I had been feeling tired, ‘tired to the bone’ often after exercise. I had just had a birthday, (I am in my early 40s) and it had been five years since my last blood test. So I visited my GP and consequently had a full blood test. My GP sent me a copy of the result, in relation to my thyroid, with a hand written note.
‘Heather your thyroid looks like it is becoming under active – can you get this test repeated in one month to double check. All other results are OK.’
Results: Thyroid stimulating Hormone (TSH): 10.3mIUL (range should be 0.05 – 4.00).
It was three days before Christmas, 2007. I had been experiencing years of good health since having a hysterectomy when I was 34, and had been deliberately avoiding doctors (unless it was absolutely necessary). I decided to base my health care on home remedy practices, as I felt as if I were not in control of my body’s destiny. I knew I was doing myself a favour in listening to my body and by endeavouring to do what I could to prevent this illness – so I had one month to try to help my body to produce the healthy range of TSH and set my mind to doing so. Otherwise I could look forward to seeing an endocrinologist and taking thyroxin in order to supply the hormone that my body was unable to produce to enable my thyroid to function properly.
What is the thyroid gland and what does it do?
The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck just below the larynx, secretes hormones that control metabolism. These hormones are thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. Such underactivity of the thyroid gland may cause a variety of symptoms and may affect all body functions. The body’s normal rate of functioning slows, causing mental and physical sluggishness. There are varying causes of this condition – autioimmuniological as well as deficiency of the hormone thyroxin (Medline Plus Medical Encyclopaedia). I had noticed a few of the symptoms relating to hypothyroidism the symptoms being; a feeling of sluggishness, difficulty in losing weight, hair loss, eye brows not growing back after plucking them, brittle nails and low blood pressure ( although I’d always had low BP).
Other symptoms can be: delayed relaxation of muscles during reflex tests; firm swelling of the arms and legs; mental slowing; a slow heart rate and low temperature. A chest x-ray may show an enlarged heart and additional laboratory abnormalities may include : increased cholesterol levels; increased liver enzymes; increased serum prolactin; low serum sodium, and anaemia.
‘Folk Medicine’ the book
I remembered reading the book ‘Folk Medicine, the Honey and Cider-Vinegar way to Health’ by Dr D.C Jarvis, some years before. Although the book was first published in 1960 and the last publishing was in 1968 it drew from over 100 years of life experiences in managing family health and I was willing to test out its claims. After this note from my doctor, I remembered that book had talked a lot about the importance of iodine in order to assist thyroid function – so I picked it up and studied it again but this time more closely.
The book’s main philosophy is its claim that as we grow older we need to ensure that we have a diet high in potassium and it presents varying ways in which we can obtain high levels of this mineral in the form of green leaves, plant and tree buds, tree barks, plant roots, fruits of the grape vine, cranberry bush and apples. It highly recommends taking apple cider vinegar – (two teaspoons) with a glass of water three times a day with meals, as a way of changing or stabilising the body’s pH level to be alkaline rather than acidic. It claims that by following these principles we could improve our overall health, prevent disease and greatly improve if not cure the symptoms of many ailments including arthritis. Dr Jarvis originally conceived the idea to write the book as he was a fifth generation Vermonter and although had trained in conventional medicine had recognised another form of medicine, folk medicine relating to the inhabitants of Vermont who lived close to the soil, which had not been part of his formal training. His intention was to write the book for his daughter and her descendants to guarantee their good health but later decided to expand it. “My wish for it is that it may bring knowledge and understanding of the nature and long successful uses of folk medicine to anyone interested in daily increased vitality from childhood through maturity to satisfying active old age” (Jarvis, Folk Medicine, page 8, 1961).
I had applied a similar philosophy when I had had colds or ‘flu in the past, based on the Dr Hay diet, of not consuming proteins with carbohydrates in order to keep the body alkaline (proteins causing the body to be too acidic and therefore producing too much mucous) and this practise had kept me off antibiotics for 15 years.
I immediately went to my local pharmacist with my first blood test result. She recommended that I begin taking kelp tablets in order to obtain iodine but also informed me that I will probably have to go on thyroxin tablets for life.
