Natural Ways to Treat Thyroid Conditions
Aug 01, 2014 01:27PM
● By Beth Davis
The thyroid, a small gland located below the skin and muscles at the front of the neck, has an enormously important job to do: it produces thyroid hormone (TH), which regulates, among other things, the body’s temperature, metabolism and heartbeat. Things can start to go wrong when our thyroid is underactive or overactive.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60 percent of those are unaware of their condition, according to The American Thyroid Association (ATA). Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility. Additionally, the risk of thyroid disease increases as we age and women are five to eight times more likely than men to have a thyroid problem.
Since undiagnosed thyroid problems can dramatically increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, anxiety, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, infertility and a host of other symptoms and health problems, it’s important that individuals don’t go undiagnosed.
Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) that needs no treatment to life-threatening cancer. The most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Too much thyroid hormone results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Insufficient hormone production leads to hypothyroidism. Although the effects can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed and treated.
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone—also called an underactive thyroid. Symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to develop slowly, often over several years. At first, individuals may just feel tired and sluggish, but as time goes on, more specific symptoms include fatigue; depression; puffy face; hoarse voice; forgetfulness; pale, dry skin; muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, especially in the shoulders and hips; increased sensitivity to cold; and unexplained weight gain. In addition to these symptoms, people with hypothyroidism may have high blood levels of LDL cholesterol—the so-called “bad” cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
According to the ATA, hypothyroidism may be due to a number of factors including:
- Autoimmune disease. In some people’s bodies, the immune system that protects the body from invading infections can mistake thyroid gland cells and their enzymes for invaders and can attack them. Then there aren’t enough thyroid cells and enzymes left to make enough thyroid hormone. The Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hashimoto’s primarily affects middle-aged women but also can occur in men and women of any age and in children.
- Treatment for hyperthyroidism. People who produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications to reduce and normalize their thyroid function. In some cases, treatment of hyperthyroidism can result in permanent hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid surgery. Removing all or part of the thyroid gland can diminish or halt thyroid production.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can affect the thyroid gland and may lead to hypothyroidism.
- Medications. Medicines such as amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, and interleukin-2 can prevent the thyroid gland from being able to make hormone normally. These drugs are most likely to trigger hypothyroidism in patients who have a genetic tendency to autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Too much or too little iodine. The thyroid gland must have iodine to make thyroid hormone. Iodine comes into the body in food and travels through the blood to the thyroid. Keeping thyroid hormone production in balance requires the right amount of iodine. Taking in too much can cause or worsen hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism poses a special danger to newborns and infants. A lack of thyroid hormones in the system at an early age can lead to the development of cretinism (mental retardation) and dwarfism (stunted growth). Most infants now have their thyroid levels checked routinely soon after birth. If they are hypothyroid, treatment begins immediately. A hypothyroid infant is unusually inactive and quiet, has a poor appetite and sleeps for excessively long periods of time.
There is no cure for hypothyroidism, and most patients have it for life. However, in almost every patient, hypothyroidism can be completely controlled.
Help for Hypothyroidism
The purpose of treating hypothyroidism is to maintain normal metabolism by correcting a deficient output of thyroid hormone. Conventional treatment usually involves taking a synthetic thyroid hormone medication on a daily basis. Once this replacement therapy begins, the thyroid will stop producing hormones all together, and replacement must be continued for life. Consulting a medical professional knowledgeable in hormonal issues is key.
For those looking for a more natural treatment, world-renowned medical doctor and naturopath, Dr. Andrew Weil, recommends dietary changes, exercise, supplements and Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM).
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and up to 60 percent of those are unaware of their condition, according to The American Thyroid Association (ATA).
Weil notes that for those with existing thyroid conditions, excess consumption of soy may affect thyroid function, but this is probably a concern only in those already taking certain thyroid replacement medication. He suggests a slightly increased dosage of replacement therapy if one consumes soy on a regular basis. He adds that if individuals eat soy foods at the same time they take thyroid hormone, they may interfere with its absorption. “To be safe, do not eat soy within three hours of taking your medication,” he explains. “Moderate soy consumption (one serving daily of whole soy foods) should not be a problem.”
