Thyroid Disease in Tough Times

 

I recently received the following message from a nice lady who had her thyroid removed a number of years ago as a result of thyroid cancer. She warns me about a little-publicized but medically concerning report indicating that thyroid medications are becoming harder and harder to get.

Thyroid Medications and Big Pharma

It appears that several companies that make thyroid replacement hormones are being bought out by Pharma giant Pfizer.  As a result, there are fewer and fewer sources of drug manufacturers producing this important medicine.

As well, she reports to me that there was a recall a few months ago of the popular medication Levoxyl due to issues with oxygen absorbers which caused the drug to smell somewhat foul.  She says that it took her some searching to find the Levoxyl she needs to stay healthy, and this has to be worrisome to anyone who needs replacement hormones.  According to a letter sent to physicians, the company stopped shipping all strengths of Levoxyl on February 13, 2013. They have said that they will resume shipment once the issue is resolved, but they have not indicated when that will take place. Abbott labs is still making Synthroid, another well-know thyroid med, but will it be enough to fill the need?

Armour thyroid replacement, a natural supplement, is still available but many conventional physicians are uncertain about the reliability of its effect.  Dietary changes, as described below, and other natural or commercial supplements may be all that’s on the market at one point or another in the uncertain future.

Thyroid Patients

A new study just published provides some hope for frustrated thyroid patients struggling with this issue and, also, annoyance for inflexible endocrinologists. The study from the Miller School of Medicine in Miami (my alma mater) suggests that monitoring the thyroid hormone T3 may yield major benefits for low thyroid patients.  This research looked at the role that an enzyme (Type II deiodinase or D2). The findings, according to Dr. Bianco, lead professor, “clearly shows that the body’s endocrine system is wired to keep plasma T3 in the normal range. It also points to the importance of T3 as a clinical indicator in the follow-up of hypothyroid patients who are being treated with levothyroxine.”

Despite this, most doctors do not even test for T3 in their thyroid patients.  The test is not even recommended in the hypothyroidisn guideline protocols published last year.

Dr. Bianco says:  “We know that about 20 percent of hypothyroid patients treated with levothyroxine are not happy despite having normal plasma T4 and TSH levels, and many of these patients exhibit lower plasma levels of T3. Other hypothyroid patients don’t complain to their doctors, but could potentially benefit as well from more effective treatments that normalize plasma T3, potentially making it easier to lose weight or maintain their mental focus.”

For more info, check out this link: http://thyroid.about.com/b/2013/04/15/new-miller-school-study-points-to-importance-of-t3-for-thyroid-health.htm

Meanwhile, here is an article to teach a little about thyroid issues you, survival medic, may have to deal with in times of trouble:

THYROID DISEASE IN TOUGH TIMES

The thyroid gland is positioned just in front of the trachea (the “windpipe”) and produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism.  The thyroid produces substances called Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) that regulate growth, energy and the body’s utilization of other hormones and vitamins.  The thyroid itself is regulated in turn by the pituitary gland in your brain, which tells the thyroid when to release T3 and T4.  To underscore the complexity of this process, the pituitary gland itself is regulated by another gland, the hypothalamus! Thyroid disease usually involves the production of either too little or too much of the hormones from these three organs.

Over 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disorder. Thyroid malfunction can occur in anyone, but is most commonly seen in women.

Some thyroid problems that are common in third world countries today may one day become prevalent here in a post-collapse situation.  One condition you may be familiar with is a “Goiter” (see image at top of this page); it is an enlargement of the gland that is the result (in 90% of cases) of a deficiency of iodine in the body. We rarely see this in developed countries because we are able to obtain iodine in our diet; indeed, it is the main reason why common table salt is “iodized”. A person may have a goiter without symptoms or even disturbed thyroid hormone levels.

