Originally published October 24 2007
Oprah Raises Awareness on Thyroid Issue
by Byron Richards
(NaturalNews) Oprah has done an immense favor to millions of American women by helping them understand that a malfunctioning thyroid gland may indeed be part of their weight and health problems. After writing openly about her thyroid problem in the October 2007 Oprah Magazine, she then went into the nature of thyroid problems on her TV show.
During her program her guest, Christiane Northrup, M.D., raised the idea that part of a thyroid problem may be emotional in nature saying that “your symptoms are actually your soul's way of bringing deeper issues to your attention.” She explains this point further on her website:
“In many women thyroid dysfunction develops because of an energy blockage in the throat region, the result of a lifetime of "swallowing" words one is aching to say. In the name of preserving harmony, or because these women have learned to live as relatively helpless members of their families or social groups, they have learned to stifle their self-expression.”
Self-appointed thyroid patient advocate, Mary Shomon, took exception to the idea that emotional issues could be a significant factor contributing to a thyroid problem. She attacked Oprah and Dr. Northrup in an open letter to Oprah’s viewers. Ms. Shomon said of Dr. Northrup, “It is irresponsible of her to suggest that an inability to express yourself is somehow responsible for a woman's thyroid condition.” Going on she states “Ultimately, in claiming to advocate for women's health, Dr. Northrup and Oprah both have inexplicably embraced an extreme - and, frankly, quite unsympathetic - view that blames women's lifestyle and emotional life for our health problems, hormonal imbalances, and symptoms. I don't care if Oprah herself has embraced Dr. Northrup's theory. That is still no reason for any woman to believe that she is to blame, much less that blowing kisses to herself in the mirror, and taking a hot bath before bed will resolve her hormonal imbalances, as Dr. Northrup suggested on the show.”
Ms. Shomon offers support for her position by going down a long list of environmental and health factors that can contribute to a thyroid problem – all of which are true. However, Ms. Shomon jumped to the conclusion that what Oprah was saying somehow meant Oprah was blaming women for their thyroid problems. Ms. Shomon actively discounted the importance of stress and behavior in the overall picture of thyroid problems. While Ms. Shomon has worked as a layperson to raise awareness of thyroid issues for the general public, her ranting is testimony to her shortcomings in scientific understanding and clinical experience. The link of emotions to physical health is a well-documented scientific reality; it is not a blame game issue.
The Mind-Body Connection
Back in 1985 I began working as the nutritionist for one of our nation’s leading “thyroid doctors,” Keith W. Sehnert, MD. Time Magazine considered Dr. Sehnert the “George Washington of medical self-care.” He was one of the founding fathers of alternative health, passing away in 1999. He was a pioneer in solving difficult thyroid problems. During my decade of working with Dr. Sehnert I had the unique experience of assisting over five thousand patients who had come to him for help with thyroid problems, problems that had often been discounted by the mainstream medical profession.
Not only did Dr. Sehnert routinely test thyroid function on all patients (T3, T4, FTI, TSH, thyroid autoantibodies, and basal temperature), he also used a special computerized assessment tool I developed called the Integrated Wellness Analysis. This tool took in over 2000 pieces of personal health information including comprehensive symptoms, stress, behavior, and personality type. Never before and never since has anyone had the unique opportunity to view thyroid problems in relation to the complete picture of a person’s life. While none of this research has ever been published, I am willing to share some of my clinical observations. As a leading clinician with over 20 years experience in this field, I have helped thousands of individuals improve the function of their thyroid through the use of natural methods.
The information we collected showed a correlation between communication and thyroid function. In fact, the correlation was so consistent that we named one personality style as a dominant “thyroid type.” This was the type of person who likes to communicate, and is upfront and straightforward. They like to plan, organize, and predict. They use communication to get agreement on plans and have high expectations for others to follow through on agreements. Such a person is often stubborn, persistent, and a perfectionist with a high sense of responsibility and integrity – willing to tackle life head on.
Under stress this type of person first experiences agitation and anger. Unlike Dr. Northrup’s observation of women “swallowing their words,” this person typically expresses their resentment or displeasure. They are especially irritated when agreements are not kept. Under prolonged periods of stress this person experiences considerable inflammation that is driven by oxidizing adrenaline (it feels like life is taking a Brillo pad around the insides of one’s body, irritating the general circulation as well as the thyroid gland). It became clear that individuals with the highest levels of thyroid autoantibodies had been through prolonged periods of this type of stress, directly inducing thyroid problems. The excessive adrenaline raises cortisol (the stress hormone) and disturbs leptin function (the fat hormone), resulting in a difficult metabolic problem that makes stored fat go numb and leads to weight gain around the midsection.
