What Causes Thyroid Problems?
For those of you who are a little too young to have worked in the mines (this applies to pretty much everyone under 150, by the way…), you may not be aware of the term “yellow canary.” The coal miners used to keep a yellow canary in a cage when they were in the mines. If levels of toxic gases like carbon dioxide started to rise, the canary, with a faster respiratory rate, would keel over. This was your warning, as a miner, to get the heck out of the mine
Well…to put it in perspective, the thyroid is the human body’s yellow canary.
Of all the organ systems, it seems like the thyroid is affected first. Maybe this is because it is the organ responsible for matching metabolism to environmental stressors. It would make sense that, for instance, our metabolism would need to slow if famine in an area led to a lower availability of calories.
With the thyroid being the yellow canary of the human body, anything that creates a stress on the system is going to affect it. This can range from starvation to chemical toxicity to emotional stress.
I distinctly remember a mid 30’s patient that came in several years ago. He was on Synthroid, which I thought was unusual given that his health was otherwise pretty good. I gave him my “yellow canary” speech and this is when he informed me that he worked in the mines here in AZ for years. Given his exposure to heavy metals in the mines, this totally makes sense.
The major problem, however, is with the way mainstream medicine manages thyroid problems. In this particular patient’s case, the heavy metals he had been exposed to have been shown to increase the risk of cancer, kidney failure, high blood pressure and Alzheimers dementia.
By ignoring the underlying cause of his symptoms of thyroid problems, his physician left him at risk for other life-threatening conditions.
So…what exactly causes thyroid problems?
Before we get to into what causes thyroid problems, it’s important to know why it all matters. Sure, you’re concerned if you have a bowel movement once a week or getting out of bed in the morning requires a cattle prod and 6 gallons of coffee. But what about those who have only minimal symptoms? Or worse, what if your symptoms of thyroid problem are really just a marker of something sinister going on, and taking thyroid hormone replacement doesn’t actually fix anything?
Why Care About Symptoms of Thyroid Problems?
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is the hormone produced by the pituitary to prod the thyroid gland into producing more thyroid hormone (as T4 and T3). So higher levels of TSH means that there is something wrong with the thyroid. It doesn’t tell you WHAT is causing the thyroid problems, it just points to the fact that there is a problem with the thyroid gland.
T4, TSH, T3 and Risk of Dying
In a study looking at a group of patients around 72 years of age to look at the relationship between the risk of dying and thyroid hormones. Here’s what they found:
- Over the next 13 years, TSH levels generally went up 13% with time
- The active form of T4 (free T4) levels increased a much smaller 1.7%
- As opposed to T4, there was a 13% decrease in total T3 levels
- For each ng/dl increase in T4 levels, the was a pretty scary 257% increased risk of dying
So what does this mean?
It is clear that as we age, the thyroid has a harder time functioning. This makes sense, considering that, over time, we accumulate more and more chemicals in our bodies. More chemicals will lead to thyroid problems (as we’ll see in the next section).
What may be happening in this study (and I’m purely pontificating here…) is that, over time, your thyroid needs more and more prodding. When prodded, the thyroid will produce more T4 (remember from part one of this article that the thyroid produces mainly T4. But for that T4 to really support good health, it needs to be converted to the more active form, T3.
If your body can’t convert very well from T4 to T3, your body still wants more T3. This will, in turn, drive more TSH and more T4 production.
As a result, you end up with higher TSH and higher T4, but NOT T3.
The follow-up question that you should be asking vaguely resembles the chicken and egg scenario.
Higher thyroid hormone levels (as T4) were clearly linked to higher risks of dying over the course of the study. Was it the lack of active thyroid hormone (T3) that led to a higher risk of dying, or was it THE THING THAT LED TO THE THYROID PROBLEM IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I’m hoping that you can tell, from the minor emphasis added, which one I leans towards.
By the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll understand this better.
