What Exactly Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid is basically a sluggish-functioning thyroid gland.
The thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland found at the front of the neck just above your collarbones, makes the thyroid hormones controlling how the human body uses energy.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to make or secret the necessary amounts of thyroid hormones needed by the body. Essential in this process of creating the thyroid hormones is the nutritional element iodine.
There are four thyroid hormones. Each one is designated by the number of iodine groups attached – T1, T2, T3 and T4.
- T3 (tri-iodothyronine) is the most active hormone and the one crossing into every cell in the body. T4, is the most common circulating thyroid hormone, but must be converted into T3 before entering cells.
- Thyroxin (T4) has a long “half-life”, meaning that it can circulate for days in the body without being metabolized in the liver. T3 (tri-iodothyronine) has a very short life span of just a few hours.
When there is insufficient (or no) iodine in the foods we eat, our thyroid gland doesn’t have the raw material it needs to do its job. We’ll get into a detailed discussion of the extreme importance of dietary iodine (and why iodized table salt is of minimal use) further down.
Types of Hypothyroidism
There are several major types of hypothyroidism:
- Primary Hypothyroidism – This is the most commonly seen type of hypothyroidism – and has reached epidemic proportions in the last 100 years. The thyroid simply isn’t creating enough of the thyroid hormones. The overwhelming cause of primary hypothyroidism is simply a deficiency of iodine.
- Hashimoto’s Disease – This is the next most common type of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s Disease is an auto-immune disorder where the body’s immune system actually attacks the thyroid gland as if it were a foreign invader. In fact, about a third of all women and one in six men test positive for these thyroid antibodies.
Frequently, Hashimoto’s Disease follows an opposite condition called Grave’s Disease where the thyroid gland is too active (hyperthyroidism). The mere presence of positive antibodies does not necessarily mean that a person is hypothyroid, but once symptoms develop, then these thyroid antibodies make the condition very difficult to counter. Thyroid hormones get “attacked” by these antibodies, requiring mammoth doses of any prescribed treatment.
- Secondary Hypothyroidism – This is when the pituitary gland fails to release adequate amounts of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Thyroid stimulating hormone is responsible for signaling the thyroid to manufacture T4.
- Tertiary Hypothyroidism – When the hypothalamus goes haywire, it can affect the entire endocrine system, including the thyroid gland and its production of hormones.
- Drug (or Toxicity) Induced Hypothyroidism – Some prescription medications (such as lithium for bipolar affective disorder and the heart anti-arrhythmia drug amiodarone) have been known to induce hypothyroidism. 47% of patients on long-term lithium treatment will develop clinical hypothyroidism.
Likewise, amiodarone can take weeks or months to induce hypothyroidism, so patients taking these drugs should be regularly monitored for proper thyroid hormone levels.
Exposure to “Halogens” – chlorine, bromine or fluorine all fall under this toxicity category. We’ll discuss exactly how in just a bit.
- Iatrogenic – Hypothyroidism caused by surgical removal or irradiation of the thyroid gland. These procedures are carried out in order to treat hot thyroid nodules.
Thyroid nodules are any abnormal growth forming a lump or lumps in the thyroid gland. These nodules are many times benign. Only about ten percent of the diagnosed nodules are cancerous. There is some speculation that nodules form because of low iodine intake. The nodules are trying to increase thyroid activity in order to make up for the lack of iodine. When these nodules go haywire, cancer develops.
Nodules are both age and gender related – mostly happening in women.
If the entire thyroid is surgically removed, life is difficult. Patients are totally dependent on hormone replacement medications – and unfortunately the dosages prescribed are almost always too little. Taking iodine supplements will not help those with surgically removed thyroids.
Irradiation is a common treatment for advanced thyrotoxicosis, which is a disorder especially common among women. Thyrotoxicosis (hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid) is most often caused by Graves disease and thyroid nodules. Radioiodine (radioactive iodine) is used as the last gasp therapy when anti-thyroid medication fails, basically stopping the thyroid from producing hormones. The danger of course is that the thyroid will never return to normal after the irradiation, keeping the patient in a constant state of acute hypothyroidism.
