Thyroid conditions generally fall into two categories: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. The most common thyroid problem is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, which leads to a slow metabolism, hormonal imbalances, a weak immune system, muscle pain, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, heart problems, and much more.
The Thyroid and The Whole Endocrine System
Hormones are liquid chemical messengers that regulate many activities of the body.
The endocrine system secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream. The primary glands of this system include:
- Pineal gland
- Pituitary gland
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid glands
- Adrenal glands
These organs are not the only organs that secrete endocrine hormones; the digestive system, the kidneys, the liver and bone also excrete endocrine hormones. In addition, hormones are secreted by the exocrine system. Cells throughout the body use hormones to communicate.
The thyroid, like every other gland, relies on other hormones to properly regulate its hormone production. When one gland or an organ is not working, the whole endocrine system becomes stressed.
The follicular cells of the thyroid gland produce T3 and T4, and the pituitary gland produces TSH to regulate the thyroid hormone production.
Hypothyroidism typically (but not always) shows higher levels of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and low levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. So the pituitary gland is pumping out TSH, telling the thyroid to work harder, but the thyroid is still unable to produce enough T3 and T4. While this is the typical model of hypothyroidism, a slow thyroid can present with low T3 or low T4 (rather than both), or perfectly normal TSH levels, or with normal (or seemingly normal) levels of all three.
Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid. The gland can’t maintain such a pace and will eventually revert to hypothyroidism.
Autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which cause inflammation of the thyroid gland, can have an effect similar to hyperthyroidism–over-activity. This is often followed by burnout, leading to underactivity.
How To Tell If Your Thyroid Is Slow
There are various testing methods for poor thyroid function, but the testing is problematic. Most physicians use outdated reference ranges when testing thyroid function. Also, studies have demonstrated that standard thyroid tests do not correlate well with tissue thyroid levels, which causes inaccurate diagnoses.
Most physicians and endocrinologists believe TSH is the best indicator of the thyroid function of an individual. However, someone can suffer from a significantly slow thyroid despite having a normal TSH, free T3, and free T4.
Some will test for T3. People can also have low T3 and show normal T4 and normal TSH. Many practitioners do not realize that this indicates a selenium or zinc deficiency, rather than a problem with the thyroid.
There are other problems with standard testing as well, and many thyroid specialists will tell you that more than 80% of patients with low thyroid function do not show thyroid problems with standard testing.
Naturopaths and many of the more progressive physicians and endocrinologists are using a combination of lab tests and looking at symptoms, while many holistic practitioners recognize the testing is flawed, therefore, they look at the symptoms and the function of the body as a whole.
Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include a dry, flaky scalp and pain, tightness, or a feeling of joints being “out of place” (in need of a chiropractic adjustment) in the trapezoid muscles including and especially in the back of the neck and shoulders, hip pain, bursitis, elbows, and wrists (carpal tunnel). When any of these symptoms is going on, the thyroid is struggling.
The thyroid becomes swollen and inflamed, as any part of the body should be when it’s hurting, and puts constant pressure on the vertebras in the neck and shoulder area. This causes issues including misalignment that can be temporarily relieved by chiropractic, but the thyroid has to be healed in order for the pain to stop reoccurring. Carpal tunnel also a common symptom. This syndrome is often primarily caused or solely caused by thyroid problems. And last but not least, flat feet are also a sign of hypothyroidism. I know, weird, right? But the body is all connected in so many fascinating ways.
Here’s a comprehensive list of symptoms indicative of hypothyroidism:
List Of Hypothyroidism Symptoms
- Allergic rhinitis
- Angina pectoris
- Conditions related to the cardiovascular system
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Carotenodermia (slight orange tinge to the skin, usually on the palms of the hands and soles of feet)
- Cold extremities, intolerance to the cold
- Coarse, dry, or thinning hair
- Decreased libido
- Dry, rough, and/or itchy skin
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fallen arches
- Fibrocystic breast changes
- Fibromyalgia symptoms
- Itchy and/or flaky scalp
- Memory loss
- Mood swings, irritability
- Muscle aches
- Menstrual irregularities (amenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, menorrhagia)
- Neck pain, stiffness, aches (especially in the back of the neck)
- Knee pain (due to fallen arches)
- Pallor (an unhealthy pale appearance)
- Pain in the trapezoid and/or neck area
- Poor mental concentration
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Postpartum depression
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Reactive hypoglycemia
- Recurrent infections
- Sluggishness, tiredness
- Shoulder pain
- Vasomotor rhinitis
- Weight gain
While weight gain, an inability to lose weight, and increased appetite can be signs of hypothyroidism, in severe cases one can actually lose their appetite and consequently lose weight. This is just a step before myxedema, when one loses brain function as a result of severe, longstanding low level of thyroid functionality.
