Overactive Thyroid Gland
By naturopath Vicky Jane Spencer ND
My name is Vicky and in December of 2008, I was diagnosed with Grave's disease (overactive thyroid function). This is my story up until October 2010, and I am pleased to say, I have managed to avoid beta blocker drugs and more importantly radioactive iodine treatment.
Before I was diagnosed, the first symptoms I noticed were excess perspiration, weight loss, severe muscle cramps, a feeling of claustrophobia, red irritated eyes ( but I didn’t notice them bulging, but I look back on photos and they were!). My pulse rate was super high and my blood pressure had increased, my menstrual periods were getting lighter (this actually was a good symptom, as my periods were super heavy). The worst symptom was the feeling of being overwhelmed; in retrospect this was anxiety, which translated to a feeling of “I really can’t cope”; this was horrible and out of character for me, as being a naturopath I was used to helping other people to cope better.
I remember one of my colleagues, another naturopath, laughing at me and saying, “How did you get a thyroid problem when you are working with one of Australia’s top thyroid doctors?”
You know what? This shattered me, as I felt like a failure. But gradually I came to understand that this is a classic scenario for anyone with autoimmune disease. I had been over working and trying to be perfect Miss Superwoman – I had to learn to chill out and smell the roses and take life and myself lightly. I had to start looking after myself and not worry about what other people thought of me.
So when I received the correct diagnosis and my regular doctor wanted to commence me on a drug (neomercazole) to reduce production of thyroid hormone from my thyroid gland, I called Dr Sandra Cabot in Sydney.
Sandra is not my regular doctor but she kindly checked my thyroid function tests and told me neomercazole would relieve many of my horrible symptoms. This would give me time to treat the cause of the problem and that is what complementary medicine is all about. These words allowed me to give myself the support I needed, and also to respect the beneficial role that all types of medicine can have in our lives. I called Sandra the next day and told her I was going on the neomercazole and she said that was a good idea; at no time did she tell me what to do, which is another supportive action.
When I saw the thyroid specialist a few weeks later, he told me he was not treating the autoimmune cause of my disease; he was only concerned with the thyroid. When I reflected on this attitude I concluded that it’s not surprising so many people end up in trouble by relying solely on medication that covers up all the symptoms - and yet the body is still in severe crisis.
Within two months I had managed to get all my blood tests back to normal and I had reduced the neomercazole dose by half; I felt so much better. A few months later I attempted to come off the neomarcazole and I noticed the symptoms coming back. This was because the stress, the immune dysfunction and the antibodies (which had caused Grave's disease in the first place) were still present; until these causes were reduced, a small dose of the neomercazole would have to stay.
I was eating a clean, healthy diet which was high in raw vegetables, fruits and protein, but I found I felt a lot better if I abstained from alcohol. I also reduced my grueling running regime and quit sugar in my diet.
When I asked my specialist about this, he didn’t advise me at all on diet and said, “a glass of wine each night will help with stress.” While I took this on board, I do know that alcohol, especially in excess amounts, is toxic to the liver and gut which would aggravate autoimmune disease. I decided to avoid alcohol, as I had to make it easier for my body and take away all the stressors.
I increased most of my supplements, as with the body working so hard it was producing many more free radicals, encouraging a faster aging process, so increased antioxidants would reduce the inflammation in my thyroid. I knew I needed extra magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids for adrenal support.
When I look back at that time in my life, I had just gone through a terrible divorce which had taken a huge toll on me. Over many years of being a naturopath I have observed that there will always be a large stress prior to any illness. Stress can trigger autoimmune diseases and long term can greatly increase the risk of cancer.
My lab tests showed –
- low serum vitamin D
- low serum iron and ferritin levels (due to years of heavy periods and progesterone deficiency)
- low cholesterol
These deficiencies weakened my immune system so that it could not protect me against inflammation, especially in the face of stress.
My urinary iodine concentration was normal, so I did not need to take iodine supplements, which indeed one has to be careful with, if the thyroid gland is overactive. Conversely, if the thyroid gland is underactive, or contains nodules, one often finds that the body needs extra iodine.
I commenced a selenium supplement in a dose of 400 mcg daily intending to reduce this after two months. I also increased my dose of magnesium. I firmly believe these minerals helped greatly to get my pathology results back to normal so quickly; my thyroid specialist was quietly impressed...gotta love that!
I also did research on the eye disease caused by Graves' and discovered that flaxseed oil had the ability to reverse the bulging of the eyes, which generally does not happen, so I started taking cold pressed flaxseed oil and bumped up my liquid fish oil.
I made sure I ate regularly; this is important as it would be easy to fall for eating sugary things if you are always hungry. If you eat good quality protein and fats this does assist greatly, which I was already doing, but I was enjoying a few cakes, which I stopped altogether.
