diagnosis: hypothyroidism


natural solutions for common problems


Internationally known lecturer and author, Mary Bove, ND, offers real-life case studies from her clinical practice in Vermont.

Gail is a 51-year-old perimenopausal woman who came to me complaining about weight gain, mild depression, low energy, loss of hair, loss of libido and muscle weakness. We ran some lab tests to check for anemia and thyroid function. Although Gail's results showed a normal iron level, they also showed a low level of thyroid hormone — along with an increased amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone — which indicated hypothyroidism.

Signs and Symptoms
Hypothyroidism is a state of low thyroid hormone secretion or inadequate thyroid hormone conversion that results in a lowered basal metabolic state. There is also a state of sub-clinical hypothyroidism in which the symptoms of hypothyroidism are present but without abnormal shifts as disclosed in the lab tests. This is a gray area in which the gland is breaking down but is not yet broken; it's a good time to prescribe alternative medicines to avoid complete breakdown.

Hypothyroidism is a relatively common disease with 2-3 percent of the US population having it. If individuals who have sub-clinical or mild hypothyroidism are included, the incidence of hypothyroidism has been calculated to affect as many as 10-20 percent of women over the age of 50.

The most common symptoms are fatigue, weight gain and depression. Lesser known symptoms include insomnia; memory loss; poor concentration; dry skin and hair; loss of half or more of one's eyebrows; a thick tongue, which often shows tooth indentations; menstrual irregularities; cold intolerance; high blood lipids; headaches; recurring infections; constipation; loss of libido; infertility; miscarriage; premature delivery; and muscle weakness.

Rejuvenating Regimen
Gail chose a 4-month plan that incorporated nutritional and botanical medicines plus lifestyle, diet, exercise, and stress management techniques geared to improve her thyroid function. We planned to recheck her thyroid after 4 months to determine the effectiveness of the treatment plan. As part of the assessment, Gail performed the daily task of recording her basal body temperature, which was running between 96.7 degrees and 98.2 degrees. (Hypothyroid patients usually have subnormal temperatures.)

To kick off the 4-month plan, I started Gail on a botanical thyroid formula combining coleus, bladder wrack, guggul, kelp, ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng and Chinese skullcap. This combination of herbs acts to improve thyroid hormone production, secretion and conversion. The inclusion of adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha and Siberian ginseng, gives support to both the adrenal gland and the various stress-mediating systems of the body.

Nutritional Therapy
There are several nutrients that play key roles in thyroid gland and thyroid hormone function. Supplementation with selenium, zinc and copper, along with eating foods high in these minerals, is essential for normal thyroid hormone production and metabolism. Good dietary sources of zinc include seafood (especially oysters), beef, oatmeal, chicken, liver, spinach, nuts and seeds.

Copper is mainly found in liver and other organ meats, eggs, yeast, beans, nuts and seeds. One of the best natural sources of selenium is Brazil nuts, especially ones that have not been shelled.

Tyrosine, an amino acid, is used as a precursor for making thyroid hormone, and a deficiency can contribute to low thyroid function. Low-protein diets can be insufficient for providing adequate tyrosine. Supplementation at a dose of 500-1,500 milligrams (mg) daily has therapeutic benefits.

Iodine is also an important building block for thyroid hormone. Good sources include sea fish, sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, hijiki, nori and kornbu) and iodized salt. And since iodine is such a key component of thyroid health, goitrogens — foods that block iodine utilization — should be limited. These include turnips, cabbage, mustard, cassava root, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts and millet. Cooking, however, usually inactivates goitrogens.

Diet and Exercise
Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to normal thyroid function as well, so a diet rich in balanced amounts of them is important. Fish and fish oils provide excellent forms of omega-3s as well as vitamin A, which improves thyroid receptor binding and thyroid hormone activity.

Daily exercise stimulates thyroid gland function and increases tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormone. Gail agreed to walk 30 minutes a day and to do yoga stretching for 20 minutes each morning.

Her new regimen has her feeling much better and — now that she knows what the problem is — much more confident that she can take control of her health.



By Mary Bove, ND

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