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Tiredness and the thyroids

Published:Tuesday | April 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Excess tiredness or fatigue is the most frequent complaint that doctors hear from their patients. An underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism) is a very common though often unrecognised cause of a lack of energy. In the United States alone there are over 13 million people who are not aware that their thyroid is underactive.

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 temperature, metabolism and energy production.

The common symptoms of low thyroid function include: low energy, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, hair loss, brittle nails, depression, irritability, poor memory and intolerance to cold. Uncorrected hypothyroidism can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, high blood cholesterol, osteoporosis, infertility, anaemia and recurrent infections.

Are you at risk?

Females are seven times more likely to have this problem than males and although it can occur at any age, women are especially at risk just after having a baby, at the onset of menopause and over the age of 65. Conventional medicine tends to depend heavily on the results of blood tests to diagnose low thyroid function although experts agree that blood tests alone are often misleading. A careful evaluation, including a detailed questioning and examination of the patient is necessary as many cases may go undiagnosed. The blood tests will then assist in confirming the doctor's suspicion.

Check your thyroid

A simple at home test of your resting body temperature called a Barnes Test can be most useful. Your body temperature reflects your metabolic rate, which in turn is influenced by thyroid hormones. Since activity raises your body temperature, this test is to be done while you are still lying in bed, before getting up in the morning. Low basal body temperatures (a positive Barnes Test) strongly suggest but do not prove hypothyroidism. If your temperature is low and you have symptoms of an underactive thyroid, discuss the matter with your doctor to confirm the diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment.

In most cases of hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone. What causes this?


The most frequent cause of hypothyroidism today is a disturbance of the immune system. This condition is called Hashimoto's disease, named after the Japanese doctor who first described it. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland and starts to destroy it. I believe that stressful situations (including pregnancy, abortions and menopause) as well as overwork and infections contribute to this condition. A special blood test for thyroid antibodies can be done to help in diagnosing the condition


Environmental chemicals and certain food additives contribute greatly to this disorder. Since the thyroid requires iodide to function, similar chemicals like chlorine and fluorine (halogens) could affect the thyroid.

Not surprisingly, British researchers report that people having high blood levels of some fluorine containing chemicals found in food wrappings, non-stick pans, carpets, and fabrics have an elevated risk of thyroid disease. Researchers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that American women are at risk of hypothyroidism from exposure to the common chlorine containing chemical perchlorate.


A deficiency of iodine in the diet often leads to an enlarged thyroid gland called a goitre that may later become underactive. With the widespread use of iodised table salt, iodine deficiency is now much less common, but goitres may also be due to substances that block iodine being used by the thyroid.

These substances, known as goitrogens, are found in modest amounts in turnips, cabbage, mustard, cassava root, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts and millet. But you need to eat a great deal of these foods to create any problem and cooking renders these goitrogens inactive. A wide variety of vitamins and minerals are also necessary for good thyroid function so good balanced cellular nutrition is vital.


A large number of persons are hypothyroid because of treatments given to them by their doctors for an overactive thyroid gland. These treatments include surgery, drugs or radiation. The damage to the gland that results from these treatments is often irreversible. Looking for and dealing naturally with the underlying cause of the hyperactive gland can often prevent these severe treatments.


A balanced diet is most essential. Ensure optimal intake of iodine, zinc, vitamins C, E and B complex. Ensure good levels of protein, while minimising simple carbohydrates in the diet. Supplementing with a programme called 'the Cellular Nutritional Program' is very useful. It contains additional nutrients like kelp, cayenne and Krebs cycle factors which improve the metabolism.


Individuals with immune dysfunction would benefit from supplementing with high dosages of anti-oxidants like vitamins A, C, E, selenium, the herbs schizandra, rosemary, pycnogenol, garlic and ginger. Large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids will help heal any inflammation of the thyroid gland.


Thyroid disorders are often triggered by stress and learning to handle stress in a healthy way is most beneficial. Relaxation techniques may be usefully applied.


Excercise increases the metabolism and has many other beneficial effects. Some yoga postures like the shoulder stand are particularly helpful as they stimulate, massage and increase the blood flow to the thyroid.


Medication is the standard medical answer to hypothyroidism and a variety of synthetic drugs are used to give the body more of the lacking thyroid hormone. These are often necessary and very helpful. However many holistic physicians, prefer natural thyroid hormone replacement instead. These are also prescription medicines but are made from desiccated animal thyroid glands. You may wish to discuss this option with your doctor.

You may email Dr Vendryes at, or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8:00 p.m.