Adequate iodine from dietary sources is also important—iodized salt, fresh ocean fish and seaweed are good sources and essential for healthy thyroid function, as are natural, healthy fats (olive oil, flax seed, nuts, avocados). Proteins, including nuts and nut butters; quinoa; organic, grass-fed meats, eggs and fish; as well as legumes can help normalize thyroid function. Just as crucial as what one eats is what to avoid. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach and cabbage, contain a natural thyroid blocker. Also, to help the body to heal itself, remove burdens on its immune system. This means avoiding overly processed food and limit dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and alcohol intake. Whole foods nutrition is best.
Pursue a gluten-free diet. The molecular composition of the gluten protein (found in wheat, barley and rye products) is nearly identical to the structure of human thyroid tissue. As a result, an immune system that is already attacking its own thyroid tissue may be provoked into more severe or prolonged attacks in the presence of the gluten molecule, making it a good choice for hypothyroidism sufferers to abstain from this nutrient entirely.
Many patients with hypothyroidism have reported benefits from exercise, particularly that which helps reduce everyday stress and boosts energy and mood. Find a physical activity that is fun, and do it often. For optimal thyroid function, exercise at least three days a week for 40 minutes per workout. The sustained practice of yoga and meditation can go a long way toward helping people cope with a variety of chronic ailments, including thyroid dysfunction. Together, these practices create a deep sense of relaxation in the body and mind, thereby helping to relieve a number of different health issues.
Although not well studied in addressing hypothyroidism, Weil says that TCM can have positive effects on imbalances in the immune system, and is useful in treating other autoimmune conditions. It may be helpful early in the course of Hashimoto’s, but TCM should not be used in place of conventional therapy when thyroid replacement is indicated.
Take thyroid-enhancing supplements daily to gently and safely keep the thyroid working optimally for life. Weil recommends a quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral formula, two grams of fish oil and 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, is when the vital gland produces too much of the needed regulatory hormone. If there is too much thyroid hormone, every function of the body tends to speed up. It is no surprise, then, that some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are nervousness, irritability, increased perspiration, heart racing, hand tremors, anxiety, thinning of the skin, unexplained weight loss, fine brittle hair, sleep disturbances, increased sensitivity to heat and weakness in the muscles—especially in the upper arms and thighs. More frequent bowel movements may occur, but diarrhea is uncommon. Since hyperthyroidism increases metabolism, many individuals initially have a lot of energy. However, as the condition continues, the body tends to break down, so being tired is common.
All types of hyperthyroidism are due to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, but the condition can occur in several ways:
- Graves’ disease. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s own defense system (the immune system), stimulates the thyroid, causing it to make too much of the thyroid hormone. In a person with Graves’ disease, the eyes may look enlarged because the upper lids are elevated. Sometimes, one or both eyes may bulge. Some patients have swelling of the front of the neck from an enlarged thyroid gland (a goiter). Although Graves’ disease may affect anyone, it’s more common among young women and tends to run in families.
- Toxic adenomas. Nodules develop in the thyroid gland and begin to secrete thyroid hormones, upsetting the body’s chemical balance. It is possible that some goiters may contain several of these nodules.
- Subacute thyroiditis. Inflammation of the thyroid that causes the gland to “leak” stored thyroid hormone, resulting in temporary hyperthyroidism that generally lasts a few weeks but may persist for months. Taking too much thyroid hormone in tablet form can also cause the same symptoms.
- Pituitary gland malfunctions or cancerous growths in the thyroid gland. Although rare, hyperthyroidism can also develop from these causes.
The Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises that in addition to these symptoms, people with hyperthyroidism may have osteoporosis, or weak, brittle bones. In fact, hyperthyroidism might affect the bones before a person has any other symptoms of the disorder.
