The freaky little hormone-producing gland just under your Adam’s apple can malfunction in any number of ways. When it’s overactive it can cause weight and hair loss, and when underactive weight gain and sluggishness – but there are a whole slew of other potential symptoms.
Less common is the not necessarily serious goiter and the very scary thyroid cancer.
Hashimoto’s disease is a common cause of hypothyroidism, but they are not synonymous. In Hashimoto’s, dedicated lymphocytes attack and destroy the thyroid. It’s all very complicated!
A number of alt health types feel that conventional thyroxine treatments are inadequate and that standard blood tests aren’t sensitive enough to diagnose a low-functioning thyroid.
Many also recommend you up your iodine with foods like kelp, while endocrinologists are adamant this is actually dangerous. Make sure you get the right advice.
What the expert says
“Canada and the U.S. are iodine-sufficient areas. We get at 200 to 300 micrograms, and you only need 150 micrograms a day. Iodine in the form of supplements, including seaweed and kelp, is contraindicated for people with thyroid problems, especially those with Hashimoto’s or chronic thyroiditis. Avoid excess iodine outside the normal diet. If you eat fish, pizza, bread, eggs, broccoli, spinach, you will get enough. The tests are very accurate. Taking desiccated or Armour thyroid can get people in trouble because it changes from batch to batch and has a lot of T3 that can cause symptoms in the heart and bones.’
RICHARD GUTTLER, clinical professor of medicine, U. of Southern California
“Nodules can be caused by radiation. A lot of people who were treated with radiation for acne and ear problems in the early 60s are coming back now with thyroid nodules, and a significant proportion are cancerous. Also, the explosion at Chernobyl has resulted in a lot of cancer cases, particularly in kids. Surgery can be used to treat overactive thyroid. Take out the thyroid and the problem is gone. Genetics can play a role in thyroid cancer, as can ethnicity. Hawaiians have the highest incidence and Filipinos the second-highest. The incidence of thyroid cancer has doubled in the last decade. It’s the fastest-growing cancer in the world.”
JEREMY FREEMAN, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, University of Toronto