Hypothyroidism affects hundreds of thousands of women around the world annually and can either go undetected for long periods of time, or is treated insufficiently with pharmaceuticals that do little to get to the root cause of the issue. In this article, we are going to discuss what the condition is, common symptoms, theoretical causes and natural alternatives to try to get your endocrine system back on track !
Simply put, hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones, specifically triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which are both tyrosine-based compounds. Their primary function is the regulation of metabolism and depend on sufficient levels of iodine for adequate levels of production.
There are three basic levels of classification for hypothyroidism, depending on the organ that is affecting hormone production. In most cases, the primary gland implicated in decreased hormone production is, of course, the thyroid itself. Most often, this can be related to an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto's which is actually a chronic inflamatory condition of the thyroid, or a result of radioiodine medical therapy (which people often undertake for the opposite condition : hyperthyroidism).
The second level of classification is when the pituitary gland is not functioning properly, and as a master gland, this will directly affect thyroid levels. In these cases, which account for about 5 to 10 percent of all hypothyroidism cases, the pituitary gland doesn't produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone which thereby causes the thyroid to further produce T3 and T4. This is usually caused by damage or trauma to the pituitary and can include surgery, tumour, radiation or calcification.
Lastly, the least common cause of hypothyroidism is an issue of another master gland located in the brain : the hypothalamus. In these instances, the hypothalamus fails to produce yet another hormone (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) which stimulates the pituitary and so forth.
Since the first form of hypothyroidism is the most common and the outcome of that is a decreased production of T3 and T4 hormones, medical science responds by simply replacing those hormones pharmaceutically and calling it a day. In fact, thyroid drugs don't even actually go that far ! The most over-prescribed thyroid drug (synthroid) is merely comprised of levothyroxine sodium : a SYNTHETIC version of the T4 hormone your body naturally uses. Abbott Laboratories claims it is identical chemically to your natural hormone, however, the question begs itself : if it's identical, why create a synthetic version of it ? Leaving aside that politically-loaded discussion, let's talk about how ineffective this is in the long-term.
First of all, this only addresses one of the thyroid hormones. While T4 is your most prevalent thyoid hormone, with a longer half-life than T3 and occuring in blood concentrations of roughly 20:1 that of T3, T4 still needs to be converted into its much more potent thyroid partner, T3 within the cell. Without a careful balance of both, your basic metabolic functions will quickly get out of whack. And the reason taking a synthetic pharmaceutical version of one over the other other is not only that this balance is greatly disturbed, but also that the synthetic version can't be as readily converted into T3 as your natural T4 hormone allows when functioning normally.
So what does your body need for an optimally-functioning thyroid ?
First of all, decrease overall inflammation in the body. There are a few ways of doing this but some simple lifestyle changes include the following :
Alkalize your diet – Disease will only live in an acidic body. In order to maintain a normal pH balance, the diet should consist of at least 75% alkaline-forming or neutral foods and, at the most, 25% acidic foods. The large base of your diet will be raw fruits and veggies (which are alkaline) and while the acidic is as important as the alkaline, it does have to be moderated. The acidic category largely consists of proteins and grains. Other tips for alkalizing include drinking lemon or lime water, eating at least one cup of greens daily, substituting millet and quinoa for acid-forming grains like brown rice and wheat, choosing lamb and fish over beef and chicken, using olive oil as opposed to other vegetable oils and so forth.
Drink more water and less coffee/alcohol – There are numerous reasons to limit your intake of coffee and alcohol and increase your intake of good, clean water, but because of limited space, we will only discuss a few here. Coffee is extremely acid-forming, as is alcohol – both of which can lead to the upregulation of inflammation. Plus, drinking good, clean water with added lemon/lime juice or trace mineral drops not only helps replenish your stores of water (which can decrease with the use of coffee and alcohol, both of which are diuretics), it is excellent for alkalizing your tissues as well.
Get off the couch – Get. Off. The. Couch. Besides the psychological benefits of not watching the fear-mongering news and zombifying commercials, turning off the TV and getting active has numerous effects in decreasing inflammation and downregulating stress. Being active doesn’t have to mean running triathlons every weekend. Walking for as little as 30 minutes, three times weekly can be a huge benefit in all aspects, including increased energy and increased self-esteem, not to mention preventing a myriad of health benefits related to symptoms of andropause including: reducing risks associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, depression, obesity, decreased muscle mass, fatigue and so forth. Not only that, but exercise is also a good form of stress that helps the adaptive capacities of your body react appropriately to environmental or physical stimulus. While generally improving immune function through exercise, you naturally modulate inflammation in the body, so get up and get active!
