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Thyroid-related problems—both an under-active or over-active thyroid- can impact your energy levels, fertility, mood, weight, sexual interest and ability to think clearly. Thyroid-related problems can affect ALL your daily activities.

Thyroid gland and naturopathic medicine

The thyroid gland—what is it?  What does it do? What happens when it doesn’t work as it is meant to?  What is naturopathic medicine and what does it have to offer over conventional medicine? These are the types of questions you may be asking, and these are the types of questions that will be answered in this article.

Source: Dr. Zora DeGrandpre

First of all, what is naturopathic medicine?  Naturopathic medicine is a holistic and natural approach to healing.  In naturopathic medicine, we use a holistic—a whole-person—approach to healing. This article, for example, will examine problems related to the thyroid gland, a gland that is very important in overall health and well-being, and look at dietary, supplemental and herbal approaches. A holistic approach always keeps the picture of the whole person in mind—how they are able live and work with family, friends and society.  In holistic medicine, the whole picture is considered all the time and the treatment is often unique to that person.  You are not regarded as a thyroid gland—you are regarded as a person whose thyroid is a part of the whole that needs support and healing.

Under-active or over-active thyroid

Thyroid-related problems—both an under-active or over-active thyroid- can impact your energy levels, fertility, mood, weight, sexual interest and ability to think clearly. Thyroid-related problems can affect ALL your daily activities.

When a wholistic, naturopathic physician is treating an individual with a thyroid disorder, they see a whole person in front of them and not just a thyroid gland! A naturopathic physician will be very interested in prevention and will use primarily natural, holistic methods to treat thyroid disorders and will treat you with vitamins, supplements, diet, lifestyle changes and bio-identical hormone replacements rather than only with prescription drugs.  Naturopaths will also use certain drugs in the treatment of some thyroid disorders, but with the goal of minimizing the drugs used and maintaining thyroid function as much as possible. A naturopath will also be interested in maximizing your overall health while working to improve your thyroid function and finding, if possible, the cause of the problem. That cause may be stress, poor nutrition, a tendency towards inflammatory conditions or some other cause.

The thyroid gland plays a central role in maintaining energy levels, temperature, weight, clear thinking, the sensitivity of the body to other hormones and the synthesis of proteins.  It is located at the base of the neck and wraps around the front of the neck. The two conditions that affect the thyroid are hypothyroid (an UNDERactive thyroid) and hyperthyroid (an OVERactive thyroid). It sometimes takes years for thyroid problems to develop.

The most common form of hypothyroid is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

The most common form of hypothyroid is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis -an autoimmune disorder where the body is producing antibodies to the thyroid and leads to decreased production of thyroid hormones.  The most common cause of hyperthyroid is Graves’ disease—this is also an autoimmune disorder, but in Graves’ disease, the antibodies stimulate thyroid hormone production and you get too much. Some thyroid disorders occur after or during pregnancy, after viral or bacterial infections or after long periods of stress . Both hypo- and hyper-thyroid occurs predominantly in women starting at the ages of 30-40.  Some cases of Graves’ disease have been associated with heavy metals  and prescription drugs.

T4 and T3 are the main thyroid hormones. Iodine is a critical nutrient for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. (the numbers 4 and 3 represent the number of iodine atoms per molecule of hormone.)

Thyroid disease is diagnosed by both physical symptoms and lab results. 


Source: Dr. Zora DeGrandpre

 

General Holistic Approaches to Thyroid (BOTH HYPO- AND HYPER)

Diet and Lifestyle

A whole-food (non-processed) organic diet is strongly recommended for maintaining health.  If you are iodine deficient, use seaweed in cooking for its iodine content.  Avoid alcohol, tobacco and particularly drugs such as lithium, thionamides, alpha interferon, interleukin-2, cholestyramine, perchlorate, expectorants, aluminum hydroxide and raloxifene.

Minimize stress: Techniques used to modify stress include deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, and biofeedback.

A moderate level of exercise is also recommended. A 20-30 minute walk a day can do wonders!

If you are hypothyroid, avoid or limit certain foods that can affect the thyroid (goitrogens) such as cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, broccoli, cauliflower and bok choy. Goitrogens interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid.

If you are hyperthyroid, increase your intake of these foods (goitrogens).

Holistic Approaches to HypoThyroid States

SUPPLEMENTS:

Minerals:

  • Iodine: 150-1500 mcg/day (or ~ ½ -3 teaspoons a day of iodized table salt)
  • Selenium: 200-400 mcg/day
  • Zinc: 20-40 mg/ day.  Take Zinc along with Copper (4-5mg/day) to prevent copper deficiency.

