By Lawrence Wilson, MD
© April 2014, The Center For Development
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland that sits in the throat area at the level of the Adam’s apple. It is a very unique gland that is absolutely required for life.
The thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland produces several very important hormones. The major one is called thyroxine. Other names for the same hormone are tetraiodothyronine or T4. The thyroid also seems to produce a little tri-iodothyronine or T3. Most of this hormone, however, is made elsewhere in the body. It also produces a hormone called calcitonin that helps regulate calcium in the body. It tends to reduce serum calcium levels.
Functions of the thyroid hormones. My mentor, Dr. Paul Eck, used to say that the thyroid hormones are like the spark plugs of the body. They ignite the “fuel” in the mitochondria of each cell and this is necessary to produce biochemical energy with which the body performs all of its functions. For this reason, any problem with the thyroid gland causes energy problems and usually fatigue, at the very least.
These amazing hormones increase the metabolic rate, also speeding up the oxidation rate a slightly different concept used in nutritional balancing science. The metabolic rate, in turn, impacts every area of body functioning. This includes digestion, cardiovascular health, and the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. It affects DNA and protein synthesis, body weight, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscle strength, sleep and sexual functioning, among other things.
Thyroid cretinism. Thyroid hormones also give a certain brightness and lightness to the personality. Low levels during gestation or the development of a fetus cause a type of mental slowness or retardation called cretinism. This is the origin of the slang expression calling a person who appears dull a “cretin”.
Thyroid depression. Low levels in childhood cause reduced mental activity, and often depression.
Hyper personality type. Too much thyroid hormone causes extreme irritability and nervousness. The slang phrase in which one describes a person as “hyper” comes from the word hyper-thyroid.
Expression and creativity. The thyroid hormones are also concerned with creativity and expression in the world. They are needed to reach out to the world and participate in it. Those with very low thyroid functioning are often withdrawn and depressed for this reason. In contrast, many famous people who are “out in the world” have higher levels of thyroid hormones.
The thyroid body type. Some doctors recognize a “thyroid glandular body type”. These individuals generally have stronger thyroid glands and weaker adrenal glands. They are generally tall, slender and have a more linear, and often a wiry type of build. They are often mentally sharp, often in a “heady” and intellectual or “brainy” way. The women have smaller breasts and appear somewhat wispy, at times, although they are strong mentally and emotionally. Some have been traumatized emotionally and are not as comfortable in their bodies, so they tend to go “up and out”. This means they are “up in their heads” too much. They have a great need for grounding and centering, and relaxation. When they burn out, they go into sympathetic dominance pattern and develop weaker digestion and constipation in many cases.
In contrast, the adrenal body type is shorter, stockier or fatter, and often more earthy and grounded. They are often not as intellectual, though they can be very smart. They are often physically stronger have a faster oxidation rate, and often have better digestion if they are at all healthy. The body types are generalizations, but they may help us understand some effects of the thyroid and the adrenal glands upon the body.
COMMON THYROID PROBLEMS
Thyroid imbalance and/or disease is one of the most common conditions in the Western world today. The problems tend to be worse in women, and worse in adults than in children. Common types of thyroid imbalances include:
1. Underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism.
2. Myxedema (very low thyroid activity)
3. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a mild infection of the thyroid gland. This may be accompanied by low thyroid hormone levels.
4. Grave’s disease or hyperthyroidism.
5. Thyroid nodules.
7. Thyroid cancer.
In my experience, all of the conditions above can usually be handled much better with natural methods of care than with regular medical treatments. This is based on more than 30 years of experience. The only time that hormone therapy is needed is if the thyroid gland has been destroyed due to surgery or radioactive iodine treatment (RAI). In almost all cases, thyroid hormone replacement therapy may give symptomatic relief, but it will impair deeper healing. If a person has Grave’s disease or hyperthyroidism, irradiating the thyroid or cutting it out I find is never needed and is a very barbaric and harmful way of taking care of this condition. Hyperthyroidism is discussed later in this article. Instead of this approach, this article discusses a more fundamental and much more effective way to handle most thyroid conditions through nutritional balancing science. The correction may be slower, but it is permanent, and it builds health instead of destroying it.
WHY IS THYROID DISEASE SO COMMON TODAY?
Thyroid problems are epidemic around the world, especially in the Western world, for the following reasons:
1. Stress. Stress can cause many cases of thyroid imbalance. The stress can be physical, emotional, financial, structural or other. Any of these weakens the thyroid gland.
2. Iodine antagonists in the environment. This is a very serious problem that few talk about. However, the water and food supply is loaded with halogens, which are elements that can replace iodine in the thyroid gland. They mainly include fluorides, chlorides, and bromides. These elements compete with iodine for absorption and utilization in our bodies. When they replace iodine, the thyroid gland simply stops working properly.
