Thyroid Imbalance: Causes, Symptoms, and Natural Solutions

Editor’s Note: In the March 2010 issue of Vitality, we published part one of Dr. Rona’s series on Thyroid Health, which focused on causes and natural treatments for hypothyroidism. You can find part one posted on our website at https://www.vitalitymagazine.com/mar10_pg32feat

Part II of this two-part series deals with thyroid imbalance rather than underactivity. Although less common than hypothyroidism, these conditions are often misdiagnosed and treated as if the real culprit is anxiety, stress, or some other mental illness requiring tranquilizers or anti-depressants, instead of a real physical illness.

HYPERTHYROIDISM (OVERACTIVE THYROID DISEASE)

Hyperthyroidism (a.k.a. thyrotoxicosis or Graves’ disease) is a condition whereby the thyroid gland produces too much hormone. It is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 40, and the cause is unknown, but often associated with severe stress. It produces a hypermetabolic state, which may be associated with any of the following signs and symptoms:

• Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland); a goiter may also be associated with iodine deficiency and a low thyroid condition. Lab tests help to sort this out.
• Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) and palpitations;
• Warm, fine, moist skin; nail problems; thinning hair;
• Heartbeat irregularities and high blood pressure;
• Nervousness, tremors, and hyperactivity;
• Increased perspiration and heat intolerance;
• Weight loss often similar to that occurring in systemic cancer,
• Diarrhea and increased appetite;
• Insomnia, fatigue, weakness;
• Increased bowel movements;
• Exophthalmos (protruding eyeballs), blurred and double vision;
• Myopathy (muscle pain and weakness).

The prognosis with conventional medical treatments is generally very good, but varies from person to person. Conventional treatments include antithyroid drugs such as Tapazole and radioactive iodine, as well as surgery. In the more severe cases, beta-blocker drugs may be required to prevent heartbeat irregularities and high blood pressure.

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE FOR THYROID DYSFUNCTION

Natural treatments can often reduce or eliminate the need for drugs and surgery, and this is especially true if the disease is in its early stages. Lithium can suppress thyroid function almost as well as prescription antithyroid drugs, with fewer side effects. Like calcium or zinc, lithium is a mineral. It is most often used in the treatment of bipolar disease (manic depressive disease), but in these cases the dosages are very high (1200 mg daily) and there are side effects that can adversely affect the kidneys.

When treating hyperthyroidism, the lithium dosages are in the neighborhood of 10 – 100 mg daily. One of the side effects of high dose lithium therapy, usually prescribed for bipolar illness, is hypothyroidism. The doses used in suppression of the thyroid gland are much smaller than those used in bipolar disorder, and far less toxic. Toxicity of lithium can be curtailed with the use of omega-3 fatty acids, such as the ones found in fish and seafood. If you want to avoid eating fish because of its high mercury content, you can supplement with about 4000 mg of Omega-3 oil capsules.

High doses of essential fatty acids (evening primrose oil, fish oils and flaxseed oil) and mega doses of vitamin E (3000 I.U. or more daily) are also usually effective in cooling off an overactive thyroid gland.

Many foods help suppress thyroid function naturally and it may be wise for hyperthyroid sufferers to increase the intake of these foods, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, peaches, pears, rutabagas, soybeans, spinach, and turnips.

HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE

Hashimoto’s Disease can be difficult for many people to comprehend. It is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the thyroid gland in which the immune system makes antibodies that attack proteins in the thyroid gland, causing gradual destruction of the thyroid gland itself. This leads to eventual hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function).

Hashimoto’s belongs to the same disease category as celiac disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, myasthenia gravis, scleroderma, and ulcerative colitis.

Hashimoto’s Disease could cause the development of a goiter and high levels of antibodies acting against thyroglobulin (TG) and thyroid peroxidase (TPO). A fine needle biopsy of the gland will show large numbers of white blood cells (lymphocytes and macro-phages) and an ultrasound usually shows an enlarged thyroid gland.

There are variable Hashimoto’s symptoms. Some people do not complain of any problems but many will feel a neck enlargement with discomfort or pain. In severe cases, swallowing or breathing can become difficult and can occasionally require surgery. Thyroid hormone production may periodically become excessive, producing some of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid. Hormone levels may cycle between very high and very low levels, eventually settling into hypothyroidism.

Common symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, depression, hair loss, weight changes, muscle and joint aches and pains, as well as fertility problems. In the case of a symptomatic goiter, most doctors will prescribe thyroid hormone (usually L-thyroxine). Conventional medical doctors and endocrinologists, however, will not treat Hashimoto’s unless there is a goiter or the TSH is outside normal limits. Complementary and alternative practitioners will often treat the condition, depending on the symptoms, with low dose desiccated thyroid (natural thyroid hormone replacement therapy).

PABA (para amino benzoic acid), one of the B complex vitamins, in doses between 3000 and 5000 mgs daily can also help to weaken the impact of autoimmune diseases. The herb curcumin, an extract of tumeric, has potent anti-inflammatory effects in just about all autoimmune disorders. The same can be said for the mineral selenium in slowing any autoimmune reaction. Studies have also shown that low dose DHEA (10 – 100 mg/day), progesterone, pregnenolone, and/or testosterone (5 – 100 mg/day) can be of some help.

Low stomach acidity is a common symptom of autoimmune disease, as is pancreatic enzyme insufficiency. Lab tests can help your doctor or naturopath determine whether supplementation of the diet with betaine and pepsin, glutamic acid, and/or pancreatin is necessary. The use of plant-based proteolytic intestinal enzymes is another option which might not only help digestion, but also reverse the inflammatory process.

Some doctors have found that delayed food allergies may be responsible for autoimmune disease. The commonest of these are dairy products, wheat, gluten, chocolate, and stimulants like coffee, tea, cigarette smoke, nicotine gums or patches, and caffeinated soft drinks.

Mercury hypersensitivity due to dental amalgams should also be suspected in any autoimmune disease. Aside from food and chemical allergies, victims of Hashimoto’s may be suffering from extreme stress, a variety of other hormonal imbalances (pituitary, adrenal, gonadal, etc.), bowel infections (especially candida, parasites, and fungi) and other digestive problems, especially the leaky gut syndrome. These issues may all need to be addressed in order for a complete recovery to take place. If possible, consult a naturopath or holistic doctor in your area for a nutritional assessment and a personalized supplement program.

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References

Jose, B., James, A (2007). Challenges of treating thyroid disease: the need for a revisit. JRSM 100: 68-68

Singer PA, Cooper DS, Levy EG, et al.
Treatment guidelines for patients with hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
 JAMA. 1995;273:808-812.

G Placidi, A Patronelli, M Boldrini, Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders in Thyroid Diseased Patients, Neuropsychobiology, Vol 38(4) 1998.

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