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General Description

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is an endocrine condition which occurs when the thyroid gland experiences slowed functionality due to a decrease in thyroid hormone production.  The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland located just above the collarbone. As a member of the endocrine system, the thyroid is responsible for controlling many aspects of bodily function, most notably metabolism and hormone regulation.

Hypothyroidism is a notoriously under-diagnosed condition, and even specialists in endocrinology have a hard time coming to a consensus as to how prevalent the condition is. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the adult population in the United States, or around 13 million people, suffer from decreased thyroid function. However, some specialists place the numbers much higher and estimate that around 40% of the population, or over 52 million adults in the United States, may suffer from decreased thyroid function.

Symptoms

There is a considerable variety of symptoms associated with hypothyroidism due to the fact that the thyroid is responsible for regulating elements of almost every other system in the body. The result is a host of symptoms which run the gamut from the physical to the emotional to the totally unexpected.

Common symptoms of low thyroid function can include:

  • low body temperature
  • dry skin
  • weight gain
  • brittle nails
  • headaches
  • hair loss
  • cold hands or feet
  • dizziness
  • acne
  • infertility
  • dry eyes
  • cold intolerance
  • low blood pressure
  • elevated cholesterol
  • constipation
  • easy bruising
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • brain fog
  • reduced ability to concentrate
  • increased anxiety
  • compromised short term memory
  • recurrent infections
  • Low resting body temperature
  • More severe premenstrual and menstrual symptoms
  • yellowing of the palms

According to Dr. Broda Barnes, author of Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness, over 47 distinct symptoms of low thyroid function have been identified, with most of them not quantifiable through blood tests. The American Council on Collaborative Medicine asserted a similar opinion in the April 1999 article, “The Much Mis-Diagnosed Malady,” stating that many patients who experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism find that initial tests and blood work do not immediately identify hypothyroidism as the issue.

For more valuable information on the symptoms of hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Causes

Unfortunately, there is no one cause for hypothyroidism.  Instead, myriad hypothyroidism causes have been identified by endocrinologists and health practitioners over the years as contributing to decreased hormone production.

  • Hashimoto’s Disease - One cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune condition that occurs when the white blood cells of the body mistakenly and chronically attack the thyroid, thereby destroying its ability to produce hormones.
  • Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies - Many thyroid health practitioners point to specific mineral deficiencies as potential causes of the condition, with iodine and selenium deficiencies as primary culprits.  Both iodine and selenium are absorbed by the thyroid gland and are essential to the production of thyroid hormones, as well as overall thyroid health.  However, insufficient amounts of chromium, iron, copper, zinc, Vitamin A and several Vitamin B complexes have also been identified as causes.
  • Pesticides, Toxins, and Pollutants - Pesticides, pollution, and other contaminants can affect the functionality of the thyroid and cause a decrease in thyroid function.  Still others have found that certain medications, such as steroids, birth control, and lithium can contribute to hypothyroidism.  There have even been some reports that emotional or physical stress can also strain thyroid hormone production.

For more valuable information on the causes of hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Traditional Treatments

The traditional form of treatment for hypothyroidism utilizes prescription medication to supplement or replace the amount of thyroid hormones in the body. Thyroid replacement therapy has been utilized for decades as the number one way to deal with thyroid concerns. The benefit of such prescribed therapies are that most patients generally feel better within four months of beginning treatment and notice a significant decrease in their symptoms.

  • Levothyroixine Supplements - Levothyroxine supplements replace the amount of T4 hormone in the blood stream. T4 is the inactive hormone that the thyroid gland produces which is converted into the active metabolic hormone T3. The most popular brands of levothyroxine supplements include Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid and Levothroid. Levothyroxine supplements are the most commonly prescribed form of thyroid replacement therapy medication.
  • Triiodothyronine Supplements - Triiodothyronine supplements, also known as T3 preparations, increase the amount of active T3 hormone in the blood stream. T3 is a hormone produced by the thyroid gland which enters into cells and is responsible for catalyzing metabolic function. The most popular brand name prescription of T3 preparation is Cytomel. Many endocrinologists and a variety of published studies have found that incorporating a small amount of Cytomel into a patient’s thyroid replacement regime can significantly improve symptoms and increase overall quality of life. When combined with a T4 preparation, Cytomel and generic T3 preparations have been shown to specifically improve the symptoms of depression, brain fog, anxiety, and irritability. 
  • Levothyroxine and Triiodothyronine Combinations - Almost all levothyroxine and triiodothyronine combination preparations are pig derived thyroid hormones which naturally incorporate both T4 and T3 as well as other byproducts of thyroid production, such as selenium. The most popular brand of combination therapy is Armour thyroid, however there are several other brands on the market. Many patients claim a significant improvement in their wellbeing after switching from an isolated T4 or synthetic T3 to a natural medication. However, as of September 2009, many of the most popular brands of combination therapies have been pulled from the market by the FDA.  

