease can sometimes be challenging.

Presentation of the symptoms described above can raise suspicion of an overactive thyroid, and several testing options are available to confirm a hyperthyroid diagnosis.

Blood tests can be used to assess thyroid hormone and antibody levels, however, this isn’t always an effective method in mild cases. Imaging tests can also be used to analyse iodine uptake, including a radioactive iodine uptake test, and thyroid ultrasound.

Conventional treatments include antithyroid medication, which achieves remission within a year for 50 percent of patients. If remission isn’t achieved, or a relapse occurs, a thyroidectomy (removal of the thyroid gland) or radioactive iodine treatment may be explored.

The Melbourne Functional Medicine approach to hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease

How to fix hyperthyroidism naturally

There is a common underlying factor to each of the causes and contributors to an overactive thyroid, and that is inflammation and immune dysregulation. While simply addressing inflammation is not sufficient for treating hyperthyroidism, it is often the first step to regaining control of autoimmune disorders.

Patients often come to Melbourne Functional Medicine with an aim to get off or avoid medication and surgery. Our practitioners approach hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease with a more holistic, proactive, and preventative approach.

Just some of the ways our practitioners can support your journey with hyperthyroid recovery include:

Optimise nutrition: Nutrition and diet for hyperthyroidism is about much more than just eating to gain weight. The foods we eat can either help or hinder autoimmune disorders and thyroid conditions, and our practitioners work with each individual to find the right foods, and supplements, for them.

Amy Myers MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection recommends people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease:

  • Remove gluten, grains and lentils: Gluten-containing grains like wheat also contain amylase-trypsin inhibitors which are plant-derived proteins that naturally protect plants from insects. These proteins, like lectins in legumes, have been shown to trigger an inflammatory immune response in the gut that can spread to other parts of the body. For this reason, removing gluten, grains and lentils may help to reduce the system inflammation typical of hyperthyroidism.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and iodine: Caffeine and alcohol can aggravate symptoms such as anxiety and rapid heart rate that people with hyperthyroidism experience, while foods high in iodine such as iodised salt and seaweed may worsen the condition.
  • Increase minerals and vitamins: People with hyperthyroidism may develop nutritional deficiencies resulting from inflammation and immune system overdrive. While multivitamins are popular, they’re not all created equal. Our practitioners work with each patient to create a nutritional protocol unique to their needs, which may include thyroid and immune-supporting vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, L-carnitine and CoQ10.

Improve gut health: Reducing inflammation naturally improves digestion and nutrient absorption, although gut health can be further supported with the right proactive approach. Our practitioners can select from a range of probiotics, herbs, and supplements to quell inflammation and improve the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, which is especially important for people with unwanted weight loss.

Support immune health: Our practitioners use functional testing to determine the best ways to support each patient’s immune health. A combination of Vitamin D, omega 3, and glutathione can combine as powerful immune modulators that may help to regulate immune function, quell inflammation and improve detoxification for people with hyperthyroidism.

Remove heavy metals and systemic infections: We are exposed to a wide range of sources of heavy metals and other toxins that can harm the thyroid,  including contaminated water supply, soil, amalgam fillings, fish, pollution, body products, and the general environment. Chronic underlying infections like Epstein-Barr virus and Ross River fever can also have a damaging impact on immune and thyroid health. Our practitioners can work with you to identify any of these potential issues, reduce your exposure to toxins and address any underlying damage.

These are just some of the ways our practitioners can support people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease at Melbourne Functional Medicine. The approach for you may be different depending on your individual findings. Self-diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism are not recommended due to the serious nature of long-term thyroid damage.


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FAQs

Can hyperthyroidism be caused by pregnancy?

Shifts in hormones such as HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) and oestrogen during pregnancy can stimulate thyroid function, which can lead to hyperthyroidism. While hyperthyroidism during pregnancy is often transient, occurring in 1-2 per 1000 pregnancies, pregnant women with hyperthyroid symptoms must be assessed and monitored carefully, as thyroid imbalances can cause developmental issues for the baby, and Graves' disease must also be explored.

Can hyperthyroidism cause joint and muscle pain?

Factors such as a disrupted gut microbiome and underlying infections, nutrient deficiencies such as magnesium, calcium and vitamin D as well as food sensitivities can cause joint and muscle pain in those with hyperthyroidism. Those with the autoimmune condition Graves' disease also have a higher likelihood of having the autoimmune condition Rheumatoid Arthritis, which presents as joint pain and stiffness.

Can hyperthyroidism cause skin problems?

An overactive thyroid can impact the skin, causing hyperpigmentation (melasma) due to the increased release of hormones such as pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone. Often those with hyperthyroidism experience an increase in sweating that can cause heat rashes in skin folders. Some people with hyperthyroidism can develop a rare skin rash called pretibial myxedema, presenting as red, swollen skin on the shins and tops of feet. The autoimmune conditions Vitiligo and Alopecia areata are also associated with the hyperthyroid autoimmune condition Graves’ disease.

How to naturally fix hyperthyroidism?

Fixing hyperthyroidism involves a deep and broad analysis of a person's health to detect the root causes and contributing factors of the thyroid imbalance. A skilled practitioner will explore factors such as nutrient status, gut health, underlying infections, immune function, stress and environmental factors to create a personalised plan to improve thyroid function.

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