The thyroid is one of our most important glands. It secretes hormones, which are responsible for most vital functions of the body. Problems with the thyroid can have quite serious effects on your health so you should always seek advice from your doctor if you think you have a problem, but naturopathic medicine can play an important supportive role in dealing with any imbalances in the function of the gland.
What happens when the thyroid goes wrong?
The thyroid gland can become underactive or overactive. When the gland is underactive (hypothyroidism) it does not produce enough of the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which help sustain healthy body function.
Here are some of the symptoms of low thyroid function:
lethargy and poor concentration
muscular aches and pains
dry skin, brittle nails
thinning of hair
feelings of chilliness even in warm weather
Because there may be other causes of these symptoms thyroid problems can often be overlooked. Nevertheless, if you have two or more of the above symptoms you should consult your doctor to see if the thyroid needs testing.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is when excess thyroid hormone is being produced in the gland and it may cause symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, anxiety/panic attacks, hands shaking, weight loss and a staring appearance of the eyes. There may be swelling of the gland in the front of the throat.
There is also autoimmune thyroiditis, which can be two types: Autoimmune Graves Disease ( which expresses itself as hyperthyroid and you have high TSH antibodies) and Autoimmune Hashimoto Thyroiditis (you might be hypothyroid if you have Hashimoto and your TPO antibodies’ level is high)
Autoimmune conditions are often misdiagnosed because of normal hormone tests results, that’s why it’s vital to have your antibodies checked as well!
I have a Graves Disease myself which was triggered a few years ago by just one day of big stress! And if I haven’t immediately applied a full nutritional and lifestyle change protocol to fight this problem – I would have been without a thyroid gland right now as the doctor’s only solution was to kill it with radioactive iodine.
But it’s still here and is functioning well, and I attribute it only to a complete diet and lifestyle change which I had to do once disaster happened!
How is thyroid disorders diagnosed and treated?
A history of symptoms such as those listed above are highly predictive of thyroid insufficiency. If you have several of them, a temperature test (see below) would be the next step. If this shows your temperature to be consistently subnormal then blood or urine tests need to be done.
Basal Temperature Test for thyroid function
Before going to bed at night, shake down a thermometer and place it within easy reach of the bed.
Immediately on waking, place it under the armpit for 10 minutes. It is important that you remain still and quiet to get an accurate reading.
Record the temperature each day for a minimum of 5 days.
The basal temperature should be above 36.6 degC). If it is consistently below this level you should seek professional advice. If it’s higher than 36.9-37 degC and you have other hyperthyroid symptoms you may want to check your thyroid too.
An Additional Indicator
Pulse Rate as Diagnostic of Hypoactive or Hyperactive Thyroid: Resting pulse taken when you have been sitting or lying down for at least should 5 minutes. If consistently less than 85 beats per minute, suggests, especially if temperature is consistently subnormal, a hypoactive thyroid. (Women must measure temperatures during their period or when they are not ovulating). Pulse rates higher than 85 at rest on a consistent basis may indicate hyperthyroid, but not always and can be the result of infection, food intolerance and excess adrenalin.
Your doctor can arrange blood tests to check the levels of the thyroid hormones and the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. (It is important that the levels of free T3 and T4 are determined and not just TSH which is sometimes regarded as sufficient) He can also check your TPO antibodies, but you normally would have to ask him to do that.
If the hormones are deficient you may need replacement therapy with thyroxine tablets prescribed by your GP. It may take several months to determine the right amount of thyroxine to suit your needs.
Often the tests may be in the normal range when there are still symptoms suggestive of thyroid problems. In fact, TSH and T4 levels may not change significantly even when the patient has quite noticeable symptoms of hypothyroidism due to lack of active T3.
Conventional medical treatment for an overactive thyroid is usually with drugs which suppress the excess thyroxine or, in severe cases, surgical removal of part or all of the gland. When this is done thyroxine may need to be taken for life to make up for any deficiency which is created.
Can naturopathic medicine and especially nutrition help with thyroid problems?
Naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the whole person, using only non-toxic approaches, such as dietary regulation, nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, and physical exercises. It is essential to continue with the normal medical monitoring and treatment of your thyroid condition, but there may be a lot you can do to support the function of the gland and help achieve a better level of health and energy.
What do I do for thyroid problems?
I will look at thyroid problems in the context of your general health and will investigate other possible causes for your symptoms as well as considering anything that might have an effect on the function of the thyroid itself. These can include:
- Imbalances of blood-sugar levels affecting energy metabolism.
- Digestive disturbances, e.g., deficiency of enzymes, causing abdominal bloating and undigested food molecules leaking through the gut wall to trigger an inappropriate immune system response.
- Imbalance of the detoxification functions of the liver resulting in an increase of toxic compounds which affect the thyroid tissues.
- Deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements needed for healthy thyroid function.
- Prolonged stress, anxiety.
- Muscle and joint problems in the neck and upper back which may interfere with circulation and nerve supply to the gland.
Most of these can be detected by careful questioning and examination and, if necessary, we can arrange for special laboratory tests to give more accurate information on digestive enzymes, trace elements, blood-sugar levels, or whether you have an overgrowth of yeast (candidiasis) in the gut.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the demands placed on the gland by stress or an unhealthy diet whilst supporting its functions and those of the general metabolism.
My advice or treatment may include:
Dietary adjustments and nutritional support for the thyroid.
Supplements of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, or natural enzyme preparations.
Support for liver and other metabolic functions.
Home hydrotherapy such as Epsom Salts bathing to improve circulation, achieve relaxation and ease painful joints.
Relaxation and stress management techniques.
Possible referral to osteopath who can perform various techniques to release neck, back, and chest restriction or to homeopath for additional support
Individual needs may vary considerably and I will select treatment accordingly.
Naturopathy also places much emphasis on self-help in health care so you have to understand the importance of your dedication and cooperation that are vital for your progress!