Ounce of Prevention: Is your thyroid making you tired?
Doctors report that excessive tiredness or fatigue is the commonest complaint their patients make. An under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism) is a frequent though often unrecognised cause of a lack of energy.
Throughout the world, millions of people with hypothyroidism, mostly women, go undiagnosed. Often, these women are told their problem is in their head, while its really originating in the neck.
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped organ located at the front of the neck, on both sides of the voice box or larynx. It produces thyroid hormones that serve many important functions, including the control of our body's energy production, temperature and metabolism.
Common symptoms of low thyroid function include - low energy, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, hair loss, brittle nails, depression, irritability, low sex drive, poor memory, decreased sweating and intolerance to cold and/or heat.
If uncorrected hypothyroidism can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, elevated blood cholesterol, osteoporosis, infertility, anaemia, persistent depression and recurrent infections.
Is your thyroid sick?
Females are seven times more likely than men to have this problem especially after having a baby or miscarriage, during the menopause and after the age of 65.
Conventional medicine depends heavily on the results of blood tests to diagnose low thyroid function, though experts agree that blood tests alone are often misleading. Because detailed questioning and examination of patients is necessary, but often lacking, many cases go undiagnosed. Subsequent blood tests can assist in confirming a doctor's suspicion.
Check your temperature
A simple at-home test of your resting body temperature, a Barnes Test, can be most useful. Your body temperature reflects your metabolic rate, which, in turn, is influenced by thyroid hormones. A low resting body temperature (a positive Barnes Test) strongly suggests hypothyroidism. If your temperature is low and you have symptoms of an under-active thyroid, discuss the matter with your doctor to confirm diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment.
Consider your immune system
The most frequent cause of hypothyroidism today is a disturbance of the immune system, Hashimoto's disease, named after the Japanese doctor who first described it. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and damages it. A special blood test can be done to help diagnose the condition. Stressful situations (including pregnancy, abortions and menopause) as well as overwork and infections, may trigger this condition.
Avoid these chemicals
The thyroid requires iodide to function, and related chemicals (halogens) like chlorine, fluorine and bromine can compete with iodine and negatively affect thyroid function. Environmental chemicals and certain food additives can thus contribute greatly to this disorder.
British researchers report that people with high blood levels of fluorine chemicals often found in food wrappings, non-stick pans, carpets and fabrics have a higher risk of thyroid disease. US studies show a high risk of hypothyroidism from exposure to the household chemical perchlorate. In addition we are constantly exposed to chlorine in our tap water.
A dietary deficiency of iodine often leads to an enlarged thyroid gland (called a goiter) that may become under-active. Bromine has now replaced iodine in almost all baking flours, and the iodine in iodised table salt is not a very good replacement.
Even if enough iodine is available, some natural substances block iodine from being used by the thyroid. These are known as goitrogens and are found in modest amounts in turnips, cabbage, mustard, cassava root, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts and millet. But you would need to eat a great deal of these foods to create any problem, and cooking renders these goitrogens inactive.
Several people are hypothyroid because of treatment for an overactive thyroid gland administered by doctors. These treatments include surgery, drugs or radiation and the damage to the gland that results is often irreversible. Dealing naturally with the underlying causes of hyperthyroidism can help avoid these drastic therapies.
- Hormome replacement: This is the standard medical answer to hypothyroidism, and synthetic drugs are usually used to replace the lacking thyroid hormone. These are often necessary and very helpful. However, many holistic physicians, like myself, prefer natural thyroid-hormone replacement, and use other prescription medicines made from animal thyroid glands. You may wish to discuss this option with your doctor.
- Balance your diet: Seafood is the best natural source of iodine. Supplementing with additional iodine from sea salt, sea iodine or sea vegetables like kelp and dulse, promote better thyroid function. The Cellular Nutritional Programme is very useful as it contains a blend of added nutrients that improve the metabolism. Large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids will help heal any inflammation of the thyroid gland.
Ensure optimal intake of zinc, vitamins C, E and B complex, and protein, while minimising sugar and starch in the diet.
Immune system support: Those with immune dysfunction will benefit from supplementing with high dosages of anti-oxidants like vitamins A, C, E and selenium. The herbs schizandra, rosemary, pycnogenol, garlic, ginger and turmeric are also helpful.
- Stress management: Both under-active and overactive thyroid disorders are often triggered by stress. Learning to handle stress in a healthy way is very important. Various relaxation techniques may be usefully applied.
- Exercise: This increases the metabolism and has many other hormonal benefits. Certain yoga postures, such as the shoulder stand, are particularly helpful as they stimulate, massage and increase blood flow to the thyroid.
• You may email Dr Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available at www.tonyvendryes.com.