Cell Danger Response & Hypothyroidism: The Two Overlooked Culprits of Thyroid Imbalance
If it looks, smells, and feels like hypothyroidism (figuratively, of course) can you be sure that’s what it is?
In most situations, the unfortunate answer is no. But if you are like me, it is your passion and life’s work to get to the root cause of your client’s health concerns, particularly when it comes to the thyroid.
How do you approach this challenging condition (metabolic flexibilities) when it is one of the more complex puzzles you will face as a functional healthcare provider? And why IS it so challenging?
With my 30 plus years of clinical practice, in addition to all I have learned as the founder of The Institute of Nutritional Endocrinology, the one thing I can say with complete confidence is that there is no single symptom that conclusively points to hypothyroidism. And all the symptoms that do, such as brain fog, fatigue, elevated cholesterol, depression, and poor digestion can be due to an endless possibility of root causes brought on by body system imbalances.
That’s one reason it is so challenging.
A second reason is that lab work can show perfectly normal thyroid hormone levels when symptoms are screaming the complete opposite.
Two relatively new theories science is pointing to as possibilities for this are the cell danger response (CDR) and cellular hypothyroidism. The more you understand both, the greater your thyroid puzzle skills will be.
The Cell Danger Response (CDR)
The cell danger response or CDR is a relatively new theory that some now believe may be a leading cause of chronic illness, including hypothyroidism.
The CDR is part of the body’s innate defense system and can be triggered by a physical, biological, or chemical stressor. This can include viruses, bacteria, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, heavy metals or chemical toxins. It can also be caused by injuries, surgeries and psychological trauma such as divorce, emotional abuse, or loss of a loved one.
Every cell in the body wants to maintain homeostasis and relies heavily on the mitochondria to provide enough energy to sustain this cellular balance. If there is a significant drop in energy, the mitochondria see this as a threat and will switch from energy production to cellular defense. CDR is recognized as this shift in cellular physiology.
CDR can impact 21 major regulatory pathways involving oxygen and ATP production, Vitamin D activation, methylation, immunity and inflammation, amino acid metabolism, and the gut microbiome, to name a few.
Normally the CDR is short-lived, but if it remains ongoing, it can increase the risk of chronic illnesses such as hypothyroidism. This cell stress can change the cellular thyroid physiology by decreasing thyroid hormone transportation as well as deactivating thyroid hormones, creating or worsening symptoms.
If a cell is under stress with an corresponding decrease in cellular energy, it will lower thyroid hormone transport. This can result in less T3 or T4 entering the cells.
CDR can also cause the release of inflammatory chemicals which can deactivate T3 and T4 hormones within the cell and reduce the T4 to T3 conversion in the liver. It also triggers the release of DAMPS (damage-associated molecular patterns) and PAMPS (pathogen-associated molecular patterns) into the bloodstream, molecules that help the body fight pathogens and toxins. The thyroid is very sensitive to both and they can trigger an autoimmune response resulting in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
If a client exhibits all the signs of hypothyroidism but their blood work shows normal levels of thyroid hormones, this can be due to cellular hypothyroidism, also known as tissue hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones are being produced but they are not getting into the cells.
Although there can be different root causes, thyroid transport proteins are often key to this issue and directly impacted by mitochondrial health and cellular energy, specifically the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Elevated fatty acids in the bloodstream will shut down thyroid transport proteins and can increase as a result of insulin resistance and excess adrenaline.
Indoxyl sulfate and hippuric acid can also inhibit thyroid transport proteins and are produced when intestinal microbes ferment amino acids and polyphenols.
Liver and gallbladder problems can raise bilirubin levels which can also inhibit the transport of thyroxine (T4) into the liver causing limited conversion to T3.
Kidneys filter out all of these culprits which negatively impact thyroid transport proteins. Good kidney function is critical for protection against cellular hypothyroidism.
Clients' CDR and Hypothyroidism Support
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to resolving health issues, especially if you suspect hypothyroidism could be playing a role in your client's health concerns. Whether it is being exacerbated by CDR or cellular hypothyroidism, the key is first getting the full picture as best you can which can require extensive detective work.
In my practice, I have found the best way to do this is through an understanding of symptoms combined with the correct lab work to flesh out the picture those symptoms are painting.
Below I’ve listed recommendations that can support all clients as they find their way back to optimal health.
- A full thyroid panel. Most practitioners don’t ask for this even though it will give them a much better picture of thyroid function. You will find a link to the panel I use along with further explanation in my blog post, Where Testing for Thyroid Hormone Imbalance Goes Wrong.
- An organic acid test will identify key metabolites that indicate healthy functioning energy pathways.
- Looking for above normal bilirubin levels in a basic blood panel could flag kidney, liver, and/or gallbladder issues contributing to cellular hypothyroidism.
- Fasting insulin, fasting glucose, lipids and HbA1c can determine if insulin resistance is present and also playing a part in cellular hypothyroidism.
- A stool test https://reinventhealthcare.com/thyroid/solving-the-puzzle-of-the-thyroid-epidemic/can detect gastrointestinal pathogens producing culprits that inhibit thyroid transport proteins.
- Support mitochondrial health to help offset CDR. One of the go-to experts on mitochondrial health is Ari Whitten who has been a guest on my podcast, ReInvent Healthcare, and we discussed mitochondrial health in detail.
- Identify and remove the root cause as soon as possible.
- Encourage a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet.
- Regular exercise.
- Improve sleep.
As thyroid conditions reach epidemic levels, your ability to accurately identify and provide support for this chronic issue will set you apart from the majority of practitioners.
Students in my Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training (NEPT) program have access to an extensive curriculum as well as peer support that adds a level of understanding to thyroid health they are not able to find elsewhere.
This program focuses on proven, science-based methods to resolving chronic health issues through natural means.
The body has the power to heal itself if we just get out of its way.
Now, go take what you’ve learned and help create a world where people get the help they need.
Our free guide, the Magic Questions Health Detectiveap System will provide a great place to start with people.
We’d love to hear from you.
Comment below and share your best strategies for thyroid support ,
- Understanding Thyroid Cell Stress – PMC
- Frontiers | Thyroid Hormones Interaction With Immune Response, Inflammation and Non-thyroidal Illness Syndrome
- What Is Cellular Hypothyroidism? | Paloma Health
- Metabolic features of the cell danger response – PubMed
- The Cell Danger Response: New Theory For Chronic Illnesses