So I plowed through Selye’s “The Stress of Life,” which was a pleasant read given its depth and some need for pre-requisite knowledge, and now I’m onto Broda Barnes’ “Hypo-thyroidism: The unsuspected illness.” Throughout the book Barnes’ discusses his personal experiences [as a doctor] with a vast majority of symptoms and how most [symptoms] really boil down to a lack of metabolic efficiency; generally-speak, producing a low amount of thyroid hormones, and, in effect, an inefficiency at maintaing body heat and a “normal” pulse/heart beat. Barnes’ definition is a little less too-cool-for-school wordy, “It is the thyroid which controls the metabolism – the process by which food is transformed into energy and many vital chemical changes take place.” Combine those and you’re on your way to a decent idea of the thyroid’s direct relationship with metabolism. Now, metabolism is a tricky thing because most believe, Broda’s definiton included, that it’s just about burning calories at a high rate and having the ability to eat whatever you want. While that is true and is what we’re basically taught from a young age by Dr. Aloysuis Snuffleupagus, the means towards establishing a high metabolic rate of an individual is a very important and intricate piece to the body puzzle.
There are two things that I’m really intrigued about in this book. 1) The vast majority of symptoms that can result from a thyroid deficiency, and 2) The approach to treat a low thyroid (hypothyroid) condition with the simple prescription of thyroid medication. Let’s begin at the first…
Barnes begins on page one with a bulleted series of patient symptoms
- A young housewife who feels run down, tires easily, is sleepy much of the time, and strangely oversensitive to cold weather.
- A middle-aged man who has managed to distinguish himself in his career by fighting all his life against his low energy reserve but now has become tired of fighting and convinced there must be some physical explanation for his problem even though none has ever been found and more than once he has been told to consult a psychiatrist and more than once has done so without benefit.
- A victim of severe recurrent headaches.
- A barren couple.
- A child or adult unusually prone to infections, particularly respiratory, but not limited to them.
- A sufferer from severe rheumatic pain and potential heart attack victim.
- A woman whose skin is abnormally rough, scaly, almost fishlike and patients with other skin problems including eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
- At least one man or woman in a state of severe mental depression.
- A woman with a menstrual flow problem – painful flow, or irregular flow, or sometimes excessive flow that suggests possible need for hysterectomy.
All of this is some great stuff that can really get people thinking as to what could be more of an underlying cause to their symptoms. Try to look at it this way: The body is (yes, yes) a system of systems and when a very important [thyroid] gland is not working at full capacity, other activities, processes, and reactions will not work as they are designed. Out of the above mentioned, the ones that stick out to me the most are 1) the man with low fatigue that knows there’s something physically wrong with him but all of his lab work comes back negative and he’s slapped with the stereotype that “it’s all mental,” and 2) the ability to become severely depressed as a result of low thyroid activity. I picked these out from the list because they are examples of “mental disorders” or, so-called, “chemical imbalances” that actually have a true physical cause. I am a huge believer that the mind can control, affect, dictate, and sway the body, but the exact same is true for how the body affects the mind and it is quite possible that professionals or scientific tests can completely misdiagnosis this pattern as a purely mental state. In my opinion, there is never a purely mental disease or a purely physical disease because one doesn’t function without the other!
Here are some other common symptoms of a low thyroid function: Weakness, Dry or coarse, Lethargy, Unmotivated, Laziness, Fatigue, Slow speech, Edema, Cold hands, Cold feet, Cold nose, Sensitivity to cold, Cold body despite warm environment, Rapid heart beat, Impaired memory, Brain fog, Forgetfulness, Decline in libido, Decreased sexual function, Decreased sexual desire, Shrinkage of the gonads/sex glands (testicles, ovaries), Erectile dysfunction, Irregular menstrual cycles (heavy, painful, non-existent flow), Overly emotional, Temper tantrums, Anxiety, Depression, Nervousness, Headaches, Weight loss, Weight gain, Loss of appetite, Hair loss, Easily prone to stress, Muscle weakness, Joint pain, Low activity endurance, Increased sleeping (even a good night’s sleep isn’t enough), Hard waking up in the morning, Poor vision, and the list can really go on and on.
Now that I’ve given you a-whole-lot of examples to make your mind go, “Hm, maybe I have hypothyroidism and I can solve all of my problems with medication?!,” let’s take a moment to reflect and to put some things into perspective (and to also address the 2nd point in which I was intrigued). Barnes says that a dose of thyroid medication was the simple solution to a majority of his patients who had had at least one, if not more, of the previously mentioned symptoms. But he fails to mention any nutritional or lifestyle advice in order to “correct” the condition of hypothyroidism. He does state in a few examples that his patients changed absolutely nothing else about their daily lives, eating habits, or routine and with a simple dose of thyroid medication they were good as new within 2-6 months, yet once they stopped taking thyroid their symptoms came back almost immediately. Ok, so he found the cause to their problems, but is it the true cause or just the effect? What about the mechanisms that fuel, drive, and provide the thyroid gland with the energy to function properly?
Barnes patient experiences and learned understanding of how the thyroid basically affects the entire body is huge, but I also think it brings up the question of “how does the thyroid become inefficient?” I believe hydration, nutrition, and rest play some very big factors, but, again, they’re not the end-all-be-all when you throw in mentality, emotions, and relationships.
A simple home-test to check your thyroid includes a thermometer and your tongue. First thing in the morning – absolutely the very first thing that you do upon waking to negate any emotional or physical influence – reach for a thermometer and stick it under your tongue for 2 minutes. Any body temperature that is “below the normal range of 97.8 to 98.2 degrees F strongly suggests low thyroid function.” Why? Because when you’re body isn’t running “hot” then certain activities are paradoxically slowed down or increased; i.e. slow hormonal processes, slow digestion, slow movements, slow thought patterns, or increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, quick bursts of energy via the release of adrenaline followed by a long crash.
Matt Stone of 180degreehealth.com wrote an article Broda Barnes and Ray Peat and its relation to thyroid and he summed it up rather nicely…
Body temperature is just one tool in the bag. It is not the only tool. Assessments of the warmth of your feet and hands, sleep quality, the number of hours you can comfortably go without eating, pulse rate, sex drive, energy levels, fatigue after eating, bowel frequency, water consumption (should be high), calorie consumption, reflex quickness, blood glucose levels – both fasting and postmeal, menstrual regularity – anything and everything should be used in making an overall assessment of your health and self-diagnosing what may be needed to rebalance your “body chemistry” as Melvin Page called it. With those in mind, you can use nutrition and lifestyle change to the fullest.
If you’d like to discuss these perspective along with other health-related insights, please contact me for a FREE Conversation.