Today, I’d like to talk to you about thyroid disease. It’s estimated that 59 million Americans have thyroid disease being either hypo (too low) or hyper (too high). They are opposites on the thyroid functioning spectrum with treatment of one sometimes resulting in the other.
The thyroid is the master regulator of energy usage in your body – when its out of whack, too high, or too low, it can have some uncomfortable symptoms. In most of my patients who have thyroid problems, however, the most common type of thyroid condition is hypothyroidism – where not enough thyroid hormone is produced. Let me explain to you the symptoms and differences in treatment of both.
Hyperthyroidism versus Hypothyroidism:
Hyperthyroidism is the more volatile, and potentially more dangerous, of the two types as it can cause the heart to race dangerously and blood pressure to skyrocket in an emergency event called “thyroid storm” where a large amount of thyroid hormone gets released at once. It’s thought that stress can bring on hyperthyroidism, as well as heavy smoking, and certain medical therapies like the use of interleukin-2 and other immune system modulating drugs.
Graves disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism – you may remember that our former President Bush and his wife, Barbara, both had Graves disease. Graves disease has special complications of eye problems caused by inflammation of the tissues behind the eye that cause the eye to protrude.
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, though no picnic, is the exact opposite from hyperthyroidism, and can be managed much more easily.
If you’re wondering if you might have a thyroid problem, the following are the usual sets of symptoms for both types. Now, you don’t have to have every symptom here. The best way to tell if you have a thyroid problem is to go to your doctor and have blood drawn to test the levels.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism and/or Graves disease:
- Racing heart with palpitations
- High metabolism – cannot gain weight, most likely loses weight.
- Restless – difficulty sleeping
- Blood pressure may be high
- Muscle weakness – especially the arms and upper thighs
- Eye problems like blurred vision, red eyes, double vision
- Heat intolerance – profuse sweating
- Increased bowel movements
How Is Hyperthyroidism Treated?
Hyperthyroidism is fairly easy to diagnose as if the thyroid is over-active, it shows up pretty clearly on blood tests as too low TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. In thyroid labs, too high TSH means hypothyroidism and too low TSH spells hyperthyroidism.
There are a few ways that hyperthyroidism can be treated but the most common is radioactive iodine. This is usually given in pill form that the patient takes for about a month. The radioactive iodine kills the thyroid cells and renders them hypothyroid. Then, the patient has to take thyroid replacement in a pill form every day to make up for the now decreased thyroid hormone.
In some cases, such as Graves disease, surgery may be required. The entire thyroid gland is removed and the patient takes thyroid hormone replacement instead.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism:
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone. I have many more patients with hypothyroidism than hyperthyroidism as it’s just that much more common. Researchers now think that a deficiency in certain minerals like selenium and L-carnitine, as well as iodine, could be contributing to the high incidence of low thyroid function in many Americans.
The following symptoms of hypothyroidism are the most common:
- Cold intolerance
- Weight gain, increased difficulty losing weight
- Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?
As I mentioned above, hypothyroidism is easily managed, usually with the taking of replacement thyroid hormone every day in a specific amount. However, unlike hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is a little trickier to diagnose, as often times “normal” levels can be accompanied by many tell-tale symptoms of hypothyroidism. What may be needed, in these instances, is a “tweaking” dose, a very small amount of thyroid hormone, to adequately treat the symptoms.
How To Avoid Thyroid Problems
As I tell my patients, optimum nutrition is key to preventing all kinds of disease states and conditions. Deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can cause body systems to run in a chronic deficit condition and one day just stop functioning correctly, allowing disease and disorder to enter. With that in mind, here are some things you can do to prevent thyroid problems, both high and low:
- Be sure your diet contains optimal levels of vitamins and minerals in your food. Taking a good multivitamin mineral formula will ensure that you are getting the correct levels of minerals, like selenium and iodine that support thyroid health.
- If you smoke, quit. Chemicals in smoke, namely thiocyanate, can cause the thyroid to over secrete thyroid hormone and/or cause cancer of the thyroid.
- Check your medications – ask your doc
- Limit soy to its natural forms, tempeh, miso, and tofu. Stay away from “soy protein isolate” common in protein powders and bars. These are thought wreak havoc with the thyroid, causing thyroid hormone production to decrease resulting in hypothyroidism.
- Watch thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and your symptoms. Blood tests reveal TSH levels that may be “clinically normal” yet you may have several symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, usually reflects more clearly in a very low TSH score.
- Avoid fluoridated toothpastes, water, treatments. Being that fluoride used to be used to treat hyperthyroidism, creating hypothyroidism, it is best to avoid exposure to it to prevent becoming hypothyroid.
- Wash produce thoroughly. Perchlorate contaminant from rocket fuel has been found in water supplies which irrigate produce crops. In addition, pesticides can add toxic loads which can tamper with thyroid function.
It is not exactly known what specifically causes the thyroid to malfunction. It is thought that it can be brought on by a lot of different things, from chemicals in our environment, dental treatments, x-rays, the food we eat and/or the nutrients we may not get.
Thyroid symptoms can be bothersome, but, as I advise my patients, both high and low thyroid are fairly easily treatable with minimal discomfort and risk. First, you need an accurate diagnosis. If you feel that you have thyroid symptoms, please see your doctor who can do a simple blood test to determine it.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.