For more valuable information on traditional treatments for hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Misdiagnosis of Symptoms

Many patients find that one of the most challenging elements of hypothyroidism is that its symptoms are often misdiagnosed as another condition.  The hallmark symptoms of the condition, such as weight gain, fatigue, low mood, and constipation, can often appear to medical professionals as independent or unrelated issues. 

One factor that often results in a misdiagnosis of hypothyroidism is that companion conditions and symptoms are easier to immediately identify and therefore mistaken for the root of a patient’s issues. Such conditions overlap with or are the result of hypothyroidism, however treatment of their symptoms will not address the underlying cause.  The result is that a patient may be diagnosed with several associated conditions, such as depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but the root cause will remain undiagnosed and untreated.    

If you receive a diagnosis of one of the conditions below, but suspect you might suffer from hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease, we advise you to seek out a second opinion or contact an endocrinologist or alternative healer versed in thyroid dysfunction. To prevent misdiagnosis of your hypothyroid symptoms, but sure to go to your appointment armed with as detailed observations of your health as possible. 

  • Depression - Depression is an emotional state characterized by persistent and pervasive low mood. Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety, abnormal irritability, carbohydrate cravings, lack of interest in daily activities or work, lowered libido, and persistent mental and physical fatigue. Depression and hypothyroidism share many symptoms in common, such as weight gain, loss of interest in daily activities, and fatigue, which may lead untrained medical professionals to mistake the two.  If you suffer from hypothyroidism but are diagnosed with depression, you will note that while your mood may lift with prescription drugs you will still experience other symptoms of low thyroid function, such as intolerance to cold, constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, and dry skin.
  • Aging - In patients over 50, the characteristic symptoms of hypothyroidism are often written off as simple signs of aging.  While there is evidence that an individual’s thyroid function deteriorates over time and contributes to aging, simple hormone replacement or alternative remedies can reduce the amount of decline and prevent it from negatively affecting quality of life.  If you have hypothyroidism but are told your symptoms are simply a product of getting older, you will continue to experience a reduction in mental and physical well being, energy, and capacity quicker and more profoundly than your peers. We at Health911 strongly recommend you seek a second opinion immediately if your health care provider brushes your symptoms off casually by suggesting it is aging.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition that is characterized by an individual experiencing constant serious fatigue that is not relieved by rest or sleep. This fatigue gets worse after physical exertion or stress.  The condition is not fully understood by the medical community at this time, and both a cause and cure have yet to be identified. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is hard to quantify and therefore should not be given as a diagnosis until all other potential causes for the fatigue are eliminated.  If you receive a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, be sure to press your health care provider to check your thyroid levels.  
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Irritable Bowel Syndrome, known better simply as IBS, is an intestinal disorder characterized by a host of gastrointestinal symptoms including increased flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, and cramping. Many patients who suffer from hypothyroidism have reported one of the conditions they are often initially diagnosed with is IBS characterized by constipation.  A sluggish digestive system can explain fatigue, weight gain, irritability, and a general lack of energy.  This is where having detailed notes about your symptoms will play a key role, especially information regarding your lowered basal body temperature. Remember, if your medical professional jumps immediately to the conclusion of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, insist that your thyroid levels are checked. Click here to read more about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
For more valuable information on the potential misdiagnosis of hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Vitamins & Supplements

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the traditional treatment regimens for hypothyroidism which only utilize prescription medications are just mediocre solutions to a very complex condition. In response, over the past decade the mainstream endocrinology community has slowly but surely started augmenting - and in some cases totally replacing - prescription therapies with alternative therapies to provide truly comprehensive care. An extremely successful form of alternative treatment which is gaining traction is the use of vitamin and mineral supplements to both assist prescription medication and stimulate thyroid function.

