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RECOVERY FROM HYPERTHYROIDISM
My hyperthyroidism began in July of 1997. I was 53 years old and feeling really great, exercising a lot, bodybuilding, and taking numerous supplements such as ginseng, pine bark (Phytonol) and grape seed extracts, free amino acids, L-carnitine, DHEA (100 mg/day), pregnenelone, Co-Q-10, ginkgo biloba, L-arginine and L-ornithine, kotu kola, various testosterone boosting herbs, primrose and fish oils, garlic capsules, melatonin at night, nearly complete vitamin and mineral supplements, 8-10 grams of vitamin C, and had just started taking creatine for muscle building. I was flying high and felt tremendous. I played full-court basketball three times a week, roller bladed, hiked, mountain biked, lifted weights, generally exercised about 4 hours a day, and had a high sex drive.
I had just bought a new aluminum road racing bike, was riding 50 miles 2-3 times a week, and was enjoying racing other bikers at the beach. One day as I was going all out on the bike I felt a weird flutter in my heart so I let up and it went away. It kept recurring and within a few weeks I was waking up in the early morning with a few minutes of rapid heart beat. Over the next couple of months it got worse and I gradually quit taking the long list of supplements I was using in an effort to determine if one of them was the cause.
By the beginning of October I was having difficulty exercising because my heart would start racing too fast and I'd have to stop and rest. I started keeping a diary of all my food and supplement intake, activities, and a record of how I felt. I found that some foods like pasta and salads with ample fresh-pressed garlic seemed to aggravate my condition. Some foods seemed to bother me and some helped, but I couldn't make sense of the whole situation. As I gradually eliminated more foods and more nutritional supplements, I got sicker and sicker.
By the middle of October I was really sick, having periods of rapid heart beat, violent shaking, and sweating at all times of the day. I'm talking about total "will I live or will I die" panic!! I would walk around, breathing deep, until they passed. These were episodes that I would later learn were "thyroid storms." I didn't know it at the time, but these storms can be extremely serious. It's not unusual for the heart rate to get up to 150 beats per minute or more. Some people have heart attacks and some people die.
At this point I couldn't exercise at all. When I tried to play basketball I would get red and my heart rate would escalate to the point where I had to stop after only a couple minutes. The slightest thing would send my heart racing. In just a few weeks I had lost about 20 lbs from my already lean body and lost 1/3 of my muscle strength.
I have a nutritionally oriented doctor and went to see him. Blood tests showed extremely high thyroid levels and TSH near zero. Ultrasound showed definite abnormalities in the structure of the thyroid. He put me on PTU, a drug to counter the overactive thyroid, and recommended a radioactive iodine test to see what was going on in my thyroid.
After 4 days on PTU I discovered that by taking very large quantities of calcium and magnesium, I could control the thyroid storms and rapid heart beat. Whenever my heart started racing, I would take 6 cal/mag capsules and within 20 minutes I'd get relief. I was able to stop taking the PTU and never did go in for the radioactive iodine test. I consider my doctor an excellent nutritionist but he told me there was no cure for hyperthyroidism, only management. In fact he told me the same thing that many nutrition books say, to increase my zinc consumption. When I tried this my hyper symptoms increased even more.
I was extremely concerned about my condition. I had always been my primary doctor and had studied nutrition for 27 years. I had managed to overcome every heath problem that I had ever faced through nutrition, but this was a very unique and perplexing situation. Nearly every supplement that I tried caused my hyper symptoms to increase. Before long it seemed like I couldn't find anything that was helping, so I started reading everything and experimenting on myself to find the cause and cure.
One of my first attempts at solving the problem was to do what I always have done when I got sick in the past--use a combination of raw foods and fasting. Much to my surprise, eating only raw foods for 4-5 days and complete fasting for 3 days only made my condition worse. This helped convince me that I was dealing with nutritional deficiencies. The mystery was what was I deficient in?
Gradually I started finding things that helped. I started taking 6 capsules of calcium/magnesium (I found Solaray's Calcium/Magnesium Citrate best--6 capsules provide 1000 mg of cal and 1000 mg of magnesium--most cal/mag supplements have a 2:1 ratio, but the 1:1 ratio seemed much better) every 4 hours, 24 hours a day, and sometimes up to 36 capsules a day. I also eliminated all iodine from my diet. This controlled the storms of rapid heartbeat, but I didn't seem to be getting any better.
