It's Me Glands

I spent the first forty-one skinny years of my life scoffing at fat people (and their mums) who blame their blubber on their glands — and then, despite regular exercise and a low-fat, low-calorie diet, in the space of two years I went from an average of eight and a half stone to something over twelve stone (I stopped weighing myself at this marker). Admittedly, I suspected my thyroid gland had gone awry, but my GP kept telling me to eat less and exercise more when I suggested perhaps I needed a thyroid function test. What energy I had I spent on running (about twenty miles a week) so I didn't have any left to argue with him through the mental fog that kept me from thinking straight. It wasn't until, at a particularly low ebb I burst into tears and showed him the tattered remains of my once glorious eyebrows that he sent me off for a blood test, which revealed the suspected flagging thyroid.

In the two-month interim between the blood test results and seeing the endocrinologist, I discovered (via the internet, of course) about thyroid dysfunction, insulin resistance, syndrome X, and a low-carbohydrate diet. Even though the idea of a low-carb diet flew in the face of all I had understood about a healthy diet, I felt so fat, slow and miserable that I felt I had nothing to lose by following Dr Atkins' three-week induction diet. Within a week my energy levels had returned, the mental fog was gone, and I felt like 'me' again. I lost so much weight during induction (well over a stone), that a friend who had gone on a fortnight's holiday a week into my induction period was genuinely unsure if it was me who hailed her on her return. [I'll write elsewhere about low-carbohydrate eating, but suffice to say I find the science makes sense, it works for me; and I'm still slim and healthy if I follow a low-carbohydrate lifestyle.]

A week later, the endocrinologist wrote to me prescribing 25mcg daily of levo-thyroxine to keep me going until our first appointment. This dosage was increased to 50mcg when I first saw him and has, over the years, gradually increased to 200mcg daily. I don't know any hypothyroxic person of normal weight (or of abnormal weight, come to that) who takes this much levo-thyroxine, but the endocrinologists I've seen have merely remarked that my body is simply very resistant to it. Hmmm!

I did experience a dramatic hair loss within a month of so of starting treatment with levothyroxine (in June 2001, I think) when a good third of my normally thick, glossy locks vanished in weeks. This is deemed normal, and it all grew back quite quickly. I've been fairly asymptomatic since.  I still have the occasional foggy day when I have no energy and can't think straight, but generally speaking, I've been fit, slim and healthy ever since.

For a few months from October 2006 I had another hair fall. Fistfuls fell out, and what grew back was curly! I've always had thick, straight, well-behaved hair that I've worn in a shoulder-length bob for years, so this was awful. I had my hair cut short in mid-2007 - and it's okay. I even quite like it, and it's easy to look after, but it's not what I'm used to. Also, throughout 2007, my weight started to creep up again and I was losing energy, and I was concerned about the amount of thyroxine I was taking. More research...

If you're in a hurry, the upshot is: by eating an ice-cube sized lump of good-quality coconut oil and four kelp tablets a day (all sourced from my local Holland & Barrett store, though I'm sure other sources are available, though don't buy the cheap 99p a jar coconut oil from your local supermarket!), I've halved my thyroxine dosage, normalised my weight and energy levels, and my hair is growing back. My periods are still normal, so I'm fairly sure this isn't to do with the menopause.

Why Do I Keep Meeting Women With Failing Thyroids?

In the past few years, too many women I meet have (or have the symptoms of) hypothyroidism. We can't be that biologically duff as a species, can we? And why would women, rather than men, be so susceptible? I'm not much of a conspiracy-theorist, though I'd be first in line to say our various governments don't have that great a track record - the Tuskegee experiment being the first (and worst) I heard about, followed by the first-hand accounts of an old friend of mine (and I have no reason to disbelieve him) watching, unprotected, the early nuclear experiments in the Easter Islands); and we are, generation by generation, a tad expendable.

A part of the endocrine system, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is situated in our throats and, unlike the rest of the endocrine glands, it's not protective by our skeleton. Also, a woman's thyroid is typically twice the size of a man's, perhaps because we need a different metabolic approach as we carry children.

The Science Bit

Okay, here's the very simplified science bit: Eat kelp, or take a kelp supplement because if you eat enough naturally-occurring iodine (Iodine127), your body won't use the thyroid-destructive radioactive form of iodine (Iodine131).

Here is the slightly less simplified science bit: Iodine127 is mainly found in seaweed, but not in land vegetation; a bit of a problem for land-based mammals like us (though our bodies developed the ability to recycle iodine as much as it can). When we developed atomic energy (in the 1940s), we also developed radioactive iodine (Iodine131). Our bodies use Iodine131 if there isn't enough Iodine127 in our diet. Iodine131 destroys our thyroid glands. Every nuclear power station in the world irregularly pumps out Iodine131. Our bodies absorb and use this Iodine131 if we aren't eating Iodine127 in our diet.  This is probably the most important thing to understand, though there are other thyroid-disrupters in our world that you should try to avoid. For a more in-depth understanding, please read Ryan Drum's articles: http://www.ryandrum.com/; http://www.ryandrum.com/thyroidpart1.htm and http://www.ryandrum.com/thyroidpart2.htm.

I will add to this article, but I feel it's too important not to post now.