Sep 16, 2012

Reader's Question: Thyroid & Hormone Balance

Often when medical doctors scratch their heads or only write prescriptions as a cure, real food can help immeasurably.  Below is a question a reader sent to us.  It was answered by frequent guest blogger, Erin, who has a degree in health science and loves to research.  Erin is not a doctor but provides thought provoking advice.  --Julie

Reader's question:
In the last few months have had ovarian cysts that are rupturing frequently. When I was 17, I had thyroid cancer and had my thyroid removed.  Now I take thyroid supplements.  The doctor does not know why I am having cysts nor why they are rupturing (which my abdomen fills with blood and then my body absorbs it back).  It is excruciatingly painful. I have been told the only option is birth control or to get pregnant. Apparently, this can make this cysts stop. Taking the pill and putting those synthetic hormones in my body is not a good idea in my mind.  My thyroid doctor says my hormones are not in a place for a safe pregnancy. However, the longer I wait and the cysts continue to occur, it can cause more of a threat to fertility. What are some natural things I can do to heal my body?

Erin's response:
I tend to go a little overboard with info, so please don't feel overwhelmed by my response. :)  My degree is in health science, so these topics are very interesting to me.

Your thyroid gland and ovaries have a definite connection.  Both are controlled by the pituitary gland.  I'm assuming that you received radioactive iodine as part of your cancer treatment?  The ovaries have iodine receptors like the thyroid, so they would have been affected by the treatment (though I'm not sure to what extent). Also, an under-active/absent thyroid causes the pituitary gland to secrete a hormone which interferes with the hormones that tell your ovaries to release eggs (ovulate).  The thyroid supplement you are taking should help with that, but I'm trying to demonstrate how the thyroid and ovaries are indeed connected.

Iodine deficiency can cause of ovarian cysts.  Iodine in the body is used as follows: 3% by the thyroid, 70% by muscles and fat, 20% by the skin, and 7% by the ovaries.  It is not enough to take an iodine supplement, however.  Iodine is one of 4 halogens (iodine, bromine, chlorine, and fluorine).  The same receptors that are made to use iodine can also accept other halogens.  So if you are eating bromated bread or bleached flour of any kind, the bromine in the bread is competing with iodine.  If you are drinking fluoridated water or using fluoride toothpaste, then the fluoride is competing with iodine.  The problem is your body does not NEED fluoride or bromine--it needs IODINE!

I have no idea what your food philosophy is, but that is usually the first place I start when trying to figure out health concerns.  Cysts (both on ovaries and breasts) can also be caused by inflammation.  The #1 inflammatory agent in the American diet is SUGAR.  If you are eating processed foods (food in packages), then you are getting too much sugar in your diet.

My recommendations:

  1. Get an appointment with a natural-minded doctor.  I'm not sure where you live, but I've heard good things about Debra Velez in downtown Little Rock (she is a nurse practitioner). {Julie interjects: on the blog we also have a list of complementary and alternative resources for central Arkansas.}
  2. Cut out all sweetened beverages, including fruit juice.
  3. Avoid soy (the phytoestrogens can contribute to cysts).
  4. Avoid meat and dairy products treated with hormones and antibiotics.
  5. Avoid caffeine.
  6. Drink red raspberry leaf tea or take a supplement.  This herb is beneficial for regulating your cycle.
  7. Use castor oil packs on the painful ovary.
  8. If you are eating a low-fat diet, STOP.  Your ovaries need the animal fats and cholesterol found in food in order to make the proper levels of estrogen and progesterone.  Replace the sugar and carbs in your diet with healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, butter, raw dairy, etc.  
  9. Take an iodine supplement.  Kelp and seaweed are good sources.  Some people take a brand called Lugol's orally and some rub iodine on their skin to be absorbed.  A good practitioner can help you.
  10. Use reverse-osmosis filtered water and fluoride-free toothpaste to avoid fluoride.  Here's a post I wrote about the dangers of fluoride.

In conclusion, you might find this excerpt from helpful (he is a well-respected licensed acupuncturist):

Chris Kresser:
I do have a lot of success using botanical medicine for shrinking ovarian cysts, but I’m reluctant… Yeah, I can’t just throw out some herbs to take because, number one, the formula really needs to be personalized based on the individual’s particular characteristics.  That’s a really important part of Chinese medicine and making these formulas.  And number two, the botanicals that are used in these formulas are quite strong and definitely should not be used without supervision and shouldn’t be used for an extended period of time.  So unfortunately, the best I can do is to recommend that someone seek out a qualified herbalist, practitioner of Chinese medicine who is trained in this sort of thing, or a Western herbalist.  These formulas have a long history of successful use for this kind of thing.  You can look in Chinese medicine texts that are over 2000 years old, and they don’t call them ovarian cysts, but they have a different way of talking about them.  And I’ve had patients with multiple large ovarian cysts that have disappeared completely, and that’s been confirmed with ultrasound after use of these formulas.  So they work pretty well.  I think they’re pretty safe when they’re used under supervision, but I think you definitely need to take them with somebody’s supervision.   
It’s true that PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is definitely connected to insulin resistance. So I would be way more likely to suggest a fairly high-fat, low-carb diet to control the blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. And I would probably couple that with some high-intensity strength training, which has a really big effect on insulin sensitivity and improving glucose tolerance. And I would have her measure her blood sugar with a glucometer to determine what her carbohydrate tolerance is. So that’s a device that a lot of diabetics use. You just prick your finger and put a drop of little blood on a strip, goes in a machine and it tells you what your blood sugar is. 
And the way that you use that to test your carbohydrate tolerance is you eat a meal, you take your blood sugar right before you eat the meal, and then you wait an hour and you take it an hour later, and then you take it two hours later. The deal is, you don’t want your blood sugar going above 140 after one hour and you don’t want it above 120 after two hours. And if it’s going above that, then you’re eating more carbohydrate than you can tolerate, in general.

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