Thyroid Health

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Introduction

Thyroid problems affect a great many people but are often mistaken for another health problem or missed altogether so the first step is knowing if you really do have a problem with your thyroid.

People who have over-active thyroid glands have much more obvious disturbances to their health and tend to be picked up by conventional medicine reasonably quickly, and this is talked about in the section titled over-active thyroid near the end, however, what we must be careful not to miss, is an under-active thyroid which, so long as we know it actually is a problem, can usually be effectively treated with some natural medicines as described in detail further below.


The thyroid; a small gland with a big effect on our health

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Testing the Thyroid

The main issue with thyroid health that goes undiagnosed for many people is the under-active side of the spectrum. An underactive thyroid is called the 'great imitator' in medicine because it causes problems that can easily be attributed to some other issue.

The following questionnaire gives a quick reference to the kinds of symptoms that can be caused by an underactive thyroid. If you would say 'yes' to many of the following questions then you should take the second step of doing the basal body temperature test as described further below.

Thyroid Check-List

  • I have noticed that I am less alert and retentive ………………….............
  • I seem to get cold more often than I used to ………………......................
  • My hands and feet, especially, get cold easily…………...........................
  • I notice I often feel tired and fatigued…………………...............................
  • There is a rounded swelling at the base of my neck……………..............
  • My memory seems to be weaker than it used to be…………...................
  • My voice has taken on a husky, hoarse quality…………………...............
  • My skin feels rougher and coarser than usual…………………................
  • My face and eyes look or feel puffy………………………….......................
  • I generally feel slower, more sluggish than normal……………...............
  • I am sleeping noticeably more than usual……………………...................
  • I suspect I may have a fertility problem…………………….........................
  • I gain weight markedly more than I used to...........……………..................
  • I have a prolonged menstrual period with significant bleeding…............
  • My hair has been falling out more easily…………………….......................
  • My skin seems uncommonly dry and flaky…………………………...... ....
  • I've felt blue and depressed recently…………………………………….....
  • I have noticed various muscle cramps lately……………………………....
  • I have been having recurrent headaches………………………………......
  • I find myself drinking more coffee and tea lately………………………......

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Basal Body Temperature Test

Blood tests for thyroid disease are helpful when things have become very out of balance but they often fail to pick up people who are at the early stages of an underactive thyroid.

The other issue with blood tests is that the range of normal is considered by most modern clinicians to be too lenient in allowing the normal range of the TSH to be as high as 5. Most experts now agree that any TSH level over 2 can be a sign that the thyroid is already becoming under-active. TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone and it is actually a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain to stimulate thyroid activity -- the higher it is the more the body is trying to boost up the thyroid...

The basal body temperature test uses our temperature whilst at rest and it is regarded as a more sensitive indicator for when the thyroid is becoming underactive. Most people will have a resting temperature of around 36.5 degrees Celsius (97.7 Fahrenheit) if taken by mouth but when someone has an underactive thyroid this level commonly drops to below 36 Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit)

The basal temperature test is not perfect either as some people simply have a lower metabolic rate than others, e.g. cool constitutions are more prone to this -- a fascinating subject in itself that you can read an introduction to here, nevertheless it still performs a valuable role in narrowing down the range of possibilities as few people who have an underactive thyroid test in the normal range of temperature.

Details about how to do the test are on a form that we give patients of the clinic, it's here

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Treating the Thyroid

If we have sufficient evidence from a) lots of 'yes' answers to that symptom check-list above along with b) lower than normal results in the basal body temperature test and maybe also c) signs for a low thyroid from a laboratory blood test, then the next step is to practice some 'empirical medicine'.

This is where you form an opinion, from what evidence you can obtain, as to what may be the cause of a problem and then proceed to use a treatment that should be effective for said problem. If the patient gets better you know you were right, if they don't then you have to go back to reconsider your hypotheses.

There are two main reasons people get an underactive thyroid; nutrient deficiencies and exhaustion. The practice of empirical medicine means we treat by giving the key thyroid nutrients and, at the same time, use a tonic approach to remedy the exhaustion. If this is the right approach then the results will soon speak for themselves.


