Hypothyroidism

Uses

Principal Proposed Natural Treatments

  • Animal-based extract

Other Proposed Treatments

Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution

In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland fails to produce adequate levels of thyroid hormone. Symptoms include the following:

  • Sluggishness
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Excessive menstruation
  • Hoarseness
  • Goiter (a visible enlargement of the neck caused by a swollen thyroid gland)
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common natural cause of low thyroid hormone levels. In this autoimmune condition, the body develops antibodies that attack and gradually destroy the thyroid. A viral infection of the thyroid can also decrease thyroid hormone production, but the effect is generally mild and temporary. Finally, iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, but this seldom occurs in the developed world where iodine is routinely added to salt. Besides these natural causes, there is a still more common cause of hypothyroidism—medical treatment for hyper thyroidism (excessive production of thyroid hormone production). People with certain forms of hyperthyroidism receive treatment with radioactive iodine to inactivate the thyroid gland. This treatment causes hypothyroidism, which requires lifelong treatment with thyroid replacement therapy. Until the 1990s, doctors commonly diagnosed hypothyroidism by conducting lab tests to measure thyroid hormone levels in the blood (the T 4 level). Unfortunately, normal thyroid levels vary widely between people, so this method couldn’t always correctly identify the disease. A much better lab test, which became available in the 1990s, involves measurement of a hormone called TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH is released by the pituitary gland in order to control the thyroid gland. The pituitary gland constantly measures the level of thyroid hormone in the blood and adjusts TSH levels as necessary to get it right. When thyroid hormone levels are high, it turns TSH levels down. When thyroid hormone levels are too low, the pituitary raises TSH levels to stimulate the thyroid. If the thyroid gland does not respond by raising thyroid hormone levels, the pituitary turns up the TSH levels even higher. When TSH levels are higher than normal limits, this means that the thyroid gland is having trouble producing enough thyroid hormone for the body’s needs: in other words, the person has entered a hypothyroid state, or is about to enter such a state. This method of determining thyroid status has proved very reliable. In other words, the pituitary gland knows what it is talking about. Medical treatment for low-thyroid conditions is safe and very effective. Treatment involves use of a hormone called levothyroxine, or T 4 . The body actually uses two forms of thyroid, T 4 and T 3 , but in most cases the body easily and automatically converts T 4 to T 3 in the right proportions. The dosage of drug is adjusted by monitoring TSH levels. When the pituitary gland is satisfied, the dose is most likely correct.

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