The magnesium is extremely important. About three months before I developed hyperT, I began having neck pain and stiffness. I didn't think much about it, but when I found that I had hyperT, I started getting chiropractic adjustments. They didn't seem to help, but by mistake I got a supplement from my chiropractor that he told me was calcium and magnesium. After three days taking it I felt much worse with more severe rapid heart rate. I had the chiropractor check with the manufacturer to see if there was magnesium in the supplement. He reported back to me that that batch contained only calcium. Through this mistake I found that calcium without magnesium makes the hyper symptoms much worse. The magnesium is more important than the calcium.
One morning I was really desperate. I was feeling terrible and spent the morning poring through nutrition books looking for some clue. I read about biotin and although the book stated that there had never been a documented case of biotin deficiency in someone who wasn't eating raw egg whites, the symptoms of biotin deficiency sounded a lot like what I was experiencing. I read that egg whites contain avidin which is a substance which binds with the B vitamin biotin preventing the body from being able to use it.
That morning I also took (2) 2 mg Copper, selenium, and some liquid trace elements. I was desperate and scraping the bottom of the nutritional barrel. At lunch I barely had any appetite and ordered a small cup of bean soup. I took a couple biotin tablets. Before long I started feeling better and my appetite returned. I ordered more soup and wound up eating a good sized meal for a change. The next morning I entered the following in my diary, "Feeling Better!! Pretty sure I had a copper deficiency which caused my hyperthyroidism."
I started taking copper supplements every day (at this point I didn't realize the trace minerals were important), but I didn't feel any better and concluded that it wasn't a copper deficiency. I took copper on and off for the next few months. I was gradually improving but never made the association between taking copper and improving because I was experimenting with so many different things in a desperate effort to get better.
For awhile, I thought that maybe I had aluminum poisoning. My hair mineral analysis showed high levels of aluminum and I reasoned that I might have ingested aluminum from my bike when pealing and eating oranges without first washing my hands. There is a possibility that excess aluminum contributed to a depletion of copper.
I felt poisoned and kept looking for something in my food or environment which might be toxic. Now I feel that mineral deficiencies resemble poisoning because a deficiency of one mineral allows other minerals to be in excess. This has been my history: when I get sick I always think I'm poisoned so I go on a raw food or fruit diet or fast and stop my supplements. This has always made my condition worse until I've discovered my deficiency and rectified it.
Over the next few months I experimented with a large number of supplements, taking them for a while and then stopping. I was gradually feeling better but didn't know why. I would occasionally have a great day, being able to exercise without heart problems and then would have a long bad period. Gradually I gained weight and put back the 20 lbs. I had lost. By December I was feeling better overall, but still having bad days.
By April, 1998, I had read everything I could find on thyroid and experimented with just about every supplement available. I found that there is virtually no helpful information anywhere on hyperthyroidism. On April 23 I read Joel Wallach's book, "Rare Earths and Forbidden Cures." Wallach has spent his life researching diseases caused by mineral deficiencies and in a table of copper deficiency diseases, he listed hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism was not listed in the index, so it took a mineral by mineral study to find this information.
Wallach says that a copper deficiency is very serious and can lead to life-ending liver disease and instant-death aneurysms besides causing hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. One of the first indications of deficiency is white hair. I started studying my diary for correlations between taking copper and feeling better. I did find a correlation, but it was with taking both copper and trace minerals at the same time. I immediately started taking copper and trace minerals and found that within hours I felt better!! I also found a correlation with feeling better after taking boron, so I started taking 6 mg of boron daily. Only recently have I found that boron supplementation increases estrogen and testosterone, thereby lessening the effect of excessive progesterone.
The reason it had taken so long to find what was helping me was that it was a combination of minerals. When I had taken the copper by itself I had felt better a day or two later, but when I took it with trace minerals I felt better right away. Apparently there are a group of minerals in the trace element supplement that work with copper to regulate the thyroid. It's possible that one of these beneficial minerals in the trace mineral supplement was boron, but it's also possible that there are more.
