Q Re the December 2001 issue of WDDTY (vol 12 no 9) on thyroid problems, I was very disappointed to find that most of the discussion was on hypothyroidism whereas I suffer from hyperthyroidism (a multinodular goitre).
Having considered carefully the conventional treatment options, I reluctantly decided to go on the drug carbimazole. I now suffer badly from joint pain and have put on unneeded weight.
Can you give me scientifically proven alternatives to conventional treatment for hyperthyroidism - or maybe even a case study on ‘How I fixed my (overactive) thyroid without drugs?- PH, via e-mail
A Although hypothyroid problems usually get most of the attention, the thyroid can just as easily overheat. In that case, the gland governing your metabolic rate overproduces one or both of the thyroid’s hormones. This sets your metabolism on hyperdrive, causing many of your body’s functions to race.
As you know, antithyroid drugs are the most conservative means conventional medicine has of taming an overactive thyroid. Three drugs are commonly used: propylthiouracil, methimazole or carbimazole. All three inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis. Luckily, you have steered clear of methimazole, reputedly 10 times more potent than propylthiouracil.
Nevertheless, all three have substantial side-effects, the most worrisome of which are blood changes such as agranulocytosis, a sudden decrease in the number of white blood cells. This can cause extreme fatigue, fever and bleeding in the rectum, mouth and vagina. These drugs can also cause thrombocytopenia (reduced blood platelets), leukopenia (decreased white blood cells) and aplastic anaemia (a decrease in bone marrow ability to make white blood cells). With methimazole, there have even been reports of hepatitis and fatal liver disease.
As for carbimazole, manufacturer Roche warns that patients should be alert to the onset of sore throat, mouth ulcers, fever or other symptoms which might suggest bone marrow depression. In the event, it is important to stop taking the drug and seek medical advice immediately. Blood cell counts should be carried out, especially if there is evidence of infection.
Otherwise, this drug also causes nausea, joint pain, headache, mild gastric distress, skin rash and itching. Hair loss has been reported. Rarely, it can cause pancytopenia (a decrease in all types of blood cells) and myopathy (muscle and bone weakness). If you have had muscle pain with this drug, you should have your creatine phosphokinase levels regularly monitored (to see how well your muscles are working). Liver problems, such as jaundice, have also been reported.
You are sensible to want to try alternative therapies. So much evidence suggests that thyroid problems are due to an allergic or environmental cause that it seems sensible to remove those substances known to affect the thyroid to see if this corrects the condition before taking any medication.
Although it isn’t clear why the thyroid gland begins to overwork itself, there are many environmental causes. As we’ve already identified in these pages (WDDTY, vol 7 no 7), the big-gest cause of the epidemic of overactive thyroid is iodised table salt. This well-meant act of adding iodine, needed to make thyroid hormones, is now responsible for epidemics of overactive thyroid in many parts of the globe.
In Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where iodised salt is mandatory, there is an abnormally high incidence of hyperthyroidism, particularly among women (J Endocrinol Invest, 1994; 17: 23-7). Other studies have shown that countries like the US and Japan, which have the highest intake of iodine, also have the greatest incidence of over-active thyroid problems.