Resolving my hypothyroidism involved avoiding goitrogens, taking the old version of Armour Thyroid, taking zinc to offset iron's effect on the latter, and nine weeks of acupuncture. Thank you, Stop the Thyroid Madness dot com, for helping me figure it out.
Last updated July 2022. Also see this post on how iron interferes with thyroid meds.
It took me two years from the time I first suspected I had thyroid problems to get treated for it. I was very tired, had a weird, periodic hum in my body as if the ship’s engine on “Star Trek” was running in the background, was unbelievably cold outside in the winter, and my hair felt like it had an electric current running through it. But my test results from my traditional doctors, who were only looking at TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), always came back normal. When I read that ideally other markers should be looked at as well (e.g. T3, T4, etc.) I asked for those tests, but they, too, came back normal. (Here’s Stop the Thyroid Madness website’s take on the uselessness of TSH lab tests.)
Betrayed by goitrogens in green juices
In the meantime, after going gluten-free, I had decided I was going to REALLY get healthy. I started eating fish several times a week and every morning I would drink juiced greens, including Swiss chard, mustard greens, and two types of kale.
I was rewarded with a worsening of my thyroid-esque symptoms (and with elevated mercury levels, but that’s another story). During yet another bout of research, probably at about.thyroid.com, I discovered that cruciferous vegetables — such as greens, cauliflower and broccoli — when ingested raw are capable of tanking the thyroid, either by lowering iodine levels or by affecting hormone production directly.
I also learned at around the same time that a New England Journal of Medicine article had declared that another, wider set of lab ranges were more accurate for diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism.
So I stopped the goitrogens immediately and felt better soon after, but the issues remained.
Doctors knew less than I did about it
I had at this point already given up on traditional doctors so went straight to the two alternative medicine practices I had visited earlier. The doctor I saw at the first one told me that food had no effect on the thyroid and to “put those papers away” (the copies of the research papers on goitrogens) and that “you need to educate yourself,” in a tone reserved for the types of people who believe you can get pregnant by swimming in a public pool. Then he listened to a list of my symptoms and pronounced me hypothyroid.
Armour Thyroid (pre-reformulation)
The alterna-doc at the second group had also heard about the NEJM changes but had never heard of the effect of those vegetables on the thyroid. She started me on 1/4 grain of Armour Thyroid, a prescription medication which is derived from pig thyroid and has been around since the 1920s (I think). After a month or so my mood, temperature, memory, fatigue, and skin were much improved.
Armour Thyroid was reformulated some time after my experience with it, to the great dismay of its users who said it no longer worked, but I have not kept up with that kerfluffle.
Iron interfered with Armour, but zinc solved that
I soon discovered that if I took iron, which I needed for fatigue, it brought back the hypothyroid symptoms, even if I took it at the requisite four-hour interval from the Armour. Without the iron, I was exhausted. Eventually I discovered that I could avoid this effect by taking 50 mg of zinc.
The trade-off: screwed up adrenals
Wonderful as it was, that dose of Armour did not resolve everything. When I tried to increase the dose I got heart palpitations, a weird vibration in my thyroid, insomnia, and jitteriness. Most glorious of all, a hair would start to grow out of the middle of my forehead. This is when I discovered that you can whip your thyroid all you want, but if your adrenals are shot, you won’t get very far.
The alterna-doc gave me hydrocortisone (Cortef) for about six months in an attempt to boost the function of the adrenals, but I noticed no effect at all. My cravings-driven chocolate intake also probably thwarted anything positive we could do for them.
After 18 months I got tired of taking Armour every day and asked Needleman the acupuncturist to treat me with acupuncture. That involved nine weeks of about 15 treatments, 60% of which was covered by my insurance. (This has since dropped to almost no coverage.) At the end of the nine weeks, my test levels (by the new ranges) were normal, so I dropped the Rx and never felt those symptoms again.
My thyroid numbers are still obscenely robust, or so I’m told
, and yet I still cannot eat goitrogens, such as pears, buckwheat, or broccoli, without feeling symptoms. That makes me think that my remaining complaints — stubbornly low iron, fatigue, insomnia, hair thinning, and brain fog — might still be associated with thyroid function. (They are also associated with adrenal function.) (July 2022: I haven’t had problems with those foods in a long time.)
Test might not reveal everything. What’s new.
Two doctors who’ve written books on iodine (Brownstein and Abrahams) believe that under some low-iodine circumstances, the thyroid can display my type of complaints without betraying anything in the usual lab tests. In other words, it might have been bludgeoned into submission with an Rx but isn’t necessarily healthy.