Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and doesn’t properly make or release thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland normally releases many crucial hormones that travel through the bloodstream to reach receptors found throughout the whole body. So a disturbance in thyroid function can cause widespread, noticeable health problems.
To document that this was a result of trends toward lower doses, an unblinded study tracked well-being according to various doses and found that the highest well-being was achieved at supraoptimal doses, resulting in a suppressed TSH (65). However, a blinded trial did not reproduce this finding (66). In a call to the public, a 1997 British Thyroid Foundation newsletter asked readers to recount personal history of residual hypothyroid symptoms. More than 200 patients responded, 54 of whom specifically mentioned that they did not feel well despite normal serum markers of thyroid function (67, 68). Because of this surge in symptomatic patients, some clinicians advocated titrating dose by symptoms rather than serum TSH, reminiscent of the period before the 1970s (69).
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 has some form of hypothyroidism. (1) Some estimates suggest up to 40 percent of the population suffers from at least some level of underactive thyroid. Women — especially older women — are the most susceptible group for developing hypothyroidism. People who are elderly or who have other existing autoimmune diseases — like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, for example — are also at a higher risk.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include surgical removal of the thyroid (usually for cancer), radiation therapy of the head and neck, or complications of medical therapies for hyperthyroidism. (Patients with overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications that reduce thyroid functioning. These effects can be extensive and permanent, and thyroid supplementation is often required flowing these interventions.) Certain medications can worsen or promote hypothyroidism or interfere with thyroid replacement therapy. One such drug is lithium, used for treating psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Over my several decades working as a Functional Medicine doctor, I can assure you that even in the toughest cases, you can heal your thyroid. With some patients, I can do this through the dietary, nutrient, and lifestyle factors I’ve discussed here. For others, that healing requires trial and error using several medications and working closely with a physician.
Kale reigns supreme in the land of leafy green vegetables that we often eat raw, but beware if you have an iodine deficiency. “Kale gets a big baddy,” Blum says. “Eat it cooked.” When raw, this dark green leaf steals the iodine from the thyroid gland. If you must, it’s ok to nosh on the green veggie in your salad, but stop at two servings a day. No need to get extra credit on the superfood.
Lifeworks Wellness Center is long recognized as one of the foremost natural health clinics in the US. At our Tampa Bay, Florida alternative medicine office we have been offering treatment for underactive thyroid for a long time and many of our patients have benefitted from it. The patients fly in from all over the world because they simply can’t find clinics offering natural treatments for underactive thyroid and natural medicine for low thyroid where they live.
72. Garber JR, Cobin RH, Gharib H, Hennessey JV, Klein I, Mechanick JI, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American Thyroid Association Taskforce on Hypothyroidism in Adults. Clinical practice guidelines for hypothyroidism in adults: co-sponsored by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid. 2012;22:1200–1235. [PMID: 22954017] [PubMed]
The development of TSH assays led to a dramatic reduction in thyroid hormone replacement dosage and the ability to diagnose with certainty milder forms of hypothyroidism. Discovery of peripheral T4-to-T3 conversion gave a physiologic means to justify l-thyroxine monotherapy. In combination with the concerns over consistency and safety of natural thyroid preparations, synthetic l-thyroxine was perceived as a more reliable therapy. These findings laid the foundation for the clinical practice trend away from natural thyroid preparations and toward l-thyroxine monotherapy at doses to normalize the serum TSH. Later, a subpopulation of patients with residual symptoms of hypothyroidism was recognized. It remains to be determined whether this is due to a trend of attributing nonspecific symptoms to minimal thyroid dysfunction, relatively low serum T3 levels and/or high T4:T3 ratio, or the role of Thr92AlaD2 polymorphism, and whether combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine will be beneficial.
The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. In the United States, hypothyroidism usually is caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. As with all autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly identifies its own tissues as an invader and attacks them until the organ is destroyed. This chronic attack eventually prevents the thyroid from releasing adequate levels of the hormones T3 and T4, which are necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The lack of these hormones can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair, and difficulty concentrating (see table).2 Hashimoto’s affects approximately 5% of the US population, is seven times more prevalent in women than men, and generally occurs during middle age.3
Those with hypothyroidism may want to consider minimizing their intake of gluten, a protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, says Ruth Frechman, RDN, a dietitian in the Los Angeles area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten can irritate the small intestine, and may hamper absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication.
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