thyroid remedies

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If you have a slow thyroid — or know someone who does — find out how certain foods and nutrients can help

Q: Are there any natural approaches for hypothyroidism? My sister is 44 and was recently diagnosed. She was told it can cause weight gain, which she has not had any problems with so far — she is very thin and is a marathon runner. However, she has noticed other symptoms. She is currently taking a drug for the condition but would like to look at more natural approaches. Any advice? — Julie T., Columbus, Ohio

A: Hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid gland, can cause weight gain by slowing down the metabolism. The drug your sister is taking is probably Synthroid, which is synthetic T4. A healthy thyroid gland produces both T4, the storage form of the hormone, and T3, the active form of the hormone, which is converted from T4 in the liver. Thyroid changes are quite common for women during times of more obvious hormonal change: onset of puberty, during and after pregnancies, and at or just before menopause. I almost always check ovarian and adrenal function as well as thyroid levels when patients come in with symptomatic hormonal changes. Further, the thyroid gland is highly vascular (lots of tiny blood vessels) and is particularly susceptible to environmental damage, including radiation exposure. This is one reason I counsel my patients to limit dental x-rays to every other year, or less, and none at all until age 12 or so, if possible.

The most common hypothyroid problem is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which requires treatment with the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Addressing the autoimmune component with therapies that help reduce inflammation is an equally important component to treating Hashimoto's disease. If your sister has this form of hypothyroidism, encourage her to visit a naturopath. Visit naturopathic.org to find licensed naturopaths in her area. Your sister's good basic health will serve her well, and if she doesn't stay on the drug too long, she may be able to switch to natural thyroid support with iodine, tyrosine, and B vitamins. If people take thyroid drugs for more than two or three years, the residual ability of the thyroid to produce its own hormones can, in some cases, become suppressed, and then the patient becomes permanently dependent on pharmaceutical help. Having said that, Synthroid is not a drug to fear. It is bio-identical T4, meaning it is molecularly identical to one of the two thyroid hormones your body produces naturally. Some doctors (and patients) prefer the old-fashioned thyroid medicine Armour Thyroid, because it contains both T3 and T4 hormones and is made from the ground up thyroid glands of various mammals, usually cows, sheep, or pigs. If you suspect a thyroid problem, insist that your doctor measure both T3 and T4 hormones. Many times people actually need help with the conversion of T4 to the active form, T3. In these cases, Synthroid (T4) won't help much.

Certain foods can be obstacles to optimal thyroid health: Avoid eating raw cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. These foods, and a few others, are in the Brassica family of plants and are known "goitrogens," which means they inhibit the uptake of iodine, the elemental basis of the thyroid hormones. Following that idea, people with hypothyroidism would do well to eat more high-iodine foods, including sea vegetables (nori, hijiki, dulse, kelp), use iodized salt, and enjoy a wide variety of fish at least three times per week. My only caution with fish is to avoid excess consumption of tuna and swordfish because of the high mercury content. If you have very high total cholesterol (over 300), then you will also need to limit or avoid eating shrimp, which is surprisingly high in cholesterol.

Q: Is there a danger of having cholesterol that's too low — below 150? — Rick K., Austin
A: We have really been taken for a ride on the issue of cholesterol. While cholesterol-rich arterial plaques drive some forms of heart disease, the more common risk factors are stress-induced high blood pressure and obesity.

Cholesterol is not a villain — it is essential to life. First, consider that cholesterol is the "mother hormone" from which all hormones, including progesterone, estrogens, testosterone, cortisol, and aldosterone, are derived.

Cholesterol also helps protect the nucleus, which contains the genetic information of every single of the trillions of cells in your body. The outer layer of every cell is made of cholesterol, which acts as a protective barrier, only allowing specific nutrients into the cell to signal biochemical actions by the nucleus. If your cholesterol gets too low, your cells become vulnerable at many levels, including the outer layer of your skin cells.

In my patients, I like to see total cholesterol between 150 and 250, with at least one-quarter (but ideally one-third) of that total number from HDL, or "good" cholesterol. Ideally, I also like to see triglycerides (a special type of fat with a predilection for being stored in the abdomen) under 100.

You can also evaluate your body fat percentage as a measurement of heart health: For men 2-3 percent is getting too low; for women around 20 percent is ideal. Lastly, a simple measurement is your waist size. Ladies, keep it 34 inches or less, and men, 38 inches or less.

Don't even think about using a drug to lower cholesterol under 250, and if you do opt for statin therapy, please take as much CoQ10 as you can afford to take during and for six months after the therapy: up to 500 mg daily.

If your cholesterol level drops below 150 for no obvious reason, please consider having a complete physical, including a cancer screening. You can incorporate eggs, high-quality dairy products, and lean meats (e.g., organic, grass-fed beef) into your diet to raise your cholesterol.

If cholesterol gets too low, your cells become vulnerable at many levels, including the outer layer of your skin cells

DID YOU KNOW?
You can e-mail health questions to Emily Kane, ND, LAc (aka Dr. Em) at editorial@betternutrition.com. Put "Ask the Naturopath" in the subject line.

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By Emily Kane, ND, LAc

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