Hypothyroidism is an underactivity of the thyroid resulting in too little production of thyroid hormone. Although it may be caused by a variety of diseases that affect the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, this conditionis due primarily to disorders of the thyroid gland itself. Inadequate secretion of thyroid hormone leads to a general slowing of all physical and mental processes. There is a general depression of most cellular enzyme systems and oxidative processes, and as metabolic activity of all cells of the body decreases, reducing oxygen consumption, decreasing oxidation of nutrients for energy and producing less body heat.

The signs and symptoms, all resulting from the slowing of metabolism, range from non-specific complaints to severe symptoms that may be life-threatening if unrecognized and untreated. Fatigue, lack of energy, intolerance of cold temperatures, severe constipation, heavy menstrual periods, and weight gain despite a diminishing appetite may go unnoticed or may be attributed toother conditions such as stress, depression, or overwork. Symptoms worsen and become more obvious with time, the pulse slows; the skin becomes cool, dry and coarse; muscles ache; there is puffiness around the eyes; hair falls out; the voice becomes hoarse; and the reflexes are sluggish. Changes inmood and personality simulating psychiatric illness may occur. The thyroid gland may enlarge, producing a goiter in the neck.

Orthodox therapy is based upon taking thyroid hormone daily to replace what is not there. Often this has to remain as the basis of therapy, in which case the aim is to help the body deal with the repercussions of the condition. The use of bitters in mild cases sometimes be enough, but will always be beneficial. The seaweed Fucus vesiculosus (Bladderwrack) has beenused in the past, and whilst it has much to offer it is only truly specific where an iodine deficiency is present.

A number of important contributions can be made by herbs to supporting hormone replacement therapy. Hypothyroidism causes accelerated atherosclerosis and so coronary artery disease may occur because of deposits of mucopolysaccharides in the heart muscle. This damage may be lessened through the use of cardio-vasculartonics such as Crataegus spp., Ginkgo biloba and Allium sativum. Problems reflecting functional and structural changes in the skin can be eased, and whilst this may be only symptomatic relief it is essential. Emollients, circulatory stimulants etc. etc. can all find a role, but the specifics will depend upon the patients experience. Moisturizing is especially importantas the skin is usually dry and scaly.

Relieving some aspects of the symptomatic distress may be achieved herbally. Any chronic constipation present may be alleviated with laxative. Hepatic laxatives are the best as there will be the support of liver function, examples include Rumex crispus, Juglans cineria(Butternut). In extreme cases the anthraquinone containing herbs might be necessary, e.g. Rhamnus purshianus (Cascara sagrada) or Cassiasenna (Senna).

Nervine tonics and other varieties of nervine may be indicated, avoiding the stronger relaxing remedies such as Humulus lupulus and Valeriana officinalis. The anti-depressant plants such as Hypericum perforatum and Artemisia vulgaris can be helpful.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021