Low thyroid, the unsuspected cause of heart disease (Pt. 1)
Hypothyroidism or low thyroid function is according to Dr. Broda O. Barnes, M.D. “the most frequent and often overlooked chronic condition affecting people”. Despite being one of the causes of many health problems, and being easily and inexpensively corrected, low thyroid is also the most unsuspected, unverified and untreated. (1)
“According to the organizers of the International Thyroid Awareness Week, more than 300 million people worldwide are thought to suffer with a thyroid gland disorder (un)aware … Even doctors have difficulty recognizing and treating thyroid disorders.” (2)
In today’s blogs, we will look at the importance of the thyroid for the health of the heart, especially in controlling hypertension and blood cholesterol levels. We will also see how the ‘Heart and Body Extract’ and the ‘Gland Extract’ can help the thyroid.
The endocrine system
When the endocrine glands were first discovered, it challenged the notion that the nervous system was ‘the’ single controlling force in the human body. The pituitary, adrenals, pineal gland, thymus and the islets of Langerhans were found to play a remarkable role in the body’s economy by pouring their hormones into the blood stream. However, the thyroid was found to be the ‘Master gland’ (3), the ‘quickener of the tempo of life’ (1). As such, the thyroid controls the metabolic rate of every cell in your body, that is, how quickly the body is able to burn oxygen and glucose and turn it into fuel. The thyroid does this by producing and releasing hormones, the most important of which are T3 and T4.
When the thyroid is functioning properly, it keeps things balanced and running smoothly and all your organs and glands function well. In other words, this small butterfly shaped gland located in the neck and weighing less than an ounce, controls the body’s metabolism. The term ‘metabolism’ refers to the process by which food is transformed into energy and many vital chemical changes take place. Every organ, tissue, and cell is affected by the ‘sometimes less than a spoonful a year’ thyroid hormone released into the bloodstream. (1) This is very important to understand, and it is the reason the thyroid is the regulator of ‘EVERYTHING’ in the body. And because there is a receptor for thyroid hormone in every cell of the body, low thyroid can potentially affect any and all of the systems in the body. (4)
This can mean heart problems, if the cells affected are the heart cells, gut problems if the cells affected are the cells in the gut, and so on. In the case of impaired digestion this can translate into inability to produce enough stomach acid, enzymes, bile, etc. And because thyroid hormone is activated in the liver and gut, this in turn will affect the thyroid, becoming a ‘self feeding’ downward spiral .
The microscopic cell
Each cell in the body is like a microscopic power plant, it burns food and sets energy free in the form of heat. Thyroid secretion is essential for the work of the cell and determines how the fire gets inside the cell and the speed of activity in the cell. Since we have several trillion cells in the body, we could say that anything that influences how the cell operates is of extreme importance for all the organs of the body.
The minute secretion of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland is also responsible for:
Regulating the rate at which the body utilizes oxygen and the speed with which the body utilizes food
Regulating the body’s heat production. The thyroid is a kind of thermostat
Maintaining the circulatory system and blood volume
Maintaining muscle health (the heart is a muscle). With marked thyroid deficiency the muscles may become sluggish and infiltrated with fat
The thyroid also plays an important role in growth processes. With low thyroid, growth and maturation fail to take place normally: growth of the skin, hair, and nails may be retarded in thyroid deficiency and accelerated by thyroid treatment. Healing of the bones is delayed in thyroid deficiency. Severe anemia may also develop. Thyroid hormone is essential for normal nervous system functioning and reaction time, thus hypothyroidism may produce slow reactions and mental sluggishness. (1)
Symptoms of low thyroid
Because the thyroid controls everything in the body, an underactive thyroid can have many different symptoms:
- Cretinism: An extreme case of low thyroid which will cause the sufferer to underdevelop
- Circulatory disturbances
- High cholesterol levels (5)
- Extreme fatigue
- Severe headaches
- Repeated infections
- Slow and thick speech
- Weakness and listlessness to the point of apathy
- Dry and flaky skin and and brittle hair (5)
- Menstrual disturbances, and anemia caused by blood loss
- Memory and concentration difficulties
- Paranoid symptoms
- Feeling cold even in warm temperatures
- Muscle soreness and pain (5)
- Unexplained weight gain (5)
- Eye inflammation
Any person with hypothyroid fatigue fights an uphill battle, getting physically tired sooner and taking longer to recuperate. That person is more prone to mental as well as physical fatigue, and even after extended rest, the brain, like the rest of body, gets something less than adequate circulation. The mental fatigue, if severe enough, can be much like that of the battle fatigue suffered by soldiers during prolonged front line duty in war. (1)
Many of the symptoms of low thyroid will vary greatly from one victim to another. In the milder forms of hypothyroidism, we can also see many systems of the body affected, although not all may show the same degree and different organs may be affected. Many times the symptoms may look opposite, like low energy and hyperactivity.