Causes Of Hypothyroidism
There are many pathways available for the regulation of the production and conversion of thyroid hormones. Consequently, there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. A healthy thyroid relies on many factors, including but not limited to, a healthy endocrine system, hormone levels being stable, healthy and balanced gut flora, a healthy liver, properly functioning adrenals, healthy kidneys, and clean, healthy blood.
Candida overgrowth leads to a host of problems and eventually causes autoimmune disease. It also inhibits the body’s ability to properly digest and assimilate nutrition. An overabundance of Candida toxifies the blood in many different ways, which inhibits all gland activity.
Hashimoto’s disease is a condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid. Autoimmune disorders occur when your immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues. This is typically due to a leaky gut as a result of an overabundance of Candida due to poor diet and/or antibiotic use.
Conventional Hypothyroidism Treatments
People with overactive thyroids are often treated with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications intended to normalize thyroid function. Often these treatments result in permanent hypothyroidism (permanent by conventional medical standards).
Removing a portion of your thyroid gland will diminish or halt hormone production. A person who wants to balance their hormones after thyroid removal surgery (or partial removal) needs to either take hormones for life or grow back their thyroid.
Radiation used to treat cancers of the head and neck can do serious long-term damage to the thyroid gland.
Many medications contribute to hypothyroidism, including but not limited to medications for mental health, sleep medications, painkillers, and allergy medications.
Other Drugs (nicotine, caffeine, marijuana)
Any stimulant will wear out the thyroid and the adrenals. Many people consume a lot of caffeine over a period of time, eventually leading to adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.
Marijuana disrupts the entire endocrine system, affecting all glandular hormone production. THC, in particular, lowers the immune system’s ability to fight infection, and can, with heavy use, lower thyroid hormonal output. Also, smoking anything causes the blood to become thick and toxic with free radicals and carcinogens that clog glands and hinder hormone production.
The thyroid gland converts iodine into thyroid hormones. Iodine is a trace mineral found primarily in seafood, seaweed, plants grown in iodine-rich soil, unrefined sea salt, and iodized table salt. Many people do not get enough iodine, and contrary to popular belief, this includes many people in developed countries.
Iodine from iodized salt is poorly absorbed and is not a healthy choice for raising iodine levels in the diet. Refined table salt contributes to a host of health problems. Iodine is absolutely necessary for thyroid function, but too much iodine (especially iodine outside of food) can impair thyroid function as well.
Genetically Modified Foods
Eating genetically modified foods can trigger autoimmune conditions like Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. GMOs destroy the gut lining and lead to a host of problems.
Vaccines can wreck havoc on the endocrine system and cause autoimmune issues that can end up attacking the thyroid. Formaldehyde and heavy metal toxins such as mercury and aluminum are huge contributors to the hypothyroidism epidemic. Many studies have concluded that the ingredients in vaccines harm thyroid function.
Mercury Amalgam Fillings
A mouth full of mercury is usually synonymous with a problematic thyroid. Mercury wrecks havoc on the endocrine system, the nervous system, the brain, and well, the whole body. Amalgam fillings absolutely must be removed to restore normal, healthy thyroid function.
Even small amounts of fluoride lessen the pituitary gland’s ability to function, which in turn slows thyroid production. Larger amounts of fluoride, which most people do consume from tap water, disrupt the whole endocrine system and wreck havoc on hormone production. Fluoride consumption over time essentially slows the whole body down, including the brain.
The thyroid is quite vulnerable to environmental toxins including, but not limited to, pesticides, herbicides, BPAs, jet fuel, perchlorates, thiocyanates, PCBs, lead, chlorine, fluorine, bromine, and many other chemicals we come in contact with that have been proven to cause hypothyroidism. We are bombarded with these chemicals due to the way we construct buildings, the way we produce products, the way we travel, and the way we grow food. Our only defense is high quality nutrition and avoiding toxin exposure through diet, chemical exposure in our environment, and the products we use for personal care.