  • Iodine - Iodine is required for proper thyroid function and is an essential element in both T4 and T3. Many posit that some form of iodine deficiency is the number one cause of hypothyroidism after Hashimoto's disease. An iodine deficiency can be easily corrected through a variety of supplement options.  One of the most popular supplemental iodine brands is the Formula II Iosol Iodine, a liquid supplement that contains 153 mcg of iodine in each teaspoon.  Lugol’s Iodine liquid supplement, containing 130 mcg of iodine, has received similar praise from users who claim it is “life changing.” Iodine can also be taken in the form of kelp tablets. Icelandic kelp tablets each contain 225 mcg of iodine and can be taken throughout the day to mitigate symptoms. 
  • Zinc - Adequate levels of zinc are vital for optimal thyroid function; the best way to increase your levels of zinc is by eating zinc rich foods, such as meats and seafood. The NIH reports that the body has no ability to produce or store zinc, so fresh supplies must be ingested daily to maintain appropriate levels. The NIH places the upper limit for Zinc at 10 mcg. 
  • Selenium - Aside from iodine, few supplements have garnered as much attention and praise over the past 10 years as selenium for improving symptoms of hypothyroidism. It is an essential element in the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone to the active version. Selenium is also a well-known anti-oxidant that can help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. It is recommended that individuals start by taking 200 mcg of selenium along with their prescription treatment and encourages them to slowly increase their dose to 400 mcg daily over a period of a month.
  • B Vitamins - A variety of B vitamins play crucial roles in normal thyroid function, making them excellent supplements to other types of treatment. They are known to assist in metabolic function, and B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B6 are important factors in the production of T4. Therefore, including a B vitamin complex which includes these specific elements is particularly recommended for individuals who suffer from low T4 production.
  • Additional Supplements - In addition to these well-known supplements, there are several other vitamin and mineral supplements that practitioners have found successful for treating the symptoms of hypothyroidism. The amino acid tyrosine shows promise for improving low thyroid function, while vitamin A, vitamin E, and Coenzyme Q10 are also potential helps. 

For more valuable information on vitamin and mineral therapies for hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Talk with your Doctor

To make sure you get the treatment and solutions you need to experience thyroid function at optimal levels, it is vital that you advocate for your own health through asking questions of your health care professional and educating yourself.  If you suspect you may be suffering from thyroid dysfunction, use the guide below to start getting the information and treatment you need from your health care providers.   

  • Keep a Symptoms Journal: If you are starting to suspect you may suffer from hypothyroidism, the first thing you need to do is record your observations regarding the nature, severity, frequency, and duration of any symptoms you experience in a Symptoms Journal.  Take note of anything out of the ordinary, from mood shifts to bowel movement changes. After you have 2-3 weeks of data recorded in your Symptoms Journal, review what you have observed and, if you feel something is out of the ordinary, call your health care provider and make an appointment to investigate.  Be sure to take your Symptoms Journal with you to the appointment!
  • Ask The Right Questions: Help direct the examination with your health care provider and also advocate for yourself by asking specific questions regarding what they are noticing.  Here are a few questions to ask as they are performing a physical exam:
  • Is my pulse slowed?
  • Does my heart beat sound regular?
  • Have I gained or lost weight since my last visit?
  • Is my body temperature lower than normal?
  • Request Certain Tests: When you are at your appointment with your health care provider, insist they order blood tests checking your thyroid hormone levels.

For more valuable information on talking to your doctor about hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Wellness Plan

Promoting general thyroid wellness is essential to healing hypothyroidism. Incorporating the elements below into your daily lifestyle can positively influence the healing process and help alleviate your symptoms sooner as well as lay the foundation for continued thyroid health.

  • Remove unnecessary toxins from your life as soon as possible. Cut down on alcohol consumption, tobacco products, recreational drugs, and high amounts of carbohydrates and sugars in your diet.
  • Eat organic and whole grain.  Consuming hormonally supplemented meat, eggs, and vegetables can strain your body’s ability to synthesize hormones and fight off infection.
  •  Drink adequate amounts of water.  It is recommended you drink one ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight.
  • Avoid caffeinated and carbonated drinks.
  • Ensure you are getting enough fiber on a daily basis through supplements or dietary sources.
  • Take between 30-60 minutes of exercise daily. Be sure to slowly increase the length and severity of your exercise to give your body time to adjust. Even walking for 30-45 minutes daily will make a big positive influence on your thyroid health.
  • Reduce your intake of dairy and gluten containing products as they strain the digestive system and may contribute to the development of thyroid conditions.
  • Have your thyroid hormone levels checked once every 3-4 months to ensure you are adequately managing your condition.
  • Maintain close communication with your health care provider or natural remedy specialist to make small adjustments or tweaks in your treatment as needed and in a timely fashion
For more valuable wellness tips for hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