Some thyroid masses may be cystic (filled with fluid) and some may be solid.  These masses are usually “cold”, that is, not producing hormone, and have no cancerous or major ill effect.  Thyroid cancer is relatively rare, even in the elderly, unless there has been exposure to radiation.  Increase in cases of thyroid cancer have been seen, for example, in children raised in the vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986; most occurred many years after the disaster. The widespread effects of the Fukushima meltdown will probably have similar effects down the road.

Determination of thyroid malfunction depends on certain blood tests and sometimes a scan of the gland.   This technology will be gone in a collapse, so it’s important to learn the various symptoms and signs that your patient may exhibit.

Hyperthyroidism

Bulging Eyes sometimes seen in hyperthyroidism

The excessive production of thyroid hormone is known as Hyperthyroidism.  Some common signs and symptoms of  this condition in adults are:

  • Insomnia
  • Hand tremors
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling excessively hot in normal or cold temperatures
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Losing weight despite normal or increased appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Menstrual period becomes scant, or ceases altogether
  • Eyes seem to be “bulging out”
  • Growth and Puberty issues (children)
  • Muscle Weakness, Chest Pain and Shortness of Breath (elderly)

Severe hyperthyroidism causes a condition known as Thyroid Storm, which causes major effects on the heart and brain, and is life-threatening. You may see symptoms such as rapid pulse, angina, irregular heart rhythms, and, eventually, heart failure.

Treatment of hyperthyroidism involves medications such as Propylthiouracil and Methimazole, which block thyroid function.  These medications should be stockpiled if you’re aware of a member of your group with hyperthyroidism, as they will be hard to find if modern medical care is no longer available.

Radiation therapy with radioactive iodine (“I-131”) has even been used to destroy the overactive thyroid, which, unfortunately, often results in the patient producing no thyroid hormone.  This drastic strategy is useful in severe hyperthyroidism, but is also unlikely to be available in a collapse.  Other forms of Iodide are useful in blocking the excessive production of thyroid hormone; kelp, for example, has high levels of Iodide. The anti-radiation medication KI (Potassium Iodide) might be another option in this situation.  Unfortunately, Iodides must be used with care, as they can occasionally worsen the condition.

Dietary restriction of nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and other substances that alter metabolism are helpful lifestyle changes for hyperthyroid patients.  Vitamins C and B12 are thought to have a beneficial effect on those with this condition.  L-Carnitine is thought to be beneficial in that it is helpful in treating elevated thyroid hormone levels without damaging the gland.  Some dietary strategies exist to depress production of thyroid hormone, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach.  Foods high in antioxidants are thought to reduce free radicals that might be involved in hyperthyroidism.  These include blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes, squash and bell peppers, among others.

Hypothyroidism

                                                                                       Classic hypothyroidism before treatment (left) and after treatment (right)

More commonly seen than hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is the failure to produce enough thyroid hormone.  Rarely, a newborn may be born without thyroid function; early diagnosis and the availability of modern hormone replacement drugs may prevent severe mental and physical handicaps.  Without these drugs, these infants will be in serious trouble.

Hypothyroidism in adults is manifested by the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Constipation
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Depression
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Poor Growth (Children)

The treatment of hypothyroidism is based on the oral replacement of the missing hormone.  These come in a variety of dosages, and it is important to determine the appropriate dose for your patient while modern medical care is still available.  Once you have determined this, you may consider asking a physician for a prescription for a higher dose, which would allow you to use, say, half of the pill in the present and stockpile the other half for the uncertain future.  This strategy depends mostly on the physician asked; you may find your doctor to be sympathetic to your concerns or you may hit a brick wall.

Besides standard thyroid drugs such as Synthroid and Levothyroid, there are a number of other remedies that may have an effect in improving hypothyroidism.  A number of thyroid extracts are available which consist of desiccated and powdered pig or cow thyroid gland.  The amount of thyroid hormone delivered by a particular extract may differ from bottle to bottle; therefore, the medical establishment recommends against the use of these supplements.

