Thyroid issues are a very common health concern today. I find that many of my patients have symptoms of thyroid imbalance, and they may not yet be aware of it. Recent Australian stats show 1 in 33 people are currently suffering from Hypothyroidism. What this means is that 1 in 33 people have an under functioning thyroid gland that does not produce enough thyroid hormone for their body to perform optimal daily functions. We are going to talk about all thing’s thyroid health today, what the symptoms of hypothyroid are, how to get properly tested, and some natural treatment options.
The thyroid is a gland that sits at the front of the neck just under the voice box. It is small and butterfly shaped, and forms part of the body’s endocrine system. It secretes hormones that play crucial roles in growth, maturation and metabolic functions in the body. The specific hormones it secretes are called T3 (Triiodothyronine), T4 (Tetraiodothyronine or Thyroxine) and Calcitonin.
These hormones are vitally important in how the body functions, and they help to control the following:
- Heart beat and its regulation
- Brain development and growth, particularly in children
- Body temperature
- Digestion and absorption of food
- Nervous system control, things like reflex and concentration
- Fertility and hormonal health
- Bone health and maintenance
Hypothyroidism occurs when T3 and T4 are underproduced. Overproduction can also occur, and this is called Hyperthyroidism, I’ll cover this in a separate blog post.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism – underactive
In Australia hypothyroidism is the most common presentation of thyroid disease, and here are the top symptoms that occur:
- Extreme fatigue/exhaustion
- Unexplained weight gain, and inability to lose weight
- Sensitivity to cold, always having cold hands and feet
- Outer third of eyebrow thins, and also hair loss
- Dull and dry skin and hair
- Heavy or irregular mensturation
- Trouble conceiving, often can’t
- Brain fog
- Cracking and stiff joints
Everyone is different in how their body expresses illness, so you may have symptoms not on this list. You also don’t need to present with ALL of the above symptoms to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
Autoimmunity and your thyroid
There is a type of hypothyroidism that is autoimmune in nature. This basically means that the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and causes a huge amount of inflammation in the process. If this type of hypothyroidism is not detected, it can lead to long term damage and eventual destruction of the thyroid gland.
This is why a full thyroid panel should always be done when testing for thyroid conditions.
Diagnosing thyroid conditions
Diagnosing thyroid conditions in patients involves a physical examination of the thyroid, followed on by blood testing. Most commonly doctors will only test the TSH level initially, however this only gives one part of the picture.
This test gives a reading of the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) currently circulating in your body. This tells your physician about the communication between your brain and your thyroid and gives a very basic assessment of thyroid function. It’s an important test, but it is NOT the whole picture. It’s vital to get a whole thyroid panel done, because a patient can have a normal TSH level and still have hypothyroidism.
T3, T4, rT3 and thyroid antibodies are all important in diagnosing properly what’s going on with your thyroid.
The T4 test measures how much T4 is in your blood. If it is not within the testing range, this can point to issues with hormone conversion. It’s also important to test both T4 and T3, because the ratio between the two levels is another important indicator of what’s happening with your thyroid. In hypothyroid, there will very often be reduce T4 levels.
This is also very important, as stated above your Naturopath and doctor need this level to assess the ratios of T4 to T3, which show any hormonal conversion issues. It’s also a level that is proportionate to your symptoms.
Getting thyroid antibodies tested is vital in order to know if you are suffering with autoimmunity. Almost all patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis autoimmune disease will have these antibodies present upon testing. This is vital information for correct treatment decisions.
Remember, when having your thyroid tested, getting only one or two of the above tests is like trying to put a puzzle together with many missing pieces. All fully qualified Naturopaths can order a full thyroid panel, and you can also get them through your GP.
Natural treatment options for hypothyroid
The thyroid gland relies heavily on the presence of specific nutrients in order to function optimally and convert hormones as necessary. That is why nutritional medicine plays a major role in the natural treatment of hypothyroidism. Specific nutrients that we often turn to include iodine, selenium and tyrosine.
Stress is also often a big presenting factor in hypothyroid patients, and so apoptogenic herbs like Withania and Bacopa are often used in treatment.
Lastly, a big part of the natural treatment for hypothyroidism is a wholefood dietary approach. The addition of specific foods that have high levels of nutrients like iodine and zinc, as well as plenty of high antioxidant plant foods, good quality proteins, and avoidance of specific thyroid irritating foods is often part of the treatment plan.
Each person presents differently, and so specific treatments are based on individual needs, dietary requirements, and other presenting health factors.
If you resonate with this blog, and see yourself in the symptoms of hypothyroidism above, please get in contact with me today. I will ensure you get a full thyroid panel of tests done, and you can get back on the road to full health as quickly as possible.