Less often, hypothyroidism may result from congenital disease, a pituitary disorder, and pregnancy (due to lack of nutrition while pregnant).
Thyroid, Adrenals, and the Body’s Hormones
Weakened adrenal glands lead to the development of thyroid disorders. Adrenal fatigue is often, perhaps usually, the root cause of hypothyroidism.
What causes adrenal fatigue? Pretty much the same things that cause low thyroid output. When the adrenals are constantly being worked (due to stress, stimulants, and lack of sleep), an overabundance of cortisol produced by the adrenals will cause a host of problems and completely unbalance the hormone levels of the body. For instance, cortisol can also inhibit proper T3 utilization. When the adrenal glands are performing poorly for a long enough period of time, the body ends up in a state of catabolism; the body begins to break down. Eventually the adrenals will “crash” and cortisol levels well below optimum levels. This is adrenal fatigue.
Truly healing the thyroid typically requires healing the adrenals and/or the entire endocrine system.
Foods That Inhibit the Thyroid
If you have hypothyroidism, you may have read that certain vegetables need to be avoided or at least cooked, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, peanuts, linseed, pine nuts, millet, cassava, mustard greens, asparagus, and sweet potatoes. This is a narrow-minded approach to a complicated problem. By all means, avoid soy like the plague (unless it is organic, and properly fermented). If you have a thyroid disorder and are not properly addressing it with nutritional healing, or you continue to smoke and/or drink coffee, kale smoothies are likely to make an underperforming thyroid much worse. On the other hand, a varied diet consisting primarily of fresh raw organic vegetables can cure almost anything (given enough time), including an adverse reaction to the foods themselves.
So what foods actually cause the problem with the thyroid in the first place? Refined, processed, homogenized, pasteurized, genetically modified, fortified, artificially flavored (or colored or preserved) “foods.” The key to fixing the body, not just covering up ailments or shifting symptoms, but truly fixing the body, is produce. The key to deteriorating your health is refined, processed foods.
In addition, you must avoid gluten. I know, suddenly everyone is allergic to gluten, but there are reasons for this sudden rise in gluten sensitivity. The gut has to be in proper working order to properly digest gluten; otherwise it’s toxic to us. People are eating more and more sugar, which consequently feeds Candida and other bad guys that tear up the gut. You cannot heal hypothyroidism, or any other disease for that matter, without healing the gut. It will not work. You could fix the thyroid and wreck the kidneys. You could have a toxic liver and a healthy heart (to a degree, for a while). But you cannot have an intestinal tract that is seriously damaged and have any major organ or gland work properly. Things may go unnoticed, but nothing is working right, and more importantly, nothing will heal unless the gut is at least in decent working order. Most people’s guts today are not in decent working order.
When gluten molecules escape the gut:
“Immune cross-reactivity happens when the immune system mistakes one protein for another. The gluten protein is similar to protein structures in the nervous system and the thyroid tissue. When the body creates antibodies for gluten, it may also produce antibodies to the body’s own nervous tissue or thyroid.9 This cross-reactive effect leads to damage to the brain, thyroid, and other neurological tissue when the individual consumes anything with even the slightest bit of gluten.” – Gluten & Neurological Disorders, David Jockers
Foods That Heal the Thyroid
Fresh, raw, organic produce heals. Produce heals everything. Other than that, foods high in iodine and foods that are high in selenium are known to aid in thyroid function.
The thyroid gland requires iodine to function. Iodine taken by itself or ingested through fortified salt can be problematic. Good food sources include the usual: meat, seafood, yogurt, milk, and eggs, but there are vegan sources as well:
Vegan Food Sources of Iodine
- Blackstrap molasses
- Himalayan sea salt
- Navy beans
Selenium is required for the body to convert T3 into T4. Without enough selenium in the diet, the thyroid suffers. Seafood and meat are high in selenium, but there are also some vegan choices:
Vegan Food Sources of Selenium
- Brazil nuts
- Shiitake/white button mushrooms
- Lima/pinto beans
- Chia seeds
- Brown rice
- Seeds (sunflower, sesame, and flax)
Supplements For Hypothyroidism
A number of vitamins and minerals are critical to thyroid health, and many herbs can help boost thyroid function as well. Due to the fact that thyroid conditions are associated with inflammation, anti-inflammatory herbs can aid in thyroid healing as well.
Publisher’s NOTE: For all my personal needs, I use only Dr. Ron’s Ultra-Pure brand of Recommended Supplements. They are all natural, 100% additive free supplements. All are available directly through Dr. Ron’s.
