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Show 1162: How to Treat Common Thyroid Problems

Dr. David Cooper, director of the Thyroid Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, describes the best treatments for common thyroid problems.
David S. Cooper, MD, MACP, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
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How to Treat Common Thyroid Problems

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The thyroid gland on your neck is not very big, but it is super important. It secretes hormones that control the activity of every cell in your body. Consequently, the thyroid regulates your metabolism, your heart beats, your bowels and even your thinking. What happens when the thyroid doesn’t work as it should? How do doctors treat the most common thyroid problems?

Autoimmune conditions create common thyroid problems. As a result, levothyroxine (a synthetic thyroid hormone) is the most frequently prescribed medication in the US. In fact, nearly 20 million people have some form of thyroid disease, but not all of them know it. What are the consequences of Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease?

Treating Graves, the Overactive Thyroid:

When the body makes antibodies to the thyroid receptor, the consequence is Graves’ disease. As a result of this attack, the gland makes more thyroid hormone than is needed. As a consequence, a person with Graves’ may have a rapid heart rate, tremors, weight loss, insomnia, heat intolerance, weakness, nervousness and anxiety. Some people with Graves’ disease will develop bulging eyes and eye inflammation. To treat this condition, doctors have medications such as methimazole, radioactive iodine or surgery.

Hashimoto’s and Sluggish Thyroid:

In Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system starts to destroy the thyroid gland and impairs its ability to produce hormones. Consequently, people may feel sluggish and be bothered with constipation. They may have difficulty losing weight and notice that they are losing their hair. Their skin may be extremely dry and they may become extremely sensitive to cold.

Too little thyroid hormone and too much are both common thyroid problems. In addition, doctors generally use a single synthetic hormone to treat hypothyroidism. That’s levothyroxine or T4. However, some people seem to have difficulty converting T4 to the active T3 hormone at an appropriate rate. What can they do?

Have you had experience with a malfunctioning thyroid gland? How was it diagnosed? How did the treatment go? Tell your story in the comments section. You can find our eGuide to Thyroid Hormones here

This Week’s Guest:

David S. Cooper, MD, MACP is the Director of the Thyroid Clinic and Professor of Medicine and Radiology in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His website:

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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comments (23 total)
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I have been directed to have a thyroid test after a pre-op doctor found 2 small nodes during an exam. She said that only about 5 to 10% of nodes are problematic. I participated in the atom bomb tests at Yucca Flats while in the Marine Corp in 1955. We were in 5 foot trenches less than 2 miles from ground zero of an 8 kiloton bomb detonation. Veterans participating in those tests are checked for 21 different cancers that are related to the ionizing radiation exposure of those tests. The number one cancer is thyroid. Does anyone have any knowledge that exposure 54 years ago could cause thyroid cancer today?

Is it possible to make a dietary change in order to “treat” an underactive thyroid? I DO NOT want to take any prescription at all! Is there a food or foods that can offer an option to a pharmacological solution?

We are not aware that dietary changes can significantly alter thyroid hormone production.

There are other health conditions that can cause similar feelings of unwellness. I’m on Levothyroxine 50 mcg and have been for years but taking the medication never improved how I was feeling, then I discovered that I have Carcinoid Cancer which is a neuroendocrine cancer. The cancer replicates endocrine hormones which affect so much of how a person feels, many symptoms similar to hypothyroid.
One test for this is Chromogranin A.
Not to say that you have cancer but to suggest that thinking beyond the Thyroid box might be helpful.

I have been hypothyroid since 1985. Have been on so many different thyroid meds. Is the Gluten Free Diet plan the best eating for hypothyroidism?

I am on synthetic thyroid meds. I have chronic to severe constipation. Sometimes my arms turn red and itch. I also have anxiety(irritability), hair loss, occasional bruising. My endocrinologist refuses to adjust my levels. They are lower every time I get blood work. I asked about Armour I was told: “I can give it BUT it takes so long to get it adjusted.”

I am seriously considering using my family doctor and asking for Armour. I simply cannot tolerate these bouts of anxiety and irritability anymore. Dr. passes it off as a mental thing, even though dr. does agree that thyroid problems can be related to anxiety.

I sincerely appreciate all the comments here and the newsletters. It is a learning experience.

Friend of mine who owns a health food store had part of his cancerous thyroid removed after taking (for a short time) 25-50 mg of iodine in a popular throid complex. The cancer was likely there all the time and just activated by (or as the result of) the high dose iodine.

I don’t really think that Drs or endocrinologists know what to do with us but check the blood and go from there. I have had thyroid issues for many years. I cannot take the generic brand but must take the brand name Synthroid @ 100 mg. I have a fairly new endocrinologist and she was far more concerned about my 1 point over normal A1C than she was about my thyroid. I continue to gain weight, mostly due to other meds, still have hair loss, fatigue, etc. one Dr told me that my T3 was quite low but my endo Dr did not think that it was a serious factor at all. I just don’t think they have me figured out and it really bothers me. I suggested what the Graedons recommended with the other med for thyroid that has helped many people and she refused to discuss it. So tired of Big Pharma!

Has anyone had a problem of your blood pressure going up while taking thyroid medication? I am an actice 71 year young women who walks 2 – 5 miles a day,eats sensible and takes good care of myself. This is frustrating me and I would not prefer to go on BP medication.

I’ve had Hashimoto’s for decades. Nearly four years ago, I got to the point that I could barely swallow. I weighed 230 pounds and I started having terrible, sharp pains in my forearms. My ANA test came back positive. I went on an autoimmune protocol diet. I’ve been on it ever since with very few introductions of food. All of my symptoms went away as well as 75 pounds that just dropped off of me. I’ve had no problem keeping the weight off. I had no idea of the impact of certain foods on my body. The Hashimoto’s is still with me but it’s very manageable now.

I started having thyroid problems (hypo) about 25 years ago. They tested TSH, which came back 5.0…..that was when this level was in the “normal” range. After the last 10-15 years of going to many doctors (primary care, 3 endocrinologists, 2 functional medicine professionals), my medication dose finally stabilized. I take 100mcg of Synthroid and 12.5mcg of compounded ER T3. My Tsh hovers around 1.5. My antibodies went from over 1,000 to 93 on my latest test. I struggle with weight, it is difficult to impossible to lose it, and borderline high cholesterol but have thick hair and other minor, if any, symptoms. I think I was hurt by not being medicated at first then taking only T4 for many years. Hard to know.

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