Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland that is located in the lower front of the neck just under the Adam's apple. The thyroid gland produces hormones that control the body's organ functions and metabolism.
Hyperthyroidism is an overfunctioning of the thyroid gland which results in the production of excessive thyroid hormones. This speeds up most of the chemical reactions in the body and causes mental and physical changes. An excess of thyroid hormones causes a toxic condition called thyrotoxicosis.
Approximately 2 % of American adults suffer from hyperthyroidism. It is more prevalent in women than in men, by a ratio of about 8 to 1 and is most common in young to middle-aged women. Overactive thyroid gland is potentially dangerous thyroid condition and, if left untreated, can cause potentially fatal heart rhythm abnormalities and osteoporosis.
Hyperthyroidism is usually due to an 'autoimmune' condition. An autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the very organs, cells, or tissues that it was designed to protect.
For some reason the body suddenly recognises the thyroid gland as foreign, and starts to attack it. The reason for this is unclear. However, instead of destroying the gland this attack actually stimulates it. The thyroid gland starts to overwork and produce excess thyroid hormone.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by:
All the symptoms can be caused by other problems, and so the diagnosis may not be obvious at first. Usually the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are so gradual in their onset that people don't realize the symptoms until they become more severe. This means the symptoms may continue for weeks or months before people fully realize that they are sick. In older people, some or all of the typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be absent, and the person may just lose weight or become depressed.
The symptoms usually are related to an increase in the metabolic rate of the body. Common symptoms include:
The main aim of treatment is to reduce the level of thyroxine to normal.
For patients with sustained forms of hyperthyroidism, such as Graves' disease or toxic nodular goiter, antithyroid medications are often used. These drugs act directly on the thyroid gland to block the production of thyroid hormones. Two common drugs in this category are methimazole and propylthiouracil (PTU). When taken rightly, they are usually very effective in controlling hyperthyroidism within a few weeks. The main shortcoming is that the underlying hyperthyroidism often comes back after they are discontinued especially in patients over the age of 45 years, also in those with a large goitre and in those with severe hyperthyroidism. For this reason, many patients with hyperthyroidism are advised to consider a treatment that permanently prevents the thyroid gland from producing too much thyroid hormone.
Radioactive iodine (RAI) is the most widely recommended permanent treatment of hyperthyroidism. This treatment has been used since 1940, and no serious complications from RAI have become apparent to the date. Radioactive iodine takes advantage of the fact that thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which have the ability to absorb iodine. When thyroid cells absorb radioactive iodine they will be damaged or killed. Because iodine is not concentrated by any other cells in the body, there is very little radiation exposure for the rest of the body. This form of therapy often takes one to two months before the thyroid has been killed, but the radioactivity medicine is completely gone from the body within a few days.
The main problem is, that because the damage to the thyroid cannot be controlled, the thyroid of most patients becomes underactive (hypothyroidism) after RAI. This condition is then treated with a thyroid hormone supplement. This may seem silly - trading one thyroid problem for another. But hyperthyroidism is much more dangerous, and difficult to control, than is hypothyroidism. So while becoming hypothyroid may not be a perfect outcome, it is much better than being hyperthyroid.
Surgical Removal of the Gland or Nodule
Another permanent cure for hyperthyroidism is to surgically remove all or part of the thyroid gland. This surgery is known as a thyroidectomy. Surgery is not used as frequently as the other options. The biggest reason for this is that the most common forms of hyperthyroidism are a result of overproduction from the entire gland and the methods described above work quite well in the vast majority of cases. A potential downside of the surgical approach is that there is a small risk of injury to structures near the thyroid gland in the neck. The incidence of this is about 1%. Like radioactive iodine treatment, surgery often results in hypothyroidism. Therefore, anyone who has been hyperthyroid and been treated by one of the above methods should have a blood test at least once a year to measure thyroid function.
Natural treatments can often reduce or eliminate the need for drugs and surgery. Since metabolism is dramatically increased in this condition, nutrients are used up more quickly than normal. For this reason, multivitamins provide the necessary replacements. In addition, add vitamins C and B complex for extra support from the stress of such overactivity. The essential fatty acids often help treat autoimmune reactions. They provide building blocks for prostaglandins, which prevent inflammation in the body. Other important nutrients for thyroid health are zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, grape seed extract, coenzyme Q10 and the amino acid, tyrosine.
Herbal remedies helpful for overactive thyroid
Lycopus ssp, Lithospermum officinale, and Melissa officinalis have all been proven to treat hyperthyroidism. The mechanism of action in these herbs, is the blocking of TSH receptors on the thyroid cells. These three herbs have had repeated success in treating Grave's disease as well, because of interruption of the Grave's specific thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin. In fact, one study found that freeze dried extracts of the three herbs inhibited binding of TSH to thyroid receptors by weakly binding themselves.
Herbs and supplements to avoid
According to one study in animals, the herb ashwaghanda may raise thyroid hormone levels. For this reason, it should not be used by people with overactive thyroid. Taking excessive kelp, bladderwrack, or other forms of seaweed can cause hyperthyroidism by overloading the body with iodine.