The thyroid is a small gland in the base of the neck that affects nearly all of the major systems in the body and is essential for optimal health. While many patients surf the Web and research optimal thyroid function, physicians are questioning whether present guidelines are only diagnosing cases of extreme deviations in function. This article is meant to help guide patients suspicious of suboptimal thyroid function. Findings should be discussed with a physician to better improve overall health. It may require working with a doctor trained in holistic medicine and more in tune with current studies in thyroid insufficiencies.

It is essential the thyroid gland produce normal levels of thyroid hormone for the body to feel its best. Too much thyroid often manifests as an increased heart rate, jittery sensations, tremors, weight loss and feelings of overstimulation, similar to the sensation of drinking too much caffeine. This condition, called hyperthyroidism, can be confirmed through blood tests.

Low thyroid function may not be as obvious as symptoms may develop gradually. Symptoms of insufficient thyroid hormone, or hypothyroidism, include: Fatigue, cold hands and feet, dry skin, weight gain or inability to lose weight, hair loss, thinning of the outer eyebrow, lack of mental sharpness and constipation. For a hypothyroid sufferer, getting up in the morning becomes a tall task. Fluid collection in the feet is another common, though not specific, symptom of this disorder. It’s important to note that other causes may explain these symptoms, but they certainly prompt a need for investigation starting with thyroid testing.

Recognizing excessive thyroid hormones is important as these conditions can put extra pressure on the heart and promote the development of osteoporosis. Detecting low thyroid levels is also important since this not only leads to fatigue and weight gain, but aggravates other conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes. Consult a doctor if any of the above symptoms pertain to you.

An overactive thyroid gland is easier to identify through blood work than low thyroid. Patients often voice frustration that they have many hypothyroid symptoms, but the thyroid tests are within normal limits. Find a physician well-versed in thyroid treatment. Discuss your symptoms so that all potential diagnoses can be considered. Proper thyroid treatment requires an ongoing interaction between the patient and physician.

Optimal thyroid function requires proper nutrition. Diets high in fruits and vegetables not only benefit the heart and brain, but other organs such as the thyroid. Thyroid hormone production utilizes the trace mineral iodine. Iodine supplementation, most often seen in iodized salt, has been utilized in many countries to reduce the risk of a thyroid goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland). Patients with low thyroid, especially those on a salt-restricted diet, may consider iodine supplementation to help support thyroid function. Too much iodine may cause nausea or increased heart rate, similar to the hyperthyroid symptoms listed above. Patients who exhibit signs of low thyroid should consider supplementation with zinc and selenium. These minerals help support the conversion of the T-4 form of thyroid to the more potent form, T-3. Patients should know that before any mineral supplementation is started, thyroid lab work is recommended to establish a baseline of thyroid function.

Supporting Cast:
  • Selenium. Taken at 100-200 mcg daily, with food.
  • Zinc. Can be taken at 15-25 mg daily, with food. Zinc supplementation should be done in conjunction with copper (1 -2 mg daily), as these two minerals work together in the body.
  • Iodine (or Iodoral). Men usually start at 2 tablets a day, and women at 1 a day. This dosage may vary widely depending on the patient’s needs. Iodine supplementation is best when under a doctor’s supervision so that the dosage can be followed and adjusted as needed.

It’s also important for patients suffering from under activity of the gland to incorporate a regular exercise routine into their regimen. Exercise provides support to muscles, bones and energy levels that is needed in the face of low thyroid hormone.

Stress management is essential as well. Work on breathing exercises, enroll in a yoga program or begin journaling.