DEAR DR. BLONZ: A recent visit with my doctor revealed that my thyroid is low, and she recommends I begin taking a synthetic thyroid hormone. I’m considering it, but I confess that I prefer natural methods, because my body doesn’t always respond well to medication. Can you suggest ways, other than a synthetic supplement, to raise my thyroid level? Would it be wise to take an iodine supplement? -- S.T., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR S.T.: Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism in the cells of the body. To release its hormones, the thyroid gland, which sits just below the larynx (voice box) in the throat, requires the mineral iodine and the stimulating presence of another hormone: the appropriately named thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Hypothyroidism is the condition of insufficient thyroid hormone. This can be due to problems with the gland itself, or due to an insufficient amount of TSH. There are a number of medical conditions that can play a role in hypothyroidism, so your doctor should fill in the details of what’s going on in your particular case. (Read more about this at tinyurl.com/yd26athu.)
You mention iodine; a deficiency of this essential mineral can indeed hamper the ability of the thyroid gland to produce its hormone. In such cases, the thyroid gland often enlarges, and the condition referred to as a “goiter” results, with a characteristic swelling about the front of the neck. Most people, however, get more dietary iodine than they need, so it is unlikely that an iodine deficiency is the problem.
It wasn’t always that way. Iodine is plentiful in the ocean, but there was a time when it was not well-distributed inland. Foods containing iodine used to be limited to seafood, crops grown in coastal areas, and dairy or meat products from animals that had grazed on iodine-rich feed. During that period, iodine-deficiency goiters used to be more common. With the advent of iodized salt, perhaps our first “functional food,” this condition virtually disappeared. The typical iodine intake is now well above required levels.
Be aware that if you are not iodine deficient, taking additional iodine will not cause your thyroid to produce more, and excessive intakes can be harmful.
There are compounds called goitrogens that can interfere with the use of iodine by the thyroid gland. These compounds are found in foods such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and turnips. Goitrogens, however, tend to be inactivated by cooking, so unless you are eating lots of these vegetables raw, and on a daily basis, it’s doubtful that they would be involved.
Whatever the cause, if you have hypothyroidism, it is important that your condition is treated. The symptoms of inadequate production of thyroid hormone include sluggishness, intolerance of cold temperatures, depression, poor muscle tone, and weight gain. There is also an increased risk for heart disease. The use of Synthroid (a synthetic thyroid hormone) may be a reasonable option, but make sure you discuss all your concerns with your physician.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.