A holistic approach to hypothyroidism
If you have battled with weight gain, low energy, fluid retention, depression, anxiety, menstrual/fertility or digestive problems at any point in your life - and have been told your thyroid tests are ‘normal’ - read on.
I had several women come to me last month with hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function. All had different symptoms, but had one thing in common: they had all been diagnosed with something else.
In this article I'll cover what thyroid disease looks like, why it's so badly diagnosed, and what you can do about it, starting now.
The thyroid gland
First of all, let’s talk about the thyroid. It is a small, butterfly-shaped, hormone-producing gland that sits in the neck and is responsible for regulating every process of energy release in the body - in other words, our ‘metabolism’.
In simple terms, a lack of thyroid hormone reduces overall energy production. This has a knock-on effect on every organ system in the body, which explains why symptoms of the over- or underactive thyroid are so all-encompassing.
Thyroid function can be thrown off kilter due to illness, dieting, stress, infection, exposure to toxins or just by ageing. This causes either hyperthyroidism (an overactive state) or hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). The latter is by far the most common, thought to affect up to one in three adults - mostly women - without them even being aware of it.
Cold hands and feet. Weight gain or inability to lose weight. Fluid retention. Anaemia. Low or high blood pressure. Tiredness and lethargy. Food intolerances, acid reflux, indigestion. Diarrhoea, constipation or both. Painful periods, heavy periods, PMT and infertility. Depression, anxiety, problems with memory or concentration. Joint or muscle pain or stiffness. Headaches, skin problems, hair loss, recurrent infections… and these are just some of the worst.
The easiest way of checking whether your thyroid is working properly is to do a basal body temperature test. Take your temperature in bed as soon as you wake up every morning for 5 days. If your average reading is below 36.5℃, a blood test for thyroid hormones should be the next step.
The problem with thyroid testing
This is where it gets complicated. Even if you have good levels of thyroid hormones in the blood (and therefore ‘normal’ test results) they may not be getting into the tissues - due to stress/ nutrient deficiencies - and thus you may still be hypothyroid.
To add to problems, the range of thyroid hormones that conventional medicine classifies as ‘normal’ is too wide. Your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) should be no higher than 2.0, and T3 and T4 (the two most important thyroid hormones) should be right in the middle of the ranges provided.
Too many people are sent home with a TSH of 4.2, left untreated - or worse, given antidepressants. The result? Their condition deteriorates. Doctors try their hardest, but never manage to get the root of the problem as tests keep coming back ‘normal’.
What can be done?
If you have symptoms of hypothyroidism and a low basal body temperature, whatever your test results, something needs to be done.
It can be helpful to get a truly ‘holistic’ round of blood tests, including thyroid hormones, adrenal hormones, sex hormones, liver function, blood sugar & fats, and nutrients like selenium, iodine and magnesium, to pinpoint what is going wrong in the system.
Your thyroid does not act alone - it acts in concert with all other body systems including the gut, so stool testing for parasites and infections is also necessary if digestive symptoms are present.
Depending on the symptoms and test results, there are many possibilities for holistic and herbal treatment. Adrenal adaptogens and herbs to support the thyroid include Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng and Liquorice. Vitex agnus castus is very useful for balancing sex hormones that are thrown off kilter due to thyroid dysfunction. Antimicrobial herbs will help restore gut ecology and nutritional supplements will help with thyroid hormone production and conversion.
Putting together all the pieces of the puzzle can be hard, which is why it's always a good idea to get help from your nearest natural health practitioner.
Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence - health and happiness may not be that far away after all.