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Side Effects of Hypothyroidism

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Heart disease and its associated complications are the most serious side effects of an underactive thyroid. However, hypothyroidism has important implications throughout the body. Here are some of the more common effects of an under-producing thyroid gland.

Heart disease

This plague remains the number one killer in this country, and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon. If you asked most people on the street which they fear more, cancer or heart disease, they'd probably say cancer. But for every person you know who has died of cancer, you can probably think of another 20 who are on cholesterol or blood pressure medication, have had bypass surgery or angioplasty, or have died from cardiovascular problems.

Furthermore, while cancer has perhaps hundreds of causes, many of which we don't know, we know most of the major factors link to heart disease. Diets high in fried foods and sugar, smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity are all firmly established risk factors for heart disease. The antidote to each of these is evident. But research over the past decade has identified another risk factor that seems to be even more telling than diet and lifestyle, one whose antidote has until recently been less apparent. That risk factor is high blood levels of homocysteine. This word is likely not new to you as it's been mentioned in the mainstream press. To quickly review, homocysteine is created when the amino acid methionine, found in red meat, milk, and milk products, is broken down in the body. Under ideal circumstances, the body breaks down homocysteine with the help of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid.

Studies continue to establish stronger links between even moderately elevated blood levels of homocysteine and heart disease. In the 1992 Physicians' Health Study, men with very high homocysteine levels had a risk of heart attack three times that of men with normal homocysteine levels. In fact, an elevated homocysteine level was such a dominant factor that it indicated increased risk even in the men who had no other cardiovascular risk factors.

Because of the importance of homocysteine levels as a heart attack risk factor, efforts have thus far concentrated on lowering high levels through any means possible. And up until now, the only consistently successful approach has been to increase the intake of the previously mentioned B vitamins. However, new research indicates that simply lowering homocysteine levels in this manner may be masking a more serious underlying problem, the one that's causing the elevated levels in the first place. This bigger problem is an underactive thyroid.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio have released new findings showing that correcting an underactive thyroid gland normalizes elevated homocysteine levels in the blood. Even more amazing is that the researchers were able to normalize homocysteine levels without having to administer any of the B vitamins. In other words, correcting the thyroid problem in turn corrected the vitamin deficiency. (Ann Intern Med 99;131(5):348-51)

This newly discovered link between hypothyroidism and heart disease supports the decades-old research of Dr. Broda Barnes. Dr. Barnes published the book, Solved: The Riddle of Heart Attacks, back in 1976. Based on his research and clinical experience, Dr. Barnes strongly suggested that heart disease was caused by hypothyroidism. Although we didn't know about homocysteine at the time, there were plenty of indications that the thyroid gland was involved in cardiovascular disease. Results of studies conducted as far back as the early 1900s showed the strong relationship between thyroid activity and fat metabolism: Blood-fat levels (and cholesterol) increase with an underactive thyroid and decrease with an overactive thyroid.

Thanks to the research team in Ohio, we now have a much more detailed understanding of this relationship, one that shows a clear therapeutic application. In other words, we can use the thyroid to monitor and even correct heart problems. Any imbalances that may exist can be corrected, not only to stop heart disease, but to improve dozens of seemingly unrelated problems that have a common origin.

Poor Circulation

Obviously, as heart disease progresses, it decreases blood circulation to the heart muscle and other organs. But circulation problems also cause some of the less dramatic complaints of hypothyroid sufferers, including dry, flaky, or cracked skin and chronically cold hands and feet. In cases of hypothyroidism, the skin may receive as little as 20 to 40% of its normal blood supply. This shortfall interferes with the body's ability to warm the extremities, such as the hands and feet. It also impedes the delivery of various essential fatty acids and nutrients, which are necessary for keeping the skin soft, supple, and healthy. Fortunately, these problems resolve themselves once the thyroid is back to normal.

