What’s Behind the Secret Epidemic of Hypothyroidism

by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer

Most of us don’t ever think about our thyroid. This gland is located in the neck and produces hormones that regulate energy metabolism, control protein synthesis, and adjust the body’s sensitivity to other hormones. The thyroid is also involved in detoxification, growth functions, immunity, and more. Given all of these critical actions, it makes sense to take care of such a precious and sensitive area of health. But, as noted, thyroid health is often just an afterthought, usually following a related diagnosis—if we give it any thought at all.

Unfortunately, this passive approach to thyroid health is not really helping us. Thyroids can be problematic, especially when we’re exposed to toxins, chemicals, and environmental pollutants. Nearly 60 million Americans, mostly women, have some type of thyroid problem. People with thyroid issues often experience:

  • Anxiety/irritability
  • Achiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Hair loss
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Constipation
  • Other issues.

As you can see, these symptoms are mostly nonspecific and could be caused by any number of issues. However, it’s important to be alert to possible thyroid problems, which can increase the risks of heart disease, cancer, infertility, depression, and other serious conditions.

What Can Go Wrong
Thyroid conditions generally fall into three categories: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and autoimmune thyroid disorders. The most common form is hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, which can lead to slowed metabolism, hormone imbalances, immune problems, muscle pain, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and slow heart rate, among other issues. Hyperthyroidism is the opposite, an overactive thyroid; however, the gland can’t maintain such a fast pace and actually burns out over time, leading back to hypothyroidism. Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes inflammation of the thyroid gland, can have an effect similar to hyperthyroidism—over-activity followed by burnout, leading to underactivity.

Why All the Thyroid Problems?
Think about what the thyroid does. It regulates metabolism, the “pace of life,” among other actions. Now think of all the demands we make on our metabolism. Our modern lifestyles are so frenetic, we hardly ever stop.

On a comparative level, this is especially true for younger women, who are often balancing career, family, and other interests. Statistically, we are seeing more and more hypothyroidism in women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Too many stressful demands are made on them, and when compounded with other factors like an increased toxin load or an unhealthy diet, the gland simply burns out. Adrenal fatigue is also closely related to low thyroid function; when the adrenals are exhausted, the thyroid will suffer, and vice versa.

So the first step in rejuvenating the thyroid is simply slowing down. This isn’t just good for the thyroid. Give yourself the gift of rest and you’ll notice the benefits on every level.

The thyroid is also extremely vulnerable to pesticides, heavy metals, and industrial pollutants. This is partly due to the fact that certain pesticides and common environmental toxins (chlorine, fluorine, and bromine) accumulate in the thyroid because they are chemically similar to iodine, which the thyroid naturally absorbs. Also, since the thyroid is a very fast metabolizer, it encounters more toxins. So a gentle, total-body detox to safely remove pesticides, heavy metals, and other risky chemical compounds is important for thyroid health.

The Truth about Iodine
Iodine benefits us in a number of ways, including serving as a natural detoxifier. The thyroid absorbs iodine and, in doing so, replaces other toxins that may have accumulated, such as bromide, which is common in pesticides. Adequate iodine intake can be particularly important if you live near agricultural areas where heavy pesticide use is the norm, such as vineyards or apple orchards. Be careful with supplemental iodine though, as too much can also be a problem. Two to 3 milligrams (mg) of natural iodine supplementation a day is usually sufficient for people with hypothyroidism. For people who are extremely deficient, I recommend 12.5 mg. It’s also important to avoid iodine if you have Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroid disease) or hyperthyroidism, as use in these conditions can make the thyroid overactive.

Natural Support for a Healthy Thyroid
A number of minerals contribute to thyroid health, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium, and trace minerals. Specific herbs can also be helpful. Because many thyroid conditions are associated with inflammation, anti-inflammatory herbs are recommended. Traditional Asian herbs Prunella vulgaris (common selfheal), Radix scrophulariae (xuan shen), ningpoensis (Chinese figwort), Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), and Coleus forskohlii (Indian coleus) all benefit the thyroid.

I generally recommend avoiding soy, which can interfere with thyroid enzymes. Also, gluten sensitivity is often associated with thyroid problems, so adopting a gluten-free diet may help to normalize thyroid function.

