Buying Thyroid Supplements
Written by: Pam Joy Chrysalis Effect Specialist & Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist
Should you self-prescribe supplements if you are technically not hypothyroid enough for your doctor to be concerned?
Doc, I feel old, cold and tired!! The amount of times I’ve had this conversation with my doctor! Thyroid issues are rampant in my family, mum, sisters, nieces….and all of the time I have been ‘chemically well’. Is this something you can relate to?
If you go to your doctor with what appears to be suboptimal thyroid symptoms: consistently lowered body temperature, gaining weight with no increase in foods or decrease in activity, inability to lose weight, fatigue, poor memory and concentration and many more, your doctor may recommend you take a TSH test and if you’re lucky, a screen for auto immune antibodies.
The TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone – is part of a feedback loop mechanism between the hypothalamus gland in your brain – the pituitary gland – and the thyroid gland. Each gland releases its own hormones and feeds down the loop and the thyroid responds by producing, or ceasing production of thyroid hormones of T4 and T3. In effect, TSH is like a messenger which knocks on the door of the thyroid, if your thyroid is struggling, it will knock louder, if it is overproducing, it will knock much lighter.
Doctors appear to be very reliant on the TSH as a guide to hypothyroidism with current UK guidelines showing treatment may start if TSH is over 10. From a naturopathic point of view, optimal levels are set much lower at around 2 to 2.5 . Given the wide variance between these levels, people are told their levels are normal though certainly don’t feel normal.
In desperation, people might start consulting with Dr Google and self prescribe themselves supplements, glandulars and anything else they have seen recommended on the internet. So what is so wrong with this? I have been there as I have had subclinical hypothyroidism for at least 7 years. As well as not knowing the purity of the glandulars and supplements, the interactions with other medications and supplements and the individual biochemical make up, there are a few other considerations:
Full Thyroid Screen
Before thinking about glandulars and natural desiccated thyroid, you need to know what is actually going on for your thyroid right now. What are your levels of TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3, do you have auto antibodies? The thyroid gland does not exist in splendid isolation. There are a lot of other considerations – is the thyroid hormone usable, active, is there enough, is it being taken up by the thyroid? If not, why not? Is there an autoimmune component such as Hashimotos. If so, should you be taking selenium or iodine?
Cortisol, Aldosterone and DHEA levels, are they up or down or both? I estimate that at least 50% of my clients have an adrenal problem, particularly those with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Conventional medicine is only concerned with adrenal failure of Addison’s or Cushings at both ends of the spectrum and does not recognise any of the shades of grey in between.
Why is an adrenal issue a problem for the thyroid? Cortisol issues can block the conversion of the thyroid storage hormone T4 to the usable T3. Your adrenals also produce aldosterone and DHEA and there is a delicate dance to maintain balance. If the music is too fast or one partner is doing the tango and the other one is doing the waltz, pandemonium ensues.
Adrenals need to be healthy before starting any kind of thyroid support. Depending on the issues identified on testing, adrenal support can range from dietary and lifestyle changes, supplementary support, adequate rest, the right sort of exercise. To supplement the thyroid without addressing the adrenals is like trying to flog a dying donkey, you will only hasten its demise.
Vitamin D3 Levels
Up here in Cumbria, it rains a lot, whilst that is great for the lush scenery, it’s not so good for people’s Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is considered a steroid plus a pro hormone, i.e . it’s not yet a hormone, but has effects on them. Vitamin D comes from sunshine exposure, or you can supplement with it. Why is it a great vitamin? It helps actual ones, it helps balance out your calcium levels and bone density, it can help lower stress and blood pressure, and promotes a good immune system. Vitamin D is very important for your thyroid, i.e. it has to be in sufficient amounts for thyroid hormone to work in your cells. I have seen some amazingly low Vitamin D levels in my clients with adrenal and thyroid issues. It can be easily rectified up you do need to know where your levels are and supplement it up to optimal levels.
Ferritin: So why is this important? Being hypothyroid can result in a lowered production of stomach acid, which in turn leads to the malabsorption of iron. Chronic inflammation can lower our serum iron levels because it pushes iron into storage, i.e into ferritin. And too many thyroid patients have inflammation in their bodies.
- If you have inadequate iron, this can present a problem for your thyroid.
- Anaemia can slow down the conversion of T4 to T3.
- Low iron may be affecting the first two of three steps of thyroid hormone synthesis by reducing the activity of the enzyme “thyroid peroxidase”, which is dependent on iron.
- It can also have a negative effect on your body’s ability to produce or break down thyroid hormones.
- Serum Iron TIBC % Saturation, B12 and folate and the MTHFR mutation
These need to be looked at together, what is low and what is high.
The answers to the levels may point towards the genetic MTHFR mutation. Up to 50% of the population have this mutation and can lead to a chain of events through impaired detoxification which can have an impact on the thyroid.
Electrolyte and Mineral Status
Important minerals involved in a healthy thyroid are selenium, iodine copper, zinc, magnesium, potassium and calcium. These need to be in balance and in optimal levels.
The sex hormones all form part of the delicate synchronised dance of hormone balance. If oestrogen is dominant, the liver can produce too much thyroid binding globulin, which as the name suggests, binds the thyroid hormone thus decreasing the amount able to be used by the thyroid.
This has just been a quick run through of what you need to consider before self-supplementation to boost your thyroid. You also need to consider what prescribed medications and over the counter medications you are taking, there is always the potential for interactions.
I get such a bee in my bonnet about supermarket supplement shops, I have never heard the assistant ask ‘what do you want it for’ or ‘what other medications are you taking’, it worries me as I would be professionally hung out to dry if I didn’t check for interactions.
I never like to make an off the cuff remark about what supplements to take as I like to work in a bio individual way. Affordable testing is available to establish what is going on for you.
My motto is always test don’t guess.
Work with a fully trained NT or naturopath if you feel you need thyroid support, there are too many variables.
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