For many people an underactive thyroid slows them down and leads to a host of other unpleasant symptoms. Most of those people are never diagnosed with the disorder. Many are never treated. Many fail to make the changes in their diet and lifestyle that can really help ease their symptoms. Most go on living their life in a debilitated state.
The Thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the middle of the front of your throat. It’s purpose is to release hormones that help in the regulation of many body functions – metabolism, heart rate, maintaining your core temperature, healthy skin, your weight, fertility and more. It slows you down or revs you up to make you more energetic. It also activates your immune system. It plays a part in most of the body’s physiological processes, so when it is out of balance, so are you. In fact every cell in your body has receptors for thyroid hormones.
Sometimes the thyroid does not work as it should and, depending on whether it is pumping out too many hormones or too few, it becomes under- or over-active, what is known as either Hyperthyroidism (too many thyroid hormones in the blood) or Hypothyroidism (too few).
Thyroid conditions can be quite common and it is estimated that about 20-25% of the female population may suffer from hypothyroidism. An estimated 30% more of people over the age of 35 may suffer from “subclinical” hypothyroidism, where they either have no obvious symptoms, or their test results are within the ‘normal’ range but they have mild symptoms of low thyroid function.
Many people live with the symptoms of low thyroid function often for years, where their thyroid gland works sluggishly without them even realizing it. With too few thyroid hormones in the blood the body processes start slowing down, and so do they.
However, there are some telltale signs to look out for. Here are some of them, although there are many more:
- Fluid retention or swelling in the legs, feet, arms or face
- Cold hands or feet, poor circulation and intolerance of cold
- Dry skin, acne and eczema
- Lethargy, fatigue, poor stamina and sleeepiness
- Forgetfulness, slow cognitive function, brain fog
- Constipation, indigestion
- Weight gain, or difficulty losing weight
- Poor brittle, slow-growing nails and hair, hair loss
- Heavy periods, irregular cycle, PMS
- Infertility, low libido
- Muscle and joint aches and pains
- Food cravings, food intolerances, hypoglycaemia
- High cholesterol/ triglycerides, palpitations, high or very low blood pressure
Illnesses where symptoms seem vague or scattered could actually be providing warning signs that you have a problem with your thyroid. Diseases and syndromes such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, menopausal symptoms, muscle and joint pains, IBS, PMS, heart disease or depression, which all have a wide variance in the symptoms they present with, may be improved when underlying thyroid issues are redressed. Sometimes an underactive thyroid can be due to an autoimmune disease, Hasimoto’s disease.
However, low thyroid function may actually not be the root of the problem. There is a strong relationship between your adrenal and thyroid glands and it is very common for adrenal fatigue to go hand-in-hand with hypothyroidism. In many cases the adrenal glands become weakened, leading to a malfunctioning thyroid gland. If treatment is only directed towards the thyroid gland and the adrenal issues are not addressed then the person’s health will simply not improve. It’s important to reduce stress in your life as both the adrenals and the thyroid are very sensitive to stress. Practicing meditation, yoga, qi gong, or relaxation techniques will go a long way to reducing the stress response and support the action of these glands.
Two hormones, T4 and T3 are produced by the thyroid. T3 is the active form of thyroid and is the one that does the vast majority of work in the body. When levels are low enough the traditional approach is to use synthetic hormone, but they only contain T4 and the problem with this is that most people have difficulty converting T4 into T3.
Thyroid hormone levels can be tested with a blood test. If symptoms are vague and do not point directly to a disorder, testing will probably be done alongside other blood tests.
The normal range for tests is 0.5 to 5.5 IU/ml.
The problem for many people is that they suffer symptoms of low thyroid function when their measured levels of the hormone are between 2.0 IU/ml and 5.5IU/ml – levels that are considered to show ‘normal’ thyroid function. They are told their levels are normal and left with no explanation or treatment for their symptoms. When it comes to thyroid hormones setting the boundaries of ‘normal’ for thyroid levels is very misleading as there really isn’t any ‘normal’ level…the levels change depending on factors such as age or health.
All the different hormones of the body work together in a delicate dance and when one is not working all the others are affected also. Many reproductive hormone-related symptoms may be experienced when thyroid hormones are low. PMS, infertility, fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, heavy bleeding, menopause symptoms, fibrocystic breasts or even post-natal depression may all result.