3. Copper and mercury toxicity in almost everyone. According to the research of Dr. Paul Eck and many others, copper and mercury can easily interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. They may do this by antagonizing or opposing the action of zinc, manganese and selenium, or perhaps by other mechanisms. Unfortunately, copper and mercury toxicity are almost universal today. Mercury gets into our bodies due to mercury in dental fillings, mercury in all fish except perhaps very small fish like sardines, and in some cases other sources of mercury. Copper imbalance is due to many factors. Among the most important are adrenal insufficiency, vegetarian type diets, zinc deficiency, stress and a few others.
4. Nutrient deficiencies. These include low levels in our food of bioavailable zinc, selenium, iodine, manganese and others that are needed for proper thyroid functioning.
5. Autonomic system imbalances. This cause is related to stress of a certain type.
6. Other. Infections, cancers and other things occasionally arise in the thyroid gland. This is the case with Hashimoto’s disease. I find it goes away easily and one should not take hormones for it.
However, in most cases, these causes are secondary to the first five causes listed above. If those are taken care of, the infections and even cancers go away on their own. Before discussing how to help most thyroid conditions, here is a brief review of how the thyroid gland works.
Thyroid gland metabolism involves many steps, all of which must work properly. Most doctors do not take into account the ones that are tissue thyroid problems, post-glandular problems or peripheral thyroid imbalances. All these terms mean the same thing, namely what happens to the thyroid hormones once they leave the thyroid gland. Here are the basic steps of thyroid hormone metabolism:
1. The hypothalamus must signal the pituitary gland to produce TSH. The hypothalamus produces a substance called TRH, that in turn signals the pituitary gland to produce TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone.
2. The pituitary gland must secrete the right amount of TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. TSH cause the thyroid to secrete thyroxine. Anything that upsets the delicate feedback system of the body, such as taking thyroid replacement medication, for example, or some other drugs, perhaps, can upset the hypothalamic and pituitary regulation of thyroid activity.
3. The thyroid gland must produce adequate T4. T4, also called tetraiodothyronine or thyroxine, is the hormone made in the thyroid gland. To make it requires manganese, iodine, selenium, tyrosine, cyclic AMP, vitamins C and B-complex, and many other micronutrients that are low in our food today. If you eat poor quality food, too much raw food except dairy products, refined foods, or a vegetarian diet, you will not get enough nutrients to supply the thyroid with all its nutritional needs. Hormone production also requires adequate circulation to the thyroid gland. This is needed so that all the required nutrients and enough TSH can find their way to the gland. One problem in some women, in particular, is that tension in the neck area can impair the circulation to the thyroid area. Chiropractic, postural work, Rolfing, and other types of body therapies can be helpful to correct this. Nutritional balancing science will cause muscles relaxation that is often needed as well. Stress reduction is also most helpful. Tension in the neck can overstimulate or irritate the nerves going to the thyroid gland. This leads to excessive hormone production for a short while, and then the gland begins to ‘burn out’ of nutrients, eventually causing a sluggish thyroid. Just giving nutrients does not really fix this problem, though it will help. One must also release the tension on the nerves leading to the thyroid that are in the neck and cervical spine area. Otherwise, the gland will not function properly.
What often blocks hormone synthesis? Excessive oxidant stress, nutrient deficiencies or toxic metals or chemicals that find their way to the thyroid can block hormone synthesis. Mercury and copper toxicity may sometimes stimulate hormone synthesis, but in other cases these and other toxic metals may inhibit or interfere with hormone synthesis. Among the worst offenders are fluorides, chlorine compounds and bromides found in breads. These directly anta-gonize or compete with iodine uptake, preventing proper hormone synthesis. This is a terrible problem today because we are all exposed to these chemicals.
4. Hormone release. Secretion of thyroid hormones requires some sympathetic nervous stimulation. Some people have imbalances affecting the autonomic nervous system that may block the secretion of thyroid hormone.
5. Absorption into the cells. Once released into the blood, T4 must be absorbed into the body cells. For this to occur, the cell membranes must function properly. Too little or too much cell membrane permeability will affect the uptake of T4 into the cells. This is a very common problem. Problems with cell permeability can be due to accumulation of biounavailable calcium and magnesium in the cell membranes. This excessively stabilizes the cell membranes and reduces cell permeability. Deficient calcium and magnesium cause excessive cell permeability. Oxidant stress or impaired fatty acid metabolism such as a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids or other damage to cell membranes can also block the absorption of thyroxine.