HELP FROM THE HERBAL WORLD – TURMERIC
A perennial herb from the ginger family, turmeric’s active constituents include the flavonoid curcumin (diferuloymethane), and volatiles oils (tumerone, atlantone and zingiberone). Curcumin is the most widely studied extract of this herb that has been used in Indian and Chinese medicine and cooking for millennia. Its primary mode of action is the inhibition of Nuclear Factor Kappa B (NFkB) and therefore the entire inflammatory cascade it is responsible for. In studies conducted for its effect on acute inflammation, it was found that curcumin worked as well as cortisone or phenylbutazone. According the Alternative Medicine Review monographs, Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties have been attributed to its ability to inhibit both the biosynthesis of inflammatory prostaglandins from arachidonic acid, and neutrophil function during inflammatory states.” (p 12
Because curcumin is very poorly absorbed in the gut, I recommend taking one that contains bromelain for potentiating its action or in a Lecithin formulation. The human bioavailability of these products over others on the market has been confirmed by human clinical trials, including 8 hour retention rates, an ORAC value of over 13,000 and the full spectrum of curcuminoids as well as volatile oils.
Decreasing inflammation is step one. Everything else that follows is of benefit directly to the thyroid but will be an uphill battle if those initial precautions are outrightly ignored. A thyroid doesn't get into bad shape for nothing.
Other supplements that will be of service directly for hypothyroidism are as follows :
Selenium: This friendly mineral is essential for thyroid hormone production because the enzymes your body uses to convert T4 hormone to T3 and then to further convert that in even more active hormonal substances called thyronamines are dependent on adequate selenium levels in the body. Check your multivitamin to make sure it is included and if not, grab a bottle at your local health food store to get those conversions happening optimally.
Tyrosine: As mentioned previously, the thyroid hormones are tyrosine-based. Though tyrosine is not an essential amino acid, meaning that it can be produced in the body by synthesizing another amino acid (phenylalanine), tyrosine is mainly found in very high protein foods such as poultry, fish, meat,dairy and some nuts or seeds which often are not consumed in adequate quantities. If you have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, it is a good idea to ensure you are getting adequate complete proteins in the diet or supplement directly with tyrosine capsules.
Iodine: Iodine deficiency is the number one cited cause of underactive thyroid on the books. This combined with elevated levels of stress spells a disastrous recipe for your thyroid hormone production. Both T3 and T4 contain iodine and cannot be produced sufficiently without this trace mineral. Iodine deficiency can also lead to goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland), a condition that can also be caused or exacerbated by Hashimoto's thyroiditis – as mentioned, chronic autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid gland. Low selenium levels also negatively affect iodine levels in the body as well, as do higher levels of calcium blood levels, oral contraceptives, alcohol conumption and exposure to radiation. Include more sea vegetables and seafoods in the diet for regular intake, or supplement with kelp tablets for a food-based form of trace minerals.
Siberian Ginseng is another great overall hormonal body tonic that has regulating factors for the immune system as well, meaning that it can assist in cases of autoimmunity such as Hashimoto's. Since Siberian Ginseng is not a true ginseng, it is safe for those with high blood pressure levels to consume, unlike its Korean Red cousin.
A note about glandulars: A lot of people in the natural health world consume thyroid glandulars derived from animals as a way of supplementing their system with a nature-based form of thyroid hormones. While this is far more natural than the synthetic drugs made in a laboratory, it still only provides your body with the end-product in a cascade of hormonal events that are malfunctioning and need to be addressed. I almost never recommend them except as a quick fix for people who are unwilling to change their detrimental lifestyle factors, and even then, without necessary dietary changes, people will likely not see the results they are hoping for with their thyroids.
Lastly, I will put a quick note about Maca which deserves to be mentioned as an overall endocrine system balancer. You may find that combining Maca with the above suggestions increases the overall chances of thyroid balancing and recovery. The endocrine/hormonal system is a vast and mysterious interconnected web in the body. If you're messing with one gland, you're messing with them all and chances are some other imbalance is contributing to your low thyroid as well. Take this food-based precaution and get that system functioning more optimally as well.
This article was written by Nakita Valerio, B.A, CSN, BMSA Technician.
Nakita is a staff contributor for the Optimum Health Vitamins blog.