If left untreated, thyrotoxicosis usually burns out by itself and the patient becomes hypothyroid. These people are virtually caught between a rock and a hard place, with hypothyroidism the common denominator.
What Are The Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
When the thyroid isn’t functioning as intended, the symptoms are many and varied. Often confused for other conditions (like depression) or simply “growing older,” hypothyroidism causes a laundry list of unpleasant and even dangerous warning signs:
- Weight gain
- Hard stools or constipation
- Cold hands and cold feet
- Fatigue or feeling continually “pooped”
- Brain fog or an inability to concentrate
- Sleep disturbances, especially early morning awakening
- Heavier or irregular menstrual periods
- Joint or muscle pain
- Paleness or dry skin
- Thin, brittle hair and/or fingernails
- Thinning hair
- General muscular weakness
Advanced Symptoms of Hypothyroidism:
- Decreased taste and smell
- Hoarseness when speaking
- Puffy face, hands and feet
- Slow(er) or slurred speech
- Thickening skin
- Thinning eyebrows
- Hair falling out in large clumps
What’s your score? You can find out for yourself how severe your symptoms of hypothyroidism may be. Take this online and confidential quick questionnaire to see where you stand.
The most severe and dangerous form of hypothyroidism is called Myxedema Coma occurring when the thyroid has essentially shut down. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization.
Hypothyroidism can affect both men and women, and in cases of illness or malnutrition – children as well.
However, individuals over 40 and women in general are more prone to hypothyroidism. Here are the major factors involved:
Age Related Hypothyroidism
It’s a fact, as we age our bodies tend to slow down. Our thyroid gland is no different, and the stresses of decades of life do begin to take their toll. The thyroid just doesn’t function as efficiently as in our youth. If an individual has not been taking care of their health, this problem is of course exacerbated.
Women and Hypothyroidism
- First is Age: Like everyone else on the planet, they are prone to decreased thyroid activity due to the aging process.
- Second is Pregnancy: When a woman is carrying a child, their body gives the fetus first dibs on almost everything. As iodine is a crucial and essential substance for the unborn child’s proper development, iodine stores will be diverted from the mother and to the child. After even two pregnancies, a mom’s iodine reserves can be all but depleted – resulting in hypothyroidism – and that depressing weight gain.
- Third is Breast Tissue: Many people (and even physicians!) are unaware that a woman’s breasts demand almost as much iodine as the thyroid gland. Breast tissue siphons off the iodine needed or intended for the thyroid gland. Fibrocystic breast disease, which was one time unusual, is now almost universal in women in developed countries. The classic cause of fibrocystic breast disease is iodine deficiency and is almost always associated with hypothyroidism.
- Fourth is Nutrition: As you read above, iodine is absolutely essential for a proper functioning thyroid gland and to help prevent hypothyroidism. But for both men and woman, we aren’t getting nearly the amount of iodine in our diets as we need.
The Iodine Connection in Hypothyroidism
Diet, Nutrition and Iodine
Today our nutrition is many times abysmal. Fast foods, junk food, foods grown in nutrient depleted soils – these just can’t give the human body what it needs to thrive. Now add three “modern day improvements” – fluoride, chlorine and bromine – and our thyroid is taxed to the max.
Here’s the problem:
Iodine is tough to come by naturally in our food supply. The two good sources of iodine – seafood and sea vegetables (such as seaweed) have been adulterated by mercury poisoning and industrial wastes poured into the sea. Plus, with the advent of Fukushima, we now have to contend with radioactive iodine flowing into the ocean’s waters and atmosphere as well.
Food grown on large commercial farms suffers from chemical over-fertilization. Gone are the times when farmers would use fish as fertilizer – restoring the trace amounts of iodine back to the soil. Also, the soils are not allowed to recoup their natural vigor by laying fallow for several seasons, but are rather “fortified” year after year by man-made fertilizers.
