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Few glands in the human body affect overall health the way the thyroid gland does. This hard working organ secretes hormones that can affect energy levels, proper metabolism, weight control, proper digestion, mood, and sleep, among others.

Despite this large impact, few people give this small but powerful gland a second thought until problems arise. When your thyroid malfunctions, it can lead to an imbalance in the body of the hormones it secretes under normal healthy conditions.  A decrease in secretion, known as hypothyroidism, can lead to complications such as fatigue, weight gain, constipation, and depression.  An increase in secretion, known as hyperthyroidism, can lead to complications such as jitteriness, weight loss, diarrhea, and manic episodes.

Whether you currently have a thyroid imbalance, or you are an otherwise healthy individual, proactive steps can be taken to promote overall thyroid health. One of the most important steps that can be taken is to de-stress your life.  Stress can play major havoc on many body organs, one of which is the adrenal gland.  This disruption leads to fluctuations in cortisol production which can suppress the stimulation of your thyroid, thus lowering your thyroid hormone levels.  While de-stressing in today’s busy world can be easier said than done, activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise, or maintaining proper sleep cycles can go a long way to improving your thyroid health.

Of course, like any other health condition, a healthy diet and exercise are also essential to overall thyroid health. Regular aerobic exercise can stimulate healthy thyroid hormone production.  Likewise, many nutrients play an essential role in thyroid hormone production.  A healthy balanced diet, including a sufficient amount of Vitamin A, C, D, and E as well as selenium and iodine help to ensure your thyroid gland has the tools it needs to function properly.  For those with gluten sensitivities or intolerances, a gluten reduced or free diet can help to reduce inflammation within the thyroid gland.

Unfortunately, proactive measures are not always sufficient to maintain healthy thyroid function throughout one’s lifespan and medical intervention is required. Prescription drugs such as methimazole can be used to reduce elevated thyroid hormone levels and treat conditions of hyperthyroidism. In some cases surgery or radioiodine therapy may be used.

More commonly, prescription thyroid hormone supplementation is used to treat the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Two types of thyroid hormone are commonly prescribed. The most common is levothyroxine, also known as T4. T4 is what is known as a prohormone, meaning its destination is to be converted in the body into another hormone called liothyronine, or T3.  T3 is prescribed in cases where a patient does not respond to T4 therapy alone, and is the active thyroid hormone.

Prescription treatment with thyroid hormone is highly individualized. Oftentimes, your prescriber will evaluate your blood work and make a dosing determination based upon your levels and results.  Once started on thyroid hormone replacement, it is not uncommon for your dosage to be adjusted during the initial starting months until the proper dosage for you is found. Additionally, once stabilized, your dose may need to be adjusted over the long term, as thyroid gland function fluctuates, or dietary and lifestyle changes affect hormone levels. For instance, major stress episodes, introduction of other disease states, and changes in activity levels can lead to fluctuations.

It is important to note when taking prescription thyroid replacement that these hormones are best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach, generally 30 to 60 minutes before breakfast. This often leads to questions on how to take other medications and supplements when on a thyroid hormone.  While the proper procedure can vary depending on your medication regimen, it is generally recommended to take the thyroid hormone prior to any other medication, then take your other medications with breakfast 30 to 60 minutes later.  Likewise, supplements can lead to variances in thyroid absorption.  For instance, when taken too close to thyroid hormones, calcium, magnesium, and iron supplements can bind to the hormones in the gastrointestinal tract leading to a decrease in absorption and thereby a decrease in effectiveness.  Conversely, iodine supplementation can increase thyroid functioning, leading to a rise in thyroid hormone. It is always essential to consult your doctor or pharmacist when starting any new supplement or medication to understand the best way to take it in conjunction with your thyroid medication so as to limit any effect on your overall thyroid level.

Because of the highly individualized nature of achieving normal thyroid hormone levels, there is no “one size fits all” approach. While proper levels can often be achieved through commercially available prescription options, sometimes patients require further customization.  In such instances, a compounding pharmacy can produce a custom mixture of T4, T3, or a combination of the two which further helps the prescriber and patient to find the right level.  These compounding pharmacies specialize in taking pure drug sources and mixing them to meet an individual patient’s needs.  This ability allows a prescriber to prescribe precise doses down to the microgram, as well as to combine the prohormone T4 with the active T3 into one dosage form, at a customized ratio, to further enhance the patient’s outcomes.  Additionally, many patients may have sensitivities to ingredients such as gluten, casein, or dyes.  Compounding the thyroid hormones to exclude many of the excipients found in commercially manufactured versions may help to enhance absorption and subsequently patient response.

Finally, over the counter supplements can sometimes be used to enhance thyroid function in cases of hypothyroidism. Taking supplements such as Thyroid Synergy by Designs for Health, or Iodoral by Optimox, can provide the body with essential nutrients and beneficial herbal ingredients for thyroid hormone production such as iodine, selenium, chromium, vitamin A, D, and E, and ginseng.  These types of products can be found at pharmacies which specialize in nutrition, such as Pine Pharmacy in Williamsville.

Proper thyroid functioning is essential to your overall health, from both a physical and mental aspect. If you suspect issues with your thyroid, talk to your doctor or pharmacist today.