Quite simply, it is the under functioning of the thyroid gland - a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck. The thyroid gland secretes hormones which control metabolism and energy production. When thyroid hormones are too low in the body, various organs and cellular functions throughout the body begin to slow down. Often hypothyroidism is often not a disease in itself, however, but a disease of a deeper, underlying condition, and symptoms of low thyroid function require a full diagnosis.
Symptoms of an under active thyroid
Hypothyroidism may present with a wide variety of symptoms, some of which are not obvious or alarming to begin with. The reduction in thyroid hormone causes a person's basal metabolic rate (BMR) to reduce significantly. As the BMR goes down, so too does mood, energy, and body temperature. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopaedia lists two categories of symptoms for hypothyroid patients: early symptoms and late symptoms. Early symptoms may occur in the beginning or mild stages of the condition, where late symptoms occur as thyroid problems progress to a more severe stage.
In the early symptoms everything begins to slow down and you may feel weak, fatigued, and show symptoms similar to anaemia. It is not uncommon to experience increased cold sensitivity, low libido, dry skin, brittle fingernails, joint stiffness, constipation and depression. Weight gain is another possible, and highly concerning, symptom of an under active thyroid -- but according to The American Thyroid Association, thyroid hormones are not the only chemical regulators of calorie metabolism. For this reason, not all patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism experience weight gain.
Late symptoms include the visible growth of the thyroid gland, known as a goitre, which in turn may also cause a deepening of the voice, hoarseness and even slow speech. Thinning eyebrows (loss of up to 1/3 of the outer eyebrow is possible), swelling of the hands, feet and face, and low body temperature are other late symptoms.
Iodine deficiency was once the most common cause of under active thyroid. Iodine is a mineral that is required in minute quantities as an ingredient for manufacturing thyroid hormone. According to researchers from Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Health in Zurich, Switzerland, 29% of school-aged children across the globe are still not getting enough iodine in their diet, despite worldwide efforts to fortify table salt with increased iodine. Increasing iodine in the diet goes a long way to preventing and treating hypothyroidism.
Other Nutrients crucial to normal Thyroid function , are Zinc and Selenium , therefore deficiencies in these nutrients are likely to compromise Thyroid function
Another highly significant contributing factor for Hypothyroidism is the health of the adrenal glands.
Constant stress, which is common in our society, will influence the secretion of the Adrenal Hormones
Adrenalin and cortisol , which through a very sensitive biofeedback system will in turn effect Thyroid Hormone output.
The most common cause of under active thyroid function is Hashimoto's Disease. Hashimoto's Disease is a condition of the immune system, where white blood cells begin to attack the thyroid gland directly. Sufferers of Hashimoto's Disease require a blood test to confirm their diagnosis, and they are also at more risk of other metabolic and autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Women during pregnancy and menopause are more at risk of experiencing low thyroid function. High levels of oestrogen and progesterone have a suppressive action on the thyroid gland. Women on hormone replacement therapies are particularly at risk for developing thyroid problems. But the effects of oestrogen and progesterone on thyroid function is not just an issue for women. Men with increased body fat, especially around the waist, may have increased oestrogen levels.
In addition, researchers from the Boston University Medical Center, U.S.A., found various pollutants and pesticides (such as bisphenols, PCBs, dioxins and triclosan) have significant oestrogenic activity in the human body and may suppress thyroid function indirectly.
While it is important to diagnose what underlying factors may be behind an under active thyroid gland, modern medicine offers little in the way of treatment. Prescription medications cannot reverse damage done to the thyroid gland, or stimulate the thyroid to perform better. The mainstay of pharmaceutical treatment is artificial hormone therapy -- levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone -- that treats and possibly reverses many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, if not the cause itself.
Today seaweed is one of the most popular complementary therapies for hypothyroidism, due to its high natural iodine content. While Nori is a popular wholefood that can be ingested each day through sushi rolls, it is not the highest source of iodine in the marine world. Deep sea varieties of seaweed, such as brown kelp, are the richest sources of iodine in the world. Many types of brown kelp, including Giant Kelp, Bull Kelp and Bladderwrack, are edible and can be ingested safely, but Bladderwrack is often considered the best for its combination of iodine and natural thyroid-hormone-precursors.
Be cautious when using seaweed products however -- studies from Japan show that people with Hashimoto's disease and/or goitre are often unable to metabolise high doses of iodine in a healthy way, and may experience some negative side effects.
Another candidate for improving thyroid function is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) -- a herb used in Indian and Chinese medicine for fatigue, libido, anaemia and immune function. Researchers from D.A. University in India discovered that extracts of Ashwagandha stimulated increased thyroid hormones in animal test subjects significantly, as well as various antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals. Ashwagandha is associated with few side effects and generally is regarded as safe and non-toxic.
Alternative Medicine can have a huge impact on Hypothyroidism which often goes undiagnosed for years.
The standard Blood tests run by GPs which will usually involve testing TSH, T3 and T4 often will show levels in the normal range resulting in a diagnosis of Normal Thyroid Function when in fact the Thyroid is clearly under functioning. Alternative medicine Practitioners will assess the whole body, including any deficiencies or imbalances in nutrients and other contributing factors which would inhibit Normal Thyroid function.
Alternative Medicine offers a huge array of tools to help anyone with hypothyroidism or suspected under active Thyroid. A few of which have been mentioned in this article, but there are many more. Even the autoimmune condition of Hashimotos can be significantly supported.
A considerably more accurate way of assessing an underactive Thyroid is the Thyroflex Test.
A number of Alternative Medicine therapists and Doctors have reverted to using this test as a way of assessing and monitoring Changes in Thyroid Hormone output.