An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, occurs when the thyroid gland produces less than the normal amount of thyroid hormone. The result is the “slowing down” of many bodily functions. Although hypothyroidism may be temporary, it usually is a permanent condition. Of the nearly 30 million people estimated to be suffering from thyroid dysfunction, most have hypothyroidism.
The thyroid is considered a master gland and in addition to producing crucial hormones, it also helps control the process of turning nutrients from food into useable energy that your body runs on. Because the thyroid plays such a major part in your metabolism, dysfunction can wind up affecting almost every part of the body, including your energy levels and ability to burn calories.
Trials of the first pharmacologic strategies included intravenous or subcutaneous (12) or oral (15) administration of thyroid extract, in addition to “thyroid feeding,” the consumption of raw or cooked thyroid gland (16), with sustainable successes. Oral replacement strategies quickly won favor, although “alarming symptoms” associated with treatment were noted; however, the details were not fully described (17). Thyroid transplant may one day reemerge as a viable treatment option given that functional thyroid tissue can be generated from stem cells (18).
The diagnosis of “subclinical” hypothyroidism that I discussed last week depends on having a TSH level higher than 5 m IU/ml and lower than 10 m IU/ml. As I mentioned above, new guidelines suggest anything over 3 is abnormal. While an improvement, practitioners following these guidelines may still miss many people who have normal test results and a malfunctioning thyroid system.
To find out if you have hypothyroidism, your doctor will run blood tests to check for levels of the hormones known as T4 (thyroxine) and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Hypothyroidism is diagnosed in your thyroid test when TSH is high. Sometimes, TSH can be high, but the thyroid is still producing enough hormones. This condition is referred to as subclinical (or mild) hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a disease which causes the thyroid gland to become underactive and not making enough thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is located in the front lower part of your neck. Hormones released by the gland affect nearly every part of the human body including heart, brain, muscles, and skin. The thyroid controls the metabolism, which affects the body temperature, heartbeat and also regulates the calorie burn. When the body is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, it causes the metabolism to slow down and hence, the body makes less energy and gain more weight.
Medications that are used to treat an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may cause hypothyroidism. These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). The psychiatric medication, lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), is also known to alter thyroid function and cause hypothyroidism. Interestingly, drugs containing a large amount of iodine such as amiodarone (Cordarone), potassium iodide (SSKI, Pima), and Lugol's solution can cause changes in thyroid function, which may result in low blood levels of thyroid hormone.
Dry skin (xeroderma) may be caused by external factors, like cold temperatures, low humidity, harsh soaps, and certain medications, or internal factors, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, psoriasis, or Sjogren's syndrome. Symptoms and signs of dry skin include itching and red, cracked or flaky skin. The main treatment for dry skin is frequent, daily lubrication of the skin.
In areas of the world where there is an iodine deficiency in the diet, severe hypothyroidism occurs in about 5% to 15% of the population. Examples of these areas include Zaire, Ecuador, India, and Chile. Severe iodine deficiency occurs in remote mountain areas such as the Andes and the Himalayas. Since the addition of iodine to table salt and to bread, iodine deficiency is rare in the United States.
Bone broth — Beef and chicken stock contain the amino acids L-proline and L-glycine, which can help repair the digestive lining and improve hypothyroidism. Bone broth also contains numerous important minerals that nourish the digestive tract and prevent deficiencies like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and silicon. Bone broth has been shown to help overcome food sensitivities, improve energy and fight fatigue, increase immunity and lower pain of the muscles and joints.
Think twice before reheating your plastic bowl of takeout soup or keeping that frozen dinner in its original container when you microwave it. Put it on a plate or in a bowl made from ceramics like bone china, stoneware, porcelain or glazed earthenware. Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system, and you can disrupt it by heating food in plastic. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says endocrine disruptors are in many everyday plastic products, including bottles, food, and containers with BPA. Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body, like thyroid hormones.
The most common treatment I use is Armour thyroid, (9) a prescription drug made from desiccated (dried) porcine thyroid. It contains the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, including T4, T3, and T2 (10). That last one – T2 – is a little-known product of thyroid metabolism that actually may be very important. The right dose ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending on the person.
In the 1995 American Thyroid Association (ATA) guidelines, biological and synthetic thyroid hormone preparations containing T4 plus T3 were not recommended out of concern for fluctuating and often elevated serum T3 concentrations (71). In conjunction with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in 2012, the ATA continued to recommend l-thyroxine monotherapy and noted that evidence does not support using synthetic combination therapies; in addition, they stated that “desiccated thyroid hormone should not be used for the treatment of hypothyroidism” (72). In 2014, the ATA recommendations evolved with the recognition that 1) serum T3 levels might not be normalized in all l-thyroxine–treated hypothyroid patients and 2) some patients remain symptomatic while receiving l-thyroxine monotherapy. Titration of l-thyroxine dose to achieve normal TSH concentrations remains a first-line approach, but trials with combination therapy can be considered. In addition, the guidelines recognize that although superiority data are lacking, some patients do experience a clinical response with desiccated thyroid preparations or combination therapy with l-thyroxine plus l-triiodothyronine (1). The European Thyroid Association has similar recommendations (2).
Symptoms of hypothyroidism often develop gradually and can sometimes take years to manifest. Women in their fifties and older are more likely to have hypothyroidism then men; however, teenagers, children and even infants can be affected by this condition. Typical signs that you may have hypothyroidism include increasing fatigue and weakness, often with unintentional weight gain. Skin can become dry, rough and pale, with hair loss and dry, brittle nails. Other frequent problems are sensitivity to cold, muscle or joint aches, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles with heavy blood flow, and decreased sex drive.
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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