Copper affects absorption by altering calcium and potassium levels. Cadmium or nickel toxicity affect hormone absorption by affecting the levels of calcium, sodium and other critical minerals.
6. Conversion to T3. Once inside the cells, thyroxine must be converted to T3 or triiodothyronine, the more active form of the hormone. This conversion requires selenium, magnesium and other nutrients. Fully 60% of this conversion occurs in the liver, so problem in the liver can interfere with T4 to T3 conversion. Some people produce a hormone called reverse T3, which has a blocking effect on T3. In my experience, this is due to toxic metal poisoning. I find that if a person eats correctly on the oxidation type diets described on this website, and removes his toxic metals, especially mercury, this is not a concern and goes away on its own.
7. Thyroid receptor problems inside the cells. According to my mentor, Dr. Paul Eck, adequate potassium helps sensitize the cells to thyroid hormone. Potassium imbalances, which are common, may therefore interfere with thyroid hormone utilization. Other problems could also interfere with the thyroid hormone receptors on the cells, as well.
8. Utilization in the Mitochondria. The mitochondria must respond to T3 by making ATP or adenosine triphosphate in the glycolysis and carboxylic acid cycles. This require many nutrients such as B-complex vitamins, iron, copper and a few others. This amazing process produces the substance, ATP, that is like the body’s refined gasoline, as opposed to glucose, which may be compared to crude oil. ATP is the actual molecule that our bodies use to power its many activities. Once ATP is formed in the mitochonidria, the body cells must also be able to use it properly. Basically, the ATP is converted to another chemical called ADP or adenosine diphosphate, which must then be recycled back to ATP. Here again, many nutrients are needed to utilize ATP properly and recycle it properly. If any of the nutritional factors are deficient, or if any toxins block these critical steps in the energy pathways, thyroid hormones will be ineffective in increasing energy production.
9. Elimination of excess T3 by the kidneys. Finally, T3 must be eliminated from the cells and be removed by the kidneys from the body, or it will build up and cause a type of thyrotoxicosis. For this to occur properly, T3 must be able to pass out of the cell nuclei, then out of the cell through the cell membrane, and one must also have adequate kidney activity. Problems with weakness of the kidneys are very common, especially in older people, and problems with the cell membrane have been mentioned earlier.
Resulting thyroid imbalances. Problems can occur at any stage of the production, release, conversion, utilization or elimination of thyroid hormone. Current concepts of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are incomplete and often misleading as they only relate to hormone production and release. For example, one may have inadequate hormone production due to radiation damage. Another person may produce enough hormone, but has an autonomic imbalance preventing its release. Another cannot transport enough hormones into the cells due to low cell permeability. Still another person might have adequate hormone production but be unable to utilize the hormones in the cells due to manganese deficiency or fluoride toxicity. Another may have excess hormone production due to copper or mercury toxicity and at the same time have inadequate cell permeability, causing a mixture of hypo and hyperthyroid symptoms.
MEDICAL APPROACHES TO THYROID DISEASE
The prevalence of thyroid disease and the failure of the medical profession to handle it correctly is one of the most important failures of allopathic or conventional medical care. Modern naturopathic and holistic care is little better, although it may at least include dietary and nutritional correction. We find that thyroid replacement hormones are rarely needed, and in almost all cases harmful. Problems with taking thyroid replacement hormones of any kind, natural or synthetic, include:
1. Hormone replacement does nothing to improve the conversion of T4 to T3. One can give T3, and this is better for this reason.
2. Hormone replacement does nothing to assist passage of thyroid hormone through the cell membranes.
3. Hormone replacement does nothing to assist the absorption of T3 into the mitochondria.
4. Hormone replacement does nothing to assist the normal production of ATP in the mitochondria, which requires many nutrients.
5. Hormone replacement does nothing to assist the body to “burn” or utilize the ATP, convert it to ADP, and then recycle it back to ATP.
6. Hormone replacement completely mixes up the delicate feedback system that normally regulates pituitary TSH production, thyroid hormone synthesis, and all other steps in this complex process that is essential for life and health.
Medical thyroid testing. Thyroid physiology is very complex, as explained above. Just measuring the serum levels of T3, T4 and TSH, and perhaps thyroid antibodies, which is what most endocrinologists and doctors do, is inadequate, in my experience. It does not tell the doctor enough about the cause of the problem and how to remedy it. I recommend the method of thyroid assessment developed by Dr. Paul C. Eck as a far better way to evaluate and correct all thyroid problems. How this is done is explained below.
Blood serum thyroid hormone levels and nutritional balancing. Serum thyroid hormone levels (T4 and T3), as well as the level of TSH and other serum thyroid indicators will vary up and