Thyroid Hormone and Dying from Heart Disease
Remember that T3 is the most active form of thyroid hormone. This is the thyroid hormone that does the work in your body. Even more specifically, it is the T3 hormone that is not attached to protein (free T3) that does the work.
This means that free T3 is probably one of the best markers for how well your thyroid health is. And since the thyroid is the yellow canary of your body, a problem with free T3 levels may be a great marker for how healthy you really are.
Which matches really well with a study done on 573 heart disease patients that compared thyroid function with their risk of dying.
The results were a little surprising:
- Free T3 was the most important predictor of death, even more important than cholesterol problems, age and left ventricular heart function.
- To get specific, those with higher free T3 levels had a 60% lower risk of dying from ANY cause.
- Those with worse New York Heart Association (NYHA) classifications (III-IV) had lower free T3 levels.
The take home message is that thyroid function (specifically LOW thyroid function) plays a very clear role in how long you will live.
But again—is free T3 just a marker of just how healthy your body is, or is IT the cause of good or bad health?
Physical Performance and Thyroid Function
As you age, one of the most important things for you to retain is your ability to move and function physically. I think that most of us fear losing mobility as we age. The idea of losing the ability to drive, losing the ability to stop or get up from a fall and losing the ability to walk wherever and whenever you’d like is scary.
As I covered in part one of this article, your thyroid plays a big role in your ability to function in this capacity. To illustrate this point, researchers looked at the links between thyroid hormones and markers of physical function: activities of daily living, physical performance score (PPS), leg extensor strength and grip strength, bone density, and body composition. The group consisted of just over 400 men who were between 73–94 years of age.
Here’s what they found:
- Reverse T3 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) went up with age and when these men had been diagnosed with a disease.
- 63 men in the group had what was called low T3 syndrome (low T3 but higher reverse T3). These men with low T3 syndrome had a lower physical performance score (PPS).
- Higher free T4 and reverse T3 were linked to lower grip strength and PPS.
As you age, your thyroid function will play a role in just how well you will be able to function physically. The choices you make in your life will determine your thyroid’s ability to function. Your thyroid’s ability to function properly will play a direct role in how well you age.
In the next session I’ll begin to cover what choices we make and things we are exposed to that have strong influences on how your thyroid functions.
Chemicals as Causes of Thyroid Problems
The amount of chemicals you are exposed to in your daily life would shock you (unless, of course, you have already read my article on Toxicity that can be found by clicking here).
Every aspect of modern life leaves you exposed to chemicals that the human body has no idea what to do with. And trust me when I say that none of them actually improve your health.
Perchlorate Causes Thyroid Problems
I’m sure that all of you are intimately familiar with perchlorate, but for the three of you who slept through your toxicology class in grammar school, perchlorate is very commonly used as an industrial chemical. Fireworks and manufacturing plants are some of the main contributors to perchlorate use.
The problem is that perchlorate manages to find its way into the water supply way too easily. It is estimated that 26 states have detectible levels of perchlorate in the water supply that affects upwards of 20 million people. Due to the contamination of Lake Mead in Nevada, much of the cow’s milk produced in California has detectible levels of perchlorate from the cows eating grasses watered with contaminated water.
So why is this a problem?
Because perchlorate affects the thyroid, of course (otherwise, why would I bring it up in this article?).
Perchlorate has a strong enough effect on the thyroid gland to be used to treat hyperthyroidism. Potassium perchlorate has a long history of use for treating hyperthyroidism from Grave’s disease. (We’ll discuss why this is a bad idea shortly)
But that’s all fine and dandy for someone with hyperthyroidism to be treated by the medical community with perchlorate, but what about everyone else with normal thyroid function who get exposed to perchlorate in the water supply?
Turns out the story is just as bad as you’d expect. And maybe a little worse.
In a study done on almost 22,000 pregnant women, 487 of these women were diagnosed with hypothyroidism during their pregnancy. Researchers looked at 1st trimester perchlorate levels and found some disturbing stuff:
- Perchlorate was found in ALL women. Just to make it worse, in all women iodine levels were low.
