Hypothyroidism: Signs, Symptoms & Support

Your thyroid plays a part in nearly every metabolic process in your body. Shaped like a butterfly lying low on the front of the neck, this small gland has an average weight of 16.4 grams in an adult. When the thyroid is its normal size, you can’t even feel it. However, when your thyroid is not working, you won’t feel well at all!

Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, is when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs. These hormones influence your metabolism, growth, development, body temperature, and brain development. The main hormone is thyroxin, also called T-4; but there are others called T-3 and lesser known T-1 and T-2. Thyroid hormones control the way the body uses energy, so they affect nearly every organ in your body, even the way your heart beats. Without enough thyroid hormones, many of your body’s functions slow down. And because your thyroid’s job is complex, it is very sensitive to drugs, infections and environmental chemicals, which may affect proper function.

According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime, with occurrences appearing five to eight times more in women than men. Furthermore, more than 10% of the general population and 20% of women over the age of 60 years suffer from clinical hypothyroidism. Indeed, over the last year, my clinic has seen an increasing number of clients presenting with this condition, but it was not the chief complaint that brought them to my door.

Because hypothyroidism develops slowly over the course of months, or even years, and can occur with a wide range of symptoms commonly linked to other issues, many people don’t notice they are suffering from this particular illness. As a result, only a small percentage of those suffering recognize the symptoms and are being treated.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Symptoms for hypothyroidism vary greatly from person to person, and range from more common, like fatigue and weight gain, to less common, like fertility problems and light sensitivity. To help you identify some early warning signs you may be experiencing, here are possible symptoms broken down by categories. Note: Some of these are common and don’t necessarily mean you have a thyroid problem. But if you are exhibiting a few in combination, it may be an indication your thyroid gland function needs to be checked.

Facial Signs of Hypothyroidism

• Skin looks and feels thinner; dry and scaly skin

• Frequent skin breakouts and/or acne

• Puffiness and swelling around the eyes and face

• Dry and droopy eyes

• Course and brittle hair and nails

• Loss of hair, prematurely grey hair; thin eyebrows, especially the outer 1/3

Musculoskeletal Symptoms

• Extreme fatigue

• Weakness of the limbs

• No stamina to exercise

• Difficulties swallowing with a lump in the throat

• Numbness/tingling in hands/fingers

• Hoarse voice

• Frequent headaches

• Painful, stiff and swollen joints

Endocrine/Hormonal Symptoms

• Goiter

• Type I OR II Diabetes

• Erectile dysfunction; low libido

• Menstrual cramps; irregular periods

• Infertility or frequent miscarriage

GI Symptoms

• Chronic constipation/dry stool

• Bloating and sluggish digestion

• Food sensitivity, Celiac disease or gluten intolerance

• Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis

• Elevated cholesterol level

• Iron deficiency

• Absorption issues

• Leaky gut syndrome

Mental/Emotional Symptoms

• Depression

• Mood swings

• Anxiety

• Forgetfulness

• ADD

Miscellaneous Symptoms

• Auto immune diseases (Hashimoto’s disease)

• Slow heart rate

• Increased sensitivity to cold

• Sensitivity to light

• Respiratory symptoms

• Susceptibility to colds and yeast infections

• Recurrent infections

Tips To Support A Healthy Thyroid

A healthy thyroid requires adequate amounts of selenium, iodine, zinc, B vitamins and antioxidants for optimal function. Hypothyroidism can be largely controlled with thyroid hormone medicine at recommended dosages, which are determined and adjusted with regular blood testing. The symptoms and severity of the condition can also be managed naturally through dietary adjustments and supplements, and herbal supplements, as well as with lifestyle changes, and acupuncture. 

Dietary Considerations & Herbal Supplements

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, there are foods you should eat and foods you should avoid. To replenish important vitamins and minerals, eat wild caught fish like salmon, or supplement your diet with Omega-3 fatty acids. To boost your antioxidant and mineral intake, load up on foods rich in selenium—eggs, mushrooms, oats, brown rice, Brazil nuts—and iodine—seaweed, cod, yogurt, tuna—both of which are essential for maintaining thyroid levels.

Among foods to avoid if you have a hypothyroid condition are: soy products, which can impair absorption of thyroid medication; excessive refined sugar and processed foods, which impair production of thyroid hormone; and fried foods and too much of animal fat, which burdens the liver and consequently decreases thyroid hormone production.

Doctors may also recommend you eliminate dairy and gluten from your diet. Gluten can create small intestine inflammation and block thyroid medication and iodine absorption. This is especially problematic if you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, or thyroiditis—inflammation of your thyroid that causes stored thyroid hormone to leak out of your thyroid gland. Approximately one third of Hashimoto’s and thyroiditis patients are sensitive to gluten. However, people with Hashimoto’s disease or other types of autoimmune thyroid disorders may be sensitive to harmful side effects from excess iodine. In these cases, more thorough conversations should be held with your health care providers about a proper dietary plan.

If you are adopting a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to hypothyroidism, TCM practitioners recommend cinnamon (rou gui), Aconite (fu zi), Rehmannia (shu di huang), Dioscorea (shan yao), and Cornus (shan zhu yu). Take Holy Basil and rhodiola to support healthy neurotransmitters. And they also recommend the following tonics: Kidney Yin Tonic (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) is the herbal formula most often used; Liver Cleansing (Zhi Zi Qing Gan Tang); and Heart Yin Tonic (Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan).

Lifestyle Choices & Acupuncture

According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture can be used to treat thyroid diseases. Several studies also suggest that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be beneficial treatment methods, especially when acupuncture is received regularly. Acupuncture increases circulation in the thyroid and adrenal gland, and signals them to function properly. Furthermore, acupuncture provides great support in treating hypothyroid symptoms like hoarse voice, slowed speech, puffy face, drooping eyelids, sensitivity to cold, constipation, weight gain, dry hair and skin, depression and more.

Stress plays a huge role in hypofunction of the thyroid gland. The stress hormone cortisol produced by the adrenal gland suppresses the thyroid function. Other healthy lifestyle approaches such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises, can be very beneficial when managing hypothyroidism exacerbated by stress. In addition, supplements like Ashwagandha and eleuthero fortify the immune system and reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

Finally, get plenty of sunshine to optimize vitamin D, or take a vitamin D supplement. And as with any use of supplements or prescribed medications, be sure to work closely with a health practitioner to ensure any combination is monitored and right for you.

In a lot of cases in our clinic, proper nutrition, compensation of missing nutrients, clearing infection, and building up adrenal strength are great factors in treating hypothyroidism. Very often patients require less medication, or eventual experience remission. Regardless of the path you choose to take gain support, what’s most important is to understand each patient is unique and therefore requires and individual approach to treatment.

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