I tried to cut down on the amount of cal/mag that I take but found that I still needed about 18 capsules a day. If I take less, I start getting pains in my teeth. Silicon is also supposed to assist cal/mag utilization so I also took that. I have gradually been getting better and my last symptom of a few minutes of rapid heart beat when I first wake at about 4-6 am has gradually decreased. I had been taking (2) 2 mg of copper a day since April and in the middle of August I doubled it to 4 a day (8mg) as an experiment. At the beginning of September I increased the copper to 12 mg and have felt even better. (The Nutrition Almanac states that people can safely take up to 35 mg of copper a day.) I take 6 tablets of Mezotrace brand trace elements daily. I was also taking up to 100 mg of zinc a day, but have since experimented and feel that taking this zinc probably delayed my recovery from hyperT. Stopping zinc for two weeks recently eliminated all symptoms and I recently recorded my resting heart rate at 43 beats per minute--a long way from the usual 90-100 and up when I had hyperT. I started taking zinc again, but a lesser amount, and now take 5-8 mgs of copper a day.
An interesting thing happened in June. One morning I woke up early feeling terrible. My heart was beating very slowly and I was cold and exhausted. I was really bad off for about a day until I realized I had gone hypothyroid because of my strict iodine restriction. I started taking kelp tablets and felt better in about 4 hours. Be aware that if you restrict your iodine intake as I did, the same thing can happen to you. That is why I now recommend reintroducing kelp or iodine as soon as the hyper symptoms subside. If you were to take kelp without copper, there is the possibility of aggravating your hyperthyroidism, but after you've been taking copper (and selenium) for awhile, you shouldn't have a problem with iodine. Some books, including my endocrinology textbook, state that hyperthyroid symptoms can be alleviated with massive doses of iodine and that doctors sometimes use that technique. That may be possible but I wouldn't recommend doing that.
Now I feel great and can exercise as much as I want--full-court basketball for three hours or a 50 mile bike ride--no heart problems at all. The only remnant of the disease at all is a slight feeling in my thyroid gland which is gradually disappearing.
I feel that the most important deficiency that I had was copper and when I look back at my diet I understand how I became deficient. The foods high in copper are shellfish (oysters, clams, crab and lobster), organ meats like liver, dried fruits like raisons and dates, beans, beer made in copper vats, and chocolate. I had avoided many of these foods because I thought they were bad for me. I was avoiding dried fruits and chocolate as much as possible.
Another result of copper deficiency is copper-deficiency anemia, which is similar to iron-deficiency anemia. This would explain why people with hyperthyroidism have such low levels of physical and mental energy. They call it "brain fog". I remember feeling the lethargy and inability to think when I was sick. My present mental clarity is such a contrast to my foggy thinking during hyperthyroidism, that I'm amazed that I was able to figure out what was wrong and make corrections. This fuzzy, anemic thinking during hyperthyroidism is a major obstacle in overcoming the disease. People get so weak that it's difficult to do the right things to get well.
Why do we get too much zinc and too little copper? Most meats are high in zinc and low in copper. People don't eat enough of the high copper foods. Also, many women are concerned about osteoporosis and are taking one of the popular calcium-magnesium-zinc supplements. Other people use zinc lozenges for colds. Taking zinc supplements without copper will create a copper deficiency.
Why do women become hyperthyroid more than men? Women seem to need more copper than men. It seems that many women first become hyperthyroid at the onset of menstruation as a teenager, during pregnancy or shortly after the birth of a child, or at menopause. Loss of blood during menstruation will deplete copper since copper is a part of hemoglobin. Copper can be depleted in a woman during pregnancy since the baby's needs come first. The mother loses a lot of minerals to the growing baby and as her body increases the amount of blood to meet both her and the baby's needs, she may become deficient in copper.
Another reason women may need more copper is that estrogen requires copper for its manufacture. Progesterone and testosterone require zinc for production. Excess zinc and too little copper causes too much progesterone and too little estrogen. Since progesterone seems to stimulate the thyroid and estrogen suppresses the thyroid, a high progesterone to estrogen ratio stimulates the thyroid too much. Chocolate craving seems to be a sure sign of copper deficiency and at the end of the menstrual cycle, as progesterone is peaking, women usually crave chocolate to increase the estrogen.