- The moms who had the highest perchlorate levels had a 314% higher risk of having her child’s IQ being in the lowest 10%.
- Here is the important point: thyroid hormone therapy did not have an impact of perchlorate on offspring IQ.
While this study was designed to evaluate links between perchlorate in pregnancy and childhood IQ, the real story behind the study is that medicating the thyroid “problem” did nothing to change the consequences. In other words, these pregnant women, rather than ending their journal at a diagnosis of hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone replacement therapy, truly needed to figure out WHY their thyroids were not functioning properly and fix the problem.
In this case this would include identifying potential toxic exposures (just randomly checking for perchlorate levels would not be practical) and cutting these exposures out when possible.
Cooking Your Way to Thyroid Problems
Teflon. At one point it was considered the savior of kitchen pots and pans everywhere. DuPont practically won the Nobel Prize.
For those of you that are not brushed up on your organic chemistry, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, also known as C8) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are stable compounds with many industrial and consumer uses, including Teflon. PFOA has also been used in materials to make them stain-resistant (think Scotchguard). The problem is that these chemicals are very stable in the environment and have been linked to health concerns even at low-levels of chronic exposure.
And, of course, they yellow canary of the human body tops the list of organs affected by Teflon and Telfon-like chemicals.
In one study of almost 4,000 people, researchers looked at the links between thyroid function and blood concentrations for perfluorinated chemicals like Teflon. Here’s what they found:
- In women with higher levels of PFOA they were 224% more likely to have a thyroid disease diagnosis.
- In men with higher levels they were 212% more likely to have symptoms of thyroid problems.
This means that ANYTHING you have at home with non-stick coating needs to go in the garbage. NOW. Stainless steel is your best option. Cast iron is OK as well, but just a lot less functional (unless you’re camping over an open flame). I am still very leery of the new ceramic non-stick cookware and recommend patients avoid it until we know more information about potential health effects. There are some pricier cookware sets made with surgical stainless steel that are likely worth the money if you can afford it.
Bursting Your Thyroid into Flames
Safety first. Seat belts. Football helmets. And we can’t forget the use of flame retardants in clothing, furniture, bedding and pretty much anything else you may come in contact with that could potentially burst into flames spontaneously.
Which happens all the time.
I know that for me personally, I see things catch on fire all the time. I’m sure you do as well. Often enough to understand completely why we need to embed toxic materials in materials that we are in close personal contact with pretty much the entire day.
I mean—what is an organ of the body in comparison to not bursting into flames?? Seems like a fair trade off.
Just in case this doesn’t seem like a fair trade off to you, you really should understand just how much of an effect flame retardants have on your thyroid.
In part one of this article, I talked about the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, as well as the inactive form of T3, reverse T3 (rT3). T4 is not very active and needs to get converted to the much more active thyroid hormone T3.
What if your flame resistant shirt could affect your levels of T3?
The answer is a pretty strong yes. In one study, researchers looked at the relationship between rT3 levels and 41 different compounds in a chemical class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl esters (which thankfully go by the acronym PCBs).
In all cases, researchers found that, with higher exposures to these compounds T3 levels went down. Some chemicals also led to lower levels of free T4 (which is the protein-bound version of T4, which is the form that hormones have to be in to be used by the body).
In other words, all of these chemicals had some degree of negative effect of the function of the thyroid and production of thyroid hormones.
This means that you need to evaluate the materials in your home. How old is your couch? What about your dog beds? Your mattress (the flame resistant standards became horrendous in July of 2007 and companies originally jumped on using chemicals to meet the standards; more recently they have moved to naturally flame-resistant fabrics)? Blankets? Do you have air filters in the most used rooms of your house (many of these chemicals ride on house dust, only to get inhaled into your system)? What about the clothing you put on your kids, much of which has never been checked for safety?
