See also:Adrenal support, Stress

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adams apple. It produces hormones that are extremely important for the regulation of the body’s metabolism.

When the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient amounts of these hormones – thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) – then a large number of problems arise in all of the body’s systems due to the decrease in the body’s metabolism. Thyroid problems are among the most common medical disorder, but are commonly mis-diagnosed as symptoms come on gradually. Decreased metabolism in the elderly is often mistaken for changes that take place naturally with age.

Hypothyroidism is more common among elderly people, especially women, and affects 1.5 to 2 per cent of people over the age of 60 years. However, the condition also occurs in younger patients.Tthe most common cause of underactive thyroid is Hashimoto’s thryoiditis. In this disorder, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. Symptoms may include cold intolerance, fatigue, depression, weight gain, dry skin, heavy periods, constipation. This condition causes elevated levels of serum TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone).

Other causes of hypothyroidism are:

  • Surgery to the thyroid gland or from radioactive iodine treatment, both of which are used to treat overactivity of the thyroid gland.
  • Incomplete development of the thyroid gland.
  • Certain medicines such as propylthiouracil, carbimazole (Neo-mercazole), amiodarone (eg Cordarone X tablets) and lithium.
  • Taking large amounts of iodine for example in some cough syrups or excessive amounts of dietary supplements made from or containing kelp.
  • Failure of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus to stimulate the thyroid gland properly can cause a condition known as secondary hypothyroidism.
  • Extreme iodine deficiency. Some people with goitre (an enlargement of the thyroid gland) also have hypothyroidism. Goitre can be caused by an iodine deficiency, by eating foods that contain goitrogens (goiter-causing substances), or by other disorders that interfere with thyroid hormone production.

Decreased metabolism can affect every organ of the body including brain, heart, skin, intestine and muscles.

Typical symptoms of decreased metabolism are:

  • decreased tolerance of cold environments
  • depression, fatigue and lethargy
  • weight gain even when appetite and food intake are slight
  • constipation
  • dry, rough skin
  • coarsening of the facial features and a deep voice
  • thin, dry hair
  • poor memory – among the elderly this may be the only symptom of decreased metabolism
  • in severe cases, dementia.
  • heavier periods in some women
  • slower heart rate

People who have been treated at some time in their lives for an overactive thyroid gland have an increased risk of developing under-activity, because the methods of treatment reduce the amount of functioning thyroid tissue. Thus, it is advisable to have the thyroid gland checked once a year.

Many adrenal and thyroid disfunction symptoms overlap, and chronic stress and/or blood sugar dysfunction can be common themes to both. Adrenal support should therefore be considered BEFORE addressing thyroid problems. (See ‘Adrenal Support’)

Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)

Supplement/Herb What it does Dosage
Selenium This important antioxidant nutrient also acts as a co-factor for the enzyme 5′-deiodinase, which converts the relatively inactive T4 thyroid hormone into the active T3 hormone. 200 – 400ug per day
Tyrosine This amino acid in combination with iodine, is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Tyrosine is also required for the formation of adrenaline and noradrenaline by the adrenal glands, which is one of the reasons that adrenal stress can impact on thyroid function. 500 – 1000mg per day (empty stomach)
Iodine (Kelp) In combination with tyrosine, iodine is required to make thyroid hormones. A lack of iodine in the diet leads to a condition called goiter, which is characterised by an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Excessive iodine intake may also cause goiter and hypothyroidism. Beware of excessive supplementation in under-active thyroid disorders – ideal daily intake ranges between 150 and 450ug per day. 150 – 450ug iodine per day
Fish Oil EFA’s are important for the health of cell membranes. It has been suggested that omega 3 fatty acids from fish oils may help support thyroid function by improving cell membrane sensitivity to TSH. 1000 – 4000mg daily6
Multi-nutrient formula Ensures adequate intake of vitamins required for the formation of thyroid hormones. Supplementation may be supportive in normalising thyroid function – especially in hypothyroidism conditions. As directed
Siberian Ginseng For adrenal support. Use for 30 to 60 days then rest for 30 days. 1gm to 3gm
Agnus Castus to help regulate pituitary function 1gm to 2gm daily

Diet and Lifestyle Factors

Some foods, such as rapeseed (used to make rape seed oil) and Brassica vegetables (cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower), contain natural goitergens, chemicals that cause the thyroid gland to enlarge by interfering with thyroid hormone synthesis. Cooking has been reported to inactivate this effect in Brussel sprouts. Other goitergens include maize, cassava root, pine nuts, turnips, sweet potatoes, lima beans, soya, and pearl millet. Either exclude from the diet or keep to a minimum.

If your diet is low in iodine consider iodine rich foods such as egg yolks, artichokes, onion, garlic, minced beef, nuts, seeds, kelp, dulse, nori and arami.

Cut out saturated fats, trans fats and fried foods.

Avoid caffeinated drinks and sugar, both of which interfere with chemical processes.

Increase intake of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, oily fish, whole grains.

Take regular exercise which stimulates thyroid secretion.

Follow recommendations in adrenal support section

Suggested further reading:

  • 7 step plan
  • Nutrition

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