Sometimes, you can throw all of the supplements and medication at your thyroid. And you won’t be successful at treating hypothyroidism.
Unless you get the basics right, you are wasting your time with your hypothyroidism treatment.
There are five keys to succeeding, and unless you follow those, all the supplements and medications won’t help.
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition in which your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones 1. Women, especially those older than 60 years, are more likely to be affected with the condition.
Hypothyroidism will disrupt the normal balance of chemical reactions in your body, so it is only logical and natural to want to do something about it 2.
In the early stage, there are almost no symptoms. But over time, if left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause a number of complications and problems.
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Symptoms of hypothyroidism
As mentioned previously, there are rarely any symptoms in the early stage of the condition. Even more challenging, the symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on the hormone deficiency. Generally speaking, problems tend to develop slowly.
The first symptoms, which are weight gain and fatigue, might be unrecognizable at the beginning 3. You might simply attribute fatigue to getting older or to something else. But as your metabolism continues to slow down due to underactive thyroid, you will develop more and more symptoms.
These are the symptoms of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Pain, stiffness, or swelling in the joints
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods
If left untreated, the symptoms will gradually become more severe. Advanced hypothyroidism is rare, but can happen, and it is life-threatening.
Hypothyroidism in infants
While the condition usually affects middle-aged and older women, the fact of the matter is that anyone can develop it. This includes infants as well 4.
Initially, babies born without a thyroid gland, or one that doesn’t work properly will experience few signs and symptoms.
Here are some of the symptoms:
- Frequent choking
- Puffy appearance to the face
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Large, protruding tongue
As the condition progresses, the symptoms may change or worsen 5. This is because infants are likely to have trouble feeding and may not develop normally.
They also might experience symptoms like:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Poor muscle tone
Even mild cases of untreated hypothyroidism in infants will result in severe physical and intellectual disabilities.
Hypothyroidism in children and teens
Children and teens experience and develop the same symptoms as adults. However, they also experience other symptoms like:
- Poor growth
- Short stature
- Delayed puberty
- Poor mental development
- Delayed development of permanent teeth
What is causing your underactive thyroid?
As mentioned previously, the reason for hypothyroidism is your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, and the balance of chemical reactions in the body is disrupted.
There are a number of causes of why this is happening.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of the front of the neck, just below Adam’s apple. The thyroid produces two hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).
These hormones have an enormous impact on your health. These hormones maintain the rate at which your body uses fats and carbohydrates, but also influences the heart rate, regulate the production of proteins, control body temperature, and much more 6.
Here are some factors that can cause an underactive thyroid gland:
- Autoimmune diseases cause people to develop a particular inflammatory disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the most common cause of underactive thyroid. These diseases happen when your immune system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues
- You can develop hypothyroidism from hyperthyroidism. People who produce too much thyroid hormone are often treated with radioactive iodine to reduce and normalize their thyroid function, and in some cases, the treatment can result in hypothyroidism
- Surgery that removed all or a large portion of your thyroid gland will diminish the hormone production, and you will need to take a thyroid hormone for life
- Pituitary disorder is a relatively rare cause of hypothyroidism, usually because of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland
- Some women develop hypothyroidism during pregnancy or after pregnancy because they produce antibodies to their own thyroid gland 7
When to see a doctor?
If you are feeling tired for no reason, or you have any other signs or symptoms of the condition, you should definitely schedule an appointment with your physician.
It is also recommended that you visit a doctor for periodic testing of your thyroid function. This is especially true for patients who have had thyroid surgery, treatment with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications.
Patients with radiation therapy to the head, neck, or upper chest, should also schedule regular checkups and testing with a physician.
Some conditions like high blood cholesterol are also risk factors and causes of hypothyroidism. You should check with a doctor whether the underactive thyroid gland is causing your high blood cholesterol.
With that in mind, what can you do to ensure a successful hypothyroidism treatment?
Five steps for Successful Treatment
No matter the hormones and the supplements you are taking, unless you follow a proper balanced and healthy hypothyroidism diet, your treatment will not be successful. What we eat has a huge influence on how our body fights off and handles the condition.
In the past several years, there have been a number of studies proving that there is a huge connection between diet and hypothyroidism.
Certain foods directly contribute to developing and triggering symptoms of hypothyroidism. As such, they should be avoided.
