25 February 2020

When Your Health Turns On You: #Hypothyroidism –– 2: Vitamins + Minerals

The backstory for those just joining me: 

During 2017 I was suffering lots of weird health symptoms, the most concerning being that my brain refused to function properly – hardly a useful trait in a novelist. April 2018 a lump developed on my neck: a swelling on my thyroid. A GP’s blood tests indicated I might develop Hypothyroidism, whereas symptoms and antibodies emphasised that I was suffering Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disorder. I am writing this series of daily posts because if you don’t recognise the signs your health could turn on you. I don’t recommend it. Read Post-1 in full HERE.

Note: I’m British and live in the UK. We have a National Health Service, free at the point of access, paid for via our taxes. Your mileage may differ, even if you live in the UK.

August 2018. After three months eating six Brazil and almond nuts a day, although I still wasn’t right I felt fantastic in comparison to how I’d been previously. Brazil nuts carry a massive amount of Selenium – 990%DV (daily value) according to MyFoodData. It is one of the minerals which helps the thyroid convert the inactive hormone T4 into the active hormone T3 the body can use at cell level to balance a person’s metabolism. If you are blinking at that sentence you’ll understand the trouble I was having when my brain refused to work and all I wanted to do was sleep. Thankfully there’s a very good explanation on the website of charity Thyroid-UK.

Two questions became pressing:
– If my body was missing Selenium what other minerals and vitamins was it missing?
– As I eat the recommended ‘good balanced diet’, why was my body missing any?

November 2018 I put these questions to my own GP (GP-1) when I visited for annual blood tests to monitor my ongoing high blood pressure [flag]. A shrug. I persevered: Surely there were blood tests for vitamin levels? A shrug. Didn’t my normal blood tests (Full Blood Count, Urea & Electrolytes, Lipids) show anything? They’re fine.

 I reiterate the point I made in Post-1: They’re fine means the tests are  “within range”.
You can be very ill but your blood tests can return “within range”.

I requested the lump still protruding on my neck be checked – not necessary – and asked for advice about the dry state of my skin, feet to knees [huge flag]. It was suggested coconut oil might help. (It didn’t.)

I was despondent. There had to be information somewhere that could put me on the right track. My mental capabilities had plateaued and I still couldn’t grasp words enough to write fiction. However, prep was looming for Christmas-2 so my concerns were allowed to lie. I stayed on the daily six Brazil and almond nuts.

January 2019 arrived and with it a New Year’s Resolution: I was going to sort this, with or without help from the local medical practice.

I’d found the Thyroid-UK charity; it has a support group but I wasn’t enamoured. Where to look for something more suitable? Where do we look for any groups? Facebook. Almost immediately I found Hypothyroid-UK. I was vetted and welcomed. There are over 7,000 participants in this closed group and it opened my eyes to the appalling state of medical knowledge and response to symptoms far more debilitating than mine. In truth, my experiences showed I was getting off light.

The first thing I learned was that I – everyone – should always request print-outs of their test results. Some medical practices have these easily available online if you sign up, but the online presence of mine only offers appointments. Second, Vitamin B12, Folate, Vitamin D, and Ferritin (iron storage) constitute the default panel of vitamins and minerals which need to be tested, if, as I later discovered, the local Clinical Commissioning Group allows its designated laboratory to test them. Those quiet shrugs from GP-1 had been to fob me off. Why not tell me the truth? I was not amused.

The third thing I learned was that a book by Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield came highly recommended. I checked the Thyroid-UK site and found it recommended there, too: Your Thyroid and how to keep it healthy - 2nd edition of The Great Thyroid Scandal and How to Survive it.  Its title says it all.

When I realised the author was focussing on the use of vitamins and minerals, I bought a copy. It was the best thing I could have done, as can be seen from the proliferation of yellow tags in the image. Other titles/authors are available.  In fact, there are a profusion of books, some carrying titles equally sharp.

In my state of below-par comprehension my chosen book took some reading, even though it was written for sufferers of the condition. However, one simple paragraph stood out like a revelation: people with Hashimoto’s antibodies don’t have Hypothyroidism, they have a compromised immune system causing Hypothyroidism. I was looking in the wrong place. Or maybe I wasn’t: as I eat the recommended “good balanced diet”, why was my body missing any vitamins or minerals?

