Thyroid problems, including hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid), are estimated to affect as many as one in six people over the age of 55.
Your thyroid is a little butterfly-shaped gland, located at the base of your neck. Although small, it is extremely important to your overall health. It produces thyroid hormone, which governs everything from your energy and appetite to your mood, weight and body temperature.
Difficult to diagnose, easy to miss
When too little thyroid hormone is produced, hypothyroidism develops. This condition causes sluggishness, cold intolerance, constipation, depression, headaches, dry hair and skin, brittle nails, weight gain and hoarseness. A shortage of thyroid hormone has also been linked to increased levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.
Diagnosing hypothyroidism can be tricky, because in many cases an under-active thyroid isn’t due to an under-performing thyroid gland but to a faulty conversion of thyroid hormone from an inactive form called T4 (tetraiodothyronine or thyroxine) to the active form called T3 (triiodothyronine).
Because of the complexity of hypothyroidism, incredibly, doctors miss up to 90 per cent of cases… the patient has all the symptoms, but T4 levels appear to be normal when blood tests are carried out. So make sure, if you’re experiencing the symptoms listed, that you push for more tests.
Hyperthyroidism has a wide range of symptoms too and these include nervousness, restlessness, heat intolerance, palpitations, increased appetite, frequent bowel movements and weight loss.
It is important to point out that weakness, fatigue and muscle cramps can be symptoms of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
Treat it like you really should
Having a thyroid problem has serious consequences for your health and you should consult your doctor as soon as you suspect that you may be suffering from one. Conventional treatments for thyroid problems are fairly straightforward, but can sometimes be ineffective… they also come with a long list of side effects.
Hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic forms of thyroid hormone – levothyroxine and liothyronine. However, it can be difficult to determine the correct dosage that will help to achieve the right balance of these hormones. The side effects are similar to those associated with having excess thyroid hormone, such as anxiety, sweating, palpitations and diarrhoea.
Hyperthyroidism generally involves anti-thyroid drugs, such as carbimazole that block the production of thyroid hormone, and beta-blockers, such as propanolol, to control the symptoms. Side effects from both these drugs can be unpleasant.
Carbimazole causes headaches, dizziness, joint pain, nausea and an itchy rash, while beta-blockers cause fatigue, lethargy, nightmares and cold hands and feet. They can also cause a dramatic drop in your white blood cells – the front line of your immune system – leaving you vulnerable to infections.
Supporting conventional treatments with alternative remedies
Once you have an accurate diagnosis for either hypo/hyperthyroidism it’s best to stick with the treatment plan laid out by your doctor. However, if you have a forward-thinking doctor you could also discuss some of the following alternatives in addition to your treatment regime.
Below are some alternatives that might help improve your thyroid health:
- Iodine for hypothyroidism – Iodine intake through diet and kelp supplements. Kelp is rich in iodine and is very affordable. If you use natural sea salt that doesn’t have iodine in it, it may be a good idea to supplement with kelp tablets. Foods that contain iodine include yoghurt, eggs, meat, fish and other seafood, parsley, potatoes, oatmeal and bananas.
- Selenium for hypothyroidism – Selenium deficiency is common among hypothyroid sufferers. Selenium is required to convert the T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 form. As an example, the selenium containing enzyme type-I-iodothyronine- deiodinase is important for the conversion of T4 to T3. So selenium deficiency can reduce the activity of the thyroid hormones.
- Tyrosine for hypothyroidism – Tyrosine is an amino acid that helps the body to manufacture thyroid hormones from iodine. Using tyrosine supplements can help increase the production of thyroid hormones.
- Foods to avoid for hypothyroidism – Some foods that can cause low thyroid levels. They are called goitrogenic foods and include Brussels sprouts, swedes, turnips, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, millet, kale, and soy.
- Flaxseed oil for hyperthyroidism – Essential fatty acids act as an anti-inflammatory and are necessary for hormone production. Take 1,000 to 1,500 mg flaxseed oil three times per day.
- Calcium and magnesium for hyperthyroidism – these two minerals taken together provide an excellent boost for many of the body’s metabolic processes. Supplement with 1 part magnesium and 3 parts calcium (for instance 1000mg of calcium needs 334mg of magnesium).
- Foods to avoid for hyperthyroidism – Try to eliminate refined foods, sugar, dairy products, wheat, caffeine and alcohol from your diet. Adding cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, mustard greens and cabbage to your diet will help to lower your thyroid activity.
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