Last fall, we ran a short article about the thyroid. Just in case you still don’t have that issue on your coffee table, the thyroid gland, about one ounce, is in your throat, hugging your voice box. Thyroid hormones control how fast you burn fat, regulate temperature, and influence the general energy level of your metabolism. Previously we discussed how producing too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) can affect your health; the condition is not rare and has pretty good treatment options. Now we’ll discuss the effects of too much thyroid (hyperthyroidism). This condition, fairly rare — less than two people in 100 — results from Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune process where our immune system attacks its own thyroid gland and often other tissues including the eyes. Genes play a role, but so do lifestyle and the environment. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include nervousness, weight loss, irregular menstruation, rapid heart beat, and more.
Medical treatments include surgical procedures to remove or reduce the enlarged thyroid gland, radiation therapy to inactivate the gland, and taking medications that nobody, I guarantee, takes for fun. But are there less invasive alternatives? Quite likely but not always. If we want to reason scientifically, we must consider uncertainty. If the results are positive, we cannot guarantee how long they will stay effective.
Last year, I worked with three clients who had received medical diagnoses of Graves’ disease from their family doctors or specialists. They wanted to avoid surgery, radiation and medication. And hey have been able to: two of the clients have succeeded for more than a year.
A modern naturopath will understand the enlarged thyroid as inflammation and will treat it accordingly. In these three cases, I had reasons to suspect that the inflammation was rooted in dietary sensitivities. In recent years, blood tests became available for a category of food reactions mediated by immune cells called IgA (this is different from allergies where the culprit is IgE). These tests have proved very helpful. Unlike allergies, reactions via IgA are often “invisible to the naked eye” but have insidious, long term consequences. With data from these tests as a starting point, we were able to work out a nutritional program that included adequate supplements that calmed down the autoimmune reaction, and lifestyle changes — mainly reducing stress. When these clients returned to their specialists, the diagnosis of Graves’ disease was withdrawn. Much is uncertain in health, but we must always look to rectify it through improving our lifestyles.