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

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 (I write more about this in the section titled over-active thyroid near the end) however what we have to be careful not to miss is an under-active thyroid which, so long as we know it is a problem, can be treated with some very effective natural medicines that are described in detail further below.

A small gland with a big effect on our health


Testing the Thyroid

The main issue with thyroid health that goes greatly 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 can give you 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 certainly take the second step for testing your thyroid health by 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 did a year ago……………..................
  • 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………………………......


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)

You can read how to do the test here or print it off and use it as your place to write the record (this is a copy of the form I use in clinic so it also gives a brief explanation of why we are doing the test)

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 is still performs a valuable role in narrowing down the range of possibilities as few people who do have an underactive thyroid will test in the normal range of temperature.


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 a relatively considered opinion as to what may be the cause of a problem (in this case an under-active thyroid) and then proceed to using 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!

If any of this sounds a little unscientific to you then you would be right -- you may also be a little surprised to know just how much empirical medicine is practiced all over the health world, from the most high-tech of medical systems right down to the world's most barefoot doctors.

Let's assume there is an under-active thyroid going on. There are two main reasons people get an underactive thyroid and both need medicine. In practice I often combine elements of both these treatments but if someone clearly has signs of nutrient deficiency -- such as weak or broken nails and numerous damaged looking cells in their blood that I look at under the microscope then I will focus on the deficiency aspect as described immediately below. However if they are clearly exhausted from over-work or under-rest I will likely put most of our attention to the latter issue described a little bit further on. You may have to be the best judge of this yourself. If in doubt -- do both!

Damaged looking red blood cells that may indicate deficiency states


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. Iodine deficiency in particular is on the rise and is by itself a huge part of the problem for many people who have an underactive thyroid.

I suggest using the following dose range for around 3 months before stopping and re-assessing. the lower amounts suggested are for a smaller or more sensitive person.

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

In practice if someone has an underactive thyroid and I believe this could be a key reason for it then I almost always give all three of these nutrients for up to 3 months. As I mentioned above, in many cases even if I think the root cause is really more due to exhaustion I may still make sure that these elements are readily available for the thyroid health to return to normal.

Safety note on the nutrients

Larger doses of the above elements will not help any further and are not advisable as taking too much of any of them for too long can lead to real problems of toxicity or even 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.

Iodine crystals


Healthy Diet

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

What would you say if someone asked you to give yourself a score out of 10 for the health of your diet? If you would honestly give yourself a score below 7 then you definitely need to do some work in this area. I know that there is so much conflicting and crazy advice out in the health world but the simple and practical advice on the page called 'Excellent Nutrition' is dependable information and may help to point you in the right direction in this vital matter; you can find it here.


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 and then the problem becomes very much a vicious cycle...

Exhaustion needs a more holistic approach than just taking some medicines but I would still always suggest that you start by letting Nature take the first step. The first place I almost always go for help when someone has an underactive thyroid because of exhaustion are the two great tonic herbs Withania and Ginseng. Both these great 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. Withania is written up in detail here and Ginseng likewise has its own article here.

Because they are such important tools in my own practice I've gone to some lengths to obtain the best quality dried-herb of each in its raw form which we then we get encapsulated by a local company. On the one hand this means I know exactly where it comes from and can guarantee its quality, on the other it means we cut out all the middle men and can supply herbs to our patients most economically! I mostly use the capsules of the two combined but I also use them singly in their raw form as a simple powdered slurry in water (Ginseng) or an evening drink made with the cut herb and milk decocted together over a gentle heat (Withania)

As you will have already seen if you have looked around my website I do not sell these herbs or anything else online and likewise I cannot advise people unless I see them in person first so the reason I mention all this is because I want to urge you, if at all possible, to find a good herbalist to get these or other herbs for you or your loved ones as mentioned in the beginning.


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 occuring 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 even when there is an established problem with thyroid health.

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 apporach 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, then I may recommend to my patients to go on to the mainstay of conventional medicine which is a drug called Carbimazole. In some cases this has been a necessary step to buy us time to get into the deeper levels of helping the immune system get its balance back.

Working with immune health can be deep work, not so simple as just taking a pill and hoping everything will be ok, if you have an overactive thyroid then I think you should carefully read the detailed over-view of those approaches that I've seen successfully help many serious immune disorders found here. This is important work because there is a real danger that if things get out of hand and we don't take the right steps to treat the cause then the problem will keep getting worse until we are facing such drastic and permanent steps as irradiating the thyroid or removing it surgically...

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 and, to demonstrate how it works, it must be said that the chances of you having a problem with an underactive thyroid are a great deal more likely if you are a cool and dry person (an Elephant/butterfly) whereas the chances of you having an overactive thyroid (which can then turn to an underactive one after a while) are much higher if you are either of the hot constitutions but especially a hot and dry person; an Eagle. There is a brief introduction to this great 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!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd