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Your thyroid is a crucial endocrine gland, involved in energy regulation, the production of proteins and sensitivity to hormones, among a wide variety of important functions.
Medical statistics show that about 59 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid problem. But since most people don’t even understand they have a problem, my estimate is that the numbers are much higher, especially among women.
Women outnumber men 3:1 in thyroid conditions. Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism, can cause a number of health issues related to metabolism, mood and energy levels. Undiagnosed thyroid conditions can increase the risks of heart disease, depression, anxiety, infertility and other problems.
Both an overactive and an underactive thyroid can cause muscle and joint issues like weakness, cramping and stiffness. Hair loss is also a symptom. An underactive thyroid can make it difficult to lose weight even when you follow a strict diet and rigorously exercise. An overactive thyroid can make you drop weight without even trying. Thyroid conditions can also lead to tarsal tunnel or carpal tunnel syndrome, causing tingling and burning or other discomfort in hands and feet.
Possible thyroid symptoms include:
- Aches and pains
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Carpal tunnel or tarsal tunnel syndrome
The three types of thyroid conditions
There are three basic types of thyroid conditions:
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Hyperthyroid (when it overworks and can burn out)
- Autoimmune diseases (like Hashimoto’s disease)
During autoimmune thyroid conditions, the thyroid starts to become inflamed, too many thyroid hormones are excreted into the system, and you develop hyperthyroidism that slowly burns out into hypothyroidism. Of all thyroid conditions, hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is the most common.
It’s an important question: Why do we have so much hypothyroidism? The thyroid regulates the pace of our metabolism — the pace of life. And in today’s day and age, our pace of life seems to be speeding up exponentially. Many women are at extra risk when they juggle family and career, and, in so doing, are moving through life at a much faster rate than ever before. And that’s when we see women in their 20s, 30s and 40s burn out their thyroid, developing hypothyroidism at younger ages than in the past.
If we have too many things to do and we can’t do everything on time, we speed up the thyroid so we can catch up. As a result, the gland gets exhausted and stops functioning well. Therefore, one of the best ways to help the thyroid is to slow down, to take a break. This is important, but not always easy. But keeping up with adequate sleep, regular exercise, good hydration and proper nutrition can make a big difference.
The adrenal-thyroid connection
Often, when the adrenals are weak, the thyroid jumps in and tries to balance your physiology. Conversely, when the thyroid is weak, the adrenals ramp up, and you get a burnout of all these glands.
Because of this relationship, if you can support the adrenals when the thyroid starts getting weak (which is a bit harder to do), the thyroid will rest. Or if the adrenals are exhausted, you have to support the thyroid so the thyroid doesn’t work as hard. Then the thyroid can catch up on some of the work, and the adrenals can rest. There is ongoing interaction among the adrenals and the thyroid. These are important relationships that we have to address.
Difficult to diagnose thyroid problems
One of the key complications with thyroid health is that it’s very difficult to rely on lab testing to make a diagnosis. The most common diagnostic method relies on blood tests to determine whether a patient’s thyroid is low. Complicating matters is the fact that you can have a patient with classical low thyroid symptoms but whose TSH and other thyroid hormones test normal. I believe the reason for this is that the thyroid is producing enough hormones — under pressure. But the hormones are being cancelled by something called reverse T-3, which deactivates them. So while you may have enough thyroid hormones, there is a reverse process going on that causes you to end up with only a small amount of these hormones. For people in this situation, their real issue is exposure to toxins.
Detoxification is key
Our increasing exposure to toxins and heavy metals may be one of the greatest contributors to thyroid problems (and overall health problems in general). Because the thyroid is such a fast metabolizer, it’s easily affected by pesticides, pollutants and heavy metals. This is especially true with negatively-charged molecules, as found in bromides and fluorides, that often go straight into the thyroid and can seriously compromise its function. So engaging in regular methods for detoxifying the body of toxins, pesticides and heavy metals (including mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic) is critical for protecting the thyroid.
The truth about iodine
Iodine is important for underactive thyroid conditions, especially in relation to toxins. It’s an inherent mineral needed to make thyroid hormones. But if you have too much iodine, it can become an issue.
Currently, iodine is very popular and, in my opinion, is overused by some natural doctors who give up to 25-50 mg per day. However, I believe, based on the Japanese diet, that it’s more like 2-3 mg/day of iodine that are usually needed. But when somebody is very deficient, you do have to give him higher doses, even 12.5 mg, for a certain period of time.
Generally speaking, iodine exchanges with bromide and other toxins in the thyroid, allowing them to be excreted from the body over time. This is especially important if you live near agricultural areas that are heavily treated with bromide-containing pesticides, such as vineyards or apple orchards.
If you have Hashimoto’s or hyperthyroidism, however, it’s important to avoid iodine. Too much iodine causes overactivity in the thyroid. In that case, the thyroid ceases working, a situation that is already a risk with Hashimoto’s or hypothyroid issues.
So, in general, I am not in favor of very high doses of iodine. Some people take iodine and feel much better right away, and that’s a sign they might be deficient. But it’s important to avoid high doses of iodine for a prolonged period.
Minerals in general are very important for the function of the thyroid, particularly magnesium, calcium and selenium. Selenium helps to reduce inflammation of the thyroid, especially during a viral infection. So sufficient amounts of selenium, zinc and other trace minerals are key.
Herbs and botanicals
There are plenty of botanicals that can reduce thyroid problems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are a large number of herbs that are used, based on an individual’s situation. If there’s a lot of heat and inflammation in the thyroid, use herbs that cool, such as Xia Ku Cao (Prunella vulgaris) and Xuan Shen (Radix scrophulariae Ningpoenis). These are herbs that soften and nourish the thyroid. Other herbs such as bugle weed (in small amounts), lemon balm and coleus forskohlii can also be helpful.
Say no to soy
People with thyroid problems or suspected thyroid problems should avoid soy, because it blocks some of the thyroid enzymes. Raw forms of soy are riskier, while fermented soy is less of an issue.
If you feel you have a low thyroid, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider. If your tests are inconclusive, you can still try these recommendations to see if you feel a difference. While these recommended solutions can help support thyroid health, they also benefit a number of other areas of health and work to promote overall vitality naturally. For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.