Yes, the plants grow – but the fertilizers used have only a limited amount of nutrients, and iodine is usually not among them. This nutritional shortfall is passed on to the crops, and ultimately us when we consume them.
Next come three other culprits in this iodine connection – fluorine, chlorine and bromine.
Fluoridated water is neither benign nor beneficial. To begin with, the fluoride found in our drinking water is anything but natural. It is actually hydrofluosilicic acid, a by-product of heavy industry, especially the fertilizer and aluminum industries. What are other uses for this substance? Try…
- Rat poison, and
- Sarin nerve gas – just to name a few.
Scrapped off factory chimneys and smelters, it is rightfully considered a poison and treated as a dangerous bio-hazard when handling. However, this EXACT same substance is then mixed into our drinking water, and by some yet unknown alchemical reaction (sarcasm) what was minutes before a deadly industrial waste suddenly becomes a so-called “healthy” adjunct to our basic water supply.
One of the problems with fluoride is that it slowly but surely displaces iodine in our thyroid. Another huge problem is the dosage. The more water one drinks, the more fluoride one consumes. Added to this is that fluoride is found in most toothpastes, and each day becomes a gamble as to just how much fluoride is actually entering the body. In fact there is enough fluoride in a tube of fluoridated toothpaste to actually kill a child!
Chlorine is another iodine-disrupting halide. Yes, chlorine does kill many pathogens in our drinking water. However, it does have its dark side. Skin exposure to chlorine from swimming in a chlorinated pool, bathing or drinking city water leeches iodine from the thyroid gland.
Think of it, every time you take a shower from the standard municipal water supply (especially here in the USA), the skin absorbs both chlorine and fluoride – which slowly poisons the thyroid gland.
You should note that while water filters are readily available to eliminate chlorine from both your drinking and shower water, they are just about useless for filtering out fluoride. (The fluorine molecule is exceedingly small and much harder to trap.)
Bromine is the third bad-guy in this story. Used in baked goods, breads, pastas, upholstery, plastics, medications, fire-retardants and soft drinks, bromine is an endocrine disrupter – and similar to fluoride in that it competes for the same receptors that are used to capture iodine, displacing iodine from your body.
In the turn of the last century it was recognized iodine was a critical nutrient – but one that was not very plentiful the further one was away from the sea. In the 1920’s, children in the Great Lakes, Appalachian, and Northwestern U.S. regions and in most of Canada (the so-called Goiter-Belt) were especially hit hard, with hypothyroidism and goitera constant problem.
Since the amount of iodine in the food they were eating was so low, the thyroid tried to compensate by growing larger. The end result was acute hypothyroidism and the large, bulbous nodule on the throat – a goiter.
It was found that by simply adding a miniscule amount of iodine to table salt, goiters could be prevented.
Yes, this trace amount of iodine prevented goiter – but the amount was hardly what the body needed – or needs – for optimal health.
Iodine and Children
Goiter is bad enough, but when a pregnant mother is severely iodine deficient, this can lead to disastrous results for the child. Iodine deficiency is the sole cause of cretinism in infants and young children. The most common cause of mental retardation on the planet is simply a less severe form of cretinism. This is all the more upsetting as these lifelong handicaps could be prevented with just a few dollars’ worth of iodine supplements.
You may have read or heard some people claim they are allergic to iodine. We come to the conclusion this is all but impossible. If a human became truly allergic to iodine, they would soon die. Every cell in the body requires iodine to function. If the iodine allergy was pre-natal, the unborn baby would remain just that – unborn.
Many making this claim base their assertion of an iodine allergy when eating seafood. It’s not the iodine that’s causing an allergic reaction, but any one or more of the thousands of biological components that make up the fish or sea life.
Testing for Hypothyroidism
Doctors usually will order blood tests (Thyroid Panel) to see the levels of T3, T4 and TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) circulating in your blood. If you have low levels of T4, and higher than normal TSH, that’s usually an indication of hypothyroidism. Your pituitary gland is producing more TSH – trying to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.
