Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I suppose, if we are to discuss obscure endocrine disorders, it probably will be good to understand the the most common first. Hypothyroidism is a disease where the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone for some reason or another. Usually, the cause is genetics (thyroid problems run through family lines and are ridiculously easy to trace), but some people suffer from hypothyroid problems because their thyroids have been damaged by exposure to chemicals or even because part of their thyroid has been removed because they were hyperthyroid as children.
Whatever the cause, hypothyroidism affects from 10 to 40 percent of the population of the US! And it goes undiagnosed in the majority (perhaps up to 30 percent) of cases (Brownstein 19). The reasons this disease is ignored by the medical community are many. The main reason is that doctors are afraid to mess with our hormones, and we shouldn't blame them. Experiments in the past (before doctors had figured out the right dosage and formula) have gone terribly wrong. I'll have to look for some specific examples for you. The second reason hypothyroidism goes undiagnosed is because we still understand so little about the endocrine system in general. Researchers have set "normal" ranges for our hormone levels, but really, we still have no idea what normal should be. Is it different for every person? It seems so. For example, the level for TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) has been set at anywhere from 0.5-4.5 mU/l, a range which includes 95 percent of the population, some of which, it turns out, actually have hypothyroid disorder (Brownstein 18). Needless to say, bloodtests very rarely reveal hypothyroid disorder, and without hard blood test facts, doctors are often unwilling to treat hypothyroidism based on symptoms alone.
Another confusing aspect of hypothyroidism is its incredible variety of symptoms. Let's see . . . Brownstein's symptom list, which is in alphabetical order, reads like this: "brittle nails, cold hands and feet, cold intolerance, constipation, depression, difficulty swallowing, dry skin, elevated Cholesterol, essential hypertension, eyelid swilling, fatigue, hair loss, hoarseness, hypotension, inability to concentrate, infertility, menstrual irregularities, muscle cramps, muscle weakness, nervousness, poor memory, puffy eyes, slower heartbeat, throat pain, weight gain." Add to that Dr. Dennis Remington's research on hypothyroidism and allergies, and you've got quite a list. No wonder this is a hard disease to pin down.
The best way to diagnose this disease is actually wonderfully simple. Let's go back: the thyroid is the most important gland in the endocrine system. It affects all the other glands as well as all of the cells and organs of the body. The thyroid helps the body produce energy, maintain body temperature, and optimize metabolism. The function we are concerned with here as we test for hypothyroidism is the thyroid's role in maintaining body temperature. In the morning, as soon as you wake up, take your temperature. This morning temperature is called the basal body temperature and should remain around 98.6 with fluctuations throughout the month (especially for women). If your temperature is consistently in the 96 or 97 range when you wake up in the morning, you probably have a thyroid disorder and should ask your doctors what he/she can do for you (Shames 52).
Hypothyroidism is easy to treat with either Synthroid (synthetic T4) or Armour thyroid (natural T4 with a tiny amount of T3). Taking your optimal dose each morning 1/2 hour before you eat usually fixes the thyroid problem and makes all of the symptoms disappear.

Brownstein, David, M.D. Overcoming Thyroid Disorders.
Shames, Richard L. M.D and Karilee Halo Shames, R.N., Ph.D. Thyroid Power.

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