For a healthy person I believe that zinc and copper should probably always be taken together to avoid an imbalance and possible thyroid disease. My theory is that zinc and copper work as a pair (like calcium and magnesium or sodium and potassium) to regulate the thyroid (And I feel that it is quite likely that other minerals are involved also.) An excess of zinc with too little copper may lead to hyperthyroidism and too little zinc with too much copper may lead to hypothyroidism. I was taking zinc without copper when I became hyperthyroid.
This is just a theory at this point, but if it is correct you could think of zinc as the accelerator and copper as the brakes. If you have hyperthyroidism, it is because of a deficiency in copper--your brakes are gone! And if you have hypothyroidism (and plenty of iodine in your diet), it indicates that you are deficient in zinc (and other minerals like selenium)--your accelerator is not working.
So far I have not had one person with hyperthyroidism tell me that they were supplementing with copper (over .5 mg a day) either before or after getting ill. Several people told me that they were supplementing with zinc without copper (as I was). One woman with hypothyroidism said that she had been tested and had high copper levels. I think that hypothyroids (low thyroid output) have to increase their intake of zinc in relation to copper so that their thyroids will increase hormone production.
Wallach states that copper is essential for iodine utilization and is therefore critical for thyroid health. He says the optimum ratio of zinc to copper is about 8:1 (8 mg. of zinc for each 1 mg. of copper). Other sources have stated the optimum to be between 7:1 and 10:1. These ratios are for normal, healthy people. Hypers seem to have too much zinc and not enough copper, so supplementing with copper without zinc at the beginning seems to work the quickest to restore the proper zinc/copper balance and normal thyroid activity. A very small amount of zinc should be added when the energy level drops and then gradually increased.
I want to give you two lists: First, a list of all the supplements which I have taken during my recovery and which seem important to suppressing hyperthyroidism. Each supplement I take I've tested and re-tested many times to make sure it makes me feel better.
Second, I want to give you a list of supplements I've experimented with many times and have concluded affect me adversely. I would recommend that if you are taking supplements to examine each one very carefully. Correct food choices are very important. It's possible that consumption of high zinc foods like meats and not enough copper foods like beans, shellfish, and liver may increase hyperT.
Copper (6-10 mgs. of amino acid chelated copper). I have experimented by taking up to 15 mg a day and am now taking 8 mg. I felt no difference between 8 and 15, but I recommend no more than 12 mg a day. If you only take one supplement make sure it's copper--I believe that it's the critical deficiency in hyperT.
Iron--works with copper and is essential for correction of anemia and hyperT. Take 18-36 mg a day, depending on your iron levels.
Sulfur--I took 2 tablets of MSM (methylsulfonylmethane, 500 mg.) per day. I think sulfur is essential for copper metabolism and seems to be involved in several inhibitory processes which may suppress thyroid function.
Silicon. From horsetail.
Boron (6 mgs. a day). I used Boron throughout my recovery and now believe it is vitally important in recovery from hyperT.
Trace Elements (An ionic trace element seems best, colloidal next best-- take the recommended amount).
Calcium/Magnesium (I've experimented with everything and found Solaray's Calcium/Magnesium Citrate works best for me--6 capsules provide 1000 mg of cal and 1000 mg of mag--most supplements give you more calcium than magnesium but I think the extra magnesium is important in controlling the rapid heart rate. The cal/mag seems to control the heart problems and prevent bone loss which happens in hyperT, but doesn't seem to help you get over hyperT. I took up to 36 capsules a day when I was really sick. Calcium is reported to decrease cellular sensitivity to thyroid hormone, while potassium increases sensitivity.
B-1 (200-500 mg a day). B-1 (thiamine) seems to be the critical B vitamin for copper utilization. A B-1 deficiency can cause inflammation of the optic nerve where is exits the back of the eye. B-1 and copper deficiencies may be the cause of eye involvement and protrusion in Grave's. My endocrine textbook says that the eye involvement is definitely not due to excess thyroid hormone.
B-2 (100-200 mg a day). Seems to assist copper and boron utilization and helps eye problems.
Niacin (100-200 mg a day). Seems to assist in copper utilization and helps hyperT. Start with a small amount (25 mg) and work up. Causes a harmless flush when you're deficient. Niacin is not replaced by niacinamide.
More protein--amino acids transport minerals to the cells, so proteins are vital. Try to eat the high copper proteins like beans etc. and eat less of the high zinc proteins.
