A little known fact: Low thyroid affects other organ systems. And more than 99 percent of U.S. doctors don’t even understand this situation. The thyroid influences cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer.
The Connection Between Thyroid Deficiency And Heart Disease
European endocrinologist Dr. Broda Barnes and the generations of the Hertoghe family of endocrine physicians from Belgium studied thyroid deficiency under a different model than U.S. doctors. These European endocrinologists learned to identify thyroid deficiency without lab tests and with physiological replacement doses. Their patients also found improvement of many other chronic diseases.
They estimated that the leading cause of heart disease is actually low thyroid function. Furthermore, they found that thyroid deficiency correlates with cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, dementia and many of the autoimmune diseases. In other words, by treating these patients with natural thyroid hormone supplementation (not synthetic T4), they found that these chronic conditions improved or resolved, too.
Dr. Barnes reported in 1976 that when his thyroid-deficient patients were properly treated with natural thyroid hormone, it resulted in a 94 percent protection rate against heart attacks. Moreover, his report was preceded by other reports linking coronary artery disease to thyroid deficiency. When I consider that the latest medical literature is increasingly confounded by studies done with conflicts of interest by funding sources, I feel more confidence in the earlier studies. Two studies done more than a hundred years ago are of particular interest here.
In 1895, a group of prominent Austrian physicians used sheep and goats to learn more about thyroid function. They removed the thyroid glands from these experimental animals because they already knew that sheep and goats are vegetarians and that they never get arterial disease. All of the animals subsequently developed severe diffuse arteriosclerosis, including coronary artery disease of the heart. To make their findings more impressive, 15 years later other Austrian physicians removed thyroid glands from sheep and goats; but in this group they gave hormone replacement from thyroid extract. None of these animals developed arteriosclerosis.
I’m glad that the medical literature is finally beginning to understand the improvement in certain chronic illnesses and report on the underlying thyroid deficiency. For starters: Studies show that heart disease risk factors improve when low thyroid is corrected. In 2009, a report in Clinical Endocrinology demonstrated that, 56 women patients with subclinical hypothyroidism who had higher blood pressure and higher levels of other cardiac disease risk factors than normal, saw their blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, lipoprotein(a) and homocysteine levels return into the range of normal subjects after supplementing with L-thyroxine for 18 months.
Kidney Disease And Thyroid Function
In the January 2013 issue of Thyroid, researchers reported that chronic kidney disease (CKD) is greatly improved when the subclinical hypothyroid state is treated with thyroid supplementation. These researchers followed for two years 113 subjects with CKD who supplemented with L-thyroxine. The scientists measured their eGFR (estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate, the best measurement of kidney filtration and function). They found the improvement to be very significant. (The decline rate of eGFR improved from -4.31 to -1.08 mL/min/year/1.73 m2.)
Cancer And Thyroid Function
Does correcting low thyroid function prevent or help treat cancer? I’ll share a few nuggets of what I’ve learned this past year on the subject. One of my mentors is Richard Pooley, M.D., a formerly retired clinical professor of surgery (for 25 years) at New York Medical College and senior cardiothoracic attending surgeon at Westchester Medical Center in New York. Amazingly, he returned to practice four years ago because he has found so much success reversing diseases by using the hormone balancing/targeted nutrition techniques of Barnes and his endocrine colleagues.
Pooley explains the relationship between thyroid hormone and cancer this way: “I remember when I used to operate to remove lung and other cancers. After the operation, like most surgeons, I would go to the pathology lab to look at the cancer under the microscope with the pathologist. Invariably, there would be almost no sign of any immune response in the area of the tumor; a few white blood cells, perhaps, but that would be about all. I used to wonder why the immune system didn’t recognize the cancer as the enemy and fight it. Now, I understand why. An optimally functioning immune system is absolutely dependent upon adequate amounts of thyroid hormone and, I might add, cortisol as well. Thyroid-deficient people always have depressed immune systems, which often results in a greater susceptibility to infections, as well as an increased mortality from them. But a healthy immune system is also necessary to recover from any non-infectious degenerative disease like cancer.”
In 2009, Pooley personally visited the renowned Belgian endocrine physician, Dr. Therese Hertoghe. Regarding her experience (and that of the Broda Barnes Foundation) of patients with cancer she told him: “Every patient with cancer is thyroid-deficient.” Barnes reported that the incidence of cancer in his practice of some 5,000 patients (all of whom were properly treated with natural thyroid hormone) was about half that of the general population, representing about a 50 percent reduction in cancer incidence.
Furthermore, Pooley shared with me the work of Dr. Samuel Schwartz, performed in 1977. Schwartz followed the incidence of cancer in 74 of his thyroid-deficient patients over a period of 15 to 46 years. He identified two groups of patients: Those who received at least two grains of natural desiccated thyroid hormone, and those who received no treatment. In the treated group of 31 patients, there was only one case of cancer for an incidence of 3.2 percent. In the untreated group of 43 patients, there were 32 cases of cancer for an incidence of 74.4 percent. This appears to represent a 95 percent protection from all cancers in the properly treated thyroid-deficient group.
According to the clinical experience of Pooley, even autoimmune diseases improve when physiological replacement doses of natural thyroid hormone and cortisol (when clinically indicated) are used. These conditions include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
In my next article I’ll discuss the foods that improve thyroid hormone and the foods that impair thyroid hormone. Then, in a concluding article on the thyroid, I’ll discuss thyroid hormone supplementation and other non-medicinal ways to help correct thyroid hormone deficiency.
To feeling good for life,
Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options
Barnes, Broda O: Solved: The Riddle of Heart Attacks, Robinson Press, Fort Collins, CO, 1976
von Eiselsberg, AF: “On the Vegetative Disturbances in Growth of Animals after Early Thyroidectomy,” Archives Klinik Chirurgie, 49:207, 1895
Pick, EP, Pineless, F: “Research on the Physiologically Active Substance of the Thyroid,” Exp Path Ther 7:518, 1910
Shin DH, Lee MJ, Oh HJ, et al. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy attenuates the decline of renal function in chronic kidney disease patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. Thyroid. 2013 Jan 2. [Epub ahead of print]
Personal communication with Dr. Pooley, 2012