These chemicals absolutely will affect your health, and your thyroid in particular. Avoid them as much as possible. (If you’d like to delve more deeply into the topic of avoiding common chemicals in society you can read my article on this topic by clicking here)
Prediabetes / Diabetes and Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
Lifestyle choices that lead to an increased risk of diabetes are probably the #1 cause of pretty much every chronic disease on the planet.
While it is beyond the scope of this article (if you’d like to know more, feel free to check out my eBook by clicking here), a diet that is high in processed foods, low in value and high in calories combined with a sedentary lifestyle will lead to diabetes.
But don’t think you’re protected just because your doctor “checked you and said you were OK.” Diabetes is a progression and even if you are on the pathway to diabetes, there’s a good chance that a heart attack, stroke or cancer will take you out before you get the diagnosis of diabetes.
The relationship between symptoms of thyroid problems and prediabetes / diabetes is very strong.
How much does prediabetes / diabetes impact the thyroid? Researchers looked at a group of patients with who had prediabetes, diabetes and thyroid problems to see how these conditions related. Here’s what they found:
- TSH levels were higher in the diabetic group.
- The volume of the thyroid was 75% higher in the diabetic patients and 62.5% higher in the prediabetic groups.
- The presence of thyroid nodules was 38% higher in the diabetic group and 27.6% higher in prediabetics (more on this in another section).
Something about the prediabetic / diabetic state is, to put it bluntly, pissing off the thyroid. This study looked at thyroid nodules, thyroid swelling and TSH levels. But what if there are links to things far more sinister?
What is more sinister?
Thyroid cancer (more on this later).
What’s scarier than thyroid cancer?
Dying from thyroid cancer.
If you’re afraid of dying from thyroid cancer, I have some good news. Thyroid cancer deaths are very strongly linked to prediabetes / diabetes and you have complete choice over whether or not you will become diabetic (with VERY few exceptions).
In one study, researchers looked at just how much diabetes was linked to dying from thyroid cancer in a massive study (almost 250,000 men and women). Pay attention to these numbers. And pay VERY close attention to what happens to the younger men and women:
- Men over 75 years of age had an 185% increased risk of dying from thyroid cancer, while women over 75 actually had a 22% lower risk of dying from thyroid cancer.
- Men who were between 65-74 years old had a 121% increased risk and women had a 203% increased risk of dying from thyroid cancer.
- Getting younger, men who were between 55-64 years old had a 253% risk, while women had a 299% higher risk of thyroid cancer death.
- Here’s the scarier group. The youngest group, men from 25-54 years old had a whopping 580% increased risk, while women, not to be outdone, had a 534% increased risk.
These are some serious numbers, and worse so because it hits the younger population far worse. Not that anyone should have any excuse NOT to make healthy, anti-diabetic lifestyle choices, but if you’ve got symptoms of thyroid problems, improving your lifestyle is not an option. Anything less and you’re risk of DYING skyrockets.
If you’ve been diagnosed by your primary care doctor with some type of thyroid problem, did he or she have a discussion with you on improving your lifestyle and lowering your risk of diabetes? Most likely not.
That clearly needs to change.
Celiac Disease / Gluten and Your Thyroid
As I pointed out in the last section, diet plays a massive role in thyroid problems. Especially as it relates to dietary and lifestyle choices that increase your risk for diabetes.
Twenty years ago, if I had brought up gluten sensitivity you might give me a blank stare. But over the years medicine and society have been brought up to speed on just how much this storage-grain-protein can wreak havoc on our health.
Ever since we could look at the lining of the gut under a microscope, medicine has grasped the concept of the far end of the spectrum of gluten sensitivity called celiac disease. But the human body does not work in black and white and there is a whole lot of grey when it comes to the immune system’s relationship to gluten.
Mainstream medicine has not been that good at recognizing this, and it is only in the past few years that I’ve started seeing the term “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” in the medical research. There is no doubt that this entity exists.