According to the observations of Dr. Broda Barnes, after removal of the thyroid gland, excess amounts of water, salt, and protein are retained within the body, and blood cholesterol also goes up.
When fatigue and the impaired circulation that contributes to it lead to an accumulation of fluid in the tissues this can lead to headaches.
The thyroid-heart connection
One of the areas in which low thyroid can impact us is heart health, especially when it comes to controlling blood cholesterol levels.
Dr. Broda first started being aware of the importance of the thyroid for heart health when he realized the patients he was treating with thyroid hormone didn’t have heart attacks. At that time he was working with a group of 490 women aged 30-39, 60 and over, 172 of which were high risk women (high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels). There were also 382 men aged 30-39, 60 and over, 186 of which were at high risk of heart disease. Of the 19 cases of heart disease to be expected, only 2 developed heart disease among women and one among men. This meant that 94% of them were protected by thyroid therapy.
This realization made him eager to continue researching thyroid hormone. Dr. Broda found some studies on the thyroid that corroborated his observations. Two medical investigators in two different series of patients studied the frequency of symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism. They found that heart enlargement was present in 68% of 77 cases, palpitations were 31%, poor heart sounds 30%, and pain over the heart 25%.
A life’s work
One of Dr. Broda’s first jobs in graduate school was to teach endocrinology to medical students. Lab animals were used to demonstrate the influence of each of the endocrine glands: A gland would be removed and the results of its removal would be noted over a period of time. One of the most graphic demonstrations of low thyroid was when the thyroid gland was removed from baby rabbits and their fur became dry within 2 weeks. One week later they started losing weight and, as time passed, repeated infections became prevalent till they died at less than half the normal age. When thyroid was administered to some of these rabbits, there was a quick relief for their multiple problems and a seemingly miraculous return to health.
After obtaining his Ph. D. and going back to medical school, Dr. Broda saw many patients with health problems whose cause didn’t seem clear, or fit any usual category of disease. It was not long before he realized he was seeing patients who reminded him of those rabbits in the lab.
After graduating from med school, the tragic death of two of his patients changed the way he practiced medicine. He learned to never ignore any physical complaint from a patient even when there was not an immediate explanation for it. He started screening for hypothyroidism in any patient who showed symptoms that didn’t fit any disease category.
Dr. Broda continued to research the link between the thyroid and heart disease extensively. Evidence had been accumulating proving that the thyroid gland may play a role in hypertension. One of the first physicians to point out the role of hypothyroidism in artery disease was Dr. A. M. Fishberg. In ‘The Journal of the American Medical Association’, he cited the case of a 21 year old man who had died of pneumonia. The only physical abnormality he had was a blood pressure of 175/135. When the autopsy was performed his thyroid gland was found to be almost nonfunctioning, and had been almost replaced by fatty tissue. The deceased patient also had generalized atherosclerosis, which affected his kidney and other arteries. Dr. Fishberg suggested that hypothyroidism had caused the atherosclerosis and that it led to hypertension. After hearing about this case, Dr. Broda started being interested in the possible link between hypothyroidism and hypertension.
When he started studying goiter patients, all of them had high blood pressure. He found out that surgeries to remove an enlarged thyroid in order to prevent choking, caused their blood pressure to increase. The more thyroid gland that was removed, the higher the pressure was. When these patients were put on thyroid hormone, 95% showed satisfactory declines in blood pressure.
After learning this, Dr. Broda started paying attention to patients that had high blood pressure and treating them with thyroid hormone. The only patients that didn’t respond to thyroid medication were those with kidney disease. If the kidney artery became clogged, thyroid medication could not improve the circulation to the kidney.
He continued to study these two conditions: hypothyroidism and high blood pressure, this time in a heart disease follow up study he had in progress. The aim of the study was to determine what influence the correction of low thyroid function might have on heart disease. Patients on thyroid therapy showed improved protection against the development of elevated blood pressure if they didn’t have it when they entered the study. Those that did have the disease saw a decrease in their blood pressure even without antihypertensive medication. Only seven patients required antihypertensive medication.
