Do you sometimes feel as though you’re permanently exhausted, having very little energy and no real appetite most days? Or perhaps you’ve noticed that you often seem to feel confused or argumentative? If so, you may be suffering from a condition called hyperparathyroidism, which affects the parathyroid glands. Other symptoms of this illness include unexplained vomiting, disturbed sleep, poor memory, bone pain, excessive thirst and a need to pass urine frequently.
In many cases sufferers only experience mild symptoms and don’t realise they’re suffering from the disease until it’s diagnosed by chance, following routine blood tests. If any of the symptoms above do sound familiar then it’s vital you see your doctor as the condition can get progressively worse and, left untreated, can put you at risk of serious conditions such as stomach ulcers, pancreatitis, osteoporosis, heart disease and kidney stones.
Every year there are about 15,000 new cases of hyperparathyroidism diagnosed in the UK and those over the age of 50 are most at risk.
Your parathyroid glands are four pea-sized glands located behind your thyroid gland in the front of your neck. Their main function is to produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps regulate levels of calcium and phosphorous in your body. Calcium is important for bone health, muscle contractions and the transmission of messages along your nerve pathways. Phosphorous confers strength and rigidity to your bones and teeth.
There are two types of hyperparathyroidism:
1. primary hyperparathyroidism and
2. secondary hyperparathyroidism.
The latter occurs as a result of another medical condition, like kidney failure, which makes the body resistant to the action of PTH. This form of the disease is normally brought under control once the underlying problem has been successfully treated. Primary hyperparathyroidism is a disorder of the parathyroid glands themselves and occurs when one or more malfunction and produce too much PTH. This results in supplies of calcium becoming depleted in the bones and rising to abnormally high levels in the blood instead. This form of the disease can be caused by a variety of factors, most commonly it is the result of a tumour (benign in most cases) in one of the glands, or an enlargement of one or more of the glands – a condition known as hyperplasia.
Although the condition doesn’t always produce any symptoms… simple tests can detect it straight away
As already mentioned, it’s imperative that this condition is diagnosed properly and treated accordingly. A diagnosis is made following simple tests, including x-rays that can reveal any bone or kidney abnormalities, and blood tests which evaluate calcium levels and how much PTH is being produced by your parathyroid glands. Calcium levels may also be determined by measuring the amount of calcium present in the urine over a 24-hour period.
The main conventional treatment available involves an operation to remove the overactive parathyroid glands. While surgery can be successful in overcoming the problem and may be necessary when a tumour is present, it should not be undertaken lightly in less severe cases. Possible complications include infection, damage to the vocal cords, and hypoparathyroidism – the opposite problem, whereby underactive parathyroid glands do not produce enough PTH, causing low levels of calcium in the blood. This can cause tingling in the hands, fingers and mouth in addition to severe muscle cramps and convulsions.
Safe and effective alternatives to help lower calcium levels in your blood
Other than surgery doctors have very little else to offer sufferers of the disease. In mild to moderate cases of both secondary and primary hyperparathyroidism (where there are only slight elevations in blood calcium levels and normal kidney and bone health) symptoms can often be successfully controlled through natural measures, including:
Vitamin D supplements: Some cases of hyperparathyroidism are not a result of a tumour but a vitamin D deficiency instead, specifically a deficiency of vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 sends signals to your parathyroid glands to regulate the production of PTH and limit the amount of calcium in your blood, so a deficiency can soon upset this process and increase the risk of the disease. The recommended dose of vitamin D3 is 1,000iu daily.
Researchers from the University of St Louis in Missouri, in the US, have isolated new variants of vitamin D, called 19-nor-1,25OH-D3 and 19-nor-1,25-OH-D2. They have been found to suppress the production of PTH and reduce excessive levels of calcium in the blood, while increasing calcium concentrations in the bones.
These chemical variants of vitamin D can be found in standard vitamin D supplements – check the label to see if they are included in the preparation.
Natural HRT that contains plant hormones obtained from red clover. This can be useful for older women (particularly menopausal women) who have a lack of oestrogen, as this can interfere with PTH production and disturb calcium metabolism.
Natural HRT helps reverse this by replacing lost oestrogen, as the plant oestrogen molecules it contains are extremely similar to oestrogen stores in the body. Check the product’s label for dosage instructions.
Calcium-alpha-ketoglutarate: This mineral is a special form of calcium that helps normalise concentrations of ordinary calcium in the body. Patients with hyperparathyroidism frequently have elevated levels of the mineral phosphate, alongside too much calcium, in their blood. Phosphate and calcium levels are normally kept in balance, but hyperparathyroidism disrupts this control mechanism.
Calcium-alpha-ketoglutarate binds to excess phosphate and eliminates it, which helps re-establish the balance between calcium and phosphate. In a 3-year study conducted in Germany, 14 patients with hyperparathyroidism were treated with calcium-alpha-ketoglutarate. This caused a significant reduction in high phosphate and calcium levels, and encouraged the production of PTH at a normal rate.
Check the product’s label for dosage instructions. It’s extremely important that you keep your doctor fully informed about what course of action you decide to take, and that you have regular checkups in order to monitor the progression of the disease.
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