Thyroid and adrenal conditions can present dire complications if not addressed. However, practitioners can provide their patients with ways to fight back.
The thyroid and adrenals, part of the endocrine system, are only a few of the body’s vital components.
EndocrineWeb provides detailed descriptions of their functions, but in short, patients ought to know that they assist in regulating metabolism and secretion of hormones respectively, such as adrenaline and aldosterone.
It is estimated that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, while 60 percent of people who have the disease don’t know that they have it. Believe it or not, according to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more like to have thyroid problems than men. Further, the National Adrenal Diseases Foundation reported that one adrenal disease, Addison’s disease, which involves a deficiency of hormones secreted in the adrenal cortex, has no accurate statistics as to the incidence of the disease in the U.S., making it a potential focal point.
How can practitioners and medical professionals draw attention to the matters at hand? With their knowledge and experience, these individuals can educate their patients on the telltale signs of thyroid and adrenal conditions, some of which can be combatted with a lifestyle change.
Generally, although complications surrounding one’s thyroid and adrenals can vary with age, there are some culprits that are more widespread than others.
“Autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s) is the most common thyroid disorder, and along with autoimmune illness overall, appears to be rapidly increasing in prevalence,” said Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a member on Natural Practitioner’s Editorial Advisory Board and the author of a number books including Pain Free 1-2-3. “Hypothalamic- and fibromyalgia-based thyroid problems are also skyrocketing. For adrenal, the major issues are adrenal fatigue, along with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).”
One condition, hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid, is more prominent among a specific gender and later in the age spectrum.
“Hypothyroidism – a ‘slow’ thyroid – is typically more common for women than men, especially after the age of 60,” noted Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at Wisconsin-based EuroMedica. “Younger people can have hypothyroid conditions and overall, about five people out of 100 will, regardless of age. But for the most part, it is a condition that women face most of all.”
Myers was also in agreement with Dr. Teitelbaum in regard to Hashimoto’s disease being a contributor; the challenge lies in properly diagnosing a slow thyroid.
“The condition doesn’t occur in a vacuum, though,” she added. “It can be related to inflammation, Hashimoto’s disease, or a number of other factors. And it can take time for someone to make the connection between the fatigue and weight gain that are often symptoms of a slow thyroid and the need for iodine and L-tyrosine or other nutrient interventions.”
In fact, EuroMedica offers Thyroid Care, which provides not only three forms of iodine (molecular iodine, sodium iodide and potassium iodide) but also the amino acid, L-tyrosine, to help better promote the formation of thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
As a guideline, Shailinder Sodhi, ND, president of Ayush Herbs, Inc. in Washington who is also on Natural Practitioner’s Editorial Advisory Board, broke down the common issues for children, men and women respectively. However, Dr. Sodhi did note that these are generalized statements and that each person (regardless of age or gender), should be evaluated in his or her own right for thyroid or adrenal issues:
Most childhood thyroid issues are caused by genetic abnormalities. This could be an inherited or spontaneous genetic change. Children may not have symptoms present a birth and may show problems later into childhood. Children commonly suffer from hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules, differentiated thyroid cancers and endocrine cancers. Adrenal issues are normally caused by genetic issues, but can be the result of secondary illnesses, stress from emotional, physiological, or sensory origins or dehydration. Cushing’s syndrome occurs when the child makes too much cortisol and is caused by certain medications. Addison’s disease is the lack of cortisol production and is normally caused by autoimmune reactions. Hyperaldosteronism is another major pediatric adrenal issue. The cause is slightly unknown but is easily treatable.
Hyperthyroidism is much more common for men than women. This may be due to testosterone signaling or due to males having more muscle to fat ratios. However, adrenal fatigue is much more common in men. The causes are stress in acute situations occurring several times a day or week, general lack of stress management, testosterone supplementation or genetic factors. Men tend to have fewer circadian rhythm cues than women and will fight sleep and eating schedules.
Women have more complex hormone balances than men and children. With monthly changes to powerful communicating hormones, there are more checkpoints that can fail. Women are eight times more likely to develop Hashimoto‘s disease, a condition that causes hypothyroid symptoms due to autoimmune issues. Women tend to have more hypothyroid issues than hyperthyroid issues. One theory for this is that women tend to have a higher fat to muscle ratio. Adipose tissue signals for more cortisol to help with storage, burdening both the adrenal glands and the thyroid.