Vitamins:

  • A good, whole-food vitamin preparation is always recommended.  A whole-food vitamin is derived from food (rather than synthesized in a lab) and is produced from the food with minimal processing.
  • 2-3 grams of omega-3 fish oils every day.  If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, increase this to 3-4 grams every day.  Fish oils are anti-inflammatory and help reduce the auto-antibodies.
  • To help maintain health and energy levels, take 2-3 times the RDA of B-vitamins.
  • Anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene (3-6 mg/day), Vitamin C (1000-3000mg/day) and Vitamin E (400-800IU/day)
  • Vitamin D: 1000-2000IU each day

    BOTANICALS:

  • Anti-inflammatory botanicals for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. You can use these in cooking and enjoy a more flavorful diet as well!
  • Curcuma longa/Turmeric
  • Capsicum/Cayenne pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Zingiber/Gingero    Others
  • Boswellia
  • Grape seed extract
  • Pycnogenol
  • Green tea

Thyroid Replacement Hormone: Anyone who has a thyroid condition should have their TSH/T3 and T4 monitored periodically. The overall goal is to have the patient take enough thyroid hormone in order to lower the TSH values and increase the free thyroid hormone levels in the blood.  The lab numbers obtained should be correlated with an individual’s symptoms to achieve the best possible dosage.  Naturopaths generally look to achieve lower TSH values (<2.0 IU/L) as ideal.  Conventional physicians tend to aim for slightly higher TSH values (~2-4 IU.L).

The “gold standard” in conventional medicine is replacement therapy with synthetic T4 (Levothyroxine). Some patients will do very well on this.  Others do better with additional T3 (Liothyronine), especially as some people are not able to convert from T4 to T3 and others have cells that don’t absorb T3 well. Also, if a patient has an objection to animal products or religious objections to pork products, this is a good solution. Thyrolar is a synthetic product, but its main advantage is that it contains T3 and T4 in a 1:4 ratio, about the same ratio found in patients with a normal thyroid.

Thyroid hormone from animal (pig) sources.  This includes Armour, Erfa, WesThroid and Nature-Throid. These are bio-identical thyroid hormones, generally derived from dried pig thyroids.  The advantage with these is that they contain the T3 and T4 in normal, physiologic ratios.

HYDROTHERAPY:

  • Place a cold pack over the thyroid three times a day.

Holistic Approaches to HyperThyroid States:

SUPPLEMENTS:

Minerals:

  • AVOID table salt and other foods that contain iodine
  • Selenium: 200-400 mcg/day
  • Zinc: 20-40 mg/ day.  Take Zinc along with Copper (4-5mg/day) to prevent copper deficiency.
  • Calcium:(Graves’ disease patients are more susceptible to osteoporosis)

    Vitamins and other supplements:

  • A good, whole-food vitamin preparation is always recommended.  A whole-food vitamin is derived from food (rather than synthesized in a lab) and is produced from the food with minimal processing.
  • 2-3 grams of omega-3 fish oils every day.  If you have been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, increase this to 3-4 grams every day.  Fish oils are anti-inflammatory and help reduce the auto-antibodies.
  • To help maintain health and energy levels, take 2-3 times the RDA of B-vitamins.
  • Anti-oxidant vitamins:
  1. Vitamin C: 2000mg/day
  2. Vitamin E : 400-800 IU/day
  • l-carnitine: 2 to 4 g/day.  l-carnitine has been shown to inhibit thyroid hormone.
  • CoQ10: 50 to 100 mg/day. CoQ10 has been shown to be deficient in hyperthyroidism.

BOTANICALS:

Only use these botanicals with the advice of a qualified naturopathic physician.  Even natural products can cause harm if used incorrectly!

  • The anti-thyroid botanicals block the TSH receptors in the cells and inhibit the conversion to T3, minimizing the hyperthyroidism:
  1. Lycopus spp.
  2. Lithospermum officinale
  3. Melissa officinalis
  4. Iris versicolor
  5. Emblica officinalis

HYDROTHERAPY:

  • Place a cold pack over the thyroid three times a day.

Most often, those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis will need to take some form of thyroid replacement for the rest of their lives.  There have been cases of recovery, though. Graves’ disease tends to have a more limited course and often doesn’t require lifelong treatment.

The thyroid gland affects blood sugar and fatigue, among other body systems—it is important to remember, whether your thyroid is under or over-active, to make sure you are taking care of your whole body! Also, lab values should only be a guideline-I always tell my patients that how they feel is more important than the lab numbers.

It is also important to remember that many other chronic disorders may affect the thyroid as well. Many physicians, for example, will supplement fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue patients with thyroid hormone even though their “numbers” are within normal ranges. 
It is most important for patients with thyroid disorders to begin to feel empowered to control their condition.  This feeling of control can go a long way in minimizing and dealing with thyroid problems—and the depression that often accompanies them.  Alternative therapies provide one way to gain that control. 

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