Whilst posting the previous entry on Thyroid Health, we noticed we had prepared another article, more specifically on low thyroid function, that ultimately hadn’t been posted by the site we prepared it for, so decided to share it here. Enjoy.
Imbalances in thyroid gland function are relatively common, often tricky to diagnose and can cause a wide range of common symptoms. Low thyroid function affects approximately 10% of adults over the age of 65, mostly women.
Thyroid hormones are our main metabolism hormones, but also affect mental function. Symptoms of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) include:
- Low energy
- Weight gain
- Muscle aches
- Increased levels of “bad” cholesterol
In more advanced cases, a person may experience:
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Poor concentration and memory
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dryness of skin and hair
- Decreased heart rate and tissue swelling
The most dramatic effects of hypothyroidism are:
- Birth defects (to children born to mothers who have low thyroid function during pregnancy)
- Coma, in very advanced, untreated cases
Low thyroid function has a range of causes, including:
- Inflammation caused by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause
- Pregnancy, which can trigger an autoimmune condition in some women
- Iodine deficiency, or iodine “excess”
- Side effects, or damage to the thyroid gland by medications (e.g., steroids, some mood medications) or surgery
- Hormonal factors involving decreased stimulation to the thyroid gland
Thyroid function is assessed by measuring the body’s levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The reason hypothyroidism can be tricky to identify, is that the symptoms are non-specific, and because many feel the “normal” range for TSH is too high, resulting in persons who actually have inadequate thyroid function to be assessed as healthy, unless their physician is willing to “dig deeper”. This situation is described as “subclinical hypothyroidism”.
Naturopathic medicine can be very effective in treating low thyroid function. The first step is identifying exactly what is to be treated by “digging deeper”:
- Confirming subclinical hypothyroidism by suggesting appropriate follow-up testing
- Identifying potential triggers for autoimmune activity using food allergen testing
- Identifying other potential hormonal causes by assessing a person’s entire health history. As an example: levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, are required for production the key thyroid hormone, T3. Stress levels, and function of the adrenal gland, which mediates our ability to adapt to stress, must be considered when working to unravel the thyroid puzzle. This is lacking in the conventional approach.
Once we know what the actual problem is, it can be treated. Possible courses of action include:
- “Rebalancing” of immune system by removal of dietary triggers for autoimmunity. Common triggers include dairy, eggs and soy.
- “Rebalancing” of immune system activity, and reduction of inflammation, using botanical medicines such as medicinal mushrooms, green tea or curcumin; and nutritional supplements such as quercetin, resveratrol or pycnogenol
- Supporting production of thyroid hormone production by use of botanical medicines such as Bladderwrack
- Supporting adrenal gland function by teaching use of guided meditation and use of botanical medicines such as Ashwaganda or Ginseng.
The conventional medical approach is to introduce synthetic thyroid hormone to the system, which is effective in the short-term, but effectively shuts the thyroid gland and results in worsening of thyroid function.
In naturopathic medicine, we seek to correct the underlying cause of the thyroid under-function, with the ultimate goal of restoring the thyroid gland to normal function.
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Posted: 2016 September 13