Through his extensive research, Dr. Broda learned that thyroid deficiency tends to reduce the strength of the heartbeat. Also, the amount of blood pumped out to the body with each beat is reduced. In severe hypothyroidism, studies had shown that the blood circulation through the body may be reduced by as much as 40%, thus, the effective oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is only 60% of the normal. In milder cases of low thyroid function, the reduction of circulation is not that severe, but just a mild reduction can mean that less than normal amounts of oxygen are reaching the tissues.
The blood pressure system
Blood pressure is simply the force or push against the walls of the arteries as blood flows through them. Each time the heart beats, pumping out blood, the pressure in the arteries increases, and each time the heart relaxes between beats the pressure goes down. It is completely normal for blood pressure to fluctuate. It decreases during sleep and increases during physical exertion or emotional excitement. The body has the ability to adapt instantly to the need for blood in all organs and tissues. During sleep there is less effect of gravity and less pressure is needed to get blood to the brain so the pressure goes down. Pressure automatically goes up when we stand up as the body counters the gravity effect. It also automatically adapts to meet the different demands during work, exercise, etc.
There is a wide range of normal blood pressure. At rest, a 100/60 to 140/90 is considered normal, above that, on single instances, it can still be considered normal. The problem is when the elevation is continuous.
Hypertension can be present for years without symptoms and even when it presents symptoms like headache, dizziness, weakness or fatigue they may not be attributed to high blood pressure because they are common to other diseases. The problem with hypertension is that it can be doing damage without any symptoms.
When the heart must pump against excessive pressure, it has to pump harder. To accommodate to the extra burden, the heart must enlarge and carry on for years, this overstretched muscle may weaken and heartbeat abnormalities may follow. Just like a garden hose under a lot of pressure, the coronary arteries that feed the heart muscle may damage the artery walls and eventually narrow the arteries, reducing the blood flow to the heart. Not only this increases the likelihood of a heart attack but also its deadliness. The likelihood of a stroke too is increased, up to five times higher. According to Dr. Broda, “thyroid dificiency is the most potent factor in the development of atherosclerosis and heart attacks” (1)
Hypertension has also been found to be the principal reason for congestive heart failure. The failure develops when the heart’s pumping power becomes so impaired that not enough blood is circulating to provide sustenance for all tissues. The kidneys, from lack of circulation, can no longer remove enough water from the blood, and urine output drops while the retained water accumulates in the lungs and other tissues.
The causes of high blood pressure are numerous: narrowing of the aorta, obstruction to normal flow in a kidney artery, etc. However, the majority of high blood pressure, around 85-90%, has been considered to be ‘essential’ or ‘idiopathic’, meaning there is no definite physical cause. Dr. Broda believes the explanation is in the thyroid.
The low thyroid-high blood pressure link
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is usually a silent, potentially disabling and exceedingly common health problem. “Heart attacks are three to five commoner in hypertensives than in others, strokes, four times commoner, congestive heart failure, five times commoner. The risk of potentially fatal kidney failure- and also of blindness- is increased. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk. But even mild elevation of pressure, left untreated, can shorten life…Hypertension is not reserved only for certain age groups or for certain types of people. It affects men and women of every national origin and at every age.” (1)
The thyroid and cholesterol
In the human body, cholesterol is found in every cell in the body. Every cell has enzymes for the local production of cholesterol when needed. At the time of birth, the brain contains the enzymes for making cholesterol and as a child develops much more cholesterol is added to the central nervous system. In adults, cells in the brain and spinal cord are not replaced and enzymes disappear from these tissues. All other tissues in the body though continue to replace worn or damaged cells and the enzymes needed for production of cholesterol remain through life.
Even a vegetarian , who gets no cholesterol in his diet, has the normal amount of cholesterol in his blood and tissues because enzymes are capable of making the cholesterol that is needed. Non vegetarians, on the contrary, consume cholesterol and, in this case, the liver breaks down some of the excess cholesterol into bile salts and they are excreted in bile. In other words, if the diet does not contain enough cholesterol, the body will synthesize more cholesterol as need arises.
Cholesterol can be formed from the simplest foods, only a molecule containing two carbon atoms is necessary for the formation of the complex cholesterol molecule. Cholesterol rapid synthesis is a wonder of nature, and the fact that it is so quickly and easily manufactured from simple compounds is a proof of its importance.