I loved to run and I really missed not being able to go for a run; however, I did keep walking and kept up my yoga routine. I was also doing a strength training routine twice a week and was finding my muscles were shaking, and on occasions I just couldn’t finish the move, so I gave this a break for a while as well.
I find it fascinating that the addiction I had to exercise, would really mean I did not like feeling; it was easier to keep moving and distracted from dealing with the pain of the emotions that would come up when I was still.
I always enjoyed massages, but I started to have them weekly, just to help my body realize what relaxing felt like, as I found I could go on automatic pilot with life and forget how much stress I held in my body.
I have a funny story; in the early months I realized I had to break patterns of behavior in my body if I was going to treat the autoimmune cause. I looked into float tanks where you are in an enclosed tank pool of high magnesium warm water, similar to the Dead Sea and you float for about an hour. Well, the first time I did this, I arrived at the float clinic in a rush (as was my patterning) and the owner directed me to the area. When I was in the tank, I found that my neck didn’t seem to want to relax, so I put my hands behind my head, eventually I felt it relax and it felt like my whole body just dissolved into the water. When I came out and was dressed, the owner just laughed, as the difference in me was huge.
I actually felt like I had just had a few glasses of wine and was absolutely chilled. That gave me the experience of relaxation, so then I could actually come from a place of knowledge in the body to know how to relax, instead of thinking I was relaxing...big difference.
Another important component for me was meditation, I did find a very good meditation teacher and this has allowed me to understand the personality that pretends to be the real me at times. Meditating allows me to get to the place where I do not have to compete with the busyness of my personality that I was listening to before I really got to know myself.
For the next few months, I relied on some close family members to tell me if they saw signs of old patterns, and that was helpful as well, as sometimes I was too busy to notice...ironic.
Now eighteen months down the track, I am focusing on my ferritin levels, which are still low. Ferritin levels measure the amount of iron stored in the body. If ferritin levels are low, this impairs the liver detoxification pathways. Also, interestingly, my iron levels are okay now, so when the specialist said to me just take more iron, I got a little frustrated, as my iron levels were fine and too much iron can cause damage to the body, I already had that going on. Now, when I researched the only thing I could come up with is copper, this mineral has an important role in connective tissue and iron support, and with Graves' the body ages and breaks down, high risk of osteoporosis, which is the connective support of the bones.
I can now report after just seeing the specialist again, my liver function is great, ferritin is improving and my thyroid levels are on the normal again, this means I can almost drop the medication completely.....gotta be happy with that!
It is important to have a doctor you can talk to, I have found my specialist is good, as he listens to me and allows me to play with dosage of my medication, as he knows I am trying to get to the cause. He also is aware the body is constantly changing, so what is right now may not be in a couple of months time, and as in everyone’s life the past eighteen months I have had some major stresses and my levels have gone bad, but now I learn to manage that side of my life much more efficiently and that is all this is, learning to live our own lives.
Dr Sandra Cabot also recommended I go on natural progesterone cream, as I am in my late forties in the peri-menopausal years, and I was getting a lot of estrogen dominance symptoms. Since being on the progesterone my periods are shorter, but more importantly it assists with mood management which obviously helps with stress management, and that has been another factor in getting to the cause.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sandra Cabot for her amazing support and the wonderful work that she and her health team do.
Dr Cabot’s Comments
Vicky Jane is an excellent and very experienced naturopath who is invited to teach and lecture regularly all over Queensland.
Vicky is able to manage her Graves' disease because she understands and treats all the causes of this autoimmune problem.
Many others with autoimmune thyroid disease are not so fortunate and end up having their thyroid gland destroyed with radiation or removed surgically. Many people with other types of autoimmune diseases have to rely on a lifetime use of potentially toxic drugs to suppress the symptoms of cellular damage inflicted by an out of control immune system.
Vital factors Vicky has addressed to bring about her successful outcome include:
- Low vitamin D – she takes 5000 IU daily
- Low selenium – she takes 200mcg daily
- Progesterone deficiency – she uses 50mg daily
- Stress management
- Rest and relaxation
- Reduction of exposure to toxins – this can include alcohol excess, food allergies such as gluten and toxic chemicals in our environment and daily lives
- Improvement of intestinal health through a good probiotic and the correct diet
- Improvement of liver function which can be achieved by taking Livatone Plus
Vicky also takes a magnesium supplement to calm her highly tuned nervous system and provide adrenal support.
She takes vitamin C powder 2 to 4 grams daily and copper to help her low ferritin.
To improve gut function she avoids gluten foods and takes Ultimate Gut Health Powder 8 grams daily(1 scoop) and FibreTone powder which is a superfood for the bowels and relieves constipation.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.