Supplements that reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and remove toxins and heavy metals are also critical for thyroid health. One of the culprits in thyroid and other chronic health issues is a protein called galectin-3. At elevated levels, galectin-3 fuels chronic inflammation throughout the body. Controlling galectin-3 will do more than bolster thyroid health; the protein has been associated with cancer, heart disease, kidney ailments, and other conditions.

A proven way to combat the effects of elevated galectin-3 is with the dietary supplement, modified citrus pectin (MCP). This form of citrus pectin is enzymatically altered for absorption into the bloodstream. Multiple studies have shown that MCP binds and blocks excess galectin-3, controlling the protein’s harmful effects throughout the body.

Even more importantly, MCP safely removes heavy metals and other toxins from the body—without affecting essential minerals. This specialized detox function is critical for thyroid health. Pectins have also been proven to remove radioactive particles from the body, and were given to victims of the Chernobyl disaster to help detoxify radioactive iodine-13—with good results. The number of thyroid cancers dropped in the groups with high-pectin diets.

The Big Picture
If you think you might have a thyroid issue, I always recommend working with a practitioner who is knowledgeable in this area, since thyroid problems can be tricky to diagnose and treat.

The diagnostic tests for low thyroid are not always accurate, and the physiology of the thyroid is complex. Some people make enough inactive hormone, but the body is not able to activate it. Or the body might make antibodies against its own thyroid tissue. These complex factors need to be sorted out in order to treat the imbalance properly.

Ultimately, many of the same methods we use to support thyroid health, especially detoxification, can enhance overall health as well. In combination with a proper diet emphasizing nutrient-dense whole foods and good lifestyle habits like regular exercise and healthy stress relief, these measures can support thyroid health and general wellness, offering greater energy and vitality over the long term.

Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more information about his work, visit dreliaz.org.


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22 Responses to What’s Behind the Secret Epidemic of Hypothyroidism

  1. Danielle March 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I’m curious, for those of us who have had a total thyroidectomy (papillary carcinoma), which of these suggestions would still hold true?

  2. Linda March 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    That is an interesting question up there. Like when you have gray hair and it asks you on the side of the box of haircoloring what is your natural color… when… ? Now or back then?? Confuses the heck out of me!!
    I would rather be hyper than hypo anyday… controlled of course!! Seems every one I know who is hypo goes through scores of issues.. I just stay away from salt….use the pink one..Himalayan… and I stay within range!

  3. Jessie April 2, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    What kind of “gentle, total-body detox” would you recommend? I am 35 years old with hypothyroidism, but otherwise healthy. Thanks!

  4. Pt April 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Please correct the typo in iodine-13 to iodine-131.
    There is no iodine-13.
    Chernobyl released iodine-131.

  5. John April 5, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Well, Not quite,
    iodine was added to salt long before widespread pesticide use. Hyperthyroidism exploded in the late 50 mid 60s NOT from pollution and pesticide use, but because the background radiation went up all over the world because of the nuclear testing especially the irresponsible testing by the US and Russia that put trillions of tons of radioactive particles into our atmosphere when whole islands and mountains were evaporated, it is estimated that it will take hundred of years until the background radiation is back to levels that existed before 1945. But then, some of those particles have halftimes of thousands of years and will stick around on the ground, in our food and in the water. hence western civilizations started to used iodine in salt and made it an “”essential”‘ nutrition. Iodine prevents radioactive particles to accumulate in the thyroid but it also leads to hyperthyroidism. I guess one has to make a decision of dying on cancer or living with hyperthyroidism.it is unfortunately that we can not swing a magic wand and remove all the results of an insane arms race by using it.

  6. Firesign Quantum Touch April 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    We use Quantum Touch holistic energy healing, Young Living Essential Oils and Nature’s Sunshine products to promote personal health. I would use a combination of YLEO therapeutic grade essential oils, premium quality NSP nutritional supplements, and QT emotional release techniques if I had to deal with a dysfunctional thyroid.

  7. vividkitchen April 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    Anyone who wants to know more about Iodine should read Iodine : Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It by David Brownstein.