Having said this, in the absence of modern medications, it is better than nothing.  From a dietary standpoint, you should avoid foods that depress thyroid functions, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach.  A number of natural supplements, such as Thyromine, are commercially available.  These are combinations of various herbs that are touted as beneficial for both low and high thyroid conditions. Unfortunately, scientific studies proving their effect are scarce.

If you choose this route, ask your physician to follow your thyroid levels for a time on the supplement to see how much effect it has on your condition.  If your thyroid levels stay within normal limits, the supplement is probably acting as advertised and you should stockpile it.  If your thyroid levels drop precipitously, expect no benefit from that particular product and move on.

Learning the various signs and symptoms of a medical condition will help you become an effective medical resource in times of trouble.  Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed by the survival medic if he or she sharpens those diagnostic skills. Without lab tests, scans and the other accoutrements of modern medicine, your knowledge and supplies will be all you have to keep your people healthy.

Dr. Bones

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12 Responses to “Thyroid Disease in Tough Times”

  1. Doc Bones and Amy, we had a discussion about thyroid a couple of years ago in the Lobby of the DFW Airport Marriot Hotel the night before the Survival and Preparedness Conference. This is something that is very concerning to me, as I have hypothyroidism and don’t have a doctor. Without insurance I’ve had to resort to self treatment and the best thing that has/is helping me is the Thai version of Armour, Thyroid S. However, it is very concerning as to what to do if I can no longer get it. Have experienced this somewhat when one source’s website was shutdown. I tried the glandular extracts, and just was not happy with the results…began experiencing more symptoms.

    One thing I have learned is the importance of iodine to thyroid function. There has been some good results with those who have increased their intake of iodine via Lugol’s iodine actually being able to decrease the amount of thyroid supplemental hormone they were taking.

    Wonder if goats or rabbits have a thyroid gland? Maybe I could harvest their thyroid glands and dry it and use it in the event of a total collapse. Do have cows or pigs…hmmmm.

    • concerndcitizen says:

      The ancient Chinese used dried and powdered pig thyroids to treat people with thyroid disorders. Deer and other like sized animals could probably also be put to use. From Wikipedia:

      Thyroid hormones to treat goiters: In 239 BC, Master Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals stated that where water is too light, people suffer widespread baldness and goiter.[497] It was not until the 1860 that Gaspard Adolphe Chatin (1813–1901) linked goiter with the lack of iodine in soil and water; iodine was discovered in the thyroid gland in 1896 by Eugen Baumann, while thyroid extract was used to treat patients in 1890.[497] Long before this the Tang Dynasty (618–907) physician Zhen Quan (d. 643 AD), in his Old and New Tried and Tested Prescriptions, stated that the thyroid glands taken from gelded rams were used to treat patients with goiter; the thyroid hormones could be swallowed in pill form (the body of the pill made from crushed jujube pulp) or as a solid thyroid gland with the fat taken off.[498]Another prescription by Wang Xi used air-dried glands ground into powder and taken with wine.[499] Zhen’s contemporary Cui Zhiti (fl. 650 AD) distinguished in his written work between a tumor, which he described as an incurable solid neck swelling, and a real goiter, which he described as curable and movable in the neck.[499]The Chinese also used the thyroid glands of pigs, water buffalo, and sika deer with success in treating goiter.[499] The Pharmacopoeia of the Heavenly Husbandman asserted that iodine-rich sargassum was used to treat goiter by the 1st century BC (Ge Hong, 284–364, also suggested using a tincture derived from sargassum seaweed in about 340 AD),[500] a treatment unknown in the West until Roger of Palermo wrote hisPractica Chirurgiae in 1180 AD.[501]

    • Hi Cheryl,

      various natural desiccated supplements are on the market, but their effects vary from person to person. I’m not a vet, but I know that pigs, cows, and other mammals have thyroids, but you can’t remove them without sacrificing the animal, I would imagine.
      Thanks for your input!
      Dr. Bones

  2. Faye says:

    While I don’t anticipate surviving a complete breakdown (I am a kidney dialysis patient) I have 3 grown children & grandchildren so, anything I can learn now, will benefit them, should they need it, later on.

