Hypothyroidism is most commonly treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy, and the most effective way to treat hypothyroidism is with synthetic T4 medication. (7, 5) While these hormones are identical to the natural T4 that the thyroid makes, several factors can affect the exact dosage you need. These include your age, the severity of symptoms, and your overall health profile.
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
An inexpensive and versatile food, beans are a great source for sustained energy, which can be helpful if hypothyroidism leaves you feeling drained. Beans contain protein, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and loads of vitamins and minerals. They are also high in fiber, which can be beneficial if you suffer with constipation, a common side effect of hypothyroidism. If you're new to beans, there are many varieties to try, all of which can be used as the base for entrées, as side dishes, and to enhance soups, salads, and stews. Just be sure not to overdo it — guidelines recommend that adults get 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but excess fiber can interfere with your hypothyroidism treatment.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
But determining the correct dosage isn’t a quick process — you will need a blood test between six and eight weeks after you first start taking your medicine to see if your hormone levels are normalizing. If your doctor thinks you need a dosage adjustment, he or she will do so and recheck your hormone levels after another six to eight weeks. Once your thyroid hormone levels stabilize, you won’t need another thyroid check for six months. (5) Controlled hypothyroidism requires only an annual checkup. (3)
Dr. Josh Axe is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. Dr. Axe has created one of the top 10 most visited natural health websites in the world at www.DrAxe.com which has over 15 million monthly visitors. Dr. Axe has been a physician for many professional athletes. In 2009, he began working with the Wellness Advisory Council and Professional Swim Teams. He worked with professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, providing nutritional advice and musculoskeletal work on the athletes to increase their performance. He also traveled to the 2012 Games in London to work with USA athletes. Dr. Axe has authored several books including his new book Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones. This can happen after the surgical removal of the thyroid gland, if infants were born with congenital hypothyroidism, stress or simply if the thyroid gland is tired of working and is not functioning well. If these hormones are not produced adequately, symptoms like cold intolerance, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, goiter and even depression can occur. (See Hypothyroidism Symptoms for more symptoms)
Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism deal with depression, anxiety, trouble getting good sleep and low immunity. The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which control your emotions and nerve signaling. This is the reason an out-of-balance thyroid can mean drastic emotional changes at times.
People should take T4 on an empty stomach to prevent the absorption of the medication from being erratic. Moreover, doctors usually recommend taking the medication first thing in the morning, then waiting at least an hour to eat breakfast or drink coffee. Taking the medication at bedtime, several hours after the last meal, also appears to work and may be a more convenient approach for some people.
There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly, exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
Hypothyroidism is generally treated with a single daily dose of levothyroxine, given as a tablet. An experienced physician can prescribe the correct form and dosage to return the thyroid balance to normal. Older patients who may have underlying heart disease are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased while younger healthy patients can be started on full replacement doses at once. Thyroid hormone acts very slowly in some parts of the body, so it may take several months after treatment for some features to improve.
Unlike conventional medical treatments, a natural hypothyroid treatment approach tries to get to the underlying cause of your disorder. In other words, upon seeing a competent natural healthcare professional who focuses on endocrine conditions, they will try to determine what is actually causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. In addition to looking at the typical thyroid blood tests, they might also evaluate your adrenal glands, digestive system, hormone levels, and other areas of the body which can be causing your thyroid gland to malfunction. Then assuming this natural healthcare professional feels they can help you, they will recommend a natural hypothyroid treatment protocol that won’t just manage your symptoms, but will also attempt to restore your health back to normal.
Why does this happen? The immune system mistakenly thinks that the thyroid cells are not a part of the body, so it tries to remove them before they can cause damage and illness. The problem is that this causes widespread inflammation, which can result in many different problems. 90 percent of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s that inflames the thyroid gland over time, but this isn’t the only cause of hypothyroidism.
You may have read that green, leafy veggies like kale, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can make hypothyroidism worse. But before you keep reading, ask yourself a question: Do you live in the United States? That’s key — because if you do, you likely don’t need to worry about these cancer-fighting veggies messing with your hypothyroidism management. (7)
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