By comparison, another personality type emerged that we called the “thymus type.” This style is more consistent with the description given by Dr. Northrup. This individual wants everybody to feel good and is often the peacekeeper. Caring and compassion are the ruling emotions, thoughts are often kept to themselves so as not to offend another. Those using this approach as a dominant behavioral strategy tend to get their feelings hurt, often appear to others as too sensitive, or their good will is taken advantage of by others and not appreciated adequately. This person tends to feel sad or worry too much, and is frequently too concerned about another’s problems.
Under prolonged stress this person tends to feel victimized and hopeless. This set of emotional problems was also consistent with elevated thyroid autoantibodies, though not as pronounced as the “thyroid type.” This person often eats in response to stress in order to feel better, which boosts mood temporarily and body weight more permanently.
Many women are dominant “thyroid types,” many are dominant “thymus types,” and most women are some combination of the two. Many women have learned to use various strategies as life skills, while others are caught up in the stress and problems of a given strategy, thereby self-inducing considerable emotional and physical wear and tear.
In defense of women, many men have become “too estrogenic” and dumped their responsibilities onto their partner. Women are not only expected to do all their traditional roles, they are also expected to help make money and be in charge of family discipline. Highly successful women, like Oprah, are constantly called on to help others. It is typically a situation of too many demands and no time to take care of oneself. Even worse, others try to make them feel bad or guilty for spending time trying to take care of themselves.
There is of course an overwhelming body of science showing how stress disrupts thyroid function, blocking or reducing the activation of basic thyroid hormone (T4) to its active form (T3). It is very clear that ongoing emotional stress is a primary factor that disturbs thyroid function. Individuals heading down a path of wear and tear must find options that support balance, promote enjoyment, and help them feel more in control of their lives. The “relaxation reserves” for any person are all the things in one’s life that feel good. This includes adequate sleep, refreshing exercise, enjoyable activities (whatever they may be) – compared to all the demands of a person’s life. When this issue goes out of balance then constant feelings of stress become a major factor that disturbs thyroid hormone function.
What About Oprah’s Problems?
Oprah has been kind enough to detail some of her personal history. She said:
“My body was turning on me. First hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and left me unable to sleep for days. (Most people lose weight. I didn't.) Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)”
First of all, Oprah never had hyperthyroidism. She had stress-induced wind up, which makes a person feel like a cat on a hot tin roof. This stress tension, often accompanied by anxiety or even panic, feels like you are sitting at a stop sign with your foot on the gas and the clutch pressed in at the same time – going 60 miles an hour nowhere. Technically, this is a problem known as metabolic uncoupling. Instead of making energy properly, cells are making excess heat, inflammation, and free radicals. These factors throw a monkey wrench into proper thyroid metabolism. In this case the body induces slow thyroid function as a self-defense mechanism. The thyroid gland must slow down the hyper stress drive, otherwise the person will burn up!
Once Oprah realized she was in this difficult situation she decided to take some time off. As she tells it:
“I craved balance. I was desperate to be somewhere in the middle of hyper and hypo—where, obviously, I'd been my whole life, taking it for granted because I didn't know any better. We often need a malfunction to appreciate all the things that function. I decided to give myself July. Yes, the whole month—dedicated to myself, for myself. To regroup. Rejuvenate. Restore my soul. After 14 days, I started to feel my self returning. Not fully—just an awareness that I wasn't as tired and rote as I had been. By the end of the month I'd given myself, I was better in myriad ways. Not only was my physical health improved but I'd also become mentally stronger.”
What this means is that it took Oprah one month to cool off her overheated system, typical for a person that has been pushing it too hard for too long. Once the emotional and physical stress friction had declined she began to feel better. She had indeed pushed herself to the edge of burnout – as is the case with millions of Americans. In this more cooled off and balanced condition her thyroid hormone will now function better. It is important to note that once this level of stress happens to someone, stress tension will thereafter be a metabolic weak spot. It is like having an old knee injury that flares up later. If Oprah is unable to maintain balance in her life she will quickly fall back into poor thyroid function and weight gain. And interestingly, thyroid hormone medication will not help her. It will only make her feel more wound up and anxious, and unable to sleep.
Oprah has a long history of yo-yo dieting, which also stresses the leptin-thyroid system into poor performance. Her more recent emotional and physical stress was occurring over the top of long-term weak metabolism, a double whammy that frequently results in weight gain.
What Should Oprah Do?