 

Increased Susceptibility to Infection

Though rarely thought of as part of the immune system, the thyroid gland plays a crucial role in maintaining the body's defenses. Hormones produced by the thyroid help regulate the metabolic rate within each cell and directly influence over 100 different cellular enzymes. With hypothyroidism, individuals routinely become more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections, especially those of the respiratory and urinary tracts.

Sinus problems, sore throats, middle-ear infections, tonsillitis, pneumonia, and other respiratory problems have gone from relatively rare conditions to common and recurring complaints. Business is booming for allergists and respiratory therapists all over the country, no longer just in "allergy-prone" regions. Middle-ear infections top the list of reasons for children's medical visits, and asthma has become so common among adults that it is no longer considered a childhood disease. I have little doubt that a nationwide drop in thyroid function is partly responsible for the increase in these respiratory problems, yet antibiotics remain the treatment of choice for most of them.

In terms of urinary infections, kidney dysfunction and failure can in many cases be linked to chronic infections of the urinary tract that were originally caused by an underactive thyroid.

No doubt there are several other factors that can and do compromise our immune systems, and we're now having to contend with mutated forms of certain bacteria and viral strains that require stronger immune systems than ever before. This may help explain the recent popularity of supplements designed to boost the immune system. What many people don't understand, however, is that all the immune-boosting supplements in the world won't help if the thyroid isn't functioning properly.

If you've tried supplements to strengthen immunity and haven't experienced the expected results, it's highly likely that your thyroid is underactive. After a month or two of proper treatment which follows later in this article, you can expect a much stronger immune system as well as greater results from any immune boosting supplements you take.

Depression and Mental Confusion

While a precious few medical professionals will admit it, many of today's common social problems can be traced back to widespread hypothyroidism. Not only does hypothyroidism escape notice in these cases, but the drugs currently being used to treat its symptoms are making matters infinitely worse.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the treatment of depression. In the last 20 years, we've seen a phenomenal increase in the incidence of depression, one of the most common side effects of hypothyroidism. We've also seen a corresponding increase in the use of prescription antidepressants (e.g., Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, Zoloft, Serzone). These drugs are designed to alter brain chemistry, which can trigger outbursts of violence toward oneself or others. Not surprisingly, we've seen a significant increase in suicide and violence during this same period of time.  The new book by Dr. Ann Tracy called Prozac: Panacea or Pandora takes the discussion of prescription antidepressants to a new level. (The book is available from Cassia Publications at 800-280-0730. 

Dr. Tracy has been looking into the connection between the use of prescription medications and the wave of seemingly unexplainable violence we've been seeing over the last few years. She's discovered that many of the shooting incidents we see on the news are initiated by people taking these drugs. She's linked dozens of cases, like those of Mr. and Mrs. Phil Hartman, the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia, and dozens of others, with the use of prescription antidepressants. The complete list will astound you, but for anyone who has experienced the severe depression and mental confusion associated with these drugs, I'm sure her findings will come as no surprise.

It's easy to blame gun owners or manufacturers for these problems, but guns have been around for a long time and the type of violence we're seeing now is unlike anything we've seen in the past. We need to look beyond the symptoms of the problem to see what is causing this dramatic change in behavior. When we do, we'll see an alarming fact: The increase in the misguided use of antidepressant drugs to combat the symptoms of hypothyroidism has paralleled an alarming increase in violent behavior.

The public could easily accept this fact if we were talking about illegal drugs. But government-approved, legally prescribed drugs are a totally different situation. No one contributes more campaign money or has more political influence than the pharmaceutical industry, and you can bet that the drug companies don't want this information going public. They know the problems these drugs can cause, but the profits these medications produce obviously overshadow any inclination to take them off the market. (Their actions remind me of what the cigarette industry has been doing for years.) It's much easier for the pharmaceutical companies to hide in the bushes, count their money, and point the finger at the gun industry.

A far safer solution to many of the problems now being treated by antidepressant drugs is to balance the body chemistry naturally. The logical starting point is to check for and treat hypothyroidism. After doing so, most individuals find that the "fog" they've been living in seems to clear away. They also find that they have more energy and less fatigue.