I have been aware of the relationship between gluten sensitivity and the thyroid for almost my entire practice life.
I remember a patient early in practice. He had been diagnosed with celiac disease based on the presence of dermatitis herpetiformis (blister like lesions over certain areas of the body like the elbows and knees) and put on dapsone (an antibiotic that is used for leprosy) to control the skin lesions. When he asked if he should avoid gluten, he was told no—he just needed to continue to take the drug.
Fine. Controlled the skin lesions (although lord knows what else was happening to his health in the meantime). For years.
Enter his daughter.
His daughter was infertile because of autoimmune thyroiditis. He had no grandchildren.
As we will see in a minute, there is a very clear association between celiac disease and autoimmune thyroiditis. Because my patient’s doctor never discussed the consequences of celiac disease and the absolute need for him to avoid gluten containing foods, he never had that discussion with his daughter and his daughter’s autoimmune thyroiditis was likely a result of her not avoiding gluten.
Wow. That should be malpractice. But it’s not.
Interestingly, after I had this conversation with my patient, the next week he came in he was fully on board with a gluten-free diet (and this was long before the whole “gluten-free craze”) and had purchased cookbooks to help him on his way.
Just what are the links between celiac disease and the thyroid? A long-lasting study (from 1964-003) looking at just over 14,000 people with celiac disease to see just what the relationships were with thyroid disease. Here’s what they found:
- Adults with celiac disease were 440% more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
- Adults celiacs had a 360% higher risk of inflammation of the thyroid (thyroiditis).
- Adult celiacs had a 290% higher risk of hyperthyroidism.
These numbers were even worse for children:
- Children with celiac disease were 600% more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
- Child celiacs were 470% more likely to be diagnosed with thyroiditis.
- Child celiacs were 480% more likely to be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.
Based on this data, there is no doubt that celiac disease is related to all types of thyroid problems.
Probably the most important point to consider here is that this was on celiac disease, NOT gluten sensitivity.
You can bet that anyone along the spectrum of gluten sensitivity is going to have thyroid problems. This does not mean that everyone with thyroid problems are going to be sensitive to gluten, but it darn well makes sense for anyone with thyroid problems to try a gluten free diet for 3 months. Considering that no one has ever (to my knowledge…) died from trying a gluten free diet, it would certainly seem to me to be worth the potential benefit.
Myths on Thyroid Tumors and Cancer
For those of you who read through my 3-part article on breast cancer (that can be read by clicking here) you’re already aware of the fact that just because we can use technology to find things earlier doesn’t mean that treating things we find aggressively is a good thing.
The overdiagnosis leading to overtreatment in breast cancer is legendary.
Do you think that the same scenario may be present when it comes to the thyroid?
In the 1980’s ultrasonography of the thyroid came into use. This led to the increased use of guided biopsy in the late 1990’s using ultrasound, allowing us to biopsy smaller and smaller nodules as small as 2 mm.
This increased ability to peak at small nodules and biopsy them has, as would be expected, led to a pretty impressive spike in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Specifically, there has been a 322% increase in thyroid cancer diagnosis from 1973 to 2009.
Ninety percent of these cancers are papillary thyroid cancer; a cancer that generally has a very good prognosis and is considered one of the least dangerous type of cancers. Small papillary cancers are a common finding at autopsy (in other words, these people died WITH papillary cancers, not FROM papillary cancers).
Society has a very strong fear of cancer. All types, regardless of how dangerous they may be. For this reason, if we find cancer anywhere, we go into Dalek mode, screaming “Exterminate!! Exterminate!!”
Surgery to remove the thyroid or radioactive medication to irradiate the thyroid to death are pretty common treatments. If these fail, amputation of the neck is the next step.
You can see the potential downside of this last approach. (Mainly it leaves you with nowhere to wrap a tie or scarf around)
Luckily, though, all of this overzealous thyroid-yanking or radiation-destroying is leading to less thyroid cancer deaths.