Many people experience what’s called subclinical hypothyroidism. The symptoms are slight and usually produce no overt, outward signs. Blood tests will show normal levels of both T3 and T4, but elevated levels of TSH.
Euthyroid Sick Syndrome – By far the most common presentation in hypothyroidal disorders – this vexing condition happens when a person shows signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, but the lab results appear normal. Patients go to see their physician, get the tests and are basically told they’re fine – even if they feel lousy. Many doctors will then prescribe anti-depressants, which will do nothing for the underachieving thyroid, and only mask the patient’s symptoms.
It is yet not known if Euthyroid Sick Syndrome is an adaptive response that turns down the thyroid because of another undiagnosed problem or illness, or a negative condition in and of itself, which directly causes hypothyroidism.
Of course, if you are experiencing several of the classic symptoms of hypothyroidism mentioned above, it’s a strong indication your thyroid isn’t creating enough hormones for optimal health.
Treating Hypothyroidism – Non-Prescription Solutions
In many cases, hypothyroidism is a case of iodine malnutrition. You are simply not getting enough iodine in your diet. As we noted, the amount of iodine in iodized salt is barely enough to prevent goiter, but insufficient to restore proper function to the thyroid gland.
The first line of defense in treating hypothyroidism should then be the least invasive – namely supplementing with iodine. Just by increasing iodine levels, primary hypothyroidism can be alleviated and normal thyroid function restored in almost half of all cases. But please be advised most iodine supplements and multi-vitamins have far too little iodine in them to be effective. In fact, the standard 400 IU in most preparations is 80 – 100 TIMES LESS than what is truly needed.
At the end of this review you’ll find our recommendations for high-potency iodine supplements needed for optimal health and combatting hypothyroidism.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) at least 72% 0f the world’s population is currently iodine deficient. Many holistic physicians feel even this figure is far too conservative. (See article here: World Health Organization; Global Prevalence of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, May 1995, and updated information at The International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders.)
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES – completed 1971-1974) shows iodine levels have dropped 50% in the U.S.A. alone. The problem has only worsened over time.
About the only populations on earth that get enough iodine in their diet are the Japanese and Eskimos. (They both eat plenty of fish and/or seaweed.)
The Japanese diet typically consumes a 100-fold amount of iodine than that of Westerners – and Japan has no significant amount of thyroid disease. But as mentioned above, with the advent of Fukushima this can well change as the seaweed and fish being consumed is now becoming radioactive.
Treating Hypothyroidism – Prescription Hormone Supplementation
The second line of defense in treating hypothyroidism is supplementing with thyroid hormones. Many doctors consider the best hormone treatment is using desiccated thyroid, of which the most well-known brand is Armour, followed by Westhroid, Nature-Throid and many other generic versions. The reason why desiccated thyroid is used is because it most closely resembles the natural human ratios of T4 to T3.
However, most doctors are not familiar with desiccated thyroid and will instead, prescribe daily doses of a synthetic thyroid hormone – Levothyroxine (Synthroid).
Levothyroxine (Synthroid) is simply the “backwards” mirror image version of T4 or thyroxine. Since this type of T4 is created in the lab, it can be patented. It helps, but not as effectively as desiccated thyroid. About one third of those prescribed do not get a decent response. Plus, when Levothyroxine is combined with other prescription drugs such as beta blockers, the results are severely limited. Additionally, T4 does not have the biological activity that T3 has.
Incidentally, many doctors do not prescribe large enough doses of any thyroid hormone, regardless of the brand. They keep looking at the blood tests and not the patient.
Prescribed thyroid hormones can cause hyperthyroidism symptoms if the dose is too high: rapid resting heart rate, palpitations (PVC’s or extra beats), tremors/tremulousness, nervousness, anxiety or irritability, inability to sleep, hyperactivity or feeling hot. Physical findings include hyperreflexia (increased deep tendon reflexes or “knee jerk”) and resting heart rate above 80 beats per minute.