Having been stone-walled at my medical practice I had no idea where my levels stood, so by the end of January I decided to start myself on a three-month course of a named (as opposed to a generic) multi-vitamin & mineral supplement. Because I had no idea of which vitamin or mineral I was low in, I figured a multi-tablet would have a wide spectrum in balance with one another. I chose one designed for women aged 55+ solely because of the high percentage level of ingredients. The book explained that a 100% reference value wasn’t the maximum dose per day but the minimum needed to keep a person functioning. It also emphasised information I was picking up elsewhere: vitamins need at least one month to take effect and minerals three months. The six Brazil and almond nuts per day remained my fail-safe.

February 2019. The state of my skin on my lower legs [flag] was not improving. I made an appointment at my medical practice, not with a GP but with the resident prescribing pharmacist. I considered this had two benefits: a GP appointment is a flat 10 minutes whereas a pharmacist appointment is much longer so I’d have time to discuss my concerns and theory; the pharmacist was liable to know about over-the-counter balms and vitamin supplements.

The pharmacist listened attentively as I explained why I’d put myself on a multi-vitamin & mineral supplement. You realise the received wisdom is that if you eat a balanced diet there is no need for food supplements? Yes, I retorted, and look where it’s got me. The skin on my legs was inspected and I was prescribed a dermatological emollient.

While smothering on the emollient a memory surfaced, of me doing this to my mother’s lower legs when I was caring for her as dementia took an ever-increasing hold. I felt as if someone had walked over my grave. A search on the Net, and there it was under National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence: “NICE guideline: Thyroid disease: assessment and management draft scope for consultation (16 October to 13 November 2017)” line 51-52 under Key Facts, sub-clinical hypothyroidism ...include increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, increased risk of osteoporosis and potential links to dementia. (Note: I find it interesting that this is not mentioned in the final guideline, NG145, published November 2019.)

Had my mother not suffered from cardiovascular dementia, at least in the beginning? Had she, too, suffered from hypothyroidism which had never been checked for? Not everyone presents with a swelling on their neck. A cursory internet search brought up the known incidence of thyroid disorders running in a family.  I became more determined then ever that I was not going to allow myself to be herded along my mother’s path.

March 2019. The month closed in a surprising array of sunlight. I’d been on the supplements two months. I’d stopped nodding off at odd times, including after I’d eaten, the improvement in the skin of my legs was off the scale, my nails were beginning to strengthen, and my default expression was smiling. That shocked me more than anything. Who knew I’d been suffering borderline depression – for years? How many people prescribed – addicted to – antidepressants were unknowingly living with low vitamin & mineral levels?

April 2019. As the three months drew closer, I continued to improve. I still forgot things; I still had the lump on my neck though it wasn’t as prominent; my brain, though functioning better, still refused to function enough for writing fiction. I wasn’t there yet, but how close was I?

I consider myself a responsible adult: I was taking high-level over-the-counter supplements. I didn’t want to land myself on the side of toxicity. I needed those vitamin & mineral blood tests mentioned on the Facebook support group. I’d also learned that Vitamin B12 stays a long time in the system (up to four months), so I decided to give myself an arbitrary one month without any supplements before seeking the tests. After all, after fighting this far I didn’t want the improvement in my health to start reversing.

May 2019. My GP, GP-1, was not available; I now had little faith in GP-2, so elected to see GP-3. ‘Dismissive’ hardly covers it. I received the ...if you eat a balanced diet… mantra and was subjected to a barely reined-in lecture about how manufacturers were making millions selling unnecessary supplements. I sat through it all, quietly staring into the middle distance, only showing an interest when GP-3 pulled up a graph of my haemoglobin results over past years to emphasise that it would show a bigger dip if I was B12 deficient. (Note: by the time a noticeable dip occurs in a haemoglobin result a person can be seriously B12 depleted and experiencing a massive amount of physical and psychological symptoms – see the B12 Deficiency website.)

Because I didn’t create any sort of fuss I was grudgingly given a slip for a Full Blood Count. I considered refusing it, then decided it would be good to set the results against those pre-supplement. I curtly gave my thanks and headed for reception to request print-outs of past blood tests – of course I had to stand my ground and refuse to be fobbed off (I’d learned it’s our legal right to request these) – then home to initiate Plan B. I belonged to an extremely knowledgable support group and I’d learned I could purchase my own blood tests. And did those results provide a revelation!


When Your Health Turns On You #Hypothyroidism series:

1: Symptoms
2: Vitamins & Minerals
3: Blood Tests
4: Vitamin Co-Factors & the Microbiome
5: Functional Medicine & YouTube 
6: Covid-19 Coronavirus

2 comments :

  1. Fantastic account so far Linda and so very well written making the facts easy to absorb
    Looking forward to part 3 tomorrow

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    Replies
    1. I am glad you are finding it useful. If the series makes just one person think a bit deeper about their health...

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