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Hypothyroidism - A Natural Approach

Updated on April 2, 2012

Thyroid Location

Causes and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism


Causes of Hypothyroidism

There are three underlying possibilities for the cause of hypothyroidism; deficiency in thyroid metabolism, deficiency in the pituitary (which creates thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH) and a damaged thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is in the throat. Because of this, accidental injury to the thyroid would be quite likely also to cause serious or fatal damage to the trachea, cervical spine or blood vessels in the neck; because of this, accidental injury to the thyroid is not very commonly a problem. However, the thyroid is fairly commonly damaged by medical or surgical procedures designed to correct hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. It is very difficult to do just enough damage to correct the latter problem, and because hypothyroidism is fairly easy and cheap to correct by conventional means doctors tend to err on the side of doing too much.

If you have an underactive thyroid because a large proportion of it isn’t there anymore, then it is very difficult to correct hypothyroidism by natural means. Accordingly, I will concentrate on the other two causes.

For pituitary problems, at least concerning the thyroid, the important nutrients are zinc and B vitamins. These are necessary for the production of the pituitary hormone TSH; without this hormone even a healthy thyroid will produce little or none of its hormones. Zinc is also needed for the various reactions that thyroid hormone stimulates in the cells, so without adequate zinc even a healthy level of thyroid hormone will have little effect.

The thyroid gland itself needs selenium, vitamin E, B vitamins and the amino acid L-tyrosine to work properly, in addition to the rather well-known need for iodine. L-Tyrosine deficiency is rather uncommon as long as one is getting enough protein in general, but the others can sometimes be a problem. L-tyrosine is needed because the two thyroid hormones are essentially L-tyrosine modified by the addition of 3 or 4 iodine atoms.

Various drugs, particularly stimulants such as amphetamines (commonly used in the more extreme dieting pills), can disrupt thyroid metabolism. They can cause either an overactive or underactive thyroid, more or less at random.


Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

It might be a good idea to explain the difference between the medical meanings of signs and symptoms. Signs are objectively observable changes in the body such as low body temperature, blood pressure or changes in the skin. Symptoms are feelings that can only be reported by the patient, not observed by someone trying to disgnose a problem.

· Goitre: A person with a thyroid that is severely underactive for nutritional reasons will often have an enlarged thyroid, because the thyroid enlarges in a vain attempt to make more of its hormones. This is known as goitre. However, goitre is not an infallible sign of hypothyroidism because various types of tumour (benign or otherwise) can often cause goitre, and in that case the thyroid may well actually be overactive.

· Metabolic rate: This manifests as low body temperature, cold intolerance, weight gain and general lassitude. Also, blood lipid levels can increase and this may eventually cause circulatory difficulties. Oedema (excess fluid, mostly in the feet and legs) can also be present, but this can have many other causes.

· Hair, skin and nails: Dry and/or rough skin can be a sign of hypothyroidism, as can coarse and/or brittle hair and nails. Again, there are many other possible causes.

· Muscle fatigue and pain

· Constipation

· Shortness of breath

· Headaches

· Skin problems

Because all of these signs and symptoms can be caused by other deficiencies or disorders, the only really reliable test for hypothyroidism is a blood test. Fortunately, this is a very easy standard test, but it does mean that only a professional can diagnose hypothyroidism. One note, however, is worthwhile here. It is quite possible that your blood test is in the normal range and you are still slightly hypothyroid; this is simply because the standard ranges for blood tests are statistical averages that may not apply to you. Because the natural interventions for hypothyroidism are completely safe in virtually all circumstances, they may well be worth giving a try anyway.

Natural Remedies for Hypothyroidism

These come in three classes; diet, exercise and supplementation. Botanicals are of little use for this problem.

Diet

A generally healthy diet high in vitamins is advisable. In the particular case of hypothyroidism, seafood is particularly useful; all seafood is high in iodine. Seaweeds are particularly high in iodine, so if you like laver bread (a Welsh seaweed dish) or seaweeds often used in Japanese cooking then go ahead!

Some particular foods, called goitrogens, should be avoided by anyone with hypothyroidism. These foods contain substances that inhibit iodine absorption; the foods concerned are those in the brassica family such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and turnips and also peanuts and soya beans. However, even light cooking destroys these substances with the exception of those in soya. Therefore, using (for example) white cabbage as a salad vegetable should be avoided by anyone with hypothyroidism.

Exercise

Exercise, always a good idea, stimulates thyroid hormone production and secretion and also increases metabolic rate, thus helping with the weight gain often caused by hypothyroidism.

Supplements

· Iodine (usually as kelp): 200-300 micrograms per day.

· High strength multiple vitamin/mineral: supplies all the needed nutrients usually with the exception of selenium (normally present but not in sufficient amount for some reason).

· Selenium 200 micrograms per day, as selenomethionine or selenium yeast for preference.

Tyrosine: 250mg per day, between meals.

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    • profile imageAUTHOR

      Nutrition Guy 

      6 years ago from Blackpool, UK

      cloverleaffarm: I normally write hubs about problems such as this with no well-defined cause; Hashimoto's is an auto-immune disorder, and as such I would suggest that the protocols for similarly caused problems such as rheumatoid arthritis would help in this case.

      Also, someone with Hashimoto's would normally know it; far more often, at least in the UK, the doctor would say "you have an underactive thyroid" and leave it at that except for prescribing thyroxin pills.

      It's my experience that brassicas such as broccoli are OK when cooked for anyone with thyroid problems caused by iodine deficiency. Raw ones are not. This is probably because the relevant compounds are inactivated by heat. In any case, far more people eat raw cabbage than raw broccoli.

      Regarding the botanicals, I bow to your obviously greater expertise in the area of botanicals. However, if the fundamental cause of your underactive thyroid is lack of the relevant nutrients, then I doubt that any of the botanicals you mentioned would work.

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      6 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Very well-researched Hub. Some images or a video would make a great addition.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 

      6 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Being both an herbalist, and a sufferer of Hashimoto's I can attest to botanicals having some use in treating symptoms. You didn't mention Hashimoto's which is an autoimmune disease. If you have hypothyroidism due to Hashimotos, it is not advised to use Iodine supplements. Not according to my doctors, or what I have read and learned.

      Helpful botanicals: Ashwagandha root for stamina, bitters to increase hormone production, oatstraw for nerves and myrhh for thyroid production.

      While a person with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis should not eat raw broccoli, then can eat well cooked broccoli. Being that it is an autoimmune issue, Hashimoto's is a whole other story.

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