Hypothyroidism is increasingly common these days. Typical symptoms are due to impaired metabolism which is regulated by thyroid hormones:
- Weight gain,
- Mood changes and cognitive function (there are many thyroxine receptors in the central nervous system)
- Hormonal problems (thyroid and sex hormone regulation are intimately linked),
- Muscle and joint pain (joint pain may also be caused by accumulation of mucopolysaccharides in hypothyroidism and impaired immune system)
- Low body temperature (typically less than 36.5 C first thing in the morning) and intolerance of cold and heat
- Hair loss, including outer third of eyebrows
- Dry skin and skin problems
- Constipation (digestive system and liver function has a high energy requirement; can also be diarrhoea due to malabsorption),
- Infections due to impaired immune system function.
- Lower leg swelling (myxoedema) due to reduced elimination of mucopolysaccharides, leading to non-pitting oedema
- Pitting oedema due to compromised kidney function and associated hypertension
- Other signs that hypothyroidism may be present are a large tongue with notched edges, a soft slow pulse, reduced pulse pressure (the difference between the systolic and diastolic readings), slow reflexes (particularly the Achilles reflex; also can be due to low adrenal function), raised cholesterol, irritable bladder.
There are several main reasons why an individual may have symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- There may be a failure of control from the pituitary (less common),
- Failure of the thyroid gland itself,
- Failure of conversion from T4 to the active T3 form of the hormone
- Problems with thyroxine receptors.
Hypothyroidism is conventionally treated with thyroxine supplementation, however this will be less effective if the symptoms are due to the latter 2 reasons above (reduced conversion of T4 to T3 and problems with receptors). A main reason for this is poor adrenal function (due to low cortisol levels). Symptoms of having adrenal problems can be similar to hypothyroidism and include becoming ill when stressed, hormonal problems (adrenals synthesise hormones), low blood sugar, cold and heat sensitive, poor absorption of nutrients, pigmentation, hair loss, reduced reflexes, IBS, fatigue, inability of pupils to remain contracted in bright light (pupillary reflex). Hypothyroidism and adrenal problems are closely linked. Not only can fatigued adrenals cause hypothyroidism, with symptoms typically worsening over the day as cortisol drops, hypothyroidism can cause reduced adrenal function due to low metabolism and the adrenals are over-stimulated to produce cortisol to raise blood sugar. Normal thyroid blood tests but symptoms of hypothyroidism may be due to adrenal problems.
To support thyroid function and action of thyroid hormones naturally, the following may be useful:
Promotors of hypothyroidism
- Brassicas (cabbage family): contain ‘goitrogens’ that reduce thyroxine production
- Phytooestrogens such as found in beans, soya: they reduce the availability of iodine
- Fluoride (including Prozac)
- Glandular fever virus may damage the thyroid in the long-term
- Excess iodine (particularly in Hashimotos disease)
- Tea, coffee, alcohol
- Physical damage to neck/thyroid
- Surgery (particularly gall bladder, hysterectomy and tonsilectomy) or anything that compromises blood supply to thyroid
- High stress
- Low cortisol levels due to adrenal fatigue / chronic stress, reduces thyroxine production, conversion and receptor uptake and hypothyroidism causes poor adrenal function as well
- Gluten intolerance is associated with thyroid problems, particularly autoimmune conditions
Supporting thyroid and thyroid hormone function
- Protein (a source of tyrosine and phenylalanine which are precursors to thyroxine)
- Selenium aids T4 to T3 conversion but synthetic selenium isn’t absorbed well (brazil nuts are a concentrated source of selenium).
- Other minerals and vitamins particularly magnesium, manganese, calcium, zinc, chromium, B12, folic acid, vitamins A, C and E
- Vitamin A (poorly converted in liver from beta-carotene) – skin problems can occur
- Support liver function which is compromised by low metabolism (liver function needs a lot of energy) – reduce load by avoiding sugar, trans fats, alcohol and toxins. Protect with sulphurous foods, milk thistle, globe artichoke, turmeric
- Support good digestion which is compromised with low metabolism and leads to malabsorption (digestion needs a lot of energy) – use probiotics, bitter herbs, enzyme and gastric acid supplementation if needed, protect the gut with chamomile and slippery elm.
- Coconut oil supports metabolism, is easily digested and used for energy.
- Exercise stimulates thyroid and metabolism
- Support adrenals with ‘adaptogens’ like Siberian ginseng, Ashwaganda, nettle seed
- Support microcirculation to the thyroid if needed with ginger, chilli, prickly ash, ginkgo
- Gently aid elimination via liver and kidneys with cleansing herbs such as burdock, Echinacea and marigold
- Support the immune system with Echinacea
- These approaches also support any autoimmune aspect of the condition which is affected by food intolerances, digestive health, immune function and elimination / cleansing.