Could It Be Your Thyroid?
Julian Whitaker, MD
Are you often fatigued, despite getting adequate sleep? Have you tried every diet under the sun but simply cannot lose weight? Do you have high cholesterol or triglycerides? Are you forgetful, lethargic, or depressed? Do you have chronic constipation? Dry skin, or thinning hair? Cold hands and feet?
You may well have hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, a condition that affects up to 10 percent of Americans (about half of them unknowingly). Women are considerably more susceptible than men, and incidence increases with age—as many as one in five women over age 50 may be afflicted.
Hypothyroidism is not a benign condition. In addition to the common symptoms listed above, it also increases risk of heart attack, immune dysfunction, and infertility. And because thyroid hormones play an integral role in fetal growth and development, children born to women with low thyroid are at increased risk of neurological problems and lower IQs.
Hypothyroidism Is Often Overlooked
If you complain to your conventional doctor about any of these symptoms, he may not think to look at thyroid function. After all, lipid abnormalities, depression, constipation, and other signs of hypothyroidism could be due to a variety of factors. At best, he’ll run a blood test for thyroid function.
The most sensitive of these tests is thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH, which is made in the pituitary gland, acts like a thermostat for thyroid hormone formation and release. When levels are low, TSH increases and signals the thyroid to pump up production.
However, this test is far from foolproof. It’s not uncommon for patients with a normal TSH to have low levels of active thyroid hormones. Nevertheless, if your TSH falls within the normal range, your doctor is not likely to give you thyroid replacement to see if it improves your condition.
At Whitaker Wellness, we treat people—not lab test results. If a patient has signs and symptoms of low thyroid function, we’ll give them a trial of natural thyroid replacement, and they often respond beautifully.
Thyroid Replacement Turns Lives Around
One of these patients is Stephanie, who just didn’t feel right. She had no appetite, she was sluggish and sleeping poorly, and even though she was working out, her weight wouldn’t budge. Although her thyroid blood tests were in the normal range, I placed her on a low dose of natural thyroid and asked her to monitor her basal temperature when she woke up in the morning.
At first, her temperature was in the low 96s—a clear sign of hypothyroidism—but it slowly began to increase. Today, eight months later, Stephanie feels great. Her energy and appetite have bounced back, she’s lost weight, she’s sleeping better, and she doesn’t get sick as often.
Israeli researchers came up with similar results in a 2007 study. They measured the blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cognitive status, triglycerides, LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels of 57 women who had hypothyroidism or subclinical (mild) hypothyroidism but were not undergoing treatment for it. Study participants were then started on thyroid replacement therapy. After three months there were improvements across the board. Blood pressure and BMI went down, and lipid profiles and cognitive function improved.
At first glance, all these benefits might seem too good to be true, but when you consider that the metabolism of every cell in your body is dependent upon thyroid hormones, it makes perfect sense.
Synthroid Versus Armour Thyroid
The most important thyroid hormones are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Although T4 is the more abundant of the two, T3 is much more active. In fact, only after T4 is converted into T3 is it able to enter the cells and exert its widespread effects.
The most popular thyroid replacement drug is Synthroid, a synthetic version of T4 alone. I’ve never understood conventional medicine’s infatuation with Synthroid. Natural thyroid (Armour thyroid) contains T3, T4, and the entire gamut of thyroid hormones. Not only is T3 the most active thyroid hormone, but as we get older, we become less efficient at converting T4 into T3—which may explain the age-related rise in hypothyroidism and why Synthroid fails to work in some older patients.
When I see a patient who requires supplemental thyroid, I write a prescription for natural Armour thyroid. Many people who have been on Synthroid previously blossom after they switch to natural thyroid. Alice, a Health & Healing subscriber, took Synthroid for decades but was unable to lose weight or clear up a host of other health problems. She asked her doctor to replace it with natural thyroid, and within eight months, she lost 30 pounds, had energy to burn, and reported improvements in her overall health.
Nutrients for Thyroid Support
I’m often asked about nutrients for boosting thyroid function. The thyroid gland uses iodine to produce hormones, so it’s important to get enough of this mineral. Yet our average iodine level is just half of what it was 30 years ago. This may be due to dietary factors or to environmental toxins that interfere with iodine uptake and possibly thwart thyroid function. These include fluoride in water, thiocyanate (in cigarette smoke), and perchlorate (a contaminant from rocket fuel that is pervasive in our water and food).
To increase your intake, eat iodine-rich seafood (seaweed is especially abundant in this nutrient). Iodine content in other foods varies according to the mineral levels in the soil where they’re grown. Our primary source of iodine is iodized salt, but half the salt sold in this country—including sea salt, kosher salt, and salt used to make pickles and flavor pretzels and nuts—is not iodized.
Most multivitamins contain the RDA of iodine (150 mcg), and supplements with kelp or other sources of iodine may have up to 600 mcg. These may be helpful, but some people do not tolerate supplemental iodine well. Before you bump up your intake significantly, I suggest having your urine iodine level tested.
Selenium is another nutrient that supports the thyroid. A common underlying cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid gland. Recent studies have shown that 200 mcg of supplemental selenium helps decrease autoimmune-induced inflammation.
Finally, there are over-the-counter products that contain animal thyroid and other glandular tissues. While I’m not averse to OTC products with these ingredients (prescription Armour thyroid is desiccated, or dried, porcine thyroid), I prefer prescription natural thyroid. Its dosage level can be properly monitored, and it’s safe, inexpensive, and highly effective in restoring thyroid function and improving quality of life.
- If you have any of the symptoms discussed in this article, talk to your doctor about testing your TSH level. If it’s in the normal range, request tests for free T3 and T4 (the unbound, physiologically active forms). Even if everything checks out, a closely monitored trial of natural thyroid is warranted.
- If you’re taking Synthroid, consider switching to natural thyroid. If your doctor is prejudiced against it, consider calling (866) 944-8253 to set up an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.
- Arinzon Z, et al. Evaluation response and effectiveness of thyroid hormone replacement treatment on lipid profile and function in elderly patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2007 Jan–Feb;44(1):13–19.
- Blount BC, et al. Urinary perchlorate and thyroid hormone levels in adolescent and adult men and women living in the United States. TSH. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Oct;114:1865–1871.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2007. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.