The thyroid gland, situated at the base of the neck below your Adam's apple, secretes hormones that control metabolic activity in every cell of the body. In a condition called hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid, the thyroid fails to produce sufficient quantities of that hormone. This can be the result of the thyroid itself malfunctioning or due to the fact that it is not receiving the proper message from the brain to produce more hormones. As a result, all body systems function at a slower rate. If you suffer from this condition, you probably feel tired and weak most of the time. You move slower than you used to, and even relatively simple and routine activities, like preparing dinner, seem overwhelming; worse, you may not even be able to summon up any interest in trying. Most likely, you've gained weight and have a hard time digesting food. Your joints and muscles may ache, and because your body temperature has plummeted, you feel cold even when others are complaining of the heat. And those symptoms are just some of the most common. Others include recurring infections, hair loss, brittle nails, dry skin, menstrual problems, and high cholesterol levels. As you might imagine, hypothyroidism is often mistaken for other ailments, especially depression or even laziness.
Iodine deficiency was once the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism. Although today most Americans get plenty (and sometimes too much) of this trace mineral from iodized table salt, there still exists a significant minority who don't get enough or whole absorption is impaired. Nowadays, the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body manufactures antibodies that attack thyroid tissue and suppress production of the thyroid hormone. There are other thyroid conditions that may also lead to hormonal underproduction. Stress, nutritional deficiencies, inactivity, some medication, and hormonal fluctuations as a result of pregnancy and menopause also have a role to play.
Hypothyroidism is more common in women. The balance of estrogen and progesterone can have an indirect influence on the thyroid glands. Most common is estrogen dominance, where relatively higher estrogen levels suppress thyroid function. This predisposition can occur throughout a woman's life. Women on synthetic estrogen therapy are particularly susceptible to decreased thyroid function.
The effects of stress and the balance of stress hormones are also important in thyroid function. Chronic elevation of the stress hormone cortisol suppresses thyroid function, while low levels of DHEA appear to make one more susceptible to hypothyroidism.
Toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and others, can also interfere with thyroid activity.
Although hypothyroidism can wreak havoc upon your entire body, it is easy to treat, especially if caught in its early stages. If you suspect that you have an under-active thyroid, follow the instructions given here for taking your basal body temperature. If your body temperature is consistently low, you should see a doctor for an evaluation. For mild cases, nutritional supplements can set you back on track quickly. For people with more severe cases, the use of thyroid hormone replacement may be required. Even if you require a thyroid hormone supplement, you should complement this regime of supplementation with dietary changes, stress-reducing activities, exercise, and general hormone balancing.
A word of caution: Many doctors rely on a blood test to diagnose hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, this test is extremely unreliable and often fails to catch mild to moderate cases of the disorder. If you basal body temperature is consistently low and if you experience symptoms described here, but your blood test does not reveal hypothyroidism, consider working with a more holistic doctor for preventative care. Besides the basal body temperature, it may be more help to run a saliva or urine thyroid test.
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- Depression and irritability
- Weight gain
- Aches and pains
- Sensitivity to cold and heat
- Menstrual problems (irregular periods)
- Recurring infections
- High cholesterol
- Hair loss
- Dry skin and hair
- Brittle, peeling nails
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Poor memory and concentration
- Low libido
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Lowered immunity
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Raynaud's phenomenon
- Water retention
- Dry eyes/blurred vision
- Eyebrow loss (outer one-third)
- Anemia and easy bruising
- Slow healing
- Hoarse voice
- Tingling hands and feet
- Hashimoto's disease and other inflammatory disorders of the thyroid
- Iodine deficiency
- Poor diet
- Hormone imbalance (especially estrogen/progesterone, cortisol/DHEA)
- Surgery on or radiation of the thyroid
- Certain medications, most notably lithium and synthetic estrogen
- Failure of the pituitary gland
It stands to reason that hypothyroidism is most frequently found in landlocked regions, where iodine-rich foods from the sea are less available. If you have an under-active thyroid, it may be helpful to consume plenty of sea vegetables, such as kelp, nori, dulse, kombu, and wakame. Fish and sea salt are also good sources of iodine.
Essential fatty acids found in flax seeds, walnuts, and fish are important for thyroid function.
Foods to Avoid
Certain vegetables known as goitrogens may suppress thyroid function. These include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, soy, and brussels sprouts. Cooking the vegetables inactivates the goitrogens, so that they are safe to eat for someone with low thyroid.
It's never advisable to drink tap water, but people with hypothyroidism must be especially wary of it. Most tap water is full of fluorine and chlorine, two chemicals that inhibit your ability to absorb iodine.
Hypothyroidism can also be traced to a deficiency of several other minerals, including zinc, selenium, and copper. A deficiency of the amino acid tyrosine is often present in those with hypothyroidism. To make sure you're getting enough of these nutrients, incorporate pumpkin seeds, beans, almonds, soy products, and fish into your diet.
A slow metabolism often means a slow digestive progress. Encourage faster elimination of food by eating more fiber in the form of whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
You must stay adequately hydrated. Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours.
- When it comes to prescription thyroid medication, some supplements are better than others. The most commonly prescribed, Synthroid, is a pharmaceutical product that contains only one active hormone, thyroxine. Far more effective are natural desiccated thyroid supplements, which are made with two active hormones thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine and sometimes more. Ask your doctor if you can take Armour Thyroid Extract, widely considered the best natural desiccated thyroid product on the market. Also, the use of compounded thyroid that contains exact doses of T4 and T3, or just T3 alone is equally beneficial when prescribed by an experienced doctor.
- Enzyme supplements improve the faulty digestion that is common in hypothyroidism; when inflammation is present, enzymes will aid in healing. If you're taking enzymes as a digestive aid, take the supplements before your meals. If you need to reduce inflammation, take them one or two hours after eating. Use the dosage amounts recommended on the product label.
- Antihistamines and sulfa drugs keep your body from absorbing iodine. If you take either of these medications, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.
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