What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid, is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormones that are essential for many bodily functions. It is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. My risk analysis reports the causes of this disease with a special look at nutritional deficiencies.
Cause or Possible Cause of Hypothyroidism
Thyroid hormones are chemical substances that regulate or control your body’s metabolism, and your metabolism helps your body function and use energy. When the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, the body’s chemical reactions become upset or unbalanced. There are several causes for hypothyroidism. The most common include:
Nutritional Deficiency: Numerous studies have found a vast amount of nutritional deficiencies in people with hypothyroidism. A key determinant of thyroid disorders in adults is iodine deficiency. According to the late Dr. John C. Lowe, one of the leading experts on treating thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is the result of many other nutritional deficiencies on top of the lack of iodine. This includes several B, C, and E vitamins, as well as calcium, magnesium, and Omega-3. One study confirmed that 40 percent of hypothyroid patients are deficient in B12. Another study found a deficiency of Vitamin C in nearly everyone who has thyroid disease. Since the late Dr. Lowe’s discoveries, research has determined Vitamin D deficiency to be highly associated with the degree and severity of hypothyroidism.
Autoimmune Disease: Hashimoto’s Disease (“Hashimoto’s”) is considered the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. This autoimmune disease is characterized by inflammation of the thyroid gland, goiter, infiltration of the thyroid gland with lymphocytes, and hypothyroidism. (See my risk analysis on Hashimoto’s.)
Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid gland is a contributory factor for thyroiditis. This condition causes stored thyroid hormones to leak from the thyroid gland. At first, the leakage increases thyroid hormones which lead to the overproduction of thyroid hormones and a condition known as hyperthyroidism which can last up to three months. Thereafter, hypothyroidism sets in for about 12 to 18 months and sometimes permanently. Thyroiditis is thought to be caused by a virus or bacteria.
Treatment for Hyperthyroidism: Radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medications are treatments for hyperthyroidism. These medications aim to reduce and normalize thyroid function. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism can be a result.
Radiation Therapy: Hypothyroidism can be a result of radiation being used to treat cancers of the head and neck. The thyroid gland resides in the neck area and is thereby affected.
Medications: Several conventional medications contribute to hypothyroidism. One good example is lithium which is used to treat certain psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Congenital Disease: Unfortunately, some babies are born with a thyroid gland that is not fully developed or functional. Some are even born without the gland. While rare, this congenital defect does contribute to hypothyroidism.
Pituitary Deficiency: While rare, the pituitary gland can fail in producing enough thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which causes hypothyroidism. This is usually due to a benign tumor in the pituitary gland.
What Hypothyroidism Does to the Body
Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects your thyroid which is a small butterfly-shaped gland that lies at the base of your throat flat against your windpipe. Your thyroid is part of the endocrine glands which make hormones for your body. In hypothyroidism, your body has a deficiency in thyroid hormones. When the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, the body cannot function properly. Both physical and mental processes slow down. Common symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness, aches, tenderness, or stiffness
- Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry, rough, pale skin
- Thinning hair
- Puffy face
- Weight gain
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Slowed heart rate
- Menstrual changes (heavy or irregular period)
- Decreased libido
- Voice hoarseness
- Memory problems
What Happens as Hypothyroidism Progresses
If hypothyroidism is left untreated, a multitude of health complications may occur:
- High cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease.
- Neurocognitive changes that are potentially irreversible can also happen. This may include psychomotor retardation, poor eye contact, slow and low volume speech with delayed responses, psychosis, and auditory hallucinations. Memory retrieval deficit also occurs.
- For younger women, infertility and birth defects can happen.
- Myxedema crisis is the end spectrum of severe hypothyroidism that has been left untreated. In myxedema, the body can no longer tolerate the symptoms of hypothyroidism and starts to shut down causing respiratory depression, hypothermia, shock, seizure, and coma.
- Depending on age and severity of the disease, mortality is increased in untreated hypothyroid individuals.
Risk Influence for Hypothyroidism
Anyone can develop hypothyroidism. However, it affects more women than men and with increased age. Individuals with an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, are more at risk. Hypothyroidism often runs in families. Malnourished individuals are also at risk for underactive thyroid conditions.
Conventional Treatment for Hypothyroidism
With conventional medicine, hypothyroidism is treated with a synthetic thyroid hormone. Levothyroxine is similar to the thyroid gland and is often prescribed. Allopathic medicine dictates that this hormone prescription needs to be taken for life for hypothyroidism.
*** Please read Levothyroixine (Synthroid®) Side Effects for Hypothyroidism.
Many patients who have a hypothyroidism have negative outcomes from using synthetic thyroid replacement hormone drugs. However, there are natural glandular and supplemental products that have been reported with positive effects to support thyroid health.
If you’d like to learn how to naturally treat hypothyroidism, check out my article Natural Therapy for Hypothyroidism.