Help for Hyperthyroidism
An overactive thyroid is initially treated with radioactive iodine taken orally, as a capsule or drink. The radiation helps to shrink the gland and permanently reduce its hormone output within three to six months. Sometimes anti-thyroid drugs may be given initially to reduce hormone levels; in about a third of cases, taking these medications for a year or more can produce a long-term remission. Graves’ disease, or an overactive thyroid, is a more serious condition than an underactive thyroid since the rapid heartbeat it can cause can progress to other serious heart problems if not adequately treated. Beta-blockers are often used with other forms of treatment until or unless thyroid function stops or becomes too low.
Dietary and lifestyle treatments may offer some benefit in addressing autoimmunity. Weil suggests decreasing protein intake toward 10 percent of daily calories; replacing animal protein as much as possible with plant protein; eliminating milk and milk products; eating more organic fruits and vegetables regularly; eliminating polyunsaturated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, all partially hydrogentated oils, and all foods that might contain trans-fatty acids. He recommends using extra-virgin olive oil as the main fat.
Certain foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, contain goitrogens in their raw state. Goitrogens block thyroid hormone production and thus help to slow down the thyroid. Therefore anyone suffering from hyperthyroidism would benefit greatly from eating raw cruciferous veggies. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary and oregano should be used as much as possible.
Dr. Andrew Weil, recommends dietary changes, exercise, supplements and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Mind-body measures like guided imagery and hypnosis may be useful in helping reduce stress and normalize immune function. In an article published in Explore magazine, integrative medicine physician Dr. Gary Conrad recommends the use of a multisystem, integrative approach that encompasses “all healing modalities” most appropriate to address an individual’s needs. One key component to his healing was learning how to optimize the mind-body connection to achieve states of deep relaxation. In the article, he states that stress is often a key precipitator in aggravating autoimmune conditions, and working to decrease or better manage stress can often balance immune system function and facilitate healing.
While all of these changes can play an important role in improving thyroid function naturally, it’s still important to work with a medical practitioner in order to monitor thyroid-stimulating hormone levels and overall improvement. If an individual’s condition is severe, natural remedies alone may not initiate enough of a response to alleviate symptoms until the disease is under better control. In the meantime, proper medical management is vital to allowing natural remedies to thrive.
LOCAL THYROID CARE RESOURCES
Getting to the Root Cause of Thyroid Issues
Is a hidden thyroid condition the cause of your fatigue, unexplained weight gain or loss, aches and pains, hair, nail or skin problems? Physicians at CARE Chiropractic & Wellness Center use Nutrition Response TestingSM to find the root cause of thyroid and other health problems. Then they identify the specific natural remedy needed to assist the body’s inborn healing process. Dietary modifications, exercise, and stress management are also implemented to restore balance and health. West Melbourne. 321-728-1387 CareWellnessFL
MARCELA BOWIE, D.O.M., AP
325 5th Ave. Suite 205 Indialantic
Dr. Bowie uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping, tuina, moxibustion and essential oils to treat many conditions including respiratory, neurological, GYN disorders, thyroid, anxiety and stress.
CARE CHIROPRACTIC & WELLNESS CENTER
1938 Dairy Road W. Melbourne
Designed Clinical Nutrition using Nutrition Response TestingSM can solve thyroid and other health issues naturally. Other services include Chiropractic care and free Health Talks.
JERE PROCTOR, ACUPUNCTURE PHYSICIAN
114 6th Avenue, Indialantic
Practicing Functional Medicine, treating root cause of problems related to thyroid, auto-immune, chronic fatigue, metabolic syndrome issues, etc. Call for free phone consultation.
SPACE COAST ADVANCED HEALTH
299 N. Orlando Ave, Cocoa Beach
We offer a revolutionary new thyroid treatment approach that addresses the SOURCE of your Thyroid Problem using Advanced Lab Measurements and a Comprehensive Functional Approach!
SPECIALIZED MEDICAL INC.
1375 N. Courtenay Pkwy.Merritt Island
We provide heartfelt care for your medical needs and work with you to bring balance to your thyroid, hormones, and overall health.
THE HERB CORNER
277 N. Babcock St, Melbourne
Can help ease thyroid symptoms & strengthen immune system with customized herbal blends. Hundreds of organic bulk herbs, essential oils, natural products available. Herb classes. Free private consultations.