Other Thyroid-Related Problems

Sales of the new wonder drug Viagra wouldn't be quite so brisk if doctors paid more attention to thyroid imbalances. Normal sexual function requires normal thyroid function. In males, too little thyroid hormone depresses libido, while too much causes impotence. In females, too little thyroid hormone depresses libido and results in irregular periods with excessive and frequent menstrual bleeding (including miscarriages in extreme cases). Too much can reduce menstrual bleeding and even stop the menstrual cycle. Additional symptoms that can be associated with hypothyroidism include:

Decreased heart rate and cardiac output

Increased weight (pot belly)

Pain where the ribs meet the sternum

Memory loss

Unexplained crying

Morning headaches and dizziness

Loss of hair, especially outside of eyebrows

Constipation

Ringing in the ears

Allergies

A frog-like husky voice

Muscular sluggishness and weakness

Many of these problems stem from hypothyroidism's effect at the cellular level, where it causes the accumulation of gel-like sacs called mucopolysaccharides. Mucopolysaccharides are a normal structural component of the body, but if they accumulate in this manner problems can develop. This accumulation explains why individuals with severe hypothyroidism develop bagginess under the eyes and puffy, swollen faces and bodies. When tissues swell and fluid pressures within the body elevate, migraine headaches are often the result. The only way to relieve these migraines is to loosen or remove all restrictive clothing and rest in bed until the pain subsides. The ultimate solution is to prevent them from happening in the first place by restoring balance to the thyroid.

The Causes of Hypothyroidism

Based on the past decade of the research, there are three primary reasons for the high rate of hypothyroidism that we now have in this country.

Iodine Deficiency

The major problem stems from a lack of iodine in the diet. Iodine is one of the essential components of thyroid hormones. Without sufficient iodine, the production of thyroid hormones is limited.

Iodine consumption has dropped dramatically in this country over the past 20 years. This drop is due in part to the depletion of our soils and in part to less iodized salt being used as an ingredient in our foods. (J Clin Endocrin and Metab 98;88:3401-3408)

Selenium Deficiency

The second factor contributing to hypothyroidism is selenium deficiency. You might have heard how important this mineral is to your immune system, but chances are you haven't heard how important it is to proper thyroid function. That's unfortunate, because the effects of a selenium deficiency are very serious.

As with iodine, our soils have become deficient in the trace mineral selenium. In the last few years, researchers have found that certain selenium-containing enzymes (lodothyronine 5' deiodinase) are responsible for the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to T3. The thyroid produces several hormones, and must produce them in a somewhat balanced ratio. Without selenium, this balancing process is hindered. In simple terms, selenium-deficient diets are also a primary cause of hypothyroidism. (Biol Trace Elem Res 96;51(1):31-41) (Clin Sci 95;89(6):637-42)

Estrogen-like Compound Pollution

Another factor that has generally been overlooked by the medical community is the recent introduction of estrogen-like compounds into our environment. These compounds make their way into the body through respiration, ingestion of contaminated food, and skin contact. Once in the body, they block thyroid hormone production and contribute to hypothyroidism. These compounds include such environmental pollutants as PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides such as lindane or dieldrin.

Besides increasing the risk of estrogen-dependent cancers, these estrogen-like pollutants block the production of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, these pollutants can now be found in both our food and drinking water supplies. This is one of the primary reasons we are seeing problems like hypothyroidism showing up in our children. This is also one of the primary reasons for the use of a distiller for drinking water. Filters simply can't remove all of these substances, and chlorine has no effect on them.

How's Your Thyroid?

When you take a close look at the health problems that have started to skyrocket in this country, hypothyroidism shows up as a common denominator in a surprising number of them. If you have any of the problems touched upon in this article, you owe it to yourself to perform the test outlined below to determine whether hypothyroidism is an underlying factor. This is absolutely critical if you have any form of heart disease, including high cholesterol, triglycerides or blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), fluid retention (the need for diuretics), or history of heart attack.