Remedies & Solutions
To help treat these issues, Mary Bove, ND, medical director with North Carolina-based Gaia Herbs, a company that offers items such as Adrenal Health Daily Support, Adrenal Health Jump Start and Ashwagandha Root, suggests utilizing a proper combination of diet and nutrients.
“There are various natural supplements which can benefit the thyroid and adrenal glands, both nutrient based and herbal,” she noted. “Using diet and nutritional support to provide essential compounds for healthy function can be foundational to a good treatment plan. Each gland has its own nutritional needs, such as the thyroid needing plenty of iodine and the adrenal gland needing adequate levels of vitamin C. Herbal supplements offer a multiple of benefits and support for both glands. One group of plants that stand out [is] the adaptogen plants such as ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola. These plants aid the body by improving resilience and protection against some of the long-term health compromising effects of stress.”
Dr. Sodhi also recommended ashwagandha, while bacopa, guggul and iodine are also at the top of his list. “Ashwagandha is a star thyroid and adrenal health product,” he said, whose company offers its own ashwagandha supplement (called Ashwagandha). “It has been used for thousands of years to reverse thyroid issues and has direct effect on adrenal glands. This single herb can provide powerful but adaptive benefits for patients. Bacopa is very useful for thyroid issues. It directly targets thyroid tissues, affecting enzymatic efficacy and gene regulation. Additionally, bacopa helps control stress on the nervous system. This control indirectly reduces adrenal stress. Just like ashwagandha, bacopa is an adaptogen, individualizing mechanisms of action for each person.
“Guggul has shown increased thyroid function and iodine uptake in several studies. Furthermore, guggul provides antioxidant activity to the thyroid, further supporting proper regulation of downstream hormonal function,” Dr. Sodhi continued. “Iodine is needed to provide starting blocks for the thyroid to make thyroid hormones as well as metabolites for various thyroid function[s]. A significant portion of the U.S. population is deficient in this element, despite iodine-fortified foods.”
As previously noted by Dr. Bove, vitamin C (among other items) is quite beneficial for the adrenals, and happens to be found in one of Dr. Teitelbaum’s suggested products. “For overall adrenal support, my favorite product is called Adrenaplex (by EuroMedica),” Dr. Teitelbaum said. “This supplies almost everything the adrenal needs in a single product. It includes vitamin C, pantothenic acid and adrenal glandulars to support adrenal function and healing; licorice extract to slow the breakdown of the body’s own cortisol; DHEA and pregnenolone to supply missing hormones and the herb rehmannia root (catalpol) to stimulate adrenal function, all in a single capsule to improve simplicity and compliance.”
In turn, this variety of options can be an indicator of how the market presents itself.
Rather than pursuing traditional or standard medication, some consumers are looking to natural products to relieve their symptoms.
“The state of the market for natural medication is very strong,” Myers mentioned. “More than ever, we’re seeing people who are looking for ways to recharge their adrenal and thyroid glands to have better energy, more efficient metabolism, and more physical and emotional stamina. If people have noticed a slowdown in their ability to burn calories, or a challenge just trying to stay alert, or a lack of being able to react well to stressful events, it’s very likely that either thyroid or adrenal health is an issue.”
As far as thyroid and adrenal medication goes in the traditional sense, it can present gray areas, as there is some confusion as to what the right telltale signs are. This results in additional over-the-counter sales.
“For standard prescription medications,” explained Dr. Teitelbaum, “thyroid hormone is one of the biggest selling prescriptions. Nonetheless, as most allopathic physicians still have no idea what the normal range means on a blood test, and that the majority of people who need thyroid hormones will have normal tests, there is a dramatic market demand for nonprescription thyroid support. This is even a bigger problem for adrenal issues, where I estimate over one-fourth of the adult population has symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Yet standard physicians only diagnose the problem when life-threatening adrenal failure is present – i.e. in 1/100,000 people.”
On the other hand, he noted, “the market for natural thyroid and adrenal support is skyrocketing as public awareness grows, while physician awareness is still stuck in the mid-1950s.”
In the eyes of Dr. Sodhi, patients who choose to travel the natural path make the logical choice, as it sparks their passion to learn more on herbs that make up these natural products. “Prescription medications as well as over the conventional over-the-counter remedies provide little symptom relief. Because of this, natural medicine has become a logical choice for people with thyroid or adrenal issues,” he said. “The market is growing very quickly. Demand is not just for the products, but also education on the herbs being used. The more information about herbs versus conventional treatments, the more the natural medication for supporting thyroid and adrenal health grows. It is quickly catching up to the conventional market.”
