Amongst the various medical issues on the rise, thyroid conditions are amongst the top few. One cause could be a lack of good nutrition, sometimes due to lack of nutrients in the soil. It’s now thought as many as one in four people may be suffering from some degree of thyroid malfunction, particularly in the 50-plus age group. So how do you know if your symptoms are the result of a thyroid condition?
SYMPTOMS OF THYROID CONDITIONS
If the gland is overactive, as in hyperthyroidism, symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Heat intolerance
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular periods
- Loose bowels
If the gland is underactive, as in hypothyroidism, the following symptoms may occur:
- Exhaustion, tiredness, sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Weight gain
- Dry hair, skin and nails
- Depression or anxiety
- Poor libido
- Breathlessness and swelling of feet
- Cold intolerance
- Face swelling and puffy eyes
- In women, heavy periods
- ‘eyebrow sign’ – outer third of eyebrows is sparse or disappears. Can also sometimes have dropping eyelashes.
- Hair loss
WHAT DOES THE THYROID GLAND DO?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland located directly below the Adam’s apple. It is known as the hormone factory of the body, as it manufactures a number of them, T3 and T4 being the major ones. Most crucially, these hormones control the body’s metabolism and energy levels. The body fails to function properly in the case of either excess or lack of these hormones. It may then become overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism).
While lack of these hormones make the body sluggish and slow, an excess of these make the person hyper active sending the body in an overdrive. A malfunctioning thyroid gland can therefore affect the entire body.
WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO BE VULNERABLE TO A THYROID CONDITION?
According to the American Thyroid Association, half of the people with thyroid problems do not even know this is the cause of their symptoms. These conditions often go undiagnosed as the symptoms can be mistaken for other issues. For example, tiredness is a major symptom of an underactive thyroid but is generally overlooked as just a general feeling or else associated with other health problems.
Certain groups of people are more susceptible to the disease then others. Women are apparently eight times more likely then men to face these disorders and especially around the menopause. You are also more susceptible if you have a family history of a thyroid condition or other autoimmune diseases. If this is the case, regular testing of the thyroid gland is recommended.
The trouble is that standard thyroid blood tests fail to diagnose people with hypothyroidism in more than half of cases. The chief reason is that many people are adrenally exhausted, and this lack of adrenal hormones interferes with the ability of T4 to deliver its message to the cells, which stimulates metabolism. So, many people with hypothyroidism look fine according to their blood test and are supposedly making ‘normal’ amounts of thyroid hormone – but, in fact, they are suffering from a lack of T4, due to poor cellular uptake. I have on several occasions seen patients who display all the symptoms of an underactive thyroid but testing by their GP has failed to show there is a problem. However, often re-testing at a later date finally reveals the problem but unfortunately meanwhile the condition can have worsened. Alternatively, there are other arguably more accurate functional medicine tests available, which many practitioners feel are more useful, though these are not available on the NHS.
Hypothyroidism is usually treated with thyroid hormone medication. This may sound like a good idea but when the thyroid hormone thyroxine is simply replaced in this way, the gland that normally produces the hormone is eventually destroyed.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism involves medication to reduce the production of thyroid hormone (which can be fairly damaging to the liver), radioactive iodine therapy or a thyroidectomy (removal of part of the thyroid gland).
The sooner a thyroid problem is diagnosed the better, as then preventative measures can hopefully take place before the need for prescribed thyroxine, in the case of hypothyroidism, or drugs, radiation of removal of the thyroid in the case of hyperthyroidism. There are supplements that may help reverse the conditions at the early stages but you do need the supervision of a qualified Nutritional therapist to find the most appropriate ones.
Cleaning up your diet and lifestyle can help enormously, as can directional use of certain foods, known as goitrogenic foods – soya beans, pine nuts, peanuts, cabbage, brussel sprouts, brassicas, millet and tea. These should be avoided in cases of an underactive thyroid and used as much as possible if there is an overactive thyroid condition.
I had one patient who was on medication for hyperthyroidism and was told she should have radiation, which she strongly wanted to avoid. With an improved diet and some well chosen supplements, she managed to avoid this apparent ‘inevitability’. Not only that, but she slowly reduced her medication (under medical supervision) and now she doesn’t take any at all. This is not to be recommended however without the guidance of a Nutritional therapist and your GP who can monitor the situation.
So in conclusion, consulting a registed nutritional therapist regarding the most appropriate nutritional and/or supplement programme can help bring the thyroid back into balance. However, it is always essential to consult your GP if you have any concerns regarding your thyroid.