Fortunately, determining if your thyroid is underactive is one of the easiest tests you can perform. It's also practically foolproof. All you have to do is check your basal metabolic rate by taking the temperature of your body at your underarm. Here's how you do it:

1. Place an oral thermometer by your bed. Make sure to shake it down to at least 96 degrees.

2. When you wake up the next morning, immediately place the thermometer in your armpit and leave it there for 10 minutes before getting out of bed. Just relax and remain still during the test.

3. Record the temperature.

Men and premenstrual and premenopausal women can do the test any time. Women in their menstrual years get the most accurate readings on the second or third day after menstrual flow starts. A reading of anywhere between 97.2 and 98.2 degrees is considered normal (your morning temperature will be lower than your temperature later in the day, which is usually around 98.6 degrees). Temperatures outside that range generally indicate a thyroid imbalance.

Although this test is simple, it gives far better results than traditional thyroid blood tests. The only reason it's not more widely recommended is that nobody can figure a way to make money from it. Untold numbers of individuals, exhibiting so-called "normal" blood tests, have experienced quick and lasting relief from cardiovascular and other health problems by simply improving their thyroid function.

Treating Hypothyroidism

There are basically two methods of improving a hypothyroid condition. One method involves the use of supplemental thyroid hormones. These hormones can be either synthetic, such as Synthroid, or natural hormones extracted from pigs, such as Armour. Another method involves supplying the thyroid gland with all the raw materials necessary for an increase in hormone production. These raw materials include specific iodine and non-hormone glandular supplements.

I prefer the second method as long as the thyroid gland is still at least partially working. Hormones are very powerful substances that must work in conjunction with each other. Because of this fact, the body has a very sophisticated system of checks and balances to help regulate hormone levels throughout the tissues. When a hormone (such as Synthroid or Armour) is artificially introduced into the body, this delicate balance can be upset. Further, when you supply a hormone that a given gland would normally make on its own, you risk causing the gland to quit making that hormone. If that occurs, you will be forced to supplement the hormone daily for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you can revitalize a depressed gland through the use of glandular supplements, the gland will naturally resume hormone production and you won't need indefinite treatment.

One of the most effective ways to rebalance the thyroid gland is to take a liquid iodine product called losol. Take four drops of losol in water each day for the first two weeks, and then reduce the dosage to two drops per day. (Note: Under no circumstances should you ingest antiseptic or topical iodine. losol is the only form of iodine recommend for internal usage.) You can often find losol, made by TPCS Distributors, in larger health food stores. If you can't find it locally, you can order losol from Mountain Home Nutritionals at 800-888-1415, ext. 9265.

If the losol alone does not seem to alleviate the symptoms of hypothyroidism, take three tablets of a glandular product called Thytrophin along with just one drop of losol per day. You can often take Thytrophin in place of prescription thyroid medications. Three tablets of Thytrophin are roughly equivalent to one grain of hormone. Thytrophin is made by a highly reputable and reliable company called Progressive Labs.

In addition to using losol and Thytrophin, make sure that you're also using a good multi-vitamin and mineral product. Doing so will ensure that you're getting important trace minerals such as selenium (200 mcg per day) and other components necessary for the production and conversion of thyroid hormones.

Finally, take steps to reduce your exposure to estrogen-like compounds. Use organic cleansers, pesticides and other household products. And make the switch once and for all to distilled water.

The length of time needed to obtain results from treating hypothyroidism will vary from individual to individual. Most people begin to see a marked difference in their energy levels and mood within just a few days, but other problems may take longer to resolve. And while correcting an underactive thyroid won't reverse heart disease, it will stop its progression and most likely prevent a future heart attack or heart failure. Once you've stopped the progress, you can begin reversing the problem through the use of high quality cardiovascular supplements, lecithin, fresh unsaturated fatty acids, and diet. 

 

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