A hen’s egg is high in cholesterol because the material is needed for the chick to develop. In the human body, the adrenal glands contain the highest concentration of cholesterol of any other tissue in the body. Cholesterol is the starting material for the synthesis of adrenal hormones needed for the maintenance of mineral and glucose metabolism and to ready the body for quick action in emergency situations. The brain and spinal cord contain one fourth of the body’s total cholesterol in the body. Some of it is in connective tissue and some is also believed to be part of nerve fibers’ insulation. The skin contains 10% of the body’s total cholesterol and sunlight converts this cholesterol into vitamin D, essential to bone metabolism. Cholesterol is also found in bone marrow, where red blood cells are formed.
Rudolph Virchow, the father of pathology, demonstrated that when tissue degenerated, large amounts of cholesterol were liberated. He clearly showed that cholesterol did not cause the damage to the tissue, but rather, it was released as a result of the damage. Repetedly, other pathologists confirmed this same idea: cholesterol is not present in great amounts at the beginning of the degenerative process but after this is well advanced. A significant discovery was that when artery lining is healthy, cholesterol in the blood moves in and out the lining, but when the lining is damaged, cholesterol moves in more readily than out, and this happens even when cholesterol levels are normal.
In experiments with rabbits resistant to cholesterol, they found that removing thyroid hormone quickly increased their levels of cholesterol and atherosclerosis developed. When administered thyroid hormone the opposite effect happened.
Despite all these significant findings, evidence began to build against cholesterol, which according to the author has caused much confusion.
In 1950, Dr. Broda started pretreating new patients with a chest X-ray for heart size, an electrocardiogram and blood studies including checks for cholesterol levels. He decided to run a scientific study in which 1,569 patients were encouraged to eat abundant fat, eggs and extra butter. While thyroid was being administered, 95% of the patients showed blood cholesterol within normal range. Even those that had higher cholesterol levels never had heart attacks. The majority of the subjects stayed in this diet for 20 years, and all of them stayed a minimum of 2 years. At the end of the 20 years, only 4 heart attacks occurred, all in men, the youngest was 56, the oldest 61. In these four cases, the thyroid dosage was only 2 grains a day, which may have been low.
A government’s study known as the Framingham study in 1949 and officially termed ‘The Heart Disease Epidemiology Study’, followed more than 5,000 men and women in order to determine who would develop coronary heart disease. None of the participants received thyroid hormone and around 800 died of a heart attack. This represented a 94% of protection with thyroid hormone.
Low thyroid and artery degeneration
There was a total of 30 heart attacks among those patients that stopped thyroid therapy. The autopsy of one of these victims revealed that both coronary arteries were almost completely closed off by arteriosclerosis. Other patients’ autopsies, this time performed by Dr. William M. Ord, revealed that the thyroid was almost completely destroyed, the heart was enlarged and many arteries diseased, containing deposits of foreign material that narrowed them greatly.
Upon researching the topic, Dr. Broda found that the influence of thyroid deficiency on the artery system had been well studied in the early 1900’s, a group of doctors defined the condition in which the arteries become prematurely damaged by arteriosclerosis as ‘myxedema’ and ‘myxedema heart’. They treated patients with enlarged hearts with thyroid hormone, after which their heart shrank to normal size.
Despite the importance of these findings, Dr. Broda thinks this knowledge has been forgotten because heart disease was not prevalent in the early 1900’s.
Thyroid deficiency can produce many changes in the body which encourage heart problems. One of the most important is the deposition of foreign substances in the arteries. Other changes are high blood pressure, but thyroid therapy has proven to lower it. Blood clots are also more prevalent and heart attacks occur more often because the clot blocks a completely narrowed atherosclerotic artery. However, with thyroid therapy, blood clotting activity returns to normal. “A rational approach to the prevention of heart attacks calls for the recognition of thyroid deficiency.” (1)
(1) Barnes, Broda O., and Lawrence Galton. Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness. New York: Crowell, 1976. Print.
(2) “VITAL Solutions: Dr. Ritamarie’s Nutritional Strategies for Restoring and Maintaining Thyroid Health.” Dr Ritamaries Vibrant Living and Energy Recharge Natural Health Solutions VITAL Solutions Dr Ritamaries Nutritional Strategies for Restoring and Maintaining Thyroid Health Recording Series Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.
(3) Loscalzo, Dr. Ritamarie. “Thyroid Revive and Thrive.” Gluten Free Diet, Living Foods and Raw Foods for Vibrant Health, Adrenal Fatigue, Irritable Bowel and Chronic Exhaustion. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.
(5) “7 Signs of an Underactive Thyroid.” DrJockerscom. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.