I have helped thousands of individuals with Oprah’s collection of symptoms, problems, and dieting history. She must begin by understanding the powerful fat-hormone leptin, which is actually in charge of how thyroid hormone functions. Oprah is prone to what I call a “false state of perceived starvation.” This means her subconscious brain thinks she is starving even though she is overweight. Not only will she have trouble accessing her stored fat, her problem has advanced to the point that she can gain weight eating seemingly moderate amounts of food. I explain this fully in my book, the Leptin Diet. You can also take my simple Thyroid Quiz or Leptin Quiz if you want to understand how these issues relate to you.
Oprah needs to eat in harmony with leptin by following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet, which automatically improves the function of the thyroid gland. Managing leptin is the single most important dietary challenge for any person with the symptoms of a thyroid problem. Rocking the leptin boat always makes thyroid problems worse and can make them unsolvable.
In conjunction with diet, exercise, and a more balanced life the addition of appropriate dietary supplements to support healthy thyroid function is typically beneficial. The reason I designed Thyroid Helper® a decade ago was to help people like Oprah support multiple aspects of their stressed metabolism. Thyroid Helper contains tyrosine, an important nutrient for nerve function, focus, and the formation of thyroid hormone. It contains selenium, the most important mineral required for the activation of thyroid hormone from T4 to T3. Manganese is included to help form the important manganese-dependent superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), a key protector of thyroid hormone and the thyroid gland itself. Also included are two herbs Commiphora mukul (Gugulipids) and Ashwagandha, both of which have been shown to support healthy thyroid function. Gugulipids work by supporting healthy liver function (the main site of thyroid hormone activation). Ashwaganda works by helping to improve stress tolerance. There are no animal glandular extracts in Thyroid Helper, as such foreign animal tissue runs the risk of contributing to autoimmune problems. The synergistic and powerful combination of nutrients in Thyroid Helper is an ideal way to help activate thyroid hormone and offset wear and tear.
If a person is also too cold, the addition of special iodine Iosol Iodine is quite helpful. This type of iodine is unique in that it readily produces free iodide, the type needed by the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone as well as being helpful to a variety of hormone receptors throughout the body. In clinical practice it has proven far superior to supplements of potassium iodine or kelp – which can actually clog thyroid function when consumed in high amounts.
If a person is stressed and fatigued then the co-enzyme form of B vitamins are vital. These unique forms of B vitamins are “pre-energized” enabling them to readily work inside cells to help produce energy more efficiently than plain B vitamins. Thyroid hormone works by turning on gene signals in cells that tell metabolism how fast to run. In order for cells to respond to these thyroid hormone instructions they must have adequate nutrient cofactors such as B vitamins. This is basic common sense nutrition to support optimal thyroid function.
While the above recommendations are general, individuals can always tailor nutrient support for their specific metabolic needs. For example, the “thyroid type” also needs anti-inflammatory nutrients (like quercetin) and minerals (especially calcium and magnesium) to buffer stress. We found that quercetin was the single most helpful nutrient for lowering elevated thyroid autoantibodies, most likely due to its ability to modulate adrenaline-driven friction as well as stabilize immune cells from hyper-reacting.
On the other hand the “thymus type” needs extra Q10 and zinc to properly nourish the thymus gland so as not to get stuck in a hopelessness rut that contributes to thyroid problems.
Nutritional support is a great tool that can be used to get your energy going, keep your head alert, help offset the wear and tear of stress, and support healthy thyroid function. When combined with the Leptin Diet it is a potent combination to keep your thyroid function ahead of the wear and tear of life.
Copyright © 2007 Wellness Resources, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About the authorByron J. Richards, Founder/Director of Wellness Resources (www.wellnessresources.com), is a Board-Certified Clinical Nutritionist, a charter professional member of the International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists (IAACN) since 1991. He is a nationally-renowned health expert, radio personality, and educator. He is the creator and pioneer of The Leptin DietŪ and has been a featured expert consultant on Fox News Live, CBS Infinity television (national syndication), and The Wall Street Journal. Richards has appeared on hundreds of radio programs throughout the country. He is the author of Mastering Leptin (www.wellnessresources.com/products/mastering...), The Leptin Diet (www.wellnessresources.com/Books/leptin_diet....), and Fight for Your Health: Exposing the FDA's Betrayal of America(www.wellnessresources.com/Books/fight_for_yo...).
Richards encourages individuals to take charge of their health, stand up for their health rights, and not blindly succumb to propaganda from the vested-interests who profit from keeping Americans sick. As founder of Wellness Resources, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN, an independently-owned nutraceutical-quality dietary supplement company since 1985. He has personally developed 75 effective nutritional formulations. (www.wellnessresources.com)
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