What is hypothyroidism?hypothyroidism is a condition caused by underactivity of the thyroid gland, which no longer produces adequate amounts of thyroid hormones.
The thyroid gland is located in the lower neck and it produces thyroid hormones, which run the body's metabolic processes. People with hypothyroidism experience symptoms that are often labelled as a 'slow metabolism' e.g. weight gain, fatigue.
What causes hypothyroidism?The most common cause of ypothyroidism is autoimmune thyroiditis (also called Hashimoto's thyroiditis), where a person's own immune system attacks and kills the cells in the thyroid gland.
This type of hypothyroidism is common, particularly among women, who suffer autoimmune hypothyroid disease about 10 to 20 times more frequently than men do.
Another cause of hypothyroidism is certain medical treatments, such as surgical removal of a portion or the entire gland in thyroid cancers, or radioactive iodine therapy. The thyroid gland traps and accumulates iodine from the blood. If this is the radioactive iodine that is used in certain medical procedures, the radioactivity destroys cells in the thyroid gland.
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidismHypothyroidism can include facial swelling and fluid retention (oedema around the eyes; sensitivity to cold temperatures; sparse hair; skin texture can be coarse, pale, dry and scaly; weight gain; depression; constipation; numbness of the feet and hands; period pain in women; low body temperature; elevated cholesterol and blood lipid levels; decreased libido; muscle cramps and aches and anaemia.
Some patients have what is called subclinical hypothyroidism, where there are very few or no symptoms, but there is a slight abnormality in their thyroid function tests. This condition is particularly common in elderly women.
Treatment options for hypothydroidismAs with all conditions your doctor should be consulted to diagnose and treat this condition. Ask your doctor about the latest advice on this ailment.
The diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made by a blood test, which measures the patient's thyroid function (activity of the thyroid gland and the hormones that control its activity). The treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking daily tablets of thyroid hormone preparations (thyroxine). It is important that these tablets are taken on a regular basis so that the body's metabolic processes can be stabilised.
Patients with subclinical hypothyroidism may not need to take medication, depending on the extent of their symptoms. Medication may be given to patients suffering subclinical hypothyroidism to lower their cholesterol and lipoprotein (fat) levels in their blood, as these levels can be increased in this condition.
Pharmacist's advice for hypothyroidismAsk your Pharmacist for advice.
1) Follow the Diet Hints.
2) A light exercise programme may help improve the metabolism. Always have a medical check-up before commencing an exercise programme.
3) Do not drink tea, as it can interfere with the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. Your Pharmacist may suggest a caffeine free substitute.
4) If you smoke, quit! If you need help to stop, ask your pharmacist for suggestions.
5) Consider the dietary supplements listed in the Vitamins, Minerals/Herbs section of this topic. Ask your pharmacist for advice on dosages and interactions.
Diet hints for hypothyroidismDietary modification can help to improve thyroid function, particularly in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism who are not taking thyroid replacement medications.
- Include egg yolks, parsley, apricots, dates, prunes, fish, chicken, milk and cheeses, which can supply the essential nutrients necessary for proper thyroid function.
- Avoid broccoli, cabbage, spinach, turnips, Brussels sprouts, horseradish, soy beans, cassava root, peanuts, pine nuts, radish and white mustard, which decrease thyroid hormone production.
- Iodine deficiency is a rare cause of Hypothyroidism in developed countries, but can still occur. Iodine deficiency Hypothyroidism can be improved by iodine-rich foods such as seaweed (e.g. nori and dulse varieties).
- Avoid tea, as it contains fluorine, and chlorinated drinking water, as both fluorine and chlorine block iodine receptors in the thyroid gland. Vitamin A and zinc supplements may improve thyroid hormone production.
Vitamins/minerals/herbs*AVOID supplements that can put stress on the thyroid gland, such as ma-huang and guarana.
- Vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc supplements may improve thyroid hormone production.
- Kelp supplements may improve hypothyroidism caused by iodine deficiency. *Selenium supplements may be of assistance if dietary selenium content is inadequate.