    The amounts to supplement with given in this article are very very low. I give my 7 year old more than that everyday.

    My entire house has been supplementing Iodine since reading this book right after the big Japan earthquake that dried up Iodine supplements available for sale on the internet within 12 hours.

    Iodine protects from breast cancer too.

  8. Peter April 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Also, another potential cause of interference in the uptake of iodine into the thyroid, which can cause goiter, by overdosing on thiocynates from the over consumption of brassicaceae vegetables, like cabbage, kale, broccoli and brussel sprouts. The most likely modern cause of thiocynate toxicity is from obsessive consumption of ‘green smoothies’, which could easily lift the level of thiocynate above safe levels, especially if smoothies include daily consumption of kale, broccoli etc. Blending breaks up the plant cells and makes plant compounds far more readily available than normal food preparation, hence the greater toxicity risk from thiocynates in vegetables that would be normally considered safe and healthy at normal dose levels.

  9. Diane April 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    Peter, what is your expertise? Are you a nutritionist, a doctor, a scientist? Can you direct me to publications on what you’re saying about thiocynate safe levels re kale, broccoli, etc.?

  10. Matt Perry April 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Yes, hypothyroidism is EPIDEMIC today. At a minimum, 50 million folks in the U.S. are running around and suffering from either NO TREATMENT or UNDERTREATMENT of their thyroid gland. And most are women, because the ratio is about 9 to 1, women to men. And many of these suffering folks are under treatment by misled doctors. The problem is that the doctors are relying on lab tests measuring TSH. They say the range is about 0.5 to 4.5, when in fact if there is any result over 2.0, this is a red flag. The optimum range is really 1.0 to 1.5. The really good doctors rely on clinical findings and symptoms, and use lab tests only to determine if there is overdosage of thyroid medications. The really best test is taking basal temperature, and you can go to internet to find out how to do this test. If basal temperature measured when you first wake up in the AM is not within the range of 97.8 to 98.2, chances are that you are hypothyroid. And the symptoms listed in this article are excellent, and if you have several, even to lesser degrees, beware. DO NOT RELY ON THE TSH TEST ALONE!! If you do not believe me, just go the International Journal of Clinical Practice, June 2010, 64, 7, 991-994, and you will uncover the pitfalls of the “gold standard” TSH test.
    We would all LOVE to hear the input on this issue from Dr. Eliaz, who wrote this excellent article. And also keep in mind that if you are iodine-deficient, thyroid supplements do not work well at all. You must have your iodine levels determined, and supplement according to your doctor’s directions until they ARE NORMAL. Now you will be healthy!!!
    Matt, RPH, with 50 years of experience.

  11. Marilyn May 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    What is the treatment for thyroid cancer. My husbsand has a cancerous tumor in the thyroid and we are awaiting a bioposy to see where the lumps on both sides of his neck are coming from. He also has mesothelioma which seems to be under some control. Please advise as to treatments.

  12. Firesign Quantum Touch May 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Himalayan pink salt is high in calcium fluoride, so instead we use Celtic Sea Salt.

  13. Johan May 14, 2013 at 3:31 am #


    Could you please provide reference for your statement that the green-smoothie drinkers in the population have thyroid problems. It may not be statistically significance, but the obvious cases of hypothyroidism that I see in my around me are people that are taking in far more easy sugars, carbs, and fats, than veggies.

  14. Johan May 14, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Pardon my English, hasty typing 😉

  15. Maria Bacchin July 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    I am hypothyroid and had the right thyroid removed I am on natural dessicated thyroid med and I am very constipated and was told to take modified citrus pectin to help the constipation is this ok
    does anybody have experience in this situation thanks so much


  16. Kat July 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    Do you recommend taking the Modified Citrus Pectin regularly, or is it enough to take it for several weeks a few times a year to help detox?

  17. Rach August 7, 2014 at 3:29 am #

    Steaming the kale is supposed to get rid of the compound that can contribute to hypo-

  18. Pam August 7, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    I strongly believe there’s a correlation of Thyroid & Inflammation….digging into this with my Naturopath.
    Good article…thank you.

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