Loving My Thyroid to Wellness

A postnote to “The Skinny on Thyroid

(Disclaimer — All the information I share is not intended as a replacement for the expertise of medical doctors or other health care professionals. Anyone wishing to make changes to their nutritional or exercise program for any reason is advised to first consult with their physician.)

As is too often the case, we sometimes neglect or overlook things at our own peril. I rediscovered this truth while focused the past 5 months on trying to coax my underactive thyroid back to functioning properly.

As I mentioned in “The Skinny on Thyroid” column, I had been surprised while living in Utah in 2003, to learn my thyroid was underfunctioning (hypothyroid), and thus the root of most of the symptoms plaguing me for years. Many of those symptoms of an underactive thyroid — symptoms I had assumed were caused by one thing or another or were nothing to be really concerned about really — seemed to resolve themselves within a very short time while on the doctor-prescribed Armour thyroid medication.

Though none of those symptoms at this point are life threatening, I learned an underactive thyroid left untreated, or treated improperly, does have the potential to be the trigger for health issues that are way more serious and difficult to correct.

From my experience, the approach or attitude of one-pill-can-fix-it seems to be the standard way when treating an underactive thyroid by means of the most traditional medical approach. After much research and questioning about the best way to resolve my health issues for the long haul, I stepped away from the world of traditional thyroid medication — first having been on Armour (for about 8 months) and then on Synthroid (for about 8 months).

With spiritual guidance and total determination I began what is essentially a self experiment, with assistance from a medical doctor trained in both traditional and integrative approaches to health care. My physician had just the right attitude I was seeking, someone who was eager to spend time exploring treatment options with me, and capable of monitoring and assessing my condition through regular blood tests and exams.

I have been giving my regimen, and my body, the time needed to work on all levels for healing. I am seeing positive results from my discipline and commitment. What I have learned from this is I am obviously doing something right because I am feeling so much better. I am greatly encouraged by the cessation of certain debilitating symptoms, including perimenopausal symptoms, but my program is far from being completed.

A number of people are interested in learning the remedies I have incorporated, hoping they too can use my approach since their thyroid medication has not adequately fixed their health problem. Many women who are perimenopausal will benefit from understanding the connection between reproductive hormones and the thyroid function. I learned the importance of not neglecting or overlooking how these miraculous systems interact and affect one another.

Though I cannot prescribe my own regimen for anyone else, what I can do is help expand the dialogue about finding effective approaches for treating more than just symptoms of an underactive thyroid.

What I have learned from my own journey into healing my body is that on a very basic level I just wasn’t loving my thyroid enough. What I mean by that is, because I was ignorant of what my thyroid gland really meant on a scientific level to my entire well-being — and because I wasn’t aware of its specific needs to be able to do its job properly — I simply was failing to care for it and nourish it adequately. But that was only part of it.

I also discovered I wasn’t protecting my thyroid enough from the many toxins and other assaults of daily living. Excessive levels of chlorine, fluoride and perchlorate, certain nutritional deficiencies like zinc and selenium, exposure to radiation, antagonistic compounds from various food and water supplies, and the high toll from unrelenting work pressures can mean trouble for the thyroid.

Failure to supply all the right nutrients for the body’s maintenance and repair, and the stresses from toxins and a busy life, can strain the adrenal glands and create hormonal imbalances that can also adversely affect thyroid function.
Yes, a person can be genetically predisposed to having an underactive thyroid, and I may be an example, but there were still many things I could have been doing had I been aware of what my symptoms meant. And that is the point of these columns; The act of healing is a loving act that starts with awareness and getting the right diagnosis and information.

So first, I’d like to suggest that if you know someone who is in this club of underactive thyroid, please email these columns to them. And if you are the one who is the member, roll up your sleeves and dig into doing a great deal of studying.

I listed two books in my postnote on ‘The Skinny on Thyroid’ that I highly recommend: the latest edition of “Thyroid Power: 10 Steps to Total Health” by Richard L. Shames, M.D. and Karilee Halo Shames, R.N., Ph.D. and “The Wisdom of Menopause” by Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D. www.drnorthrup.com. “Voices of Integrative Medicine” by Bonnie Horrigan and “Healing Through Nutrition” by Melvyn R. Werbach M.D. also contain much valuable information related to the comprehensive approach to health and healing. But don’t stop there. A good nutrition reference book like the fourth edition of the “Nutrition Almanac” by Gayla J. Kirschmann and John D. Kirschmann, published by McGraw-Hill, is also key.

Websites are fabulous resources. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (www.mskcc.org) has a link called “About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products,” that is part of their Integrative Medicine’s Services and Programs department. It is an impressive data bank of herbs and other medicinal adjuncts and modalities, with information about research studies. Another terrific website is from Life Extension, www.lef.org. It offers a detailed article on the various aspects of thyroid deficiency and includes an overview for getting the correct diagnosis.

In order to become an active participant in the healing of my underactive thyroid, I had to first assess my body’s overall condition and nutritional needs. Over $900 in blood tests helped quantify and pinpoint my situation, helping me to arrive at a correct diagnosis. The result of that overview was the decision to make a radical shift in my daily routine.

Two of the numerous problems with having an underactive thyroid can be lack of thirst and diminished appetite. So it was a substantial departure for me to eat and drink when I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry or thirsty, but I soon realized how essential this is to supplying my body with what it needs to get well and remain that way.

What did I change? I committed to eating breakfast — something I was not used to doing — and also eating several times throughout the day. I also committed to drinking at least 8 glasses of water and/or certain non-caffeinated herbal teas for adequate hydration every day.

I reduced my coffee consumption to a few cups a week, and eliminated foods that are not part of any healthy solution. I also learned about specific foods that might be healthy for other folks, but had the potential for interfering with my thyroid function. I broadened my exercise routine with some weights and deepened my yoga practice. I varied my aerobic exercise with jogging and long walks.

I have been intensively studying the Ayurveda system of healing, particularly the use of coleus forskohlii (forskolin root); ashwagandha (withania somnifera) and turmeric; the Chinese system of healing, particularly the uses of Asian ginseng (panax ginseng); dong quai; fo-ti; gotu kola; ginger; and other nutrients, herbs and nutritional supports such as: licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra); rhodiola (rhodiola rosea); tyrosine; iodine; copper; zinc; selenium; calcium; magnesium; bladderwrack; essential fatty acids — evening primrose oil, fish oil, flax seed oil; lecithin; alpha lipoic acid; potassium; blackstrap molasses; nettle, Vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E; alfalfa, oat straw tea, sarsparilla tea, vitex agnus castus (chasteberry); natural progesterone cream.

The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website is particularly helpful in explaining how some of the substances mentioned here, and others they reference, can interfere with other medications and have side effects.

The point is to not try to be your own doctor. I encourage you to be willing to read the vast medical literature and to create a partnership with a trained medical professional, someone who can take the time to help you understand the benefits and liabilities associated with whatever plan of treatment they advise for you.

For now I remain energized about my approach, but will adjust my regimen as needed. It is my hope this column will inspire you or your loved one to get informed and then make the appropriate changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise required to take healing to another level of wellness and peace.

— Giselle M. Massi © 2005