Hypothyroid, also known as underactive thyroid, is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. It occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. These hormones dictate how your body uses energy and affect the entire body in one way or another.
From a general standpoint, hypothyroid slows down the body’s metabolism.
If left untreated, the condition can greatly increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. This is because a hypothyroid often raises cholesterol levels in the body. An underactive thyroid can also affect a baby during pregnancy.
Symptoms of Hypothyroid
The symptoms of hypothyroid vary and will depend on the severity of the condition. Generally speaking, the symptoms develop slowly over time. Many people are unaware that they have this condition until several years later.
Common symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Slow heart rate
- Muscle weakness
- Puffy face
- Sensitivity to cold
- Poor memory
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Elevated cholesterol levels
Symptoms in Infants
Hypothyroidism can affect anyone – including infants. This typically happens when a baby is born without a thyroid, or their thyroid is not working properly. Symptoms may include:
- Puffy face
- Oversized, protruding tongue
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (Jaundice)
If left untreated, hypothyroid can lead to severe mental and physical retardation.
Symptoms in Teens
Teens and children who develop this condition will generally share the same symptoms as adults. However, they may also experience:
- Mental retardation
- Hindered growth
- Delayed puberty
- A delay in the development of permanent teeth
Causes and Risk Factors
Anyone can develop hypothyroidism, but women who are over the age of 60 are at the highest risk. Those with a family history of the condition are also more likely to develop hypothyroidism.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This causes your immune system to attack the thyroid gland and prevents it from making enough thyroid hormone.
Other causes include:
- Thyroid surgery
- Radiation to the neck or chest
- Autoimmune disease
Diagnosing hypothyroidism can be a tricky process. Most doctors will use your symptoms and the results of blood tests to determine whether or not you have an underactive thyroid.
The blood tests performed will measure the level of TSH in your system. In some cases, they may also measure the level of the thyroxine hormone as well. If you have low levels of thyroxine and high levels of TSH, this is an indication that you have an underactive thyroid. In order to compensate for the lower level of thyroid hormone, your pituitary gland will start producing more TSH to help stimulate the gland.
At one time, diagnosing hypothyroidism was impossible until the symptoms were in the advanced stages. This blood test now allows doctors to detect the problem early on and prevent the complications that come along with advanced stages of hypothyroidism.
Conventionally, doctors prescribe synthetic hormone that patients will need to take for the rest of their lives in most cases. However, there are some natural ways to treat the condition and stimulate the thyroid gland.
Taking a Holistic Approach
Addressing the underlying cause and taking a holistic approach to treating hypothyroidism may be beneficial. First, it is important to pinpoint what the underlying cause may be. This can include:
- Food intolerance
- Nutritional deficiency
- Heavy metals
Once you know what the underlying cause is, you can start making changes in other areas to help improve or overcome the condition.
You are what you eat. Making changes to your diet may help improve or eliminate your hypothyroidism. Try adding the following foods to your diet:
- Cow’s milk
- Soy sauce
- Saltwater fish
These foods are rich in iodine, which can help enhance thyroid function.
It is also important to limit or eliminate foods that hinder thyroid function, such as:
- Goitrogen vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Also, create a food journal and look for any underlying food sensitivities you may have. Gluten intolerance is a major problem for many people. This can exacerbate hypothyroidism by increasing the autoimmune attack on your thyroid.
Exercise has helped many people with hypothyroidism improve their symptoms. Yoga is especially helpful as many of the poses help stimulate thyroid function. Experts recommend exercising for at least 40 minutes, three days per week.
Natural supplements can also help with hypothyroidism. A high-quality multi-vitamin that contains high doses of the following vitamins is a good choice:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
Also, consider taking an Omega-3 supplement and amino acids.
Hypothyroidism is not a condition to be taken lightly. It is important to speak with your doctor about any treatments you are considering and to discuss the best course of action to take. In some cases, the disease is too far advanced for natural treatments to have an effect. However, those with mild to moderate cases may be able to rely on natural treatments or a combination of natural and conventional protocols.