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Little Gland, Big Trouble

Treatment for Life
The good news about hypothyroidism and other thyroid diseases is that they are treatable. When lifestyle changes fail to help (and in many cases, before they are tried), most doctors treat thyroid problems with both synthetic and natural prescription hormones.

The standard therapy for hypothyroidism is a synthetic hormone called thyroxine, sold under the brand name Synthroid. An alternative natural product, sold by prescription under the brand name Armour, is made of desiccated animal thyroid gland. It is popular among many alternative and complementary health practitioners because they believe it most closely resembles our body’s own natural thyroid hormone. There is little convincing evidence that one type of product is consistently better or more effective than the other: It just depends on the individual’s condition and body chemistry.

“There is no one best medicine for all low-thyroid sufferers,” says Shames. He explains that finding the right drug and the correct dosage can be a frustrating process of trial and error that can take doctor and patient months or longer to master. Sometimes a combination of two drugs is the optimal solution. Sometimes one drug works well for five years and then is no longer as effective.

There is one generalization that can be made, however: Once you start taking any prescription thyroid medication, you’ll probably have to keep on taking it. Most thyroid medications are designed to supplement or replace naturally occurring thyroid hormones not to strengthen or “cure” the thyroid gland itself. Over time, thyroid medication effectively shuts down the thyroid gland, causing it to slow or halt production altogether, creating a lifelong dependence on supplemental hormones. This phenomenon has made thyroxine one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. It’s also a consideration that encourages some hypothyroid patients to investigate alternative treatments, including naturopathic and Chinese medicine, before turning to prescription hormones.

In many cases, particularly when thyroid disorders are caught early enough, alternative and integrative methods prove very effective in rebalancing the body’s chemical and hormonal activity. In other cases, they don’t.

The key, according to Shames, is to listen to your body, respect your instincts and take charge of your health. “You need to be as active about your medical care as you are about going to the gym,” he says.

Shames encourages patients to do their research, weigh their options and come to their appointments prepared to talk openly about their concerns and priorities. “If you don’t feel like you are being listened to,” he insists, “fire your doctor!”

Fortunately, Heidi Raschke didn’t have to take Shames’s advice. After a few months of tinkering with her dosage, she found that Synthroid did the trick. Now an editor at a major metropolitan newspaper and the mother of a toddler, she’s busier than ever and feeling fine.

“It’s a minor issue in my life now,” she says. “Having a thyroid condition is awful when it’s not being properly treated. But for me, the medication was a miracle. It made me feel like myself again.”

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10:59AM PST on Dec 11, 2011


1:55AM PST on Nov 27, 2010


8:49AM PST on Mar 8, 2010

Thyroid problems seem to be a Western problem. My former chiro came from Sweden and in all of his training and practice he only came across 1 woman with a thyroid problem. When he came to the UK he found that at least 1/4 of his patients had thyroid related problems.

If you think that you have problems with your doctor ask him/her to test for T4!

8:16PM PST on Mar 5, 2010

Hi Laura. You could click up a Notepad, copy & paste the text of each of the four pages onto the Notepad, and then click File > Print. No illustrations, no color, no waste.

I've read over this article and am very sympathetic regarding this condition. Best wishes to my friend who suffers from it.

3:20AM PST on Feb 28, 2010

When I hit the "print" function at the bottom of the article, I only get the view of the page that's showing, and not the entire article. This article is FOUR pages long. It will take at least 8 sheets of paper to print the entire article. I'll have to print 4 illustrations. There'll be inches of blank space at the bottom of each page. They'll need to be stapled or bound together in some manner. What a waste.

If this were anywhere else, I might expect the lack of foresight concerning this issue, but I'm reading this article on "care2", for heaven's sake. If the prudent use of resources isn't a concern HERE, how on earth can we ask anyone else to make it THEIR concern?

Is it possible to make a "printable view" on any and all multi-page articles in the future? I, for one, would really appreciate it. I doubt that I am alone.

10:49PM PST on Feb 13, 2010

Thank you for this article. Thyroid disease is a very frustrating is nice to get some new information.

10:34AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

As someone with hypothyroidism, I found this article very interesting...but a little disappointing in that it indicates once you've been on thyroxine medication, it is difficult to change to homeopathic methods for improving thyroid function since I was thinking of making a switch if possible...oh well, at least the medication is working for me

7:36PM PST on Feb 4, 2010

Thank-you a zillion times for this article.It helped me and I am sure a lot of others.So,Thanks again.

7:25AM PST on Feb 2, 2010


11:15AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

The advice to use iodized salt should betaken with a grain of salt: read the label. Iodized salt often has an aluminum-containing additive in it. I'd rather get my iodine from sea vegetables or some other more natural source.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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