Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped bi-lobed gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Every single aspect of your metabolism, from the rate at which your heart beats to how quickly you burn calories, are precisely regulated by thyroid hormones.

As long as your thyroid releases the right amounts of these hormones at the right time, your system functions normally and like clockwork. But sometimes your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, or produces far too much of one hormone, upsetting this precision and resulting in an imbalance in your body. This condition is known as hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is a common, very treatable disorder that currently is very poorly managed by medicine with the current drug-based approach. And how many people do you know who show many of the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, yet come back completely normal on the blood-tests?

Hypothyroid prevalence

Many people, mainly women older than age 40, have an under-active thyroid. Men can also get hypothyroidism. Because hypothyroidism usually develops slowly, with only about half of all cases diagnosed early.

  • NZ’s prevalence is partly due to low selenium levels in the soil.
  • About 15% of women aged 35 to 60 are affected to some degree by hypothyroidism.
  • 15% – 20% of women over the age of 60 are affected by sub-clinical hypothyroidism.
  • 50% of people who have it are unaware that they have hypothyroidism.

Most sub-clinical cases of hypothyroidism go undiagnosed. When blood levels of thyroid hormones are found to be normal, the patient is deemed to be “euthyroid”, or having a normal functioning thyroid (inspite of having signs & symptoms). Hypothyroidism is believed to be more prevalent than once thought, with up to 1 in 10 of the population believed to be affected by some degree of hypothyroidism.

Are you hypothyroid?

At first, you may have few noticeable symptoms, or you may just feel tired and sluggish. The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. Be careful before self-diagnosing: the below mentioned signs and symptoms can also be attributed to many other illnesses. Many people falsely attribute their weight gain to an underactive thyroid, when in fact it may be simply that they never exercise!

Signs & Symptoms

  • Fatigue: the most common
  • Voice hoarse
  • Eyes can be gritty, burning, itchy, blurry, puffy eyelids
  • Skin can become dry, cold, rough and scaly
  • Sex drive: none or poor
  • Cholesterol elevated: unexplained high or resistant levels
  • Skin itchy in various places, itchy patches
  • Hair becomes coarse, brittle and grows slowly or may fall out excessively
  • Eyebrows thinning, losing outer 1/3 of eyebrow
  • Sensitivity to cold, feelings of being chilly in rooms of normal temperature
  • Difficult for a person to sweat; their perspiration may be decreased or even absent even during heavy exercise and hot weather
  • Constipation that is resistant to magnesium supplementation and other mild laxatives is also another common symptom
  • Difficulty in losing weight despite rigid adherence to a strict diet seems to be a common finding especially in women.

TSH: the big myth

The current way of blood testing patients is inaccurate to determine whether somebody is hypothyroid. So, when a doctor checks your blood for three thyroid hormone markers, they are basing this generally on the reading of the hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating level). These tests should be abandoned because they are unreliable as gauges of thyroid function. We should be favouring the temperature test instead, according to Dr. Lee.

The most common traditional way to diagnose hypothyroidism is with a TSH that is elevated beyond the normal reference range. The big myth that persists regarding thyroid diagnosis is that an elevated TSH level is required before a diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be made. There is no question that this will diagnose hypothyroidism, but it is far too insensitive a measure, and the vast majority of patients who have hypothyroidism, particularly those patients who are classified as sub-clinical, will be missed.

Clinical studies (2) have demonstrated that treatment of hypothyroidism with combination thyroid hormone (T4, T3) therapy is more effective than treatment with Thyroxine (T4) alone.

What you can do?

There is one simple thing almost anyone can do at home to uncover an under-functional thyroid: take your own temperature. The “basal body temperature” test was developed by Dr Broda Barnes, PhD, a physician who, for decades, helped raise the consciousness of both doctors and their patients regarding the risks and prevalence of hypothyroidism and weak thyroid function. His book (3) still remains as the best clinical description of the syndrome.

Because thyroid hormone is so vital to cellular metabolism, reduced thyroid function manifests as a drop in body temperature to below the normal level of 36.7 C (98.6F).

Use a digital thermometer, they are the easiest & most accurate ones to use.

  • Leave it there for 5 minutes (or until it beeps!) and record the temperature for a whole month. Do this before you get out of bed (the normal temperature on rising will be between 36.4 Centigrade to 36.9 Centigrade. (97.8 – 98.2 Fahrenheit). Check and record the temperature also a couple of times at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • I’d recommend an Excel spreadsheet (computer), otherwise draw up a chart with the columns date, morning temp, These recorded levels will help establish your temperature trend, which becomes easy to plot over a month..
  • If your temperature is 36.1 Centigrade or less for 3 to 5 consecutive days, one could conclude that the thyroid function is fairly compromised. You may have hypothyroidism. However, it could also indicate adrenal fatigue or exhaustion. Head for your Naturopath or nutritionally oriented GP.
  • Even if you have had a blood test and were told you did not have a low thyroid reading, you might go back and look at the results again. You may find that your blood levels of thyroid hormones are actually low normal. Many people who are within the so-called “normal” range, but below the midpoint, could benefit tremendously from thyroid treatment. If you miss a reading or a day, that is ok, but try to be consistent.

Hair analysis

I would also recommend doing a hair analysis if you suspect hypothyroidism. It is an excellent way to determine your level of iodine, selenium, zinc, which are critical in thyroid hormone metabolism. Hair is also a good screening tool for the presence of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic or cadmium, all which may bind with selenium, reducing the amount available to convert T4 (the inactive hormone) to T3 (the active form), remembering that selenium is already in short supply due to deficiencies in the average NZ diet. Many people present to their doctors and naturopaths with frank mineral deficiencies, a simple test such as a hair analysis can help pinpoint the problem. Check with your health-care practitioner about hair-analysis.

Natural Thyroid Management

Iodine: it is estimated the thyroid gland must capture approximately 60 mcg iodide daily to ensure an adequate supply for thyroid hormone synthesis. Ensure you eat sea minerals or have seafood in your diet. Kelp is a good source of iodine.

Although doctors generally recommend synthetic thyroxine (T4) for hypothyroid, it is important to remember that you do have options, you can take charge of your health and what you take, and do not necessarily have to stay on prescribed thyroxine for life. Natural treatment options are now available for the natural hormone management of thyroid conditions.

This is one condition I would not give advice regarding what to take, without consulting with the patient on an individual basis. I would never recommend self-medication when it comes to the thyroid; it is always best to consult your health-care professional. Your nutritionally-oriented Doctor or Naturopath can best help you with your natural treatment of hypothyroidism.

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Eric Bakker is the clinical director of The Naturopaths and holds a Bachelor Degree of Science majoring in Complementary Health Care, as well as separate diploma qualifications in Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine and Homeopathy. Eric has 20 years clinical experience in natural medicine, and received post-graduate natural medicine training in Australia, India, America as well as New Zealand. Eric has four children and lives in the sunny Hawkes Bay

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Kim Shaw

Hi, I am interested to investigate whether I have hypothyroidism as some of the symptoms describe me well. Do you have any recommendations for who to see in the wellington area?

Rosario Cardona

I am a 55 year old woman who had the thyroid removed at the age of 22 for hypothyroid problems. During the past year, my thyroid medication has increased from .125 milligrams to 300 milligrams. The endocrinologist I am seeing wanted to increase the dosage since even though I follow all instructions and take care of what I eat, my blood work always goes from bad to worse to worst. I want to try a new approach. I want to eat fruits that together with my medication will help me regulate the production of the hormone. Please give me some… Read more »

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