Happy thyroid month, every body! Hooray for thyroids! Now, what do we know about them?
The freaky little hormone-producing gland just under your Adam's apple can malfunction in any number of ways. When it's overactive it can cause weight and hair loss, and when underactive weight gain and sluggishness - but there are a whole slew of other potential symptoms.
Less common is the not necessarily serious goiter and the very scary thyroid cancer.
Hashimoto's disease is a common cause of hypothyroidism, but they are not synonymous. In Hashimoto's, antibodies attack and destroy the thyroid. It's all very complicay-ted!
A number of alt health types feel that conventional thyroxine treatments are inadequate and that standard blood tests aren't senstive enough to diagnose a low-functioning thyroid.
Many also recommend you up your iodine with foods like kelp, while endocrinologists are adamant this is actually dangerous. Make sure you get the right advice.
What the experts say
"Many people are walking around with a low-functioning thyroid, but their blood tests are normal. It's a flawed test. Typical symptoms are fatigue, cold intolerance, dry skin, constipation, sometimes joint and body aches and lack of mental clarity. Hyperthyroid is less common. Part of the reason thyroids don't work is nutritional - we should be drinking lots of water and eating vegetables and fruits. We live in a toxic world. A lot of us have ongoing inflammation. Getting to bed before midnight and having a routine are important for balancing hormones. Even after doing all this, some people need conventional treatment. Unconventional treatment includes lifestyle changes and can involve the prescription of Armour or desiccated thyroid, an extract of pig thyroid gland. For some this will change their lives."
LEONARD DIRENFELD, MD, Toronto
"Canada and the U.S. are iodine-sufficient areas. We get at 200 to 300 micrograms, and you only need 150 micrograms a day. Iodine in the form of supplements, including seaweed and kelp, is contraindicated for people with thyroid problems, especially those with Hashimoto's or chronic thyroiditis. Avoid excess iodine outside the normal diet. If you eat fish, pizza, bread, eggs, broccoli, spinach, you will get enough. The tests are very accurate. Taking desiccated or Armour thyroid can get people in trouble because it changes from batch to batch and has a lot of T3 that can cause symptoms in the heart and bones.'
RICHARD GUTTLER, clinical professor of medicine, U. of Southern California
"The treatment for underactive thyroid would be seaweed in your diet, maybe instead of salt. Or seaweed soup, kelp and bladderwrack or nori. That's the simplest approach. Other herbs are ashwagandha and wild carrot flower and seed. For the opposite, hyperthyroid, three herbs do the job: lycopus (bugleweed), melissa (lemon balm) and leonurus (motherwort). Hashimoto's may be treated with immuno-modulators like astragalus and shiitake mushroom. Once the immune attack has been quieted you can activate the thyroid with the seaweed."
JOHN REDDEN, herbalist, Toronto
"Certain foods can hinder thyroid function if eaten raw: almonds, broccoli, apples - things you wouldn't think would be a problem. If you cook them, this effect is decreased, but I have a list of foods to avoid that I give patients with hypothyroid function. Chinese medicine uses herbs and acupuncture. Sometimes there is the issue of a cortisol dysfunction, [stressed adrenal glands] which can mimic the picture of a thyroid dysfunction. Homeopathy can help. Getting adequate exercise and taking care of health are very important."
VANESSA LEE, naturopath, Toronto
"Nodules can be caused by radiation. A lot of people who were treated with radiation for acne and ear problems in the early 60s are coming back now with thyroid nodules, and a significant proportion are cancerous. Also, the explosion at Chernobyl has resulted in a lot of cancer cases, particularly in kids. Surgery can be used to treat overactive thyroid. Take out the thyroid and the problem is gone. Genetics can play a role in thyroid cancer, as can ethnicity. Hawaiians have the highest incidence and Filipinos the second-highest. The incidence of thyroid cancer has doubled in the last decade. It's the fastest-growing cancer in the world."
JEREMY FREEMAN, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, University of Toronto
"A yin condition usually indicates symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a yang condition. The primary treatment modalities would be acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, adrenal massage and qigong exercise. Herbs that are cold in nature can reduce the excess heat of hyperthyroidism; we need to cool the heart and calm the mind . Warming herbs are used for hypothyroidism, for which we need to warm the body and nourish the mind."
MARY WU, president, Toronto School of Chinese Medicine