Damaged looking red blood cells that may indicate deficiency states

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Nutrient deficiencies

Deficiency of one or more of the key thyroid nutrients Zinc, Selenium and Iodine is very common in people who do not eat much sea-food or eat plants grown in soils that contain adequate levels of these trace elements.

The following dose range can be recommended to use for 3 months before stopping and re-assessing. the lower end of the range is suggested for a smaller or more sensitive person.

1) 15-30 mg elemental Zinc daily
2) 800-1600 micrograms (mcgs) of Selenium as a selenite daily
3) 1500-2500 micrograms (mcgs) of bio-available Iodine daily.

Safety notes on the nutrients

Taking larger doses of the above elements will not help things get better faster, and are not advisable as taking too much of any of them for too long can lead to real problems of toxicity or an over-stimulation of the thyroid.

Thyroid doctors are usually very anti-iodine and, in many places, it is hard to get medicinal grade iodine without a prescription. The reason they feel this way is because most of their patients have thyroid problems at the other end of the scale and someone with an overactive thyroid can make themselves much worse by taking iodine when that is not what they need.

You certainly need to be careful with strong doses of iodine but, so long as you know the thyroid problem is under-activity then this may be the key treatment that will prevent you needing to have a life-long reliance on artificial thyroid hormone replacement.

In most cases, it can be recommended to only use the nutritional medicines for approximately 3 months before having a break for at least 3 months or longer. These elements will store up in your body, you should not keep taking them without a break or you will run a risk of imbalance or even toxicity.


Iodine crystals

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Healthy Diet

If deficiency of key nutrients is a key reason your thyroid is under-active then it may be because the foods you eat are grown in soils that deficient in these elements but it also may be because your diet is simply lacking in foods that are healthy enough for your body's needs...

There is a lot of conflicting and even crazy advice out on diet but there is also some practical and dependable knowledge about nutrition that will not change with the next fad or fashion. If you would score yourself less than 7 out of 10 for the health of your diet then you need to put some energy into this vital subject, the key points to know are written up here.

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Tonic herbs

Exhaustion can certainly be a symptom of low thyroid function but it can also be the cause. Exhaustion, especially from over-work, has been seen as the reason for people to become increasingly depleted in metabolic energy until eventually their thyroid starts to give out.

Exhaustion needs a more holistic approach than just taking medicine but it can still always be recommended to let Nature take the first step and one of the best ways to do that is with such great tonic herbs as Panax Ginseng and Withania somnifera.

Both these herbs are rather humble looking shrubs but what goes on in their roots has a remarkably complexity that certainly bears further study by anyone who might be planning to use them. Ginseng is written up in detail here and Withania has its own article here.

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Over-active thyroid

Many people who have an overactive thyroid gland will eventually also swing into having an underactive thyroid and vice versa. Grave's disease or Hashimoto's thyroiditis are, by far, the two most common names given to an overactive thyroid and both are caused by our own immune-system forming antibodies against our own thyroid cells. If this is occurring it can and should be measured by a simple laboratory test called thyroid-antibodies however, you may need to ask for this test to be done as, somewhat inexplicably, it is typically left out of the routine blood tests for people with thyroid illness.

I have often worked with patients who have an overactive thyroid and, with the use of such herbs as Reishi, Motherwort and Bugleweed along with a holistic approach to immune health, we have seen their health and blood levels return to normal. That said, if things have progressed to an advanced level of imbalance, they may still need to use the mainstay of conventional medicine, which is a drug called Carbimazole, to buy us time to get into the deeper levels of helping the immune system get its balance back.

Working with immune health can need a deep approach that considers diet, lifestyle and mental health, it is often not so simple as just taking a few pills and hoping everything will be ok. If you have an overactive thyroid then you must work carefully and holistically to prevent ending up with surgery or irradiation on your thyroid gland. Ideally find a good natural health practitioner who is well experienced in this area as mentioned at the beginning of this article. You should also carefully read the detailed over-view on immune health here.


Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha)

Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as helping you to improve your thyroid health.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences, there is a brief introduction to the subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd