What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, simply put, means that your thyroid gland is not putting out enough of the thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is what controls the way your body uses energy. The most important hormones, T4 and T3, account for more than 99 percent of the thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. They affect the metabolism of the cells themselves, and work with the pituitary gland to maintain a proper level of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone in the system. Hypothyroidism can contribute to the following symptoms:
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Elevated cholesterol
- Dry skin, brittle nails, coarse hair
- Poor tolerance for cold weather
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Memory problems
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Back pain
- Weight retention
- Low basal body temperature
- Slow metabolism
Recent research also links hypothyroidism to the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as:
- Pain in neck, shoulder, shoulder blades, elbows
- Pain in knees and kneecaps
- Headaches, tenderness of scalp, pain in the back of the skull
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Balance problems
- Neurally mediated hypotension (blood pressure dropping when you stand up)
It’s easy to see how chronic back pain can actually be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed hypothyroidism. In some cases, hypothyroidism can come from an autoimmune problem and can be manifested in some classic fibromyalgia symptoms. In cases of autoimmune-related hypothyroidism, the cells themselves have a resistance to the thyroid hormones, which then calls for a completely different strategy for treatment.
Women (especially women past the age of 60) are more prone to hypothyroidism than men are. Thyroid health can be sustained through a diet that includes foods that are rich in iodine (spinach, greens, seafood, iodized salt).
The good thing about hypothyroidism is that it is relatively easy to diagnose through blood work, and that most patients start seeing results in a week or two. There are instances, however, where individuals who are “subclinically hypothyroid” can fall through the cracks, as many tests measure only T4 and TSH levels. Subclinical patients’ cells may not be getting enough thyroid hormone, but the tests can’t measure that and physicians may not have an adequate understanding of what those results really can mean.
Natural medicine practitioners feel that patients respond better to natural rather than synthetic forms of the hormone. Other doctors prescribe Synthroid, a man-made thyroid hormone that replaces the T4 hormone in the system. Synthroid’s side effects, however, can include nervousness, heart palpitations and insomnia. Natural medicine and alternative therapies might address the level of T3 as well, which can be important to proper brain function. The blood work is monitored carefully to make sure that the patient doesn’t take on hyperthyroidism symptoms. In cases where patients can’t tolerate the supplemental hormones well, herbal supplements can be used to support thyroid function.