Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about thyroid function. I’ll bet everybody reading this post knows someone with a thyroid gland that doesn’t work right. Lots of people have been coming in and telling me about symptoms that may point to thyroid disease, so I’ve been testing for it a lot. I thought I’d talk a bit about the thyroid and what happens “when thyroids go bad.” LOL!
The thyroid gland is a two-inch-long butterfly-shaped gland that is found in the neck, on either side of the windpipe at about the level of the Adam’s apple. It’s a soft gland in a soft place, and unless it’s enlarged or lumpy it’s hard to feel.
The thyroid gland is the organ that controls the metabolism. Its hormones control energy production and usage in the body. Thyroid function also affects the brain, the digestion, the heart, the skin and hair, and many other organs in the body.
When the thyroid gland is not working right, it is almost always underactive. This is called HYPOTHYROIDISM. Thyroid hormone production is low and the metabolism is slow. The person may feel tired, gain weight, become depressed, develop constipation, and see dry, brittle hair and dry skin. The heart may be affected and the cholesterol may go out of balance.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (or Hashimoto’s disease). This is an autoimmune disorder where the person’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland (almost like a rejection reaction after a transplant). No one really knows what causes Hashimoto’s disease. It does run in families but a gene hasn’t been identified.
How do we diagnose underactive thyroid? Blood tests are the most important tests although an ultrasound can help if the gland is enlarged or lumpy.
What do we do if the thyroid is underactive? Most of the time, if the thyroid is underactive, medication must be taken. Untreated hypothyroidism can be dangerous in the long term. The most commonly prescribed medication is Synthroid (levothyroxine). There are other medications that are prescribed less commonly.
I have found two supplements to be very helpful in patients with thyroid disease. First of all, iodine is a very important mineral in thyroid function. Iodine deficiency causes a goiter in children and adults and in developing babies and young children can actually cause mental retardation. Thank goodness in the USA we very rarely see this problem. However there’s very little information available on how common iodine deficiency is in the USA. Nowadays we’ve done a good job of getting people to get rid of the salt shaker, but iodized salt is an important source of iodine!
The recommended daily intake of iodine is 150 mcg. If you take a multivitamin please check and make sure it contains this amount of iodine. This is a MINIMUM however. If a patient has thyroid disease, I recommend he or she take twice that (300 mcg daily). Iodine is best absorbed in an organic (i.e. plant based) form. Kelp and seaweed supplements are great. Before you ask, Shaklee does NOT have a kelp or seaweed product. However the multivitamins have the recommended 150 mcg of iodine to meet minimum requirements.
If you choose to take a kelp or seaweed supplement please be sure to research the company’s quality testing protocols as sometimes seaweed is contaminated with arsenic (naturally found in seawater and concentrated in the plant life). There are reports of people developing arsenic poisoning from taking large doses of kelp supplements.
One other important mineral for those with thyroid disease is selenium. Selenium is particularly helpful in Hashimoto’s disease. Like iodine, selenium is best absorbed in an organic form. I recommend that folks with Hashimoto’s disease take 200 mcg of selenomethionine (selenium bound to the amino acid methionine) every day. Again, Shaklee doesn’t have a selenomethionine supplement, but there are many options available online.
I hope this information is helpful for anyone suffering with thyroid disease. Be well!
QUESTION: Do YOU have any of the symptoms of thyroid disease I listed above?