Yeah. You know where this is going.
Despite the 322% increase in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, there has been NO change in the death rates from thyroid cancer in the 30+ years since ultrasound for the thyroid hit the market
Medicine is treating the cancers more aggressively, but not saving any lives.
From a business standpoint, though, it’s brilliant. Make money on the diagnostic procedures. Money on the surgery or radioactive treatment. Than make more money over a lifetime on thyroid hormone replacement because your thyroid is no longer working.
Is it a Myth that Soy Causes Thyroid Problems?
No discussion on the thyroid cannot be complete without addressing the myth of soy and the thyroid.
This is one of the topics that never cease to bring soy-haters out of the woodwork to proclaim the evils of soy intake. (I covered the topic of soy and breast cancer in part 3 of my breast cancer article that can be read by clicking here).
There is some truth to the claim that soy is goitrogenic (leads to goiter formation), but the story doesn’t stop there. Most of the research on this topic has been clear that iodine levels are a key decision maker on whether soy causes thyroid problems or not.
In other words, if your body’s iodine levels are sufficient, soy will not lead to any problems. If soy does seem to have an effect on your thyroid function, this may also be a hint that you need to add supplemental iodine (more on this in a bit).
Treating What Causes Thyroid Problems
This is where the rubber meets the road. Up until now I’ve covered what leads to thyroid problems, but not necessarily what to do about it.
The obvious answers are to address any underlying problems. It you’re bathing in toxic waste and you think Monsanto and 3M are the saviors of the planet, then there might not be any hope for you.
If this doesn’t quite describe you, however, you need to work on getting these chemicals out of your life as best you can. Short of becoming a Tibetan monk I don’t think we can completely eliminate our exposures, but we can pay attention and cut our exposure.
Detoxification for Your Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
OK. So you smoked 3 packs of Camels a day for 30 years, you make snow angles naked in a small play pool of thermal cash register receipts and you have the inside of your house sprayed for bugs weekly.
I’m not saying you can undo all the damage that chemicals have done to your body over the years, but you can definitely do something positive about it.
The phrase “liver detox” has certainly been thrown around enough to ruin any opinion that this is a legitimate approach to health. Contrary to this, however, is the fact that most of what our liver and kidneys do to detoxify chemicals in our bodies is enzyme driven.
There are things that you can do to help this process along that involves using vitamins (that work as cofactors to assist enzyme activity) and certain plant based compounds (that can speed up or slow down enzyme activity).
If you think this sounds like hype, you should probably remind yourself that any patient on blood thinning medication is told to be careful of grapefruit intake (due to the naringin that can slow down the enzyme that breaks down blood thinners like Coumadin) and that many drugs have dangerous interactions (because they act on the same enzymes).
In other words, it is well-accepted in the medical community that enzymes that break down chemicals can be slowed down or sped up.
So why not use this in a deliberate, positive way?
This is basically what a detoxification program does. There are a variety of programs, from full-on no-food all-detox-drink programs to less intensive programs. Some examples include:
- We use Designs for Health Paleo Detox in our office. We’ve found that this is a pretty darn easy program to follow. This is a mixture of drinks, supplements and diet. Feel free to contact me via email or phone (LifeCareChiropractic.com) if you’d like to order a kit for yourself.
- Biotics Research makes a slightly stricter detox program (our office carries this as well).
- There are a variety of high-quality supplements that can be used along with a healthy diet to help your body clear out accumulated toxins. Some of these brands can be found on Amazon by clicking here.
Many will promote a detox program as a weight loss program, but this is not accurate. Weight loss may going along with a detox program, but the key is to help your body’s enzymes to get rid of accumulated chemicals that it has been storing over the years.
Supplements for Your Thyroid Symptoms
In part one of this article, I briefly covered how the thyroid makes its hormones. While there are a variety of things needed for healthy thyroid function, I’m only going to cover a few of the more important ones (from my perspective).
