Hypothyroidism: How your thyroid can affect your health, energy and ab-flab

Are you one of many who have a chronic medical problem that is both under-diagnosed and under-treated? Are you suffering from ambiguous symptoms that you think are normal parts of your life, such as:

  • Fatigue

  • feeling sluggish in the morning

  • having trouble with your memory, concentration, or focus?

  • dry skin

  • fluid retention

  • lower libido

  • hands and feet are cold constantly

  • hair thinning

  • hoarse voice

  • thick or brittle fingernails

  • high cholesterol

  • trouble losing weight, or recent weight gain

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • really bad PMS or problems getting pregnant

  • muscle cramps or muscle pain or weakness

Most of these symptoms might not be severe enough to send you to the emergency room, but they do significantly affect your quality of life.  Your doctor is not much help, because they often fail miserably when it comes to addressing subtle changes in your body that affect the quality of your life.

According to conventional medicine, low sex drive is not necessarily a disease. Neither is a little dry skin or constipation or being tired most of the day.

But for you, those problems are substantial.

what causes them?  Often, they’re caused by a condition called hypothyroidism.

What is Hypothyroidism?

When you have hypothyroidism, your overall metabolism slows down because the gland that controls it, the thyroid, is not functioning as well as it should.

If your thyroid slows down, every other organ and system in your body slows down, including the brain, heart, gut, and muscles.  The thyroid hormone is like a master switch that turns on the genes that keep every cell functioning.

It doesn’t have to be completely non-functioning.  You can be just a little bit hypothyroid and it will have a dramatic effect on the quality of your life.

Yet most doctors don’t view it that way which is further compounded by the conventional belief that you can diagnose hypothyroidism only through one blood test, called TSH, and that you only qualify for treatment if your THS level is over 5.0.

Unfortunately, this view ignores a whole group of people regarded as subclinical hypothyroidism.  This subclinical condition may trigger many low-grade symptoms, such as fatigue, trouble losing weight, mild depression, constipation, and more. Yet it causes just slight changes in your blood tests. In fact, it often only shows up in tests that most doctors never perform.

How Low Thyroid Function Affects Your Health?

Hypothyroidism doesn’t just make you a little fatigued — it can lead to more serious problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

I come across this all the time in my clinic: Patients come in with vague complaints that alone may not seem too substantial.  But when you add them up, they tell an important story.

Some suffers of this condition associate it as normal part of aging, but I just don’t believe that is true.  I believe that most of the symptoms of aging that we see are really symptoms of abnormal aging or dysfunction that is related to imbalances in our core body systems.

Often, I have to play a medical detective to find clues where no one else is looking and put together a puzzle why a person is suffering. This gets them the answers and tools they need to get well.

Sometimes what is required is simply replacing a thyroid hormone, supporting nutrition (including eliminating food intolerances) and implementing some lifestyle changes.

Who is Affected by Hypothyroidism?

This problem affects men and women of all ages.  And it is very common because of all the stressors in our environment, including toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic stress, all of which interfere with our thyroid function.

It’s crucial to understand that the thyroid is not just linked to energy and other symptoms which I mentioned above.  It is the master metabolism hormone that controls the function and activity of almost every organ and cell in the body — so when it is lethargic or slow, everything slows down with it.

But here’s the good news ...

There are clear ways to diagnose and treat the problem, with a comprehensive functional healthcare approach.

The 1st step is to ascertain whether or not you have any of the chronic symptoms of hypothyroidism or any of the diseases associated with hypothyroidism. Ask yourself if you have any of the following symptoms mentioned above.

After I have asked my patients about all these symptoms, I do a physical examination for clues to a low-functioning thyroid.

I check for a low body temperature. Anything lower than 36.5 degrees Celsius may be a sign of hypothyroidism.

I might also find fluid retention, a thick tongue, swollen feet, swollen eyelids, an enlarged thyroid gland, excessive earwax, a dry mouth, coarse skin, low blood pressure, or decreased ankle reflexes. I might even find that the outer third of the eyebrows is gone.

These are all physical signs that can be added up along with other symptoms to solve the puzzle of what is causing the problem.  Once I have done that, I ask patient to undertake specific blood tests that give me a full picture of thyroid problems. These can be ordered through their doctor or through a lab I work with.

Once you’ve been diagnosed the next step is treatment.  If you have hypothyroidism, you need conventional medical treatment. Nutrition and herbs can assist in supporting conventional treatment, but should not be used by themselves to treat hypothyroidism, unless this is what your doctor advised you. Often complimentary therapies will help reversing some of the symptoms and your doctor may reduce your medication accordingly.  Studies show, for example, that practicing yoga can help hypothyroid patients manage symptoms related to their condition.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Nutrition and Supplements

Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:

  • Eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, such as whole grains (if no allergy), fresh vegetables, and sea vegetables 

  • Avoid overeating foods that can potentially interfere with thyroid function, including broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soybeans, peanuts, linseed, pine nuts, millet, cassava, and mustard greens. These foods are                healthful in general, so do not avoid them completely. Everything is reasonable in moderation.

  • If you take thyroid hormone medication, talk to your doctor before eating soy products. There is some evidence soy may interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone.

  • Taking iron supplements may interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone medication, so ask your doctor before taking iron.

  • Eat foods high in antioxidants, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes) and vegetables (such as squash and bell pepper).

  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Talk to your healthcare provider before increasing your caffeine intake, as caffeine impacts several conditions and medications.

​​

These supplements may also help:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil. To help reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood-thinning medication. Ask your doctor before taking omega-3 fatty acids if you take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), or if you have a bleeding disorder.

  • L-tyrosine. The thyroid gland combines tyrosine and iodine to make thyroid hormone. If you are taking prescription thyroid hormone medication, you should only take L-tyrosine under the direction of your doctor. DO NOT take L-tyrosine if you have high blood pressure or have symptoms of mania. Tyrosine may interact with Levodopa.

  • DO NOT take an iodine supplement unless directed to by your doctor. Iodine is only effective when hypothyroidism is caused by iodine deficiency, which is rare in the developed world. Too much iodine can actually cause hypothyroidism.

Herbs

Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). People with a history of alcoholism should not take tinctures. Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures singly or in combination as noted.

Few herbs have been studied for treating hypothyroidism. However, more research is required.

  • Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus). For low thyroid support. DO NOT take bladderwrack unless directed by your doctor. Bladderwrack contains iodine. Although lack of iodine can cause hypothyroidism, most cases of hypothyroidism in the developed world are not caused by iodine deficiency. In fact, too much iodine can actually cause hypothyroidism. Bladderwrack may also contain toxic heavy metals, interfere with pregnancy and fertility, and interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) among others.

  • Coleus (Coleus forskohlii). For low thyroid function. Coleus may interfere with certain medications, including some blood pressure medicines, nitro-glycerine, and blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Talk to your doctor.

  • Guggul (Commiphora mukul). For low thyroid support. Guggul may interfere with oestrogen, birth control pills, and other medications. Guggul may have an oestrogen-like effect on the body and may not be appropriate for people with certain hormone-related conditions. Talk to your doctor.

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