Hypothyroidism happens when your thyroid gland, located at the front of your neck, does not produce enough thyroid hormone (underactive thyroid). There are several types of hypothyroidism. The most common is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. The disease affects both sexes and all ages, but is most common in women over age 60. Because the thyroid gland helps regulate your metabolism, low thyroid levels cause your body to slow down, affecting everything from appetite to body temperature. Symptoms can appear over time and can be hard to diagnose. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause serious health complications.
People who have hypothyroidism may be at increased risk for other chronic conditions including heart disease, arthritis, age-related macular degeneration, and cognitive impairment.
There are different kinds of hypothyroidism with different causes. In Hashimoto's thyroiditis, antibodies in the blood mistakenly attack the thyroid gland and start to destroy it. Post-therapeutic hypothyroidism occurs when treatment for hyperthyroidism leaves the thyroid unable to produce enough thyroid hormone. And hypothyroidism with goiter happens when you do not get enough iodine in your diet. In the developed world iodine is added to salt so goiter is rare, although it still happens in undeveloped countries.
Your thyroid gland produces two main thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. In addition, the pituitary gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which helps control how much T3 and T4 the thyroid makes. Your health care provider will draw blood to measure TSH levels. When thyroid hormones are low, your body produces more TSH to increase production of thyroid hormones. Your doctor may also test your levels of T3 or T4.
Natural medicine practitioners may pay particular attention to levels of T3 hormone. T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone. Your thyroid gland makes some T3, but the body also converts T4 into T3. If you are unable to convert T4 to T3, your laboratory tests for T4 may be normal, but you still may have all the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Talk to your doctor about including T3 laboratory tests in your treatment.
Your health care provider will prescribe a synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine (Levothroid, Synthroid, or Unithroid) that you will take daily. A natural dessicated thyroid hormone drug, made from the thyroid glands of pigs, is also available by prescription. Your doctor will want to adjust your dose over a period of several weeks, after regular blood tests to check the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood. Correcting hypothyroidism improves cardiovascular risk factors.
If you have hypothyroidism, you need conventional medical treatment. Nutrition and herbs can help support conventional treatment, but should not be used by themselves to treat hypothyroidism. Studies show, for example, that practicing yoga can help hypothyroid patients manage disease-related symptoms.
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
These supplements may also help:
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your provider to diagnose your problem before starting treatment. You may use herbs may as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). People with a history of alcoholism should not take tinctures. Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures singly or in combination as noted.
Few herbs have been studied for treating hypothyroidism. More research is needed.
Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.
Contrast hydrotherapy (application of hot and cold) to the neck and throat may stimulate thyroid function. Alternate 3 minutes hot with 1 minute cold. Repeat 3 times for 1 set. Do 2 to 3 sets per day.
Acupuncture may be helpful in correcting hormonal imbalances, including thyroid disorders.
After you start on thyroid hormone replacement therapy, your provider will frequently monitor its effectiveness. It is especially important to have your thyroid levels tested during pregnancy, as your needs tent to increase by about 30% when you are expecting. Over replacement is common, and may increase the risk of other conditions, such as atrial fibrillation and osteoporosis.
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Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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