With a thyroid dysfunction we have two main possibilities – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland while hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland. There may be swelling of a part of the neck, which is also known as goiter. Some goiter symptoms may include:
• A visible swelling at the base of your neck that may be particularly obvious when you shave or put on makeup.
• A tight feeling in your throat.
• Difficulty swallowing.
• Difficulty breathing.
In hypothyroidism, there is a reduced level of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in the body. This can cause various symptoms, the most common being tiredness, weight gain, constipation, aches, dry skin, lifeless hair and feeling cold.
In hyperthyroidism the body’s processes speed up and you may experience nervousness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, weight loss and sleep problems, among other symptoms.
Thyroxine (in hypothyroidism), also known as T4, affects almost all of the body’s systems. Low thyroxine levels cause problems with development if it occurs when an individual is young. In adults, thyroxine deficiency plays a crucial role in heart and digestive function, it will lower the metabolic rate, causing weight gain, and it can also cause memory problems, infertility, fatigue, bone loss and muscle stiffness.
Thyroxine converts to triiodothyronine (T3), which is a more biologically active hormone. Only about 20% of triiodothyronine is actually formed in the thyroid gland. Production of T3 and T4 are activated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the anterior pituitary gland.
If your body releases too much thyroxine, you will suffer a condition called thyrotoxicosis. Thyrotoxicosis can also cause menstrual irregularities, an increase in bowel movements, weight loss, heat intolerance, fatigue and irritability. Thyrotoxicosis is commonly caused by hyperthyroidism, tumors in the thyroid gland or thyroid inflammation.
As with the hypothalamus, thyroid dysfunction is also a big subject and, for the purpose of this article, I will only address hypothyroidism.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), secreted by the pituitary, is the primary screening measure in most situations. The normal range is usually reported to be 0.3-5.5 mIU/L, and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism is likely when the TSH is elevated above 10. The less functional the thyroid, the higher the TSH (values will vary for what is a “normal” TSH depending on the lab).
• Free T4 (FT4) is evaluated when the TSH is abnormal. The usual range is 9-19 pmol/L and will be reduced in hypothroidism.
• Free T3 (FT3) has a usual range of 2.6-5.7 pmol/L. It may be reduced in hypothyroidism, but its value is not useful for diagnosis.
Hashimoto’s disease is also known as chronic lymphatic thyroiditis. It’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is named after the Japanese doctor who first described thyroid inflammation. Women are 15 – 20 times more likely than men to develop this disease. Other organ-specific autoimmune diseases include Atrophic Thyroiditis, Painless Sporadic or Silent-Thyroiditis and Riedel’s Thyroiditis.
Based on allopathic medicine, standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone Levothyroxine (Brand names, just a few, include: Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid).
Despite from what some chemist might say, Levothyroxine (L-Thyroxine Sodium) is a synthetic product (similar to Vasopressin for diabetes) with other added chemicals to it too. [The body is trying to fight or control a condition and for this reason it sends ‘help’ signals. Instead of looking at the sources of “why and how did we get there in the first place”, we are given hormones that, in fact, not only are sending the wrong messages (suppressing symptoms) to the whole body but are causing other serious conditions too – coma being one of them].
Side effects from such drugs includes: headache, flushing, fever and sweating, rash, pruritus, dyspnoea, joint pain, malaise and oedema, tremor, restlessness, excitability, insomnia (rarely, benign intracranial hypertension in children), anginal pain, cardiac arrhythmias, palpitations, tachycardia, diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, craniostenosis in infants and premature closure of epiphysis in children, menstrual irregularities, heat intolerance, (transient hair loss in children, also reported), hyperpyrexia, tachycardia, arrhythmia, hypotension, cardiac failure, jaundice, confusion, seizure and coma.
The alternative objective of treatment is to reduce the demands placed on the gland by stress or an unhealthy diet whilst supporting its functions and those of the general metabolism. Most patients are happier to take the drug with all of the side effects, than actually consider a healthier life.
For a healthier thyroid, it is worth looking at more accurate information on digestive enzymes, trace elements, blood-sugar levels, or whether you have an overgrowth of yeast (candidiasis) in the gut *1. Triggers like poor diet, stress, toxins and illness can create negative changes in the microbiome. Friendly bacteria that normally support health become suppressed while opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria take centre stage. This can lead to a whole host of health conditions including autoimmunity.
If stress is a major contributor, adaptogens (e.g. Withania somnifera, Rhodiola rosea, Panax ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus and Glycyrrhiza glabra) or anxiolytics (e.g. Piper methysticum, Valeriana spp., Passiflora incarnata, Zizyphus spinosa) could be of use. If autoimmunity is present anti-inflammatory (e.g. bioflavonoids, enzymes and Curcuma longa) and immunosuppressant (e.g. Tylophora indica and Hemidesmus indicus) agents may be indicated. Hormone precursors and cofactors, such as combinations of tyrosine, iodine, selenium and zinc are recommended to support the thyroid. However, beware that hyperthyroidism can develop also as a result of recent supplementation with iodine to correct a hypothyroid state.
Natural chemicals called goitrogens are known to block thyroxine production [remember above? – In hypothyroidism, there is a reduced level of thyroxine]. That is something that hypothyroid patients need to be aware of. Goitrogens are to be found in raw broccoli, cabbage, millet, watercress, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and turnips.
Other supplements may include: Kelp and other products that are sources of iodine [iodine deficiency isn’t an issue for all], Dong Quai, tyrosine, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), ashwagandha, bladderwrack, schisandra, ginseng (Siberian and American), astragalus, rhodiola and copper.
The bottom line.
DO NOT go out and start buying all or even part of the supplements that I have listed above. Should you decide to take them, get professional advice (from: TCM, Naturopathy, Functional Medicine, Homeopathy, Ayurveda etc.) or carry out loads of research for each one of them. Most important point – there is nobody out there that knows your body better than you do, and that applies to your doctor and specialist too. There are natural cures for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and one doesn’t have to carry on for the rest of his/her life with lethal drugs. Don’t forget – any single side effect means one other drug that will be added to your list of medications and that you will need to take every day, possibly for the rest of your life. If you want to stop taking any medication, you can do so but in very small and well co-ordinated steps. This means sacrifice – it maybe that you will have to give up coffee, alcohol, soya (drinks and food), gluten (pasta, pizza, cakes), chips and fried foods, sweets (biscuits and chocolate) and so on. Please also remember that apart from pituitary and thyroid, key components of the classical feedback control loop are the hypothalamus, and other organs like liver, brown adipose tissue, skeletal muscle and kidney that are capable of deiodination [activation or deactivation of thyroid hormones], as well as peripheral and central compartments, where iodothyronines distribute, act and are catabolised.
Without drugs it can really work but most individuals prefer the easy route which, in their mind, comes by waving the magic wand of a pill. As if!
Article by A B M Procaccini © – Counselling Psychologist, Naturopathist
*1 – There are several cures to set your thyroid to work properly without taking drugs/medications. Excellent results have been obtained with Zonulin too.