Low Thyroid Therapy: Natural Remedies for Balancing Your Hormones
Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid, is very common in Canada. Approximately 23% of the population is already taking thyroid medication and it is estimated an additional 30% of persons may have low thyroid function that is yet to be diagnosed.
The thyroid is a small gland that lies below the Adam’s apple in the neck, wrapped around both sides of the trachea. The thyroid secretes two hormones, T3 and T4, that are crucial for influencing many body functions including temperature, heart rate, weight gain and metabolism, fertility, mood, energy, and more.
If you have the following symptoms, low thyroid may be your problem – thinning hair; loss of eyebrow hair; dry skin; weight gain or difficulty losing weight; intolerance to cold; menstrual problems (heavy periods); fatigue or lethargy; infertility; never ending menopause symptoms; depression or mood swings; constipation; or irregular heart rate.
Know Your Thyroid Test Number
The normal range for a TSH test is 0.5 to 5.5 IU/ml at most laboratories in Canada. Your doctor will not diagnose you with low thyroid and prescribe thyroid hormone until your TSH is over 5.5, yet many people suffer with symptoms of low thyroid when their TSH is greater than 2.0 IU/ml but less than the 5.5 IU/ml level. And for some, by the time they are officially diagnosed with low thyroid they have gained 20 pounds, are depressed, their hair is falling out and they feel like they are pushing themselves through the day. As such, they contend with the many symptoms of low thyroid function but are not being treated with medication.
If you are trying to lose weight and have followed a healthy eating plan and exercised and still cannot lose a pound, you may have low thyroid function. Go for your thyroid test first thing in the morning for more accurate results – and ask for the number. It should be below 2.0 IU/ml (keeping TSH below 2.0 is the key to optimal health especially when it comes to female hormone problems).
Role of the Thyroid in Peri-menopause and Menopause
Estrogen levels determine body fat distribution, and in women that fat is stored on our hips, bottom, abdomen and thighs. Fat cells manufacture and store estrogen. During the peri-menopausal years (the 10 to 15 years before menstruation ceases) and menopause (defined as one year with no periods), it is common for women to suffer a multitude of hormonal complaints. Menstrual irregularities, weight gain, hot flashes, uterine fibroids, night sweats and sleep disturbances are common complaints during this time in a woman’s life.
Most would think these symptoms are associated with a decline in estrogen, but they are also hallmark symptoms of low thyroid, especially night sweats and insomnia. The conventional medical treatment for menopausal women is hormone replacement therapy with estrogen (ie. Premarin derived from a pregnant horse’s urine) for these symptoms. And peri-menopausal women may be put on the birth control pill.
The problem with these treatments is that they can cause increased blood levels of estrogen which in turn works to further shut down the thyroid: high estrogen levels interfere with the thyroid hormones, particularly the utilization of T3, the most biologically active thyroid hormone. Too much estrogen, either from HRT, your own estrogen, or the environment (chemicals in the environment which mimic the effects of estrogen are called xenoestrogens), can cause a host of problems and also impair thyroid function.
Many women have experienced a 10 to 15 pound weight gain along with increased blood pressure when they started taking synthetic estrogen at menopause. This happens because estrogen blocks thyroid hormone – causing our metabolic rate to slow down. As a result, many women develop problems with fat metabolism because one of the functions of thyroid hormones is to stimulate fat cells to burn fat. Weight control problems are the end result.
How the Thyroid Influences Hormones
A woman’s ovaries have receptors on them for thyroid hormone. So if low thyroid develops women may experience hormone-related problems such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), infertility, ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, or menopausal symptoms. Back in the days before fertility drugs, when a woman could not get pregnant or had recurring miscarriages, doctors prescribed thyroid hormone with some success. Women who suffer post-partum depression could also benefit from thyroid hormone since childbearing can often promote low thyroid.
Decades ago, potassium iodide was added to salt to make iodized salt.(1) In geographic areas with iodine-deficient soils, the rate of goiter tends to be higher. For example, before the use of iodized salt in 1924 about half the people of Michigan had thyroid goiters.(2) Iodized salt was used to both prevent and treat enlarged thyroid (also called a goiter) and subsequent thyroid problems, but many people are no longer eating salt and, as a result, we are seeing an increase in low thyroid. As well, stress, anemia, estrogen replacement, birth control pills, and other medications that block iodine uptake are associated with increased rates of low thyroid function.
Also of interest, those living in the northern hemisphere are not getting enough sunshine to produce vitamin D, a co-factor in thyroid hormone production. As a result they are more prone to hypothyroidism.(3) Other thyroid diseases such as Graves Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are also affected by Vitamin D levels. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is significantly higher in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease when compared to healthy individuals, according to researchers.(4)
Trace minerals are also required to make thyroid hormone, and deficiencies promote hypothyroidism.
Solutions for Low Thyroid
Thankfully we can improve thyroid function quickly. First, reduce the consumption of soy foods (called goitrogens) that impede the uptake of thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland; this includes soy milk and tofu. Second, avoid fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated water as they compete with iodine for absorption.
Severe hypothyroidism with a TSH over 5.5 IU/ml generally requires the use of thyroid medication. However if you have a TSH over 2.0 IU/ml but less than 5.5 IU/ml, the following nutrients will help support thyroid function. Or, if you have been on thyroid medication for awhile and still have symptoms, you may not be converting your thyroid hormones very well, and the following nutrients will help.
Herbs and Supplements
Ashwagandha, also sometimes referred to as “Indian Ginseng,” is regarded by Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogenic herb held in high regard by generations of people over the course of millennia for its ability to increase vitality, energy, endurance and stamina, while promoting longevity and strengthening the immune system.
Guggul is the common name for the flowering mukul myrrh tree (Commiphora mukul). Guggul also refers to the resin formed from the sap of the guggul tree, which has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years(3). “Guggulu” is a Sanskrit word which literally means “one that protects from the diseases.”
Ashwagandha and guggul are two herbs that work together to help improve thyroid activity. Ashwagandha increases the level of T4 thyroid hormone, while guggul enhances the conversion of T4 to the more potent T3 form directly on the thyroid gland. Look for formulas containing a pure, standardized form of ashwagandha.
Ninety-five percent of all cases of low thyroid are due to impaired conversion of T4 into T3 in the tissues of the thyroid gland. Tyrosine is another important amino acid that aids the manufacture of thyroid hormones, and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) supports optimal thyroid function.
A deficiency of mineral cofactors like manganese citrate can contribute to hypothyroidism. And don’t forget potassium iodide which is an essential nutrient for the manufacture of thyroid hormones.
All of these nutrients can work synergistically to nourish and support the thyroid gland, and help it to return to balance. Look for them at your local health food store.
(4) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/21278761
The Role of Selenium in Thyroid Health
According to an online article by Dr. Lawrence Wilson, MD, “Any deficiency of selenium in the body will impair T3 production and thus cause hypothyroidism symptoms, even if the body is producing plenty of T4. This is sometimes called a conversion problem, as opposed to an iodine deficiency problem.” Good sources of the trace mineral selenium are garlic, sardines, blue corn, mustard seed, and supplements. For the complete article, visit: http://drlwilson.com/Articles/SELENIUM.htm