by Dr. Andrea Hilborn, ND Hypothyroidism is when you do not have enough thyroid hormone circulating in your body, usually because your thyroid gland (located on the front of your neck) is not producing enough of it.
People suffering from hypothyroidism feel tired and often gain weight. They experience constipation and hair loss. Low mood or depression may even set it and be difficult to shake. They may have dry skin and they may not be able to tolerate any cold.
Thyroid function is tested using a blood test called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The role of thyroid stimulating hormone is to keep the thyroid operating at just the right level -- neither too high or too low. If the thyroid gland isn't responding to TSH, the brain will pump out more of it. So, if we find a high TSH results, it means the thyroid is under-functioning.
The normal range for TSH is 0.35-5.00 mIU/L. Based on what I feel is better information, I and many other naturopathic doctors, like to see TSH results in the range of 0.35-2.5 mIU/L.
You can also test for the variants of thyroid hormone itself. This may be useful for making treatment plan decision or evaluating treatment progress, but TSH alone is a very sensitive test for thyroid dysfunction on its own.
A more low tech way to check your thyroid function is to measure your basal body temperature. This is done by using a thermometer to check your temperature each morning when you wake up. Your basal body temperature should consistently be above 36.1 degrees Celsius.
The most common reason for hypothyroidism to develop is that the immune system over-acts on healthy thyroid tissue. We are not sure why this happens, but in the naturopathic community, we always assume that immune system imbalance is due to a food sensitivity until proven otherwise.
To determine food sensitivities, we use one of two methods. The first method, and the one I vastly prefer, is to do an elimination or hypoallergenic diet. This involves removing a lot of different foods from the diet for a period of time, then reintroducing them systematically. Alanna and I are working on a book to make the hypoallergenic diet more accessible. If you want to hear when it comes out, sign up for our newsletter by visiting our website.
The second method is to use a blood test for antibodies to food. These tests run in the hundreds of dollars. They differ from one lab to the next and produce inconsistent results. Nonetheless, I still believe they are better than nothing if the patient is unable to do the hypoallergenic diet. These tests will not produce accurate results for children under age five or for those on immune-suppressing therapies.
There are widely differing opinions on the benefits and risks of taking iodine to treat a thyroid condition. Thyroid hormone contains iodine. Taking a small amount of iodine can stimulate production of thyroid hormone. However, iodine can also depress thyroid function if there is too much of it. I highly recommend seeking professional assistance before taking iodine for a thyroid condition.
There are some herbs that can increase thyroid function: ashwagandha and blue iris for example, but I only like to use them for short term assistance. I do not think we know enough about their long-term effects to stay on them permanently.
It is very important that hypothyroidism be adequately treated and so those who do not get good enough results with natural medicine will have to supplement with thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.
When your thyroid produces thyroid hormone naturally, it fluctuates constantly to match your needs. When you have to take it as a supplement, you do not have the same fine control over it. It can take time to find the correct dosage, but keep at it until you find what is right for you.