Thursday, June 10, 2010
Undiagnosed Hypothyroidism: Could This Be You?
By Holly Lucille, ND, RN for NEEDS Natural News
Hypothyroidism, the most common type of thyroid disorder, occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, as many as 27 million Americans may have some type of thyroid disorder. Of that number, approximately half remain undiagnosed. Managing hypothyroidism requires a comprehensive understanding of its effects, its fluctuations, and the targeted nutritional strategies that can restore optimal thyroid function.
The thyroid is located in the middle of the neck, just below the “Adams apple” or larynx. This gland utilizes iodine to make thyroid hormones, including thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid is under the control of the pituitary gland, a small gland found at the base of the brain. If the levels of thyroid hormones drop too low, the pituitary gland produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid to make more T3 and T4—raising their levels in the blood. When the pituitary gland detects increased levels of T3 and T4 in the blood stream, it then decreases its TSH production. The pituitary gland gets its information in several ways. It is able to detect and respond directly to the amounts of T4 circulating in the blood, but it also responds to the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that releases its own hormone, thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). This network of communication between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the thyroid gland is often referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT axis).
Once released into the blood stream, T3 and T4 are transported throughout the body to regulate numerous physiologic functions, including metabolism. In the case of hypothyroidism, the thyroid does not produce enough T3 and T4. Often, hypothyroidism is not diagnosed because the signs and symptoms are easily confused with other conditions, such as the natural aging process, menopause, or stress. Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include: fatigue, weakness, weight gain, coarse/dry hair, hair loss, dry/rough skin, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles, pallor, cold intolerance, muscle aches/cramps, constipation, depression, irritability, and decreased libido. Often, individuals will have “normal” lab results, but may still be symptomatic. This is referred to as subclinical or sublaboratory hypothyroidism. Regardless of the severity of hypothyroidism, if left untreated, it can affect the cardiovascular system, reproductive system and other major organs.
Modern Day Influences:
Ultimately, hypothyroidism is due to an imbalance in the HPT axis. In most cases, the imbalance has multiple causes, including stress, excess hormones, and many other factors. The body is hardwired to respond a certain way to dangerous situations. This “fight or flight” response prepares the body to either run away from the danger (e.g., bear) or confront the danger (e.g., fight the bear). During these fight or flight” responses, a hormone called cortisol is secreted in higher levels and is responsible for several stressrelated changes (increase in blood pressure, lower sensitivity to pain, etc.). After the perceived threat is gone, the body’s relaxation response is activated and cortisol levels return to normal. However, in modern times, the “fight or flight” response may be constantly activated and cortisol levels remain high.
Our modern day lifestyle and the chronic stress it produces can profoundly effect thyroid function. Studies have demonstrated that stress, no matter how induced, is capable of altering thyroid hormone levels. In addition, combining several different stressful factors (sleep deprivation, calorie restriction, and intense physical activity) has been shown to have a synergistic effect on thyroid hormone levels. Exogenous hormones, such as HRT and xenoestrogens, have also been shown to interfere with thyroid function. A 2007 study suggests that the thiocyanate in tobacco smoke interacts with other substances to affect thyroid function—yet another reason to kick the smoking habit. Other factors that have been shown to affect thyroid function include insulin resistance, nutritional deficiencies, poor digestion, dysbiosis, goitrogens, genetics, and aging.
Supporting Thyroid Function: Safe, Natural Alternatives
When looking at optimizing thyroid function, we need to first look closely at such basic factors as diet, sleep, and stress reduction. Achieving the recommended 7-9 hours of deep sleep each night is crucial for overall health in general. Because stress plays such an integral role in thyroid health, individuals should look at incorporating stress-reducing practices into their daily routine, whether it’s taking a yoga class or just spending five minutes doing some deep breathing exercises. Another key to managing thyroid hormone production is to ensure the thyroid glands are well-nourished. However, the reality is that most individuals don’t get the recommended daily allowances of nutrients from their diets. Supplements can play in integral role, in conjunction with a healthy diet, in achieving optimal nutritional intake.
Quality Supplements for Supporting Thyroid Function Should Contain the Following Nutrients:
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins, including B6, C, and pantothenic acid are important to supporting thyroid function. vitamin B6 is considered the key vitamin in processing amino acids, such as L-tyrosine, which are the building blocks of all proteins and some hormones. Pantothenic acid is also necessary in the synthesis of hormones. A water-soluble nutrient, pantothenic acid must be replenished each day. Since it is not stored in the body, it is essential to have vitamin C each day. Vitamin C has been shown to help boost the immune system, which may need extra support during periods of chronic stress. Minerals, including iodine, zinc, and copper, are essential to thyroid health. The thyroid just absorb at least 60 mcg of iodine daily to ensure proper hormone production. Iodine combines with tyrosine, an amino acid to produce thyroid hormones. Adequate levels of zinc and copper are required for many endocrinological processes, including support of thyroid function and thyroid hormone metabolism.
Other Beneficial Nutrients
Betaine works with B vitamins to synthesize amino acids and is a precursor to SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-Methionine). Licorice reduces the stress response and helps to inhibit the breakdown of cortisol. The amino acid L-Tyrosine combines with iodine for the production of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Glandular extracts provide nutritional support for metabolism and immune system responses. Thyroid extract provides nutritional support of thyroid function, while adrenal polypeptide fractions and adrenal cortex extract help support adrenal gland function.