Remedies

Here is an overview of some of the most well known and respected herbs used for the treatment of hypothyroidism. It should be noted that the following list of herbal supplements should not be considered a definitive analysis of potential side effects, results, or drug interactions. The information provided here is for reference and education only, and Health 911 does not claim that it is professional medical advice. Before including any supplements into your daily diet, consult your healthcare professional.

  • St. John’s Wort - St. John’s Wort is a one of the 370 species found in the plant family Hypericum. Several clinical trials have proven that St. John’s Wort was equally as effective as SSRI antidepressants for alleviating symptoms of major depressive episodes while creating fewer, less severe side effects. St. John’s Wort has been shown to cause interactions with certain medications. Most notably, it has shown to reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. If you are currently taking any prescription medications, it is recommended you check with your doctor before starting a St. John’s Wort supplement.
  •  Bladderwrack - Bladderwrack is one of the most commonly recommended herbs to treat hypothyroidism. Technically known as fucus vesiculosus, bladderwrack is a form of seaweed which is sometimes mislabeled as kelp. It is known to provide benefits for hypothyroid individuals due to its significant levels of iodine. It is recommended that about 5 to 10 g, or about a tablespoon, daily into food. In spite of its popularity, many herbalists and thyroid professionals note that bladderwrack will only be an effective form of herbal treatment for hypothyroidism if the patient is suffering from an iodine deficiency. There is little evidence to suggest that individuals who have adequate levels of iodine in their system will benefit from the herb.
  • Ginseng - Ginseng is a key herbal treatment for hypothyroidism because of its energy stimulating properties. It is considered a “nourishing stimulant,” in other words a stimulating agent that not only increases energy but also provides additional homeopathic benefits. Unlike caffeine, ginseng does not have a reputation for causing jitters or anxiety. Individuals should take between 3 to 5 g daily under the supervision of a certified herbalist or medical professional.
  •  Green Oats - There has been some suggestion among herbalists that avena sativa, also known as Green oats, is an effective remedy for low thyroid function. Green oats carry high concentrations of both soluble fiber and protein, two dietary elements that hypothyroid individuals are typically in need of. Green oats can help alleviate some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as constipation, abdominal bloating, and hair and nail thinness.  The high-protein content will also help keep blood sugar stabilized, encouraging metabolic function and decrease in risk of diabetes. 
  • Spirulina - Spirulina is an edible algae that contains high levels of many valuable nutrients, including vitamin B, iron, and amino acids. Spirulina also contains extremely high levels of protein. It is known as an excellent blood detoxifier and has been shown to lower cholesterol levels as well. Spirulina is a well respected herbal remedy for hypothyroidism because it contains high levels of iodine, beta carotene, and tyrosine. It has also been known to stimulate immune function, which can be slowed by an underactive thyroid.  Spirulina also supports weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, an issue that plagues most hypothyroid patients.
  • Primrose oil - Evening primrose oil is often used for the treatment of hair loss, one of the most disturbing symptoms of hypothyroidism. Primrose oil provides essential fatty acids that can stop the unnecessary loss of hair and in fact help hair re-grow. The essential fatty acids in primrose oil are also helpful in strengthening brittle nails and reducing instances of nail peeling.
  • Ayurvedic herbs - Ayuvedic herbs are a class of Indian plants which have been proved effective in treating thyroid problems, such as constipation, sluggish metabolism, weight gain or stubborn weight loss.  Ayurvedic herbs like ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), guggul (Commiphora murkul), and kachnar (Bauhinia pupurea) stimulate the body to produce thyroid hormones naturally. It is recommended an individual take one 500 mg tablet three times daily with meals.

For more valuable information on herbal remedies for hypothyroidism, check out our full length report!

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Disclaimer: Health911 Media, Inc., Health911.com, and any emails you receive from this website, provides health, fitness and nutritional information. This information is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem, condition or disease, or use it as a substitute for any medication or other treatment therapy. The statements provided with any product on this web site have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional. Some of the health imagery courtesy of Wikipedia.