The biggest dangers (if the dose is too high) are the cardiac effects, where the heart rate can switch into arrhythmias or beat so fast that chest pain results. However, it takes WEEKS to get to this point and never happens overnight, even if someone intentionally overdoses.
The easiest way to follow proper dosage or over-dosage is to check the resting heart rate. Normal is anywhere from 60 to about the mid 70’s. If it crosses into the 80’s, then the dosage should be reduced. If the heart rate reaches over 100, dosages should be suspended for a while.
This is why doctors are afraid to prescribe adequate doses of thyroid hormones. They don’t trust their patients to monitor their own heart rates, and instead simply rely on blood tests for guidance. Simple education can do this with motivated patients. It takes about three weeks for the elevated heart rate to become a problem, so there is plenty of time to make dosage corrections.
Iodine administration alone will never result in hyperthyroid effects because the body will only use what it can manage and eliminate the remainder through sweat or urine.
Treating Hypothyroidism – Non-Prescription Hormone Supplementation
There are also non-prescription thyroid hormones. These are dried thyroid/adrenal combinations derived from animal glands. Raw Thyroid from Natural Sources is one such product, and Biotics Research also has similar formulations. The only downside is that one must take multiple pills to get the full, natural T4 and T3 effect.
Additionally, if you have the financial resources you can go directly to a compounding pharmacy and have them custom-formulate a T3 T4 blend to you or your physician’s own specifications.
You might even wish to contact a bio-identical trained doctor for advice and guidance with your hypothyroid issues. One such group is Body Logic, but a simple Google inquiry will reveal dozens if not hundreds of alternatives – many specifically in your geographical location. (Note: We do not receive any financial remuneration from any of the companies listed on this site.)
Iodine Supplements – Our Recommendations
There are many iodine supplements on the market, but unfortunately almost all of them are very low dosage, and won’t go far in reversing the effects of hypothyroidism.
A handful of supplements however do have a higher concentration of the elemental iodine necessary for a proper functioning thyroid gland.
Two of the better ones we’ve run across are Iodoral from Optimox and
IodinePlus2 from a company named Natural Living. Both these formulations cost approximately the same.
We do lean more towards IodinePlus2 because of these advantages:
- IodinePlus2 contains the two forms of iodine necessary for good health – Iodine and Potassium Iodide. These two forms of iodine are balanced for optimal biological efficiency – 5 mg of Iodine and 7.5 mg of Potassium Iodide.
- IodinePlus2 contains 15 mcg of Selenium. Selenium is necessary for proper functioning of the enzyme, iodothyronine deiodinase, critical for conversion of T4 into T3 (the active thyroid hormone).
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin – 15 mg) is also part of their exclusive formulation. Vitamin B2 apparently exerts a synergistic effect in conjunction with the iodine in helping the body make proper amounts of active thyroid hormones.
Please see www.1-thyroid.com for additional information on this product and company.
Summary of Recommendations
- The first line of treatment should be supplementing with quality, high-potency iodine preparations.
- If your symptoms don’t improve, then by all means seek professional help and get your iodine levels and thyroid activity checked and monitored.
- Ask your doctor or health-care professional about the various choices available in prescription medications. In our opinion, it is almost always better to use natural hormonal substances than chemically altered mimics.
- Please remember that Thyroid Panel blood tests will in all likelihood not catch hypothyroidism in its early stages. It can take up to 15 years before the tests catch up with the actual condition. Many physicians simply look at the test results, and automatically dismiss hypothyroidism if the raw numbers fall within a certain range.
One thing you must remember about the thyroid – any changes will come about slowly! Even with prescription medications, overnight results should not be expected. It will take at least two weeks, and maybe a month or more, before you start to see and feel demonstrable results.
Hypothyroidism can take years or decades to manifest itself. If you are experiencing symptoms of this disorder, give yourself and your body the time and the nutrients it needs to correct and heal itself.