Vitamin B12 is found in every cell of the body. It is required for cellular metabolism and energy production, so obviously, without B12, the thyroid can’t function optimally. B12 deficiencies are very common with hypothyroidism. A lack of B12 can cause and worsen hypothyroidism. Even though most people actually consume enough vitamin B12 in their diets, a deficiency occurs in many due to an inability to absorb the nutrient in the blood. This goes back to gut health. The body cannot absorb and assimilate nutrients properly with a poorly functioning digestive system.
In addition, if the liver is not up to par, this radically inhibits the body’s ability to utilize B12. Unless a knowledgeable naturopath recommends it for a limited amount of time, do not take vitamin B12 alone. We recommend a B vitamin complex with extra B12.
Over a billion people worldwide do not get enough vitamin D. A recent study showed that vitamin D levels were significantly lower in people suffering from hypothyroidism than the general population. While vitamin D deficiencies and hypothyroidism do tend to take place together, a lack of vitamin D and pretty much every other disease coincide as well. It’s unlikely anyone’s hypothyroidism is primarily caused by a lack of vitamin D, but it’s a certainty that the body will not fully heal without enough vitamin D.
We all know vitamin A is required for good vision. We also need vitamin A for the immune system, hormone synthesis, and the production of T3. Without enough vitamin A, thyroid hormone levels drop quickly.
Bromelain is the enzyme that makes pineapple the superfood that it is. Bromelain helps reduce inflammation.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has many benefits, including the ability to significantly improve liver function, and it can help stabilize cortisol levels. This helps stimulate T3 and T4 hormone synthesis.
Licorice root can benefit the thyroid and adrenal glands for people who have low cortisol (adrenal fatigue).
Reishi mushroom is a good source of selenium, and it has a ton of other benefits including boosting the immune system.
This is another adaptogenic herb that helps the thyroid and has many other health benefits.
There are many varieties of ginseng, all with their different strengths, but Siberian ginseng root, Brazilian ginseng root, Korean or Asian ginseng, American ginseng, and Chinese ginseng all benefit the endocrine system, and therefore the thyroid.
Selenium is the major cofactor for the key thyroid enzyme 5’deiodinase. This enzyme converts T4 into T3 and can help normalize the thyroid hormone balance.
A zinc deficiency has been shown to inhibit T3 production. Zinc also contributes to immune modulation, which may reduce thyroid antibody levels. Additionally, like selenium, zinc also contributes to 5’deiodinase activity.
A lack of iodine inhibits the body’s natural detoxification, leads to cancer cell growth, and causes hypothyroidism. The thyroid absorbs iodine and, in doing so, replaces other toxins it has accumulated.
It’s also important to avoid excessive iodine intake for anyone with Hashimoto’s or hyperthyroidism. As stated above, we highly recommend that any iodine consumed come from whole food sources.
- Traditional Asian Herbs
- Coleus forskohlii(Indian coleus)
- Melissa officinalis(lemon balm)
- Ningpoensis (Chinese figwort)
- Prunella vulgaris(common selfheal)
- Radix scrophulariae (xuan shen)
Conventional Hypothyroidism Treatment
A Levothyroxine prescription is the most common treatment for hypothyroidism. It consists synthesized T4 and does not have T3. This can be problematic. Many people cannot properly convert T4 to T3 (which could indicate a zinc and/or selenium deficiency, but it may be a genetic issue). There are synthetic T3 drugs like Cytomel as well.
Desiccated thyroid from cows or pigs is another option. Armour Thyroid, the most popular prescription for desiccated thyroid, contains both thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) extracted from the thyroid gland of pigs. Desiccated porcine (pig) thyroid contains approximately 20% T3 and 80% T4 (1/4 ratio), as well as iodinated compounds diiodotyrosine and monoiodotyrosine. A human has about a 1/14 ratio of T3 to T4.
Some doctors don’t like prescribing desiccated thyroid because the dosage of hormones is not always consistent, whereas synthesized hormones are more exact in dosage. The concern over consistency in understandable, but studies have shown that many do not respond well (likely for various reasons) to the synthesized hormones, but do respond well to desiccated thyroid. It makes sense from a holistic standpoint, considering all of the nutrients you’re getting when you consume the desiccated thyroid that are absent from the synthesized hormones. These nutrients are obviously of significant importance considering that people tend to do very well on desiccated thyroid that has had the hormones removed, which is the only way to legally buy desiccated thyroid in the U.S. without a prescription.
