The thyroid gland, situated just below the Adams apple on the low part of the neck, produces the thyroid hormones in the body. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and wraps itself around the trachea with two lobes attached to a central isthmus. When you eat foods containing iodine such as salt and seafood, this thyroid gland uses the idodine to produce the thyroid hormones. There are two important types of thyroid hormones produced which would be T4 or Thyrozine and T3 or Triiodothyronine (T3). These account for most of the thyroid hormones present in the bloodstream. T3 is the more active of the hormones and it affects cellular metabolism.
When the thyroid gland produces an abnormally low amount of thyroid hormones it is referred to as hypothyroidism. Several health problems can develop due to the low levels of thyroid hormones in the body as these hormones are responsible for your growth and development among other functions.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Menstrual periods that are heavier than normal
- Muscle and joint pain
- Muscle cramps
- Dry and thickening skin
- Thinning hair
- Brittle fingernails
- Pale complexion
- Unexplained weight gain
- Loss of the sense of taste and smell
- Swollen hands and feet
- Speech that slows down and disorientation
- Constant sleepiness
- Increase in cholesterol levels
The early symptoms of hypothyroidism are very subtle and can often be confused with symptoms of other health conditions. If you have a mild case of hypothyroidism you may not even exhibit any symptoms or signs of the condition, making it almost impossible to diagnose until the condition worsens over time. As the metabolic functioning of the body slows down, various symptoms start becoming more evident and a diagnosis is possible.
If you think you may be suffering from hypothyroidism, a thorough physical examination by your doctor will determine the cause of your symptoms and the proper treatment for your case of hypothyroidism. A blood test, TSH and T4 tests, and a chest x-ray can confirm the diagnosis as well.
People diagnosed with hypothyroidism are more susceptible to problems with infertility, miscarriages, and having babies born with birth defects. As hypothyroidism progresses it can even lead heart failure, fluid collection in the lungs, and enlarged heart and even a life-threatening condition called myxedema coma. This condition requires immediate medical attention and hospitalization. If you suffer from hypothyroidism and have any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor at the earliest:
- Body temperature below normal
- Low blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- You have an infection
- Symptoms do not respond to any treatment
- Chest pain
- Fall in blood sugar levels
- Unresponsiveness and confusion
Causes for Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is more common than you think. More commonly found in women than men, hypothyroidism tends to develop with age. Other causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: this is the main cause of hypothyroidism in the country. The condition is inherited, causing the thyroid gland to get enlarged and as a result reduce the production of hormones. Hashimotos is an autoimmune disease and affects women more than men. A thyroid scan or a blood test will indicate the presence of this condition.
- Lymphocytic Thyroiditis: Or the inflammation of the thyroid gland. This condition tends to be more common after pregnancy. What follows is a period of excessive production of thyroid hormones and then a sharp decline. Women affected by lymphatic thyroiditis generally return to normalcy after six months or so.
- Thyroid Destruction Treatment: If you have suffered from hyperthyroidism and have received surgery or radioactive iodine to treat the condition, there may be a chance of hypothyroidism developing as a reaction to the treatment.
- Pituitary Disease: In some cases the hypothalamus or pituitary gland is unable to instruct the thyroid gland to produce the necessary hormones.
- Pituitary Injury: Damage to the pituitary gland can happen as a result of brain surgery or any trauma. This leads to a decrease in the production of thyroid hormones and hypothyroidism can develop. Pituitary injury can also affect other body functions such as reproduction and growth.
- Certain Medications: Drugs used to treat hyperthyroidism can end up causing hypothyroidism. These drugs alter the functioning of the thyroid gland and cause low levels of the thyroid hormones.
- Deficiency of Iodine: Foods that are rich in iodine provide the thyroid gland with the necessary iodine required to produce thyroid hormones. In several parts of the world such as Chile, India, and Ecuador, the daily diet is naturally low in iodine and causes a deficiency that can result in hypothyroidism.
- Other causes of hypothyroidism can be attributed to birth defects, radiation treatments for cancer, and viral thyroiditis.
