Hypothyroidism is among the most common of women’s health problems. What are the alternative treatment options available for Indian women to tackle this disorder?
Thyroid diseases are among the most common endocrine disorders the world over. Projections from various studies have shown that an estimated 42 million people in India suffer from thyroid related disorders. From a study conducted on the residents of urban coastal areas in Kerala, it was found that thyroid function abnormalities were present in 19.6% of the subjects, though they were all iodine-sufficient. Hypothyroidism is also more prevalent in Indian women than men.
Hypothyroidism is at the forefront of women’s health problems today. Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism in women include weight gain, irregular periods, fatigue, hair loss, constipation, depression and intolerance to cold. These symptoms can reduce the quality of life for patients, and sometimes the traditional treatment of T4 only supplementation just may not work.
37 year old Bangalore-based homemaker, Swati Krishna*, discovered that she had hypothyroidism after consulting with a skin doctor for adult acne. The dermatologist suggested that she get her blood work done and sure enough, she was hypothyroid. “My endocrinologist put me on Thyronorm. Though my thyroid levels now show as normal, some of the symptoms still persist. I feel that the doctors do not take these issues seriously if the lab results are within the normal range,” complains Swati.
Thyronorm is synthetic thyroxine, or the T4 hormone. This is the most popularly prescribed course of treatment for hypothyroidism; but are there other alternatives to treating thyroid disorders?
BHRT is a lesser known allopathic approach towards treating hypothyroidism. Dr. Vivek Kadambi, of Belle Sante Diagnostic And Therapeutic Institute, Bangalore, opines that a significant number of hypothyroid patients, in fact, suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which is an autoimmune disease where the thyroid gland is attacked by a number of cell and antibody-mediated immune processes.
“We always test for the presence of antibodies in the patient’s blood, which indicates Hashimoto’s. The usual synthetic T4 or levothyroxine treatment may not help with some of the most distressing symptoms such as weight gain, depression, hair fall etc. So we may need to supplement T3 along with T4 to ensure comprehensive treatment,” says Dr. Kadambi.
Thyroid disorders can have a domino effect and wreak havoc on women’s health. If not treated properly, it may lead to other endocrine-related problems as well.
Thyroid hormones T4 and T3 are necessary to ensure optimal functioning of the body. Some patients, especially those who have Hashimoto’s, have a problem converting T4 to T3. For these patients, merely supplying T4 in the form of Thyronorm or Eltroxin tablets may not be of much help. “So we have to supplement T3 along with T4. At Belle Sante, we create custom compounds to ensure adequate supply of both T3 and T4. Compounding allows us to prescribe dosages more precisely and then properly adjust the dosage, in response to symptoms and laboratory findings,” explains Dr. Kadambi.
Thyroid disorders can have a domino effect and wreak havoc on women’s health. If not treated properly, it may lead to other endocrine-related problems as well. “We can rarely look at any hormone in isolation, they are all inter-connected. A patient who suffers from diabetes may also exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism. It is important to take a holistic approach and provide customized treatment that restores hormonal balance,” adds Dr. Kadambi.
Ayurveda focuses on balancing all the systems of the body for optimal hormonal functioning. It is particularly useful for diseases that are brought about by stress, and causes weight gain, constipation, increase in cholesterol etc.
Dr. Reshmi V, an Ayurvedic doctor based in Trivandrum, uses customized treatment approaches for her patients. “Ayurvedic treatment for thyroid disorders focuses on providing symptomatic relief and restoring the balance and harmony of the body. Depending on the symptoms, we prescribe medicines to regulate the kapha, vaata, or pitta doshas. Ushakaadi drugs and guggulu are commonly used to stimulate glandular functions and metabolism, thereby alleviating symptoms,” says Dr. Reshmi.
The Ayurvedic remedy of z-guggulsterone is used by practitioners to treat obesity, high cholesterol and inflammation of the body. Guggul is considered to be particularly beneficial for preventing or restarting sluggish metabolism, and Ayurvedic practitioners routinely prescribe it. A study by the Thyroid Research Unit, School of Life Sciences, Indore, also suggests the potential use of guggulu in the amelioration of hypothyroidism.
“Yoga is also helpful for treating hypothyroidism. Matsyasana, Sarvangasana, Halasana, Marjariasana and Bhujangasana are particularly beneficial,” adds Dr. Reshmi.
Mary Shomon, well-known patient advocate and healthcare author, mentions two other alternative treatment approaches in her book, Living Well With Hypothyroidism – Naturopathy and Integrative Medicine.
Take charge of your body. You deserve the right treatment.
Shomon explains that Naturopathy seeks to identify and treat root causes of illness instead of the symptoms. Naturopaths recommend acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, dietary and nutritional medicine, massage and other techniques to treat the disease. Since naturopathic medicines draw on many different disciplines, and there are no specific “naturopathic” remedies or treatments, it is up to the skill of the individual practitioner to achieve results.
Integrative medicine, Shomon elaborates, seeks to combine the best from all traditions including Western medicine, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and other modalities. Integrative medicine practitioners suggest a hierarchy of interventions for thyroid treatment as follows:
1. Diet and lifestyle modification
2. Hydrotherapy and acupuncture
3. Herbs, vitamins and minerals
4. Glandular products without hormonal activity
5. Natural thyroid
6. Synthetic thyroid preparations
(Source: Living Well With Hypothyroidism, Mary J. Shomon)
If you are interested in trying the naturopathy or integrative medicine approach, consult a licensed practitioner.
Patients suffering from hypothyroidism may not feel a hundred percent, because their treatment may not be sufficient. Traditional T4 only supplementation can only do so much. It may be worthwhile to explore other options, in consultation with your primary physician.
Take charge of your body. You deserve the right treatment. You may need to make somewhat unorthodox decisions regarding treatment protocol, but they may significantly improve the quality of your life.
*Photo credit: Jamie (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)