Natural Remedy For Hypothyroidism
There are many natural treatments for hypothyroidism. Here is what works fast for fixing one’s thyroid in my experience. And the benefit of this protocol is that it works with both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, while it repairs the whole endocrine system, and the entire body. And remember, if you suffer from hypothyroidism, you are dealing with a lot more than just a thyroid problem.
As mentioned, first and foremost, the gut needs to be addressed in order to fix the thyroid. Check out How to Kill Candida and Balance Your Inner Ecosystem. Do not underestimate how important this step is. Disease of almost any kind starts in the gut. Candida wrecks havoc on the thyroid (as well as the whole body).
Heavy Metal Toxins
If your mouth is full of mercury, the thyroid will never fully recover until the mercury is removed (though desiccated thyroid and other supplementation will still improve thyroid function, it will need to be taken indefinitely). Vaccinations also weaken the thyroid (mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum, GMOs, and more), so if you’re pro vaccine, and sticking to the schedule, the thyroid will continue to suffer. Click HERE if you need to detoxify from heavy metals. Also, for tooth and gum health, check out this article.
Detox the Blood
Thick and/or toxic blood makes it very hard for glands to do their job. Use Shillington’s Blood Detox Formula and this cranberry-lemonade protocol to quickly detoxify the blood and the whole body, and improve circulation. Improved blood flow will quickly improve thyroid health.
Desiccated thyroid supplements that are sold without a prescription are void of the thyroid hormones. In order to sell the products without prescription, the manufactures must remove the hormones.
On one hand, it’s not cool that the government restricted the sale of unmolested thyroid gland and called it a drug, which many believe (as do we) was done for the sole purpose of benefitting the synthetic hormone manufacturers. On the other hand, ideally, you want your thyroid to produce its own hormones, and desiccated thyroid supplements lacking in hormones do help kick start the thyroid.
Even better than just taking desiccated thyroid to heal the thyroid, some supplements contain other desiccated glands as well. This is the holistic approach that helps heal the entire endocrine system. As mentioned, iodine supplementation can be problematic when it’s not in whole food. Thyro Complex from Progressive Labs. It has raw thyroid, raw adrenal, raw pituitary, and raw spleen, along with kelp for iodine. This is one of the most potent thyroid supplements I know of. While there are plenty of herbal supplements that help with the thyroid, it’s pretty easy to end up with too much iodine when combining thyroid supplements as most of the other supplements to boost the thyroid have iodine. Thyroid I one from Wise Woman Herbals does not have iodine in it, and this works very well. Combine these two supplements with a vitamin B complex with extra B12, and you’ve got a truly holistic and powerful supplemental approach.
And finally, the most important aspect of healing is the diet. A healthy diet consists of 80% or more raw, fresh, organic produce (more vegetables than fruit). Check out the 80% Raw Food Diet.
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) cause our bodies a lot of problems. Anyone who is having trouble sleeping or for other reasons is feeling sluggish and drained throughout the day, will benefit from spending some time outdoors with skin against the earth. Check out Earthing – Ground Your Body for Optimal Health.
Fitness and Rest For Hypothyroidism
Some say to take it easy with hypothyroidism, as long as you don’t push yourself too hard for too long, exercise can help jump start your thyroid. I like yoga and high intensity interval training (HIIT) for anyone who’s trying to normalize their energy levels. Yoga offers a host of benefits including improving the body’s flow of energy, but can also be done at a slow pace. HITT training is almost the opposite of yoga. This training method involves alternating between very intense bouts of exercise and low intensity recovery. A common HIIT workout is done by sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking for 60. Be careful with this, for obvious reasons. It’s good to push ourselves, but for some with severe thyroid problems, this could be dangerous. Once the thyroid is responding to better nutrition and detoxification, HIIT can radically accelerate the thyroid and adrenals’ improvement.
If the gut is healed and the diet is healthy, in most cases, the thyroid will eventually heal. Unfortunately, it can take a very long time, often many months. With desiccated thyroid, the process is much faster, and relief from hypothyroid symptoms are immediate. But again, you must fix the gut! Be sure to check out How to Kill Candida and Balance Your Inner Ecosystem.
Written by Michael Edwards for Organic Lifestyle Magazine, October 29, 2014
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