I immediately changed many aspects of my diet:
· Two teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar made from whole apples in a glass of water with my three main meals per day, beginning to sip the first upon rising. If one finds this unpalatable Dr Jarvis recommended a teaspoonful of honey mixed in.
· There are two chapters relating to my condition; ‘The usefulness of kelp’ and also ‘The importance of iodine’. I won’t go into too much detail but the theory is that as we get older if we are not able to include in our diet enough iodine from our soil-based diet then we need to ensure we eat from the sea and that by eating kelp we are maintaining our iodine levels. I began to take one kelp tablet per day immediately after breakfast.
· In his chapter, ‘The Usefulness of honey’, Dr Jarvis also emphasises the importance of honey in replacing sugar where possible, as it is full of life giving properties; iron, copper, manganese, silica, chlorine, calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, aluminium and magnesium, this being because they are derived from the soil via the plants from which the bees extract the nectar. So on my breakfast instead of sugar I used a teaspoon of honey. He believes honey to be easily digested, it being pre-digested, and that it also has anti-bacterial properties. He claims honey, and also honeycomb, can be a remedy for many ailments including; arthritis, bed-wetting, burns, as a sedative, cough remedy, muscle cramps, hay fever, stuffy nose, nasal sinusitis, disorders of the breathing tract and athletic nutrition.
· In ‘Your Racial Pattern & Folk Medicine’ Dr Jarvis explains how different racial characteristics in humans is a natural part of folk medicine. In Europe the three white racial strains are Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. For my body type, I learnt from this chapter that I should eat from the sea as my ancestors did: fish, other seafood and kelp. Consequently I removed muscle meat from my diet and began this new eating regime.
· I also did some research on the internet with regard to drinking water, as there is fluoride and chlorine in my Melbourne water supply. I gleaned from two medical sites that these chemicals can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb minerals. I had my plumber install a tap with a filter connected to my water tank in my kitchen sink.
After three days of adopting this new lifestyle regime I observed that I felt constantly hot. This feeling of heat and hot flushes and a feeling of renewed energy lasted for three whole days. I felt sure that it must be my metabolic rate increasing. From that point on I didn’t feel the need to have a mid-afternoon rest and I had more energy and a feeling of calmness than I had had for a very long time, possibly for years. Was this the result of my new diet? Or was it a combination of the fact this whole month I was on holidays from my demanding and at times very stressful job as a secondary teacher?
After one month I redid the blood test and to my delight and relief (although I was aware that I had been feeling very energetic) my TSH level had greatly reduced to being within the healthy range. So from its being 10.3mIUL it became 3.57mIUL!
Causes of hypothyroidism
Risk factors include; age over 50 years, female gender, obesity, thyroid surgery and exposure to the neck to X-ray or radiation treatment. (Medline Plus Medical Encyclopaedia: Hypothyroidism, page 2, 20/12/07).
So why did my thyroid have difficulty producing thyroxin? It is quite common for women post-menopause to experience a change in thyroid function. I had had a hysterectomy but I had taken a prescribed but close to natural as possible HRT for over ten years. So I am not sure if this might be relevant in my case.
Why I became close to having the condition hypothyroidism remains a mystery but I will certainly repeat the blood test every year, if I can continue to stay well, and hopefully will not feel the need to repeat it sooner. Now that I eat like a Nordic and follow folk medicine laws I should be able to live a long and healthy life, along with practising yoga, walking, sailing, making time for my family… gosh there’s so much more to do and now I have the energy to do it!
· D.C. Jarvis M.D, 1961, ‘Folk Medicine. The Honey and Cider-Vinegar Way to Health’, originally published in 1960 by W.H.Allen & Co.
(My edition published in 1961 by Pan Books Ltd., 33 Tothill St, London, S.W.1.)
· ‘Medline Plus’ Medical Encyclopaedia: Hypothyroidism. Retrieved 20/12/07
Heather Forbes is a secondary Drama & Health Teacher who is currently undertaking her M.A in Writing & Literature at Deakin University, Geelong Victoria. Heather resides on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, is a mother of two teenage sons, a sailor, writer and yoga devotee.
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