Alternative Medicine Approaches for Hypothyroidism
Armour Thyroid, Vitamins and Minerals for Thyroid Problems, Type A Personalities, and More:
An Interview with Holistic Doctor Carol Roberts, M.D.
Q. Do you use thyroid blood tests at all to diagnose hypothyroidism, or do you rely on body temperature and symptoms as your means of diagnosis?
I have found that the blood tests are shockingly unreliable in diagnosing this very common problem. When I have a patient in front of me who has all the classic signs of hypothyroidism, and the blood tests are perfectly normal, who am I to believe? I believe the patient, and the evidence of my own eyes. However, I do the tests for the sake of documentation, and just in case they are abnormal.
Q. Besides the most common hypothyroidism symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and depression, what lesser known symptoms do you frequently see showing up in hypothyroid patients?
They often have insomnia, memory loss, dry skin, their hair is like a haystack, very dry and brittle, and they've lost half or more of their eyebrows. The tongue is thick and often has indentations from their teeth, their periods are light or nonexistent and they are constipated. Not a charming picture.
Q. You have said that you feel that some cases of hypothyroidism are due to nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. What are the most common imabalances/deficiences you've found in thyroid patients that, when corrected, can help to resolve underlying hypothyroidism problems?
Often these (usually) women have mineral deficiencies that contribute, most specifically iodine. Often the problem shows up after a pregnancy, which is particularly draining to the mother's mineral stores. Protein deficiencies can also lead to thyroid problems, because the amino acid tyrosine is a crucial building block of the hormone.
Q. You typically favor Armour thyroid, the desiccated natural thyroid product made from the glands of pigs. Is there a reason you prefer this, versus Thyrolar, the synthetic T4/T3 combination drug, or adding Cytomel (synthetic T3) or a time released compounded T3, to levothyroxine (synthetic T4)?
The ideal thyroid replacement would be natural human thyroid in exactly the right proportions. However, since this is not currently available I use the dessicated animal product because it seems to work well for most patients, much better certainly than synthetic T4 alone (Synthroid). As for a combination of synthetics, I haven't tried it, because I'm happy with what we've been doing. There are, however, some patients who might benefit greatly from a synthetic combo, especially vegetarians and others who don't wish to take pig derived products, for spiritual or other reasons. In general I find that a natural product works better, and is less costly, than the pharmaceutical alternative.
Q. In general, what do you feel are the main causes behind Hashimoto's/autoimmune hypothyroidism, and why do you feel that it is becoming more common?
The causes of all the autoimmune diseases are still quite obscure, but one theoryis that they represent an attack on the body by a dysfunctional immune system deranged by toxins, like mercury from dental fillings or contaminated seafood. Toxins can trigger multiple chemical sensitivities and food allergies. Since animal proteins can so closely mimic human protein the immune system gets confused, and begins to attack, in this case, its own thyroid tissue. Viral infections and vaccinations might also be triggers for the autoimmune process.
Q. There's some evidence that autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's, the main cause of hypothyroidism, may strike "Type A" personalities more frequently than other, less "driven" types. Do you think there's any validity to this, and why this might be happening?
Now you're getting into a very interesting aspect, the interaction of the emotions with the physical body. The Hindus have a model which explains this very well. It's called the chakra system, and in this model there are seven energy centers, or chakras, each with its own associated emotion, stacked one on top of the other along the spine. Human energy rises from lower to higher energetic levels, which can then be translated via the hormones into the physical. This energy can get stuck in any of these chakras, creating an energy block.
Type A personalities get stuck in the third chakra, being the power center, concerned with competence, aggression, competitiveness, and related to the adrenal glands. They don't know how to give or receive love openly and freely (4th chakra) and therefore tend to get more heart attacks. You might say that the body creates the metaphor of blocked coronary arteries from the blocked emotion.
The fifth chakra is the throat, relates to creativity, your sense of higher purpose in life, and your mission. It's knowing what "song" you came to sing. It is not about power and money. The associated gland is the thyroid. Can you see how blocked energy in a lower center would predispose to illness in unbalanced centers? It's pure poetry. We're only just beginning to map the energy body, so this is metaphor, not science. This is really a fascinating subject for a whole 'nother interview.
Q. What do you feel the role is of the adrenal system in dealing with hypothyroidism?
The adrenals, the thyroid, the ovaries, testes and all the rest are linked like dominoes. In fact the adrenals and thyroid both depend on tyrosine, an amino acid, for production of their major hormones. Nutritional deficiencies put stress on the whole system.
Q. Are there any particular supplements you think most people with hypothyroidism should probably be taking?
I put my patients on kelp, for the mineral content, especially the iodine, and tyrosine, since T3 and T4 both are made from tyrosine. Of course, all my patients take the basic multivitamins, including C, E, all the B vitamins and beta carotene for Vitamin A. I don't usually ask them to take Vitamin D because we live in Florida, but a less sunny climate would demand some of that also. Balanced minerals are crucial to proper function of the whole body. That just provides the right foundation. Food is good too, but it is often deficient in minerals, so I always test the hair to see about mineral balance.
