By Dr. Joseph Mercola
For many years, thyroid problems have been downplayed, misunderstood and portrayed as unimportant.
Thyroid disease can affect almost every aspect of health, so understanding more about your thyroid, and the symptoms that occur when something goes wrong with this small gland, can help you regain your health.
Experts agree that thyroid problems affect 10- 15% of women. However, some researchers believe that as many as one in two women may have thyroid impairment.
Where is the Thyroid and What Does it Do?
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland, located in your neck, wrapped around the windpipe, and is located behind and below the Adam's Apple area. The thyroid produces several hormones, of which two are key: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones help oxygen get into cells, and make your thyroid the master gland of metabolism.
How Do You Know if Your Thyroid is Not Working?
The most sensitive way to answer this question is to listen to your body. Most of the symptoms associated with an underactive thyroid are listed in table one.
If you want to use more objective laboratory testing, the American Thyroid Association recommends that everyone should be screened, at a minimum, for thyroid problems beginning at age 35, at 5-year intervals. Those with symptoms (table two), which are potentially associated with thyroid dysfunction, should be checked even more frequently.
However, thyroid function tests have always presented doctors with difficulties in their interpretation. Many doctors have a narrow interpretation of thyroid testing that leads to many people not being properly treated for hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid).
Laboratory Diagnosis of Hypothyroidism
Normally, the pituitary gland will secrete TSH in response to a low thyroid hormone level. Thus an elevated TSH level would typically suggest hypothyroidism.
The most common traditional way physicians diagnose hypothyroidism is with a TSH that is elevated beyond the normal reference range. For most labs, this is about 4.0 to 4.5. This is thought to reflect the pituitary's sensing of inadequate thyroid hormone levels in the blood that is consistent with hypothyroidism.
However, most doctors are not aware of the wonderful review on this topic that was published in the British Medical Journal two years ago. The article discusses a 20-year follow-up study which showed that TSH concentrations above 2 are associated with an increased risk of hypothyroidism.
What You Can Do to Restore Your Thyroid Gland
Based on TSH levels below 2 it appears that half of the population fall into this category of having an underactive thyroid and need to be concerned about the optimal functioning of their thyroid gland.
For the last twenty years I have been helping individuals restore their thyroid health with natural methods. These approaches are generally very successful for restoring thyroid health.
Eat Healthy Foods
The first and most basic step you could take would be to improve the quality of the fluids you drink and the foods you eat. Drinking one quart of water per day for every 50 pounds of body weight while eliminating sodas, fruit juices and coffee is the first major step.
The next level would be to eliminate as many refined and processed foods sugars as possible. Additionally, elimination of grains, such as wheat, rice, corn and potatoes, also seems to help most people since these foods are converted to sugar very quickly and cause your body to make far to much insulin which distresses your thyroid and adrenal glands.
Unfortunately we are coming out of an era of fear of fat that has caused major health problems in this country. Fortunately there has been a resurgence of interest in the benefits of omega-3 oils and health.
The most practical source of fish oil would not be fish as nearly all fish is contaminated with mercury and even the conservative National Academy of Sciences advises all pregnant women to avoid most fish.
There are some compelling studies and a variety of sound physiological principles that suggest fish oil supplements in does of 3-5 grams per day would be helpful in restoring thyroid function.
Additionally, iodine is an essential mineral in the formation of thyroid hormone. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of Americans with low intake of iodine has more than quadrupled. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that over one in ten Americans are deficient in iodine.
I have a comprehensive 30-page report that goes into far more detail possible in this brief summary. The report can be viewed on my web site at www.mercola.com or obtained as a free ebook when signing up for my free daily newsletter.
Sleep and Exercise
These two lifestyles factors are intimately related, as it is difficult to sleep well without enough aerobic type exercise. Most all of us benefit from 7-8 hours of solid uninterrupted sleep in complete darkness to help restore our hormone balance.
My experience with extensive hormone evaluation suggests that the vast majority of people's thyroid glands become impaired as a result of weak adrenal glands. The thyroid gland tries to compensate for this and eventually just gives up and stops working.
When sophisticated hormone analyses are performed, it frequently shows that the adrenal impairment is due to emotional stress. Generally, unless one has these previous emotional challenges resolved, there is little likelihood of recovering one's thyroid function without hormonal replacement.
My experience in this area is that traditional cognitive counseling is not effective for most who use it. Fortunately there are a number of effective solutions for recovering emotional health that rely on rebalancing your energy circuits with psychological acupressure techniques. I use a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique, which is described, on my web site, but there are many other effective approaches.
Alive Magazine September 2002 40-47Table 1:
|Signs Of An Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism) Include:|
|Fatigue is the most common. You feel tired and exhausted like you can't enough sleep, or want to take daytime naps||You've gained weight inappropriately or you are finding it difficult to lose weight despite proper diet and exercise|
|You feel depressed down or sad||Impaired memory|
|Sensitivity to cold with feelings of being chilly in rooms of normal temperature when others do not||Constipation|
|Difficulty in losing weight despite rigid adherence to a low grain diet seems to be a common finding especially in women||Difficult for a person to sweat and their perspiration may be decreased or even absent even during heavy exercise and hot weather|
|Your skin can become dry, cold, rough and scaly||You are losing hair, particularly from the outer part of your eyebrows|
|Hair is getting dry or tangly||Nails are breaking or splitting and are brittle|
|Symptoms of Excessive Thyroid Hormone|
|Feeling like your heart is pounding out of your chest-by far the most common problem||Nervousness|
|Feeling hot and sweaty||Rapid weight loss|
|Fine tremor||Clammy skin|