by Louise Jensen
Hypothyroidism is a common condition in the UK with approximately 2% women and 0.2% men confirmed sufferers; however, many more people are going undiagnosed. There are 10 times as many women suffering in the UK and this is especially common after the menopause causing an enormous amount of ill health. Controversially Dr Broda Barnes who has dedicated more than 50 years of his life to researching, teaching and treating thyroid and related endocrine dysfunctions worldwide suggests that the percentage of the population displaying signs of hypothyroidism could be as high as 40%. Common symptoms of an under active thyroid gland are weight gain, hair loss, tiredness, poor circulation, constipation, stiffness, depression, feeling cold, dry, pale skin and generalised aches and pains although many more symptoms can be attributed to this disorder. Symptoms usually develop slowly and gradually become worse over months or years as the level of thyroxine in the body gradually falls.
Shockingly as hypothyroidism can mimic the symptoms of depression it is often misdiagnosed. Many patients going to their GPs complaining of listlessness, apathy, fuzzy thinking, poor memory and concentration, irritability and fatigue will routinely be given anti-depressants rather than blood tests.
Patients may have other symptoms which they feel silly mentioning as they feel they could not possibly be connected. This is why it is useful to take a list of all your symptoms with you when you visit your GP to present the clearest possible picture. As some people feel there is a stigma attached to mental illness they often try to ignore their symptoms hoping they will go away. Sadly if these symptoms can be attributed to hypothyroidism they rarely disappear without appropriate treatment.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the neck immediately below and in front of the voice box. Its job is to secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream or body cavities. Thyroid hormone is comprised of two main hormones made by the thyroid T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyroxine). An essential component of both substances is iodine which is a trace mineral found in foods including fish, kelp, cow’s milk, eggs, strawberries, mozzarella cheese. Iodine is also found in plant foods (i.e. cereal, grains and vegetables) but the amount varies and is dependent on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants were grown.
What does it do?
The main function of the thyroid hormone is to determine the metabolic rate of the body’s tissues; how fast the body will use up oxygen and produce waste materials. A reduced level of this hormone will slow down metabolism and is called hypothyroidism. (A higher level will speed things up and is called hyperthyroidism causing a different set of symptoms).
It is not, however, solely a hormone imbalance that can cause hypothyroidism, it can also be triggered by poor diet, adrenal stress, insulin resistance, genetic predisposition or an autoimmune response.
What happens if I suspect hypothyroidism?
The first port of call for anyone suspecting they suffer from hypothyroidism has to be their GP. The GP will arrange for blood tests to be carried out. If you are pregnant or taking any medication it is important to inform your doctor as this may affect the test results.
Why is my test negative?
In the UK there is a very broad ‘normal’ range for blood test results. You may test for a figure at the lower end of the normal range but in fact require a level that is higher for optimum functioning. Everyone has a different ‘normal’ range and without knowing what this is pre-test the lab technicians can only use a generalised range for everyone. There are also conditions which can alter the level of these hormones showing in your blood. If the tests are found to be positive however your GP will usually treat you with thyroid hormone medication. The treatment is to take levothyroxine (thyroxine) tablets each day which replaces the thyroxine which your thyroid gland is not making. If your test comes back negative ask your GP where on the scale you are – if it is towards the lower end of the normal range and you are classed as borderline he may agree to repeat the tests.
What can I do naturally?
There is much you can do from a dietary point of view. Vitamins A, E, B2, B3, B6, C, iodine, zinc, manganese and tyrosine are necessary for thyroid synthesis, while copper, iron, zinc and selenium are required for the conversion of thyroxine to triodothyroxine. Iodine is essential for the manufacture of T4 and T3. Dietary sources of iodine include sea vegetables, eggs and yoghurt. Processed foods are draining and can create toxins so a natural diet containing plenty of foods with the above nutrients in is recommended. Protein transports thyroid hormone to your tissues so incorporating it into meals can stabilise thyroid function. Eat plenty of nuts, quinoa and eggs. Natural fats are essential to normalising hormone productions. Include olive oil, avocados, fish, flax seeds and cheese.
Reduce black and green tea (ideally cut out altogether) these types of tea absorb fluoride from the environment and then release it back into your body preventing the absorption of iodine from food.
Reduce stress and relax. Keeping your adrenals balanced therefore combating the overproduction of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) has a knock on effect of the thyroid hormone in your bloodstream.
Alleviate all food intolerances which will stress your system causing further imbalances within your endocrine system.
To take the natural route (after being checked by your GP) seek help from a qualified kinesiologist or nutritional therapist.