Q. What are your thoughts about "Wilson's Syndrome," which uses body temperature as the sole means of diagnosis, and uses primarily T3 only as a treatment?
Wilson's syndrome is a problem where the body produces a mirror image of T3, which doesn't work. However, it looks normal on the standard blood tests. You have to look for "reverse T3" if you want to make this diagnosis. Giving T3 to these people alleviates their symptoms and works just fine.
Q. A major complaint many people with hypothyroidism have is difficulty losing weight, even after they've been diagnosed, and are on optimum amounts of thyroid hormone, including T3. Do you have any suggestions for those people who are finding it particularly difficult?
Look further for other problems. Weight can be hard to lose if you have food allergies or an intestinal yeast overgrowth. It can be a sign of an imbalance of other hormones, especially in women who are taking estrogen (usually Premarin) without progesterone. And it can be a sign of "dysglycemia", or insulin resistance. That can often be helped by not eating harmful fats like margarine and using instead olive oil for cooking and essential fatty acids (omega 3's) as a supplement.
I don't like the "metabolic enhancers" which put the body into overdrive, as if it were on speed, or the fat binding substances which can cause a deficiency in the necessary fats. Regular exercise and careful attention to the right foods usually does the trick! Losing weight any other way can be very dangerous.
Q. In researching my book, I talked to a number of scientists who felt that overconsumption of soy isoflavones can create some health problems, including an increased risk of hypothyroidism. Do you have any thoughts about the current soy craze, and the pros and cons of soy consumption, including soy foods, and soy protein powders, and isoflavone supplements?
Soy and isoflavones have a detrimental effect on the thyroid, as does unopposed estrogen (Premarin or other estrogens are often given alone to women who have had a hysterectomy. This is a big mistake). Hormones can oppose each other or enhance each other's activity. Since these soy constituents act in a similar way to estrogen, they can decrease thyroid activity. It's another case of "too much of a good thing".
Q. Do have any thoughts for patients who are having difficulties getting properly diagnosed or treated? People who cannot necessarily travel to see you, or who do not have access to doctors who are particularly savvy about thyroid treatment, and who are stuck with HMOs or who are limited to particular doctors with particular insurance plans?
Find a doctor who knows about this problem by calling the American Holistic Medical Association in McLean, Virginia, at or look on their website www.holisticmedicine.org. (Holistic Doctor-Finder.) Then, even if your insurance doesn't cover it, see that doctor for help. You will not be sorry! The cost of an office visit or two will be worth the wonderful results you'll see when you are finally treated properly! Don't let your insurance company run your life! If your car need fixing you wouldn't wait to have it covered by insurance, would you? Why do we think we have to do whatever they tell us to do? Your insurance is there for catastrophes. You must take charge and be willing to pay out of pocket if necessary. Then you'll have the energy to argue with your insurace company if you so desire, or look around for another company who'll support your choice of doctors.
Q. Do you ever deal with Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism? Do you have any alternative or natural ways you've found successful to deal with overactive thyroid problems?
I usually refer these patients to a homeopathic doctor who has had very good success in treating these problems naturally. The conventional medical treatment is, as you know, destructive and irreversible, consisting of surgery or radioactive iodine administered to "ablate" the thyroid. Herbal treatment has been effective in some cases I am familiar with.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to share about your thoughts on hypothyroidism?
Have the courage to look for answers yourself! By reading this newsletter you've taken a giant step towards understanding this common condition better than most doctors. You're looking for the exceptional doctor who will work with you, not just your lab values.
Q. How can people find out more about your work, and contact you? Website address? Newsletters, products or books you sell/make available?
My website address is www.healme.org. We offer natural hormone replacement therapy over the Internet. These are the human equivalent hormones, identical to the ones the human ovary makes. Our mission is to get people off the horse pee and synthetic hormones. The principle is the same as with thyroid replacement. Your body just does better, there are fewer risks and side effects - and most doctors know nothing about it!
We are also developing skin care products which work on all levels to produce more youthful skin as well as certain desirable emotional states. The creams use hormones, flower essences, aromatherapy and color therapy principles. Information about my practice, Wellness Works, is also available online or from my office at 813 661-3662 in Brandon, Florida.
I am fortunate to be the editor of the American Holistic Medical Association's newsletter, which can be obtained from J G Communications, 14 Reynal Crossing, Scarsdale, NY 10583. Mention my name and get a free introductory copy.
Finally, I love to speak to groups and organizations about a variety of topics in holistic medicine. Contact Marilyn at the above number for more information.
Thank you for the opportunity to add my voice to yours in the struggle to change the way thyroid disorders are treated. Best of luck to you Mary, in your mission!
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.