The main symptoms of low thyroid include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, depression, trouble losing weight, cold intolerance or low body temperature, brittle and thinning hair, slow-growing nails and dry skin. If you have “normal” thyroid blood tests yet suffer from many symptoms of low thyroid consider whether some common chemical toxins may be disrupting your thyroid function.
Toxic Chemical Exposures
According to the 2004 Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals we are all literally “awash” in harmful chemicals. To obtain data for this Fourth Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Environmental Health Laboratory at the National Center for Environmental Health measured chemicals or their metabolites in blood and urine from a random sample of participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The Fourth Report examined 212 chemicals including results for 75 chemicals measured for the first time in the U.S. population. These chemicals are in the following groups: acrylamides, heavy metals including arsenic, bisphenol A, triclosan, perchlorate, perfluorinates, polybrominated phenyls, and volatile organic compounds.
The results showed that nearly 100 chemicals were present in everyone. Some chemicals, such as the thyroid disrupting perchlorate, were present in every single participant, while bisphenol A was measured in 90 percent of participants. Significant lead levels have trended down in recent decades but are still present in 1-2 percent of young children. Other heavy metals, such as mercury and cadmium, were common in participants.
What exactly are these thyroid-disrupting chemicals, where do find them in the environment, and how do we avoid getting them into our bodies? The harmful chemicals are everywhere, found in food, air, water, cosmetics and lotions, common household appliances, furnishings and products, pesticides and herbicides, and dozens of industrial components.
PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls were discovered during the 19th century. Gasoline extraction from crude oil produced great quantities of other chemicals such as benzene. If you heat benzene just right, two benzene rings will stick together forming a “diphenyl.” Then if you add chlorine gas hundreds of different PCBs are produced.
PCBs don’t break down in water, don’t burn very well, don’t conduct electricity, and don’t deteriorate in the environment for many, many years. As such, they were used as coolants and insulators in all sorts of electronics and power equipment, printing industries, and personal products such as food packaging and shampoos.
By the early 1970s PCBs were pretty much banned from further use in “open” products such as paints, adhesives and fire-retardant clothing. PCB production is now banned, but they are still used in “closed” systems such as coolants and hydraulic fluids. Once dumped into the environment PCBs persist for many years and accumulate in animal tissue, such as fish, leading to higher levels of PCBs in humans that eat fish from tainted waters.
Perchlorates are used in the pyrotechnics industries and our exposure is mostly through contaminated groundwater. Bisphenol A is a component of plastics used in food industry. Sunscreens contain benzphenone 2 and methoxycinnamate. Phthalates are used in a wide variety of products, including products made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride), vinyl shower curtains and vinyl flooring, medical devices, hair and bath products, extension cords, window blinds, plastic toys and even lawn furniture. Triclosan is found in anti-bacterial soaps and personal products. Herbicides, fungicides and pesticides include hexachlorobenzene, pentachlorophenol and DDT.
There are even a few foods that can disrupt thyroid function, especially if eaten regularly in larger amounts, including unfermented soy products and cruciferous vegetables.
Toxic Effects on Thyroid
There are hundreds of studies that address the impact of these various chemicals on human health. In general, these toxins are especially harmful to the endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Cancer is also linked to most of these chemicals.
The toxic effects of these chemicals on thyroid function are well documented. In summary, they either, block iodine uptake into the thyroid, block production of thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland, impair conversion of thyroid hormone to its active form, interfere with pituitary signals for thyroid production or thyroid receptor signaling, or impair normal metabolism of thyroid hormones.
Many patients have a thyroid lab panel that is “normal,” that is, the numbers are in the normal reference range. We see hundreds of patients each year that fit the patterns of sub-optimal thyroid function and have a list of symptoms to correlate to low thyroid function. Patients with “normal” thyroid labs are often cursed to years of suffering before getting proper attention.
Treatment of sub-optimal thyroid function that is caused by environmental toxicity is not simply a matter of taking thyroid hormone. Cleansing the body of the toxic chemical build-up is the first goal, and we start by avoiding and removing exposures to the extent that is possible. This means eating organic foods, getting clean water and air, and removing or avoiding personal products that contain the thyroid-disrupting chemicals.
Removing the chemical toxins from the body is the next goal. Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or arsenic are removed with chelation — which is a process of taking a compound such as EDTA, either by mouth or through IV injection that will bind metals tightly and removes them from body tissues, thus making them available for excretion through the urine and feces.
The majority of chemicals are stored in fat and difficult to remove. Regular aerobic exercise and saunas are two ways to naturally eliminate toxins. We use a variety of supplements to successfully remove chemicals from the body, including chlorella, cilantro, garlic, and chlorophyll. Liver support is key during detoxification and includes using supplements such as milk thistle, N-acetyl cysteine, or alpha-lipoic acid. We also recommend IV infusions of glutathione, which is known as the body’s master detoxifier, to more aggressively remove toxins.
Proper thyroid function is critical for good health, but for many the routine blood tests for thyroid will return as “normal,” but not optimal. For these patients a simple detoxification may help thyroid function and improve overall health in oh so many other ways.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.