The thyroid gland, one of the most unremarkable features of our anatomy, not even large enough usually to make a bulge at the front of the neck where it resides, is actually quite important to good health and well-being.
People with severe hypothyroidism, the clinical term for low thyroid function, have rather obvious symptoms of constantly feeling cold, fatigue and a tendency to gain weight, with nearly impossible efforts to lose weight. Often such symptoms are striking enough to come to the attention of medical personnel sooner or later, and the patient is dosed for life with synthetic thyroid hormone, which supplements the low output of the under performing thyroid gland.
However, there are other symptoms, potentially much more devastating, that for many people are the result of low thyroid function. Broda Barnes, MD shook up conventional thinking about the thyroid in 1976, when he showed connections between low thyroid and heart disease. He also showed a clear connection from low thyroid to elevated blood fats and blood cholesterol. This is something that is still every bit as true today, but is still largely ignored by the medical community. The ignorance has turned out to be convenient, because cholesterol-lowering medications are so much more expensive and enriching than thyroid hormones for the pharmaceutical companies. Whereas thyroid supplementation may not only resolve the underlying cause of high cholesterol, it would also likely help the patient with mood, energy and weight management.
So low thyroid function is grossly under diagnosed. It may seem odd that so many people have low thyroid function, but if you consider the various environmental threats to the thyroid, it is a wonder that any of us have that gland working at all.
Here are some of the most prevalent threats to the thyroid gland:
- Background radiation: Cell phone towers have proliferated in large and small metropolitan areas. Cordless phones and microwaves are used in most households. Electromagnetic fields bathe our houses and workplaces continuously. All of this radiation damages the thyroid.
- Other radiation: X-rays do more thorough and immediate damage to the thyroid. Always make sure you are given a shield to cover your neck when having dental or any other x-rays.
- Estrogen is everywhere. Car exhaust, plastics, pesticides, even chemicals in our shampoos and other soaps have estrogen-like chemical compounds. These substances interfere with the production of thyroid hormone, and they are everywhere in our industrial-to post-industrial society. Even men in our society are estrogen-dominant.
- Soy deserves special mention as an increasingly common problem for the thyroid. Soy is a plant that has become popular in agriculture because it will grow where other plants can no longer grow. It does this because it is very efficient at pulling minerals out of the soil. Then once the molecules of soy get into you, they pull out your minerals too. The thyroid, being an especially mineral dependent gland, is especially weakened by soy. Soy is therefore known as a goitrogen, and should be avoided, except as a condiment
- Selenium is a common mineral in rich natural topsoils, but has become depleted over the years in our soils because of monoculture, lack of composting and other unhealthy farming practices. Selenium is crucial to the thyroid hormone conversion that must take place in order for us to benefit from our thyroid output. See you naturopathic physician for help in supplementing good amounts of this and other nutrients.
Treatment Options For Low Thyroid
Fortunately, the low thyroid patient has many options, perhaps more than for almost any other condition, especially if the hypothyroidism is mild. As a Naturopathic Medical Doctor and primary care physician, I like to take the gentlest measures first. For example, after I order several different tests in a “panel” of thyroid tests, I can determine if nutritional deficiencies are relevant to the patient’s condition. Then I supplement a number of nutrients to enhance thyroid function. However, those same tests may tell me that more than a little intervention is needed. Still there are amino acids and/or herbs that may be sufficient.
If more intervention is needed there are a number of glandular options available; usually thyroid gland derived from sheep and then encapsulated as a supplement to the thyroid. Even this much of an intervention may still be therapeutic and repairing to one’s own thyroid, as are all of the above-mentioned treatments.
Finally, if none of the above-mentioned treatments are sufficient or appropriate to the patient’s needs, there are pharmaceutical options among the synthetic thyroid hormones.
In any case, it is a story with a quick and happy ending for most patients, because the hypothyroid symptoms can often soon be eliminated by appropriate treatment.
A first step would be to consult your local naturopathic physician. The largest directory of naturopathic doctors is www.naturopathic.org.