Selenium is a micronutrient that plays some very important roles in the way your body functions. There are a couple of enzymes involved in thyroid function that require selenium. If you remember the deiodinases that convert T4 to its more active form T3, this one is heavily selenium dependent. Without enough selenium, you get stuck with the less active T4.
Just to make the links between the thyroid and selenium more important, there are numerous studies looking at selenium deficiency and selenium supplementation as it relates to autoimmune thyroiditis. And more specifically at Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The links are solid enough that anyone who has been diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid condition should absolutely, positively be given a trial of selenium on the range of 200 mcg / day for 6-12 months. If your thyroid doctor (primary care or endocrinologist) did not recommend this, there is a good chance he or she has not really cracked a medical journal for some time now.
Probably one of the best sources of selenium is Brazil nuts, although this does depend on where the nuts are grown (the soil plays a big role).
Most good thyroid-based supplements have selenium as an important component.
Consider this (and we’ll cover this in a moment)—if you’re taking a prescription based T4 (Synthroid, levothyroxine) and you don’t have enough selenium you’ll get stuck with a near-worthless prescription.
A good quality multivitamin will also provide selenium (and if you need a refresher on multivitamins, you can read my Multivitamin article by clicking here).
Iodine is the principal component of thyroid hormone. The “4” in T4 is the number of thyroid molecules as is the “3” in T3. It should be clear from this that, if your body is deficient in iodine, that you will have a problem with thyroid function.
Another thing to consider for the females reading this. Breast tissue also requires a lot of iodine. If you have larger breasts (not counting the aftermarket versions), you’re going to need more iodine than someone who has smaller breasts and requires less iodine. There are some concerns on links between thyroid problems and breast cancer, and iodine is the likely reason why this link exists.
Westernized diets are also far lower in dietary iodine than are the diets of other cultures, especially Asian diets.
This is largely due to the seafood and seaweed consumption. A typical Japanese diet may include 1-3 mg/day of iodine, while in Westernized countries the intake may be as low as 150 mcg (yes—micrograms versus milligrams-quite a difference). These numbers would likely be far worse if the US did not fortify its table salt with iodine.
As with selenium, any good thyroid support supplement is going to contain iodine as is any good quality daily vitamin supplement. However, supplementing iodine by itself is very inexpensive and safe as well.
Vitamin D for your Thyroid Symptoms
Vitamin D has gotten quite a bit of press in the past 10 years or so. Some of it is hype, some reality. Most of it lies somewhere in the middle.
However, I personally feel that the bulk of the positive evidence on vitamin D supplementation in on immune function. When it’s low, vitamin D builds it up. When the immune system is in overdrive and autoimmunity is present, vitamin D helps bring it back in balance.
So of course, if you’re dealing with an autoimmune thyroiditis, vitamin D is an absolutely essential component of your supplement routine. Considering that almost everyone is deficient, vitamin D supplementation is very inexpensive and the safety margin is Grand-Canyon-wide, this makes the decision to use vitamin D even more of a no-brainer.
For an autoimmune condition, you can’t mess around with RDA levels. Supplementation should BEGIN at 4,000 IU / day and go up from there. To give you an idea of how high some patients go with vitamin D for an autoimmune condition, the Coimbra Protocol for multiple sclerosis can dose up to 100,000 IU / day (caveat—high levels like this need to be done under a physician’s supervision who is very familiar with this protocol).
Either way, 4,000-10,000 IU is usually a pretty darn safe dose. Our office carries a very reasonably priced vitamin D liquid by Biotics which is emulsified (absolutely essential if you’ve had your gallbladder removed). Amazon has some good options by reputable companies that can be found by clicking here.
Glandulars for your Thyroid Symptoms
There aren’t a lot of you out there who have heard of glandulars. While glandulars are a great way to support your thyroid, I always hate to explain what they are to patients. But here it goes.
