By Dr. Christine Surrago
Thyroid Inflammation is More Common Than You Might Think
One of the first things I look at when a patient walks into my office is his or her thyroid gland. About 10% of the time, the gland will appear inflamed!
This is a new phenomenon in medical practice as more and more people, especially women, are presenting with thyroid issues. They will usually feel wired, stressed or tired. Why is this happening? And why is it happening more often to women than men? There are a few factors that could be contributing to the rise in the incidence of thyroid dysfunction including changes in our environment, food and culture. Due to the complexity of the female hormone system, these changes may just have a larger impact on women than men.
Once I notice inflammation in the thyroid gland, I start looking for the root cause of the inflammation. I ask if the patient had a cold recently to see if there was a recent viral exposure. I ask the patient if they had a whiplash injury from a car accident, which sometimes results in thyroid dysfunction. I look for toxic exposures in my patient’s work or home environment. I take particular notice of what people are eating because the changes in agriculture (including pesticides and GMOs) are wreaking havoc on the thyroid gland. Most of the time if thyroid dysfunction is caught early enough, it can be treated with diet, homeopathy, detoxing, manual therapy and botanical medicine. When it is caught late, there could be a significant amount of destruction to the thyroid gland due to longterm inflammation, and the patient would need to take thyroid medicine indefinitely.
Unfortunately, some people are already on thyroid medicine as prescribed by a doctor, and no one took the time to really evaluate why the thyroid was malfunctioning. The underlying cause of thyroid disease was never addressed only masked by thyroid medication. In other cases, the thyroid function was completely destroyed and thyroid medication is absolutely essential. The only way to find out is to work with a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in hormones to determine exactly what you need to do.
Let’s Backtrack…What is The Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is an important endocrine gland in your body, and it is essential for cellular function. That means that every cell of your body is dependent on the thyroid's performance. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormones called T3 and T4. Thyroid hormones are sent to every cell of the body through the blood stream. These hormones are vital for the growth of children, the metabolism of cells and the integrity of skin and hair. Furthermore, it is crucial for nerve, heart, bone, kidney and digestive function. It is one of the most sensitive glands in the body and can be the first sign of a deeper chronic disease. The thyroid is easily impacted by viral infections, medications, toxic foods, radiation and pollution. If you have the following symptoms, you may want to have your thyroid thoroughly examined and blood work done:
- lack of motivation
- weight gain
- frequent sore throats, hoarseness
- excessive PMS or cramping
- poor wound healing
- hair loss
A Deeper Look Into The Workings Of The Thyroid Gland
In the graphic above, you can see that Tyrosine (on the left) is the backbone of the two thyroid hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) on the right. Tyrosine is an amino acid which can be found in various food sources such as spirulina, fish, eggs and meat. It can also be taken as a supplement and here comes my word of caution: Do not do this unless under the supervision of an experienced doctor. Some people feel worse while taking Tyrosine (others feel better). One thing to consider is that whenever you are taking a manufactured supplement from a laboratory, it is several steps removed from nature. Some companies manufacture Tyrosine from bacterial fermentation and others make it in a chemistry lab. Those of you who are sensitive to energetics and being in rhythm with nature may have a poor response to taking Tyrosine. There are also some complexities to consider when using an isolated substance from nature, which should be reviewed with your doctor. In other cases, it works wonders in thyroid and adrenal dysfunctions.
Iodine is also needed for the production of thyroid hormones. The thyroid takes in a significant amount of iodine and can be subject to damage by radioactive iodine. Around the time of the Fukushima accident on March 11, 2011, many people along the west coast of the US started supplementing with kelp and iodine out of fear of thyroid damage due to radioactive iodine. In the years after Fukushima, some of my colleagues noticed a rise in thyroid diseases and dysfunctions in their medical practice. I continuously do research, checking the Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation, to see what is happening in our oceans and currently, there is still radiation from Fukushima. It has been 6 years, and this is the first year that Japanese farmers have been able to grow rice in the region. Finding good sources of iodine are important for protecting your thyroid gland from radioactive damage.
Selenium is another supplement that is used in the treatment of thyroid issues in order to support thyroid function and reduce oxidative damage of the thyroid gland. Any gland that has high metabolic activity like the thyroid gland is prone to oxidative stress. The oxidative stress comes from the amount of oxidation that occurs within the cell during production of hormones. The thyroid uses certain proteins called selenoproteins (which are made with selenium) to clean up oxidative stress. There are also selenoproteins that also regulate the impact of thyroid hormone on the cells of the body by turning the thyroid hormones on and off. Without selenium, these proteins would not exist and many serious dysfunctions can show up in the body. However, Selenium at high doses is toxic. I highly recommend consulting with a doctor before taking Selenium.
In addition to the supplements above, proper diet, rest, exercise and healthy relationships are key to a healthy body. These areas should always be addressed when treating any medical condition.