Low thyroid function can easily be confused with the symptoms of menopause. While symptoms such as hot flushes, period irregularities, weight gain, night sweats and insomnia are often experienced during peri-menopause or menopause, night sweats and insomnia in particular, may also be key symptoms of low thyroid function. Using hormone replacement to deal with these symptoms simply makes the problem worse, as the oestrogen in the medications interferes with the thyroid hormones further, impairing the thyroid function even more. This in turn slows down metabolism and leads to weight gain. It is a vicious circle.
As usual it is easy to point the finger at poor diet and lifestyle as contributing factors to thyroid dysfunction and sugar, processed foods, stress, lack of exercise or toxic environments all play their part.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Low thyroid function can be addressed in a number of more natural ways.
I treat many people (mainly women) for low thyroid function with huge success using carefully selected Homeopathic remedies, reversing their debilitating symptoms and allowing them to live a normal life. But with this being a complicated chronic issue it is not one that can be self-treated and requires prescribing by a fully-trained professional Homeopath.
But luckily there are a number of things that you can do as a first-line defense for hypothyroidism, and using natural methods avoids the side effects of medications.
A well balanced diet that is made up of unprocessed, unrefined whole foods, with organic or biodynamic vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy, is the best way to combat hypothyroidism, if you also include the following guidelines.
It’s so important that you stay away from sugar and caffeine which simply cause thyroid burn-out. If going ‘cold-turkey’ is too hard then cut back more gradually. Cut out refined and processed carbohydrates as well as they behave just like sugar when they are metabolized in your body.
Make sure to eat protein as it transports thyroid hormone into your cells. Include nuts, nut butters, legumes, quinoa, and less frequently and in smaller quantities eggs, meats, fish and dairy.
Good fats help to create hormone balance (including thyroid hormones) – avocados (one of my favourite good fat sources), coconuts and coconut milk and oil, olives and olive oil, raw nuts and nut butters, organic butter and yoghurt, organic egg yolks, flax seeds. Avoid trans fats.
Make sure you are getting enough Vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin A, Vitamin D, the Vitamin B’s, iodine, selenium, zinc, copper, iron and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Organic produce will be higher in vitamins and minerals as long as it isn’t old and wilting.
Thyroid hormone production is just another of the many functions of Vitamin D which is produced in the body from sunlight. This is yet another reason to have levels of this crucial vitamin tested and maintained, and you may actually need to supplement this.
Cut out gluten especially if you have Hashimoto’s as the gluten mimics thyroid tissue and aggravates the autoimmune response
Watch out for foods that interfere with thyroid function especially those containing goitrogens and don’t eat them unless they are cooked – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, spinach, strawberries, peanuts, millet
Get tested for food sensitivities, especially if you find there is a food or food group that you crave, as eating these foods sets up an autoimmune response in the body.
The thyroid gland requires iodine to make thyroid hormones so iodine deficiency may be a contributing factor to hypothyroidism. Many people are deficient in iodine so include more sources of iodine in your diet like seaweed (kelp, dulce, nori), shellfish, saltwater fish, eggs, yoghurt, mozzarella cheese
Supplement with probiotics as good thyroid function depends on healthy gut flora
Add vitamins and minerals particularly if you are not getting adequate amounts in your diet.
Other supplements that help thyroid activity and the manufacture of thyroid hormones are Tyrosine, Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), magnesium citrate and Potassium iodide. Look for these in a combined thyroid supplement.
Ashwaganda is a herb that can help to improve the level of T4 hormone and guggal Commiphora wightii to convert the T4 into the active T3. Guggal has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine and is now difficult to source due to its scarcity after overuse – you may want to reconsider using this herb for this reason.
Exercise lowers insulin levels and increases thyroid function. Work out or walk for 40 minutes three times a week, and make sure you get out of breath.
- Thyroid- Home remedies (harikrishnamurthy.wordpress.com)
- The Relationship Between Hypothyroidism and Infertility (thyroid.answers.com)
- Hypothyroidism Treatment and Diet (healthandwellnessblogging.wordpress.com)
- Iodine Deficiency symptoms (healthylifestylesliving.wordpress.com)