On the other side, there are foods and compounds that ease up your symptoms. Some nutrients are necessary for your thyroid to function properly.
All of these minerals help your thyroid function properly.
What you need to avoid is polyunsaturated fats, which block the thyroid from releasing hormones, but also block the thyroid hormone from being transported properly.
Diet that is specifically made for someone with hypothyroidism excludes all goitrogens, compounds that may interfere with the function of the thyroid gland 11.
These compounds are found in soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, cruciferous vegetables like kale, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, fruits and starchy plants, and nuts and seeds like pine nuts, peanuts, and millet.
Improve the function of your liver
Your diet should focus on two things. The first one is to avoid foods that are bad for the thyroid and consume some that are good.
The second thing to focus on is your liver health.
The liver is the one that metabolizes nutrients and makes sure your thyroid can function properly. The T3 hormone is produced by the liver, and the liver cannot do this unless it has plenty of nutrients, most notably selenium.
We mentioned selenium is needed for your thyroid gland. It is also key for your liver. When your blood sugar is out of balance, your liver will not work properly.
In some cases, even though your thyroid gland is working perfectly, your liver might be the reason for hypothyroidism.
Consider consuming fruits and vegetables that do not contain goitrogens, and help your liver detoxify.
Improve lifestyle management
Lifestyle management, particularly managing stress is key to successful hypothyroidism treatment. We take lifestyle for granted. But it is an underrated factor in the success or failure of the treatment.
It always boils down to stress. Most people do not understand the severity of the effect stress has on our life and thyroid gland.
Stress hormone can play an active role in suppressing the thyroid by inhibiting the liver from converting T4 to T3, and by increasing the conversion to the hormone Reverse T3, which blocks the thyroid function.
The more stressful your life is, the more important is to keep stress at a minimum.
Balance blood sugar
Our blood sugar level is very important to our lifestyle and the health of our thyroid gland. When the blood sugar levels drop too low, the levels of stress hormone increase. Which, as we mentioned previously, works against your thyroid.
Cortisol, or the stress hormone, is responsible for breaking down muscle tissue in order to raise the blood sugar back up. To summarize, balancing your blood sugar is extremely important part of any successful hypothyroidism treatment.
Finding the right supplements
When you get the right diet for hypothyroidism, your put stress under control, you get your liver healthy, and you balance blood sugar, your thyroid will start to function normally, properly, and more effectively. Some people, it still might not be enough.
This is when supplements come into play. The entire hormonal system is very complex. And you need to understand that not thyroid supplements are created equal. In some cases, iodine can cause more harm than good.
The medical community continues to prescribe T4 only medication, despite research showing it is not effective for the majority of people. In some cases, this additional T4 can make you even more hypothyroid which is counterproductive.
The key is finding the right combination of hormones that your body needs in order to restore balance to the system. In many cases, this is easier said than done.
Too much supplementation, or wrong supplementation, and you might go from hypo, to hyperthyroidism.
Why you cannot ignore a hypothyroidism problem
As mentioned previously, ignoring a hypothyroidism problem will result in more underlying health problems. There are a number of health issues that happen because of ignoring a problem that can be easily treated.
Here are some
- Heart problems happen because of high levels of low-density cholesterol. Your thyroid gland might cause an increase in total cholesterol because it is not working properly, and it is not regulating blood sugar and blood cholesterol. In the long run, this will impair the pumping ability of your heart. In some cases, hypothyroidism can also result in enlarged heart and heart failure
- Goiter, a condition in which the thyroid gland becomes larger is another health problem. This happens because of constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones. Hashimoto is one of the most common causes of goiter, and while it is not uncomfortable, large goiter can affect your appearance and interfere with your swallowing or breathing ability
- Myxedema is actually a life-threatening condition as a result of long-term, undiagnosed hypothyroidism. The symptoms include cold intolerance and drowsiness, as well as lethargy and unconsciousness. Stress can trigger a myxedema coma
- Mental health issues like depression occur early in hypothyroidism and can become more severe over time, as the condition causes slowed mental functioning
- Peripheral neuropathy happens due to uncontrolled hypothyroidism causing damage to your peripheral nerves. These are the nerves that carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body
- Low levels of thyroid hormone interfere with ovulation, which has a potential of causing infertility
- Babies born to women with untreated thyroid problem have a higher risk of birth defects, and they are more prone to serious intellectual and developmental problems