In the United States, hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is four times more prevalent in women than in men. According to the statistics, hypothyroidism is estimated to be present in only .3 percent and subclinical hypothyroidism is estimated to be in 4.3 percent of the general American population. That’s because we define the diagnosis based only on serum tests.
“Subclinical hypothyroidism” is defined biochemically as a normal serum T4 (thyroxine) level when the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level is elevated. (That tells the thyroid gland to secrete more T4.)
However, you may remember that in my previous article I told you that low thyroid hormone function is estimated to affect about 50 percent of American adults, according to the clinical experience of Broda Barnes, M.D., and the generations of the Hertoghe family of endocrine physicians from Belgium. There are good reasons for their estimation, as I discovered the more I studied their reports.
If what these European endocrinologists say is true, then what could be the cause for such a widespread problem? We know from orthodox medicine about these causes for overt hypothyroidism:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Radioactive iodine/surgery
- Iodine deficiency
- Low pituitary or hypothalamus fxn (specialized protein)
- Postpartum thyroiditis
- Congenital hypothyroidism
However, there are many more causes that contribute to this high prevalence of low thyroid function. Consider these contributing causes:
- Xenobiotics/xenoestrogens: Environmental chemicals that mimic and disrupt thyroid hormone metabolism and function. They are in plastics, pesticides, cosmetics, prescription medications and more. Examples of problematic medications include synthetic estrogens, lithium, interferon alpha, interleukin-2, amiodarone and thalidomide.
- Sex steroid hormones (estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, etc.): Can interfere with thyroid hormone function.
- Emotional stress: Down-regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormone cascade, including thyroid hormone, inhibits conversion of T4 to T3 (most active) due to low levels of the stress hormone cortisol; thyroid receptors are 50 percent less responsive to thyroid hormone supplementation in the presence of low cortisol. A 1994 study of refugees from East Germany who experienced chronic stress among refugees from East Germany were found to have a very high rate of hypothyroidism.
- Adrenaline: When produced due to critical illness, it lowers thyroid hormone. Hyperglycemia and metabolic syndrome are much more prevalent in hypothyroidism and are thought to suppress thyroid hormone.
- Heavy metals: May lower thyroid function. Mercury is especially problematic.
- Chronic gut inflammation: Food allergies and intolerance to ingredients such as gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley and rye) and their derivatives add to the autoimmune condition of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Gluten sensitivity affects an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of the general population.
- Suboptimal nutrition furthers thyroid dysfunction: Iodine; vitamins A, B and D; omega-3 fatty acids; selenium; and zinc can easily be deficient in the diet.
Symptoms Caused By Low Thyroid Hormone Function
Low thyroid hormone has the potential to cause illness in any body tissue or organ. When your metabolic rate slows, the indications are often subtle. However, if a low thyroid condition remains, late findings will make themselves evident.
- Feeling tired in daytime when sitting or at rest.
- Sensitivity to cold; hands and feet often cold.
- Constipation, abdominal bloating or colitis symptoms.
- Unwanted weight gain, morning puffy face/swollen eyelids, water retention.
- Cardiovascular effects: hypertension, hypercholesterolemia.
- Depressed mood or anxiety upon waking.
- Menstrual disorders (excessive bleeding or painful menses).
- Endometriosis, infertility, miscarriages.
- Dry or slow-growing hair or nails, excessive hair loss, acne, eczema, psoriasis.
- Hoarse voice, slowed speech.
- Stiff or painful joints, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Memory/concentration impairment; confusion, depression, dementia.
- Frequent colds, sore throats, earaches or other infections.
- Nighttime muscle cramps, burning or tingling, bradycardia (slow rate).
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, infertility, increased risk of miscarriages, premature deliveries and stillbirths.
The Self-Test By Barnes
Do the Barnes basal body temperature test at home to get an idea of how your thyroid is doing. Use a thermometer to check your axillary (armpit) temperature while still lying in bed for 10 minutes first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Check at least three morning readings. If your temperature is consistently below the range of 97.8 F to 98.2 F and you have several symptoms, then you can be 90 percent certain you have low thyroid hormone function. For menstruating women it is best to check on days two, three and four of the menstrual cycle.
In my next article I’ll discuss the ways in which low thyroid affects other organ systems that will amaze you, including cardiovascular disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension and even cancer. In a future article I’ll tackle dietary, nonmedicinal and medicinal treatments to correct low thyroid hormone function.
To feeling good for life,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options®
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Ongphiphadhanakul, B; Fang, SL; Tang, KT; Patwardhan, NA; Braverman, LE (1994). "Tumor necrosis factor-alpha decreases thyrotropin-induced 5′-deiodinase activity in FRTL-5 thyroid cells". European journal of endocrinology 130 (5): 502–7.
James L. Wilson, N.D., D.C. Ph.D. Lecture in fellowship training Module I of the American Academy of Anti-aging Medicine (A4M).
Bauer, M; Priebe, S; Kürten, I; Gräf, KJ; Baumgartner, A (1994). "Psychological and endocrine abnormalities in refugees from East Germany: Part I. Prolonged stress, psychopathology, and hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis activity". Psychiatry Research 51 (1): 61–73.
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