Tips for Success Keeping these types of issues in check first starts with maintaining the proper circadian rhythm, which involves keeping a consistent routine, such as when to sleep and eat meals.
“Sleeping and eating schedule[s] are key,” noted Dr. Sodhi. “Sleep at the same time every night and wake at the same time every day. This simple change regulates the adrenal glands and their natural internal clock. Furthermore, the thyroid can start to communicate with the brain and other tissues when cortisol is controlled. Eat a whole foods diet rich with fruits and vegetables – nature’s natural medicine. Exercise regularly, as the muscles are huge communicators for hormone balancing. Taking herbs like bacopa and ashwagandha in small doses will combat stress, both mental and physical, easing the workload on the thyroid and adrenal glands.”
The importance of a suitable diet cannot be stressed enough, especially since doing away with certain foods cannot only help remove some of those dips in circadian rhythm, but help with overall concerns with weight among other factors.
“Diet is where everything should start. Cutting back on inflammatory foods like sugars and refined grains will help reduce some of the highs and lows associated with the buzz and crash of sweets and carbs, and make the day seem to run on a more even keel,” Myers pointed out. “It also won’t flood the mind and body with reactive responses than can make stress seems worse, or threaten any progress with metabolic, weight and energy issues. And for some people, cutting back on coffee or other stimulants can have a remarkable effect. Personally, I’m a big fan of coffee, but I realize that for others, it’s problematic for keeping a balanced state of mind.”
It must also be noted that the endocrine system is delicate – it must be given the correct care in order to function in full capacity. The aforementioned diet and finding ways to counteract stress is key. “Both of these glands and in fact the entire endocrine system,” Dr. Bove said, “is sensitive to environmental toxins, endocrine disrupters, ongoing stress, poor nutrition, rogue inflammation, emotional stressors, the ‘news’ in general. All of these work against the healthy function of the adrenal and thyroid gland[s]. Practitioners can encourage their patients to finding ways to modify stress through diet, getting out into nature, mindfulness practices, and daily herbal adaptogen(s); for example, holy basil tea each evening.”
Research is key to the future of the category, and EuroMedica, for one, has expressed an interest in further pursuing the success surrounding adaptogens, herbs known to help with healing. “We are intensely interested in research that explores the mechanisms behind the actions of adaptogens,” Myers expressed. “In fact, we’re very fortunate to have Dr. Alexander Panossian as a consultant and research and science director. He is a highly regarded expert on adaptogens, and has written or co-authored more than 170 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has a deep understanding of these botanicals, including rhodiola and ashwagandha.”
Although Ayush Herbs. Inc. is currently not doing research, it has not ruled out participating in the future. The company would like to explore the fields of women’s health and student performance as it relates to hormones and the adrenals respectively. “Particularly interesting research our company would like to see would be involved in women’s health. Many women have various hormone imbalances after child birth,” Dr. Sodhi. “There is good research about many things, but this particular subject is lacking. Adrenal health research conducted during periods of stress would also be eye opening. We noticed students having trouble sleeping, gaining weight, as well as having mood issues during periods of stress. How would herbs help in making the quality of life for these students better?”
In today’s society, a portion of the mainstream news can be portrayed as negative, and these thyroid and adrenal issues are growing in popularity. For that reason, the idea of having practitioners provide their patients with natural solutions is as imperative as ever. “Adrenal fatigue has become much more common as the stress and speed of modern life accelerates,” concluded Dr. Teitelbaum. “We have a ‘news media’ that often seems to consider truth to be irrelevant, as long as they can scare people to death and put them at each other’s throats. Meanwhile, industries are pouring out countless chemicals that disrupt thyroid and adrenal function. We are moving towards thyroid and adrenal problems becoming more the rule than the exception, so support to optimize healthy function is critical. And people feel the difference – quickly.”
Healthy Take Aways
• It is estimated that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, while 60 percent of people who have the disease don’t know that they have it.
• Women are eight times more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease, a condition that causes hypothyroid symptoms due to autoimmune issues.
• Approximately five people out of 100 will, regardless of age, have hypothyroid conditions.
For More Information:
• Ayush Herbs, Inc. www.ayush.com
• EuroMedica, www.euromedicausa.com
• Gaia Herbs, www.gaiaprofessional.com
• Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, www.vitality101.com