Located in front of the voice box near the base of the throat, the thyroid gland is one of the largest hormone secreting glands in the body. Since thyroid hormones regulate metabolic activity in every cell of the body, thyroid problems can affect every aspect of health and every system in the body. Women are seven times more likely to develop thyroid problems than men, their risk increasing with age and a family history of thyroid disease. Inadequate diagnosis, widespread iodine deficiency and environmental toxins are the primary issues of concern for thyroid disorders.
Common Thyroid Disorders
Hyperthyroid or Grave’s disease is the most common form of hyperthyroid with excess thyroid hormone being produced. This is most often due to an autoimmune condition.
Hyperthyroid Signs and Symptoms:
Heart palpitations, rapid pulse, weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, feeling warmer than others, tremors, irritability
Hypothyroid, often the result of an autoimmune condition called Hashimotos disease, occurs when thyroid hormone levels are too low.
Hypothyroid Signs and Symptoms:
Fatigue, lethargy, mental impairment, cold intolerance, hypertension, menstrual irregularities, coarse and or loss of hair, carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling under the eyes, joint pain, decreased appetite, depression, constipation, weight gain, dry skin, premature aging, easy infections, headaches, brittle nails, and slowing of the nervous system and muscle function
Subclinical hypothyroid lacks the confirmatory laboratory findings of hypothyroid, yet shares a similar symptom profile.
Thyroid Hormone Overview
The thyroid produces two hormones that regulate metabolism. Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, is made up of the amino acid tyrosine and three iodine molecules while T4 is made from tyrosine and four iodine molecules.
Thyroid hormone production is regulated by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH comes from the pituitary, and if blood levels are too low it secretes more TSH and when blood levels of thyroid are too high it secretes less TSH.
Blood Test Indicators of Thyroid Disorders
Hypothyroid: High TSH and low free T3 and or free T4.
(Low Basal Body Temperature is another way to identify hypo/subclincal thyroid disorders, but a ban on mercury thermometers makes this test obsolete).
Subclinical Hypothyroid: High or near normal TSH and normal free T3 and free T4. A relatively new lab test called Reverse T3 is a good way to identify subclincal hypothyroid. Reverse T3 is a stress related compound which the body produces in response to stress. Reverse T3 blocks cellular thyroid receptors, leading to symptoms of hypothyroid without necessarily altering TSH, T3 and T4 lab findings. This condition is one of the most commonly overlooked ailments by conventionally trained medical practitioners.
Hyperthyroid: Low TSH with elevated free T3 and free T4
Thyroid Antibodies: Antibody testing may further help to identify thyroid disorders.
Causes of Thyroid Disorders
Iodine deficiency (see my newsletter on Iodine)
Physical stress such as a chronic illness or chronic pain
Autoimmune conditions such as Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and pernicious anemia (deficiency of vitamin B12)
Allergic conditions, such as wheat sensitivity (see newsletter on Wheat)
Heavy metal toxicity: cadmium, lead, mercury
Hormonal imbalance: such as occurs with menopause
Environmental toxins: Thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroid and subclinical hypothyroid may result from overexposure to organophosphates (OP). Organophosphates are ubiquitous synthetic compounds used in insecticides, herbicides and nerve gas (used as insecticides). These chemicals are abundant in non-organic diets. OP are also found in plastic (see newsletter on Plastic), synthetic perfumes, lubricants such as engine oil and solvents for dry cleaning, paint thinners, nail polish removers, glue, spot removers, and in some detergents (use organophosphate free detergents). For more on the subject of pesticide and other environmental issues see the Environmental Working Groups website: http://www.ewg.org
Treatment for Thyroid Disorders
Iodine (see Iodine newsletter)
Stress management to include organic diet (see Organic newsletter), aerobic exercise and sunlight.
Deficiency of vitamins B2, B3, A, E, K and the minerals Selenium, Iron, Iodine, and Zinc can lead to thyroid disorders.
People eating the Standard American fast food diet will be deficient in most of these nutrients. They will also be getting a heavy dose of heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides and other toxins that may impact thyroid function. Good quality diet and a healthy whole food multiple vitamin and mineral complex helps prevent these nutrient deficiencies.
Good sleep, along with minimal alcohol and soy intake will further ensure healthy thyroid function.
Herbal aides include: Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Bladderwrack (Fucus), Blue flag (Iris versicolor) and Kelp for hypothyroid conditions. Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca) and Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus) for hyperthyroid. Soy and the Brassica foods (cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) may also help reduce hyperthyroid disorders.
Armour type USP desiccated thyroid to supply both T3 and T4. Synthetic medications typically contain just T4. Since some people are unable to convert the T4 into the active T3 form, they will find little relief with synthetic thyroid hormones.
Thyroid problems are quite prevalent in today’s society due to a host of environmental and personal stresses, but often go undetected due to lack of testing, or insufficient testing by health care providers. As with most chronic conditions, lifestyle habits are at the core of thyroid disorders, and while supplements and hormone replacement can help, lifestyle changes are essential to correct thyroid disorders. A full review of thyroid function and treatment would fill a book; however I believe that I have covered the essential points for interested readers in this month’s newsletter. As always, comments are welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND