Alternative Thyroid Treatments in the News

Perhaps you heard the recent CBC Radio report about an alternative treatment called “desiccated thyroid” for people with hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). This treatment is in fact an old treatment, often called “Armour Thyroid”, or simply “Thyroid” in Canada, and used by many naturopathic doctors in states and provinces where prescribing rights exist. Following is an explanation of why desiccated thyroid is sometimes more effective than the commonplace synthroid prescription, and why perhaps neither prescription is ideal for weight-loss and a healthy thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism is commonly diagnosed when blood tests show that a brain hormone called TSH, is too high. TSH rises when the thyroid gland slows its production of a hormone called thyroxine, or T4. Most physicians treat this condition with a synthetic form of T4, commonly known as Synthroid, Eltroxin, or Levothyroxine. Your body should convert this T4 into a more active form called T3. Desiccated thyroid contains both T4 and T3, such that your body isn’t required to convert the T4 into T3. Some health practitioners report that desiccated thyroid may treat hypothyroid symptoms in patients who fail to feel the benefits of synthroid even though their blood work appears normal.

A safety concern exists when you bypass the body’s regulatory mechanisms by providing it with an active hormone, such as T3. Where circumventing the need for conversion can be helpful for some people, it can also be harmful for others. (The same argument applies to the use of most synthetic hormones used in medicine, including the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy.) The matter is further complicated by the consideration that by offering the body a synthetic hormone, you encourage the gland to stop producing its own hormone, making the body arguably dependent on the use of a daily prescription.

At times, there are ways to effectively treat hypothyroidism without the use of synthetic hormones. These methods view low thyroid function as a symptom rather than the problem to treat. Sometimes blood tests are required, and these can be ordered by a medical doctor (MD) or naturopathic doctor (ND). Your symptoms often provide the most significant clues in the determination of the root cause, which might be in another gland or tissue connected to thyroid function, such as the liver, kidneys, and adrenals. Your body may be deficient in any one of multiple nutrients required to make, convert, or respond to thyroid hormones, including iodine, zinc, copper, selenium, tyrosine, and vitamin A. Sometimes utilization of these nutrients is affected by environmental exposure to pesticides or foods, such as soy or cabbage. Stress, allergies, and menopause can also negatively impact thyroid function. For some dietary tips on managing low thyroid function, please read an article I wrote for Within Kingston magazine last year, posted here on my website.

Sometimes the most effective and successful medical intervention for low thyroid function is a prescription for synthetic hormones. At other times, if the thyroid gland is given the right tools, it could work without the use of a pharmaceutical, and the condition could heal. All too often a thorough assessment for the presence of these tools is lacking… and the opportunity is presented for a thorough examination by a health practitioner skilled in the use of whole body healing.


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