Remedies for Hypothyroidism
Medication is the first option as treatment for hypothyroidism. Doctors may prescribe different medications to bring the production of thyroid hormone to normal levels. However thyroid medications tend to react differently to different people and it may take a while to find the drug that best suits your individual case. In the meantime, you can also try some natural remedies for hypothyroidism. Always make it a point to keep your doctor in the loop however, as most natural treatments have not been subjected to rigorous testing and some could in fact have an adverse effect or interfere with the action of medications. The use of exercise and supplements is thought to help in the natural treatment of hypothyroidism. Including an hour of exercise at least thrice a week is important for the treatment of hypothyroidism. In addition to this, you can speak to your doctor about what supplements you should be having along with the proper dosages.
- If you suffer from hypothyroidism you will benefit from manganese and iodine supplements as well as vitamin C and vitamin B complex.
- A good multivitamin supplement can also improve thyroid health.
- Bladderwack or Kelp capsules are excellent natural treatments of hypothyroidism as they are good sources of iodine.
- Another supplement that improves the functioning of the thyroid is selenium but care has to be taken not to overdo it as selenium has several harmful side effects when taken in excess.
- Claims that acupuncture can help with hypothyroidism are in fact supported by a study conducted on the effects of acupuncture in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. The treatment helped promote improvement in the quality of life, with a reduction in symptoms.
If you do wish to take any supplements make sure you consult with your doctor and a nutritionist about the proper dosage.
Diet for Hypothyroidism
A very important part of hypothyroidism treatment is your diet.
Diets that are rich in complex carbohydrates and proteins can provide relief for hypothyroidism symptoms. Avoiding foods that are processed and full of starch, sugar, and fat can also go a long way in treating the condition and preventing the development of other health problems.
Some diet suggestions for hypothyroidism include:
- Foods high in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids such as leafy green vegetables, salmon, nuts, seeds, and shrimp should be added to your menus.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Water and green tea can be sipped on in between meals to prevent dehydration.
- Iodine rich foods such as seaweed and algae should be eaten regularly.
- Foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, soy, beans, and spinach can actually slow down the functioning of the thyroid so they should be eaten in small quantities.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, caffeine, dairy and alcohol when on a diet for hypothyroidism.
- The tendency to put on weight if you have hypothyroidism can cause people to starve themselves or eat an extremely low-calorie diet. This can cause more harm than good and lead to several other health complications. Instead of fad or crash dieting, learn to eat a healthy balanced meal that provides you with all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals required to function optimally. In addition to this add at least an hour of exercise thrice a week and you can boost your metabolism and reduce symptoms such as fatigue as well.
Suggestions for Hypothyroidism
Apart from conventional medical treatment of hypothyroidism and changing your diet and eating habits, there are also a variety of alternative therapies that could help treat the condition. Physical fitness programs can help cope with the disease. Studies into the effects of yoga on hypothyroidism patients have supported claims of its health benefits, as the practice was found to be useful in the management of disease related symptoms.
Adding yoga exercise to your daily exercise routine should be carried out only under the supervision of a trained yoga instructor. There are a number of specific yoga asanas or postures that can stimulate your thyroid and pituitary glands and increase the level of hormone production. Yoga poses such as the Sun Salutation, the Dead Mans pose, the Wind Relieving pose, Head to Knee Pose, the Fish pose and the breathing techniques are vital for providing energy, improving blood circulation and relaxing the nervous system along with improving the functioning of the thyroid gland.
- Luzina KÉ, Luzina LL, Vasilenko AM. [The influence of acupuncture on the quality of life and the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in patients presenting with subclinical hypothyroidism]. Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2011 Sep-Oct;(5):29-33. Russian. PubMed PMID: 22165143.
- Singh P, Singh B, Dave R, Udainiya R. The impact of yoga upon female patients suffering from hypothyroidism. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Aug;17(3):132-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.11.004. Epub 2010 Dec 18. PubMed PMID: 21742277.
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