    I do so appreciate this article as almost every female in my family is Hypothyroid and my youngest daughter had hers removed when she was 17, so this is of great interest to me.

    Thank you so much for all the medical info you publish!

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Faye,

      My son was a dialysis patient for two years before he was lucky enough to get a kidney transplant, so I have a good idea of what you’re going through, and I’m so sorry. Thanks so much for your kind words and support, they are greatly appreciated.

      all the best,

      Joe Alton, M.D.

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was diagnosed hypothyroid ten years ago when my windpipe collapsed from a thyroid lymphoma lump in my throat. My thyroid was removed and now I am dependent on replacement hormones, recently switched to desiccated, which I love.
    My husband and I (both 63) are moving aboard our sailboat and plan to cruise as far as we can for a number of years. I suddenly realized that if I couldn’t get the hormones, well, would I just die? It is so enlightening to find that one could get an animal’s thyroid and dry it, that there is no special processing that would make it inaccessible, at least that’s what I think you are saying. If you have anymore info on this lifesaving action, I would love to hear it. That is, which animals would work, which might be best, are there any differences in them for this use, should anything special be done to the animal’s thyroid, etc.
    I just found your site and am thrilled. We look on our boat as our chance to possibly escape whatever ills society may experience in the next decade, or longer, since I figure we would be far safer on a boat than in our American home. I can’t wait to read all the info you offer as we get our boat, and selves, ready to head south and live mostly in the tropics. Thankyou so so much.

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Karen,

      of course, it would be a lot easier to stockpile quantities of dessicated thyroid hormone (pig or cow) that can be bought online rather than slaughter livestock yourself. I would recommend buying some of the commercial product, have your doctor check your thyroid levels on it, and see if you tolerate it well before you consider it a long-term solution.

      all the best,

      Joe Alton, M.D.

  4. Marsha Umek says:

    Thank you for all the information you provide. I am a disabled LPN/OR Tech and also a former EMT-IV. I was fortunate to have worked in a small hospital and we were trained to do suturing, first assisting, etc., that would not have been available to nurses in larger hospitals. I worked in all areas, but specialized in General Surgery, Vascular and Orthopedics. I think I would do well in a survival situation as far as helping others, however, I have several chronic illnesses that could put my life in the balance. I have been reading all that I can to learn about alternative medicines and treatments for my conditions. One of those being Hypothyroidism. I also have CAD, (two stents in R main coronary) ME/CFS/FM, GERDS, Arthritis, IBS and others. One of my doctors is also into alternative medicine and helps me with supplements that help these diseases. I am 15 years post Massive MI and have been doing well as far as the CAD. My cardiologist stopped the Nuclear Scans 6 years ago after 9 years clear. I try to eat healthy foods, but have trouble losing weight due to meds and inability to exercise like in the past. Thank you for the information you are putting out there. I hope someday I can attend one of your classes. Keep up the good work.
    Sam

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Sam,

      Thank for the kind words, and thanks for being a high-level medical asset to your community. I also am at risk for CAD, and if I survive my first MI, I would be the first in my family to do so. As for alternative medicine, we must learn to use ALL the tools in the medical woodshed as you are doing.

      all the best,

      Joe Alton, M.D.

    • Shannon says:

      Sam,
      I am also a former OR Tech/EMT-B/Flight Medic. I feel just as confident as you in my medical skills but I also am on thyroid medication due removal of my thyroid. We raise rabbits and I wonder if the thyroid can be harvested from rabbits to dry and keep? Does anyone know?

      Shannon

      • Dr Bones says:

        Hi Shannon,

        the only way to find out is to harvest it and follow your thyroid levels. If they sink like a stone, they’re not effective. If thyroid levels stay within normal limits, they may be an option (if you have enough rabbits). Most dessicated thyroid supplements are made from bovine and porcine sources.

        Joe Alton, M.D.

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