Glandulars are products derived from newborn animals (usually calves). In newborn animals, the glands are very active and contain growth factors that can be impractical to put into a supplement. Biotics Research Corporation was one of the first companies to develop glandular products and has remained on top of the field over the years. These products can be used to support your own glands like the adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and, of course, the thyroid.
From a personal perspective, I’ve seen many patients over the years respond quite well to glandulars, especially for thyroid and adrenal problems. We carry only Biotics in our office for glandulars; this and a few other quality brands are available on Amazon by clicking here.
Types of Thyroid Hormone Replacement
There are times when everything else fails and you need to go on some type of thyroid hormone replacement. Or, maybe your thyroid got wiped out by some wayward doctor who didn’t understand that your gluten intake was causing your Hashimoto’s.
There are basically two flavors of thyroid hormone; T4 (Synthroid and levothyroxine are the most commonly prescribed) and T3 (Cytomel is synthetic, while Armour and Nature-throid are considered the natural forms of the hormones).
So long as you weren’t sleeping while reading part one of this article, you’ll recall that the T4 version needs to be converted to T3 to work its best. This conversion is prone to lots of problems, being affected by other hormones, stress and nutrient deliveries.
Luck for you, if you take Synthroid there are supplement formulations to help your body convert T4 to the active T3.
Although that doesn’t really seem to make sense to me when you can take a T3 formulation and not worry about the underconversion of T4 to T3.
So why do doctors even write prescriptions for synthetic versions of T4 when natural T3 is available? Mainly because T3 is a little trickier to get the dosage and balance figured out and many doctors just don’t want to be bothered. Or, they just never learned how to prescribed natural T3.
But other than the logical part of using T3 over T4, what does the research find?
One small study looked at what happened when T4 users were switched to T3 over the course of 6 weeks. Here’s what they found:
- No differences in TSH
- T3 led to more weight loss (4.62 lbs)
- T3 led to a 10.9% drop in total cholesterol
- T3 led to a 13.3% drop in LDL-cholesterol
- T3 led to a 18.3% drop in apolipoprotein B (a really bad marker for heart disease)
While this is a small study, it does make sense that taking the active form of thyroid hormone is going to lead to better thyroid function because it does not have to go through the extra step of converting from T4.
Note on Thyroid Hormone Replacement
Despite everything you’ve tried, the natural approaches to your symptoms of thyroid problems didn’t quite cut it and you worked with your doctor to go on thyroid hormone replacement.
One of the problems with taking hormone replacement is that it attaches to just about anything else that is present in your stomach and intestines, keeping it from being absorbed. This is the main reason why you have to take your thyroid hormone first thing in the morning and wait for at least an hour before eating or drinking anything.
With one exception. And in a good way.
Vitamin C can bind with thyroid hormone and actually increase its absorption. You can actually use this to your advantage if it seems like the thyroid hormone dosage you are taking is not quite cutting it.
One study looking at 31 patients with hypothyroidism taking T4 hormone looked at what happened when it was taken with 500 mg of vitamin C. Here’s what researchers found:
- Levels of TSH, free T4 and T3 all improved with vitamin C
- TSH levels dropped an impressive 69.2%
- TSH levels normalized in 54.8% of the study participants
The major drop in TSH without any change in dosage of thyroid hormone makes it clear that the addition of vitamin C improved the absorption of the thyroid hormone, improving thyroid health.
Final Thoughts on the Causes of Thyroid Problems
In this article, I’ve hopefully given you the idea that, if you have thyroid problems, you really need to dig deeper to find out what the true cause is. Without looking for the cause, you could potentially be leaving a fire burning somewhere in your body that can lead to bigger problems in the future.
Remember that your body was built with a brilliance that defies understanding. If something starts to go wrong you should NEVER accept this as an answer without finding someone who understands the underlying problems that contribute to thyroid problems.
There is not always an answer to what causes your thyroid problems, but it darn well is worth a closer look.