About four years ago, a good friend of us was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Her doctor prescribed Levothyrox®. When Merck changed the formula of the drug, she suffered from side effects, one of them being substantial weight gain.
Having a slow thyroid already predisposed her to weight gain, but with the new “medication”, she gained another 15 kg. She was not at all happy about this, as it severely hampered her on a day to day basis. And no matter what she tried, she could not lose the extra kilos.
Her story made me curious about this disease and its consequences. Are there any alternative treatments that have less or no side effects?
Worldwide, 200 million people suffer from a thyroid disease. Women are more affected than men, and there is a hereditary factor. Hypothyroidism is suspected to be underdiagnosed because the symptoms are common across a range of other, unrelated diseases. Symptoms are also usually vague in the early stages so may be missed altogether.
Most people are unaware that cardiac disease, lupus, reproductive difficulties, diabetes, arthritis as well as many other health issues are associated with a poor functioning thyroid gland. Research has shown that early thyroid assessment can, in many cases, reduce the incidence or severity of these high profile diseases.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid, or thyroid gland, is an endocrine gland in the neck consisting of two connected lobes, in the form of a butterfly. The lower two thirds of the lobes are connected by a thin band of tissue called the thyroid isthmus. The thyroid is located at the front of the neck, below the Adam's apple.
The thyroid makes two hormones that it secretes into the blood stream. One is called thyroxine; this hormone contains four atoms of iodine and is often called T4. The other is called triiodothyronine, which contains three atoms of iodine and is often called T3. In the cells and tissues of the body, T4 is converted to T3. It is the T3, derived from T4 or secreted as T3 from the thyroid gland, which is biologically active and influences the activity of all the cells and tissues of your body. Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland produces too little hormones.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
These are symptoms related to hypothyroidism:
- feeling cold
- weight gain
- poor concentration
- painful joints and muscles
- hair loss and balding
- slow heart rate
- dry and itchy skin
- menstrual irregularity
Since these symptoms can indicate a range of different diseases and ailments, it’s not easy to diagnose the disease and, therefore, it is often misdiagnosed.
Causes of hypothyroidism
The underlying causes of hypothyroidism are not very clear, except for two possibilities:
- A lack of iodine. If you’re not consuming enough iodine, you will become iodine deficient and your thyroid gland won’t be able to produce the necessary amount of hormones.
- Auto-immune disease (Hashimoto’s disease).
Still, there are a lot of people suffering from hypothyroidism who do not lack iodine or have Hashimoto’s disease. The most prevalent cause in that case is stress. Which is not easy to solve, because almost everybody seems to be stressed these days.
So what can you do?
Most Western doctors will prescribe hormones, which will have to be taken for the rest of your life. And they may come with additional effects, like in the case of our friend mentioned in the introduction of this article.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is commonly prescribed and has good results in enhancing thyroid function. Ashwagandha helps normalize TSH levels while increasing T4 levels. As one of the best thyroid support supplements, it also has antioxidant properties. Also, this herb helps fight free radicals while reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of excess T4 production, which damages cells. Ashwagandha allows the thyroid gland to produce more T4 without the undesirable downsides.
Increase iodine intake
If you are iodine deficient, the solution is very clear: make sure you consume enough iodine. This article mentions 25 iodine rich foods. Please note: the list in the article displays the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (TUL), which is defined as: The highest level of nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects for almost all individuals in the general population. As intake increases above the TUL, the risk of adverse effects increases. For the rest of the article, the author talks about the “daily value”, which apparently lies around 150 micrograms per day.
Obviously, reducing stress is a mayor point. Not just in the case of hypothyroidism, but for everybody. This is not easy, but it must be done because “if you don't make time for your wellness now you will be forced to make time for your illness later”. Consider yoga and meditation; they are an integral part of Ayurveda and have been around for thousands of years. Their stress-reducing properties are proven, you can do them in the comfort of your own home and/or take classes in real life or online. Concerning meditation, I highly recommend the app insighttimer.com where you will find thousands of guided meditations.
Scientists studying the relationship between gluten and hypothyroidism are finding increasing evidence that a gluten-free diet may be beneficial to people suffering from hypothyroidism.
"The problem with gluten is that its molecular structure closely resembles that of thyroid tissue, and the immune system’s antibodies can’t tell the difference between the two. The impact of this is two-fold: If someone with Hashimoto’s eats gluten, the immune system is triggered to attack the thyroid even more, causing further damage and worsening symptoms. If someone with gluten intolerance eats gluten, it triggers an autoimmune response that can last up to six months after ingesting gluten. This prolonged autoimmune response causes chronic inflammation and increases the risk of developing an autoimmune disorder, such as Hashimoto’s."
Quoted from Anchor Wellness Center
Go Plant Based
Interestingly, a plant based diet seems to be able to cure people from hypothyroidism as well. And not just that; a plant based diet can cure you from almost any modern disease, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.
Take care of your gut flora
On page 175 of “Gut, the inside story of our body's most under-rated organ” by Giulia Enders, it says:
“bacterial signalling substances have an interesting effect on the thyroid gland. Bacterial infections hinder its function, causing it to produce fewer thyroid hormones, slowing the rate at which the body burns fat.”
So taking care of your gut flora is of paramount importance. This has been known for a very long time. Ayurveda considers our digestion the basis of our good health (or lack thereof). Because in order to take advantage of the nutrients in our food, we have to able to digest them. If not, our health will deteriorate in any number of ways.
If you’re suffering from hypothyroidism, you can help yourself in a number of ways:
- reduce stress, for example by taking up yoga and meditation;
- change your diet, making sure you consume enough iodine, avoid gluten, eat as much plant based as possible and in general take care of your gut flora.
In addition, you can take Ashwagandha*, an Ayurvedic herb that has been proven to help regulate the thyroid gland.
*Please note that we have no personal interest in this vendor, but their website gives a good and professional impression, and their prices are reasonable.