More fats--to increase hormone production, especially estrogen, which is a thyroid suppressor.
Yogurt supplies vitamin K which may work with boron to produce estrogen and testosterone.
POSSIBLE NEGATIVE SUPPLEMENTS: Many of these essential nutrients may be in excess in hyperthyroidism can be reduced until the severe symptoms subside. Once the thyroid and heart rate slow, they may be re-introduced with caution. It's possible that other deficiencies may occur if these are discontinued for too long, so be careful.
Iodine (or Kelp) This is necessary for thyroid production, but it may be necessary to limit iodine intake until copper is built up to avoid serious hyper symptoms. Once copper is built up and the pulse drops (or if you go hypo), resume normal iodine intake.
Manganese--May need to be avoided for a long time. If your hair analysis shows low manganese, wait until you've been taking copper for awhile, and then take a small amount. Be cautious.
Selenium--Might be wise to not take this until copper is built up some, since selenium helps the T4 to t3 conversion. However, selenium is essential to thyroid health and should be taken as soon as it is tolerated.
Iron--Iron in excess is a copper antagonist and will deplete copper levels and make hyper symptoms worse. Take about 5 mg of iron for each mg of copper.
Zinc--This seems to be the major stimulator of the thyroid and should probably be avoided until the hyper symptoms subside and the heart rate comes down. However, zinc is a very necessary nutrient and needs to be supplemented in small but increasing quantities as you recover. Low energy can indicate that zinc is needed.
B-6--This seems to be the major B vitamin which increases utilization of zinc. Stopping intake of this slows down the utilization of zinc which is already in your body and seems to make a big difference in slowing the thyroid.
Vitamin C (over 500-1000 mg a day) High amounts of C seem to aggravate hyperT, possibly by interfering with cal/mag and copper absorption.
Excess vitamin E (take 400 IU or less)
Multiple vitamin/mineral supplements--a problem because of zinc, iodine, and manganese.
B-Complex--a problem because the B-6 increases zinc utilization.
Ginseng (contains zinc and possibly stimulates progesterone production).
DHEA (seems to increase progesterone production.)
Pregnenelone (same as DHEA)
Testosterone stimulating herbs
Pine bark extracts like Pycnogenol and Phytonol
Grape seed extract
Any body building supplements or protein powders (milk and eggs contain growth hormone which may stimulate the thyroid)
Progesterone, especially synthetic forms such as Provera. I have not experimented with these but they seem to increase thyroid production.
Birth control pills--very often are synthetic progesterones.
FOODS TO AVOID UNTIL YOUR COPPER LEVELS INCREASE:
Green leafy vegetables, like lettuce, spinach, chard, etc.
Iodized salt and foods with iodine.
Garlic and other high selenium foods.
All dairy products except butter--there is too much calcium and not enough magnesium in dairy products. Butter seems to be beneficial.
All white flour products--bread, pasta, etc. (may contain iodine as a preservative)
Once you have been taking copper for awhile, you should be able to resume consumption of these foods without a problem.
Many people have asked me if I know of any health professional who could help them with their hyperthyroidism. This nutritional approach to these diseases is completely new and it seems there are very few doctors, endocrinologists, or alternative practitioners who are aware of this approach. On the other hand, you need a doctor for anti-thyroid medications and blood tests so you can control the serious symptoms until your health recovers. Don't be mad at your doctor because he or she doesn't have the information to help you. They are doing the best that they can with the information that is available to them.
On the other hand be very careful. Doctors don't know about the connections between hormone supplementation and thyroid effects. Most don't know that Provera or other synthetic progesterones stimulate the thyroid and possibly cause hyperthyroidism. Also be aware that alternative health professionals may give incorrect information. I was told of one alternative practitioner who prescribed thyroid hormone or tyrosine (a thyroid hormone precursor) for hyperthyroidism, which makes the problem much worse. Your best strategy is to educate yourself. The people working at this site are devoted to research and sharing our findings. This group effort is so much more powerful than working on your own, so be a part of the group.
My recommendation is that you take control of your disease yourself, get help from a nutritionist or nutritionally oriented doctor if you can find a good one and to work with our group at this site so that we and many others may benefit from our work. I hope to hear your input.
John L. Johnson