Thyroid Diagnosis and Treatment
One little gland can cause so many problems! If you’re tired, moody, and gaining weight unexpectedly, your thyroid may be underactive. But if you’re nervous, edgy, and sleepless, your thyroid may be in overdrive. These difficulties may sound like annoyances, but thyroid disturbances, even ones that seem trivial, can be life threatening.
Your thyroid is a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland, nestled in the space between your Adam’s apple and windpipe, where it oversees the body’s metabolism. (Women do have an Adam’s apple, but smaller than men’s typically are.)
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid manufactures metabolism-related hormones. When the thyroid malfunctions, the consequences are disastrous. Among the most common thyroid-related problems: weight management, sleep issues, mood variability, and libido disorders. You may be tempted to blame these issues on aging, but you don’t have to accept these problems as growing old gracelessly.
Identifying Thyroid Trouble
A swollen thyroid gland causing a noticeable lump in the front of the throat. Linked to iodine deficiency. Typically painless and easily corrected.
Typically benign small growths on the thyroid gland. Generally discovered during physician examination, must be tested to make sure they’re benign.
Symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, coughing, hoarseness, or swelling of the neck. 97% five year survival rate.
A hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) autoimmune disease. Often a pregnancy complication. Existing autoimmune disorders increase susceptibility.
Hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid) disease most common in those over 40. May cause bulging, swollen, or teary eyes.
Among my patients, the most common thyroid problems are either too little or too much hormone production. The causes of thyroid disorders run the gamut from radiation to toxins, certain medical procedures, prescription medications, or an excess of soy in the diet.
Low energy: low libido, fatigue, low heart rate, low appetite
Emotional: depression, irritability, brain fog
Appearance: unexplained weight gain, dry skin, hair loss
Discomfort: temperature sensitivity, achy joints or muscles
Heart: high blood pressure, rapid pulse, irregular heartbeat
Emotional: Anxiety, irritability
Appearance: weight loss, hair loss, protruding eyes, dry and scaly skin
Energy: increased appetite, weakness, exhaustion, difficulty sleeping
Discomfort: heat sensitivity, tremors, muscle cramps, migraines
Knowing Your Numbers
An under- or overactive thyroid can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Not doing so can result in a worsening of either condition. But first, the problem has to be diagnosed, and that’s where medical experts don’t always agree. Not all practitioners interpret test results the same way. So numbers that one physician believes are normal could be labeled problematic by another.
Thyroid testing usually begins with a blood test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Your doctor may tell you results between 0.5 and 5 mIU/L are considered normal. But the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists consider 0.3 to 3 miU/L a more accurate benchmark because less-serious imbalances are included in that range.
If your results are in the low-normal range, you should test for free triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine(T4) or thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation tests, as well as a thyroid ultrasound. And, I frequently find that patients with normal thyroid tests, but having an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, can be diagnosed from a test for elevated thyroid antibodies.
It’s easy to self-test, too. Using a basal body thermometer, as soon as you awaken in the morning, place the thermometer under your arm for ten minutes, and be as still as possible. Record your temperature, repeat the process for ten consecutive mornings, and average the results. If your average score is below 97.6 °F, you may have an underactive thyroid. Be aware that low temperature can have multiple causes; it can be just a side-effect of aging. If your temperature is consistently low, please talk to your physician about thyroid testing.
Now that you know you have thyroid problems, what do you do next?
Treating Thyroid Trouble
Thyroid treatment is not a do-it-yourself project. You will want to work closely with your physician to monitor your thyroid’s hormone status. Medication is available for both under- and overactive thyroids.
But treatment doesn’t end there. I encourage my patients and you to make dietary changes and follow my guidelines for healthy weight, exercise, sleep, and water intake.
Understanding Diet Don’ts
That said, there is one dietary issue you should understand—goitrogenic foods. I typically recommend eating more cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli or kale, for their cancer-fighting benefits. However, cruciferous vegetables are goitrogenic, meaning they suppress thyroid activity.
These normally healthy foods help reduce symptoms of an overactive thyroid. But they backfire for hypothyroid patients, especially when eaten raw. My advice: Eat these foods cooked and in moderation. Other goitrogenic foods to avoid: peanuts, flax seed, strawberries, pears, peaches, spinach, bamboo shoots, and sweet potatoes.
Taking Thyroid-Supportive Supplements
Supplements for an underactive thyroid
Vitamin B complex: I suggest a product containing 100 mg eachof the most important Bs (thiamin or B1, riboflavin or B2, pantothenic acid or B5, and pyridoxine or B6) and lesser amounts of the others. It should be taken two or three times daily for maximum effectiveness.
L-tyrosine: This amino acid combines with iodine to produce thyroid hormones. I recommend taking500 mg twice daily on an empty stomach.
Supplements for an overactive thyroid
Vitamin B complex: Look for a balanced formula containing 50 mg each of the important Bs, and take one dose two times per day.
Melatonin: Since melatonin is involved in sleep regulation, it can be very helpful for dealing with insomnia and other sleep issues. If sleep is a problem, I suggest women take 2 mg of melatonin (men can take 3 mg) just before bedtime.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of thyroid disease, please see your doctor immediately. In my practice, I’ve found that natural thyroid hormone can be a safe and effective remedy. Combine proper medication with lifestyle changes that support good health overall, and you can reverse symptoms and enjoy a healthy, functioning thyroid once again.