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This Routinely Prescribed Drug Puts You At 39 Percent Higher Risk Of Dementia

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This Routinely Prescribed Drug Puts You At 39 Percent Higher Risk Of Dementia about undefined

Feeling tired? Depressed? Putting on weight? If so, your doctor may order a blood test to see if your thyroid gland is sluggish. If it is (or even if it isn’t you’ll be shocked to discover) you’ll likely be prescribed a drug to perk it up.

This may sound reasonable, but a thyroid drug prescription comes with a huge red flag. Studies show that the drug could push the thyroid hormone too high (a common event) and cause a condition called thyrotoxicosis. Not only does this increase the risk of an irregular heartbeat and osteoporosis in older folks, but it also increases the risk of dementia.

First, Why Is Your Thyroid So Important?

Your thyroid is a vital gland located in your neck, shaped like a butterfly. It plays a crucial role in regulating bodily functions by producing hormones that affect:

  • Metabolism: The thyroid gland controls your metabolism, which is the process by which your body converts food into energy. Hormones produced by your thyroid regulate how quickly your body uses this energy, influencing everything from your heart rate and body temperature to how fast you burn calories. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can lead to a slow metabolism, causing fatigue, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold. Conversely, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can speed up your metabolism, resulting in anxiety, weight loss, and intolerance to heat.
  • Growth and development: Thyroid hormones are essential for proper growth and development, especially in children and adolescents. They play a crucial role in brain development, bone growth, and sexual maturation. Deficiencies in thyroid hormones during these critical periods can lead to stunted growth, learning difficulties, and other developmental problems.
  • Heart health: Thyroid hormones influence your heart rate and blood pressure. An underactive thyroid can slow down your heart rate and increase bad cholesterol levels, while an overactive thyroid can cause irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure, both of which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Mood and well-being: Thyroid hormones also affect your mood and well-being. Imbalances in thyroid function can contribute to symptoms like depression, anxiety, and irritability. Additionally, thyroid problems can lead to fatigue and difficulty sleeping, further impacting your mood and energy levels.
  • Overall health: The thyroid gland plays a significant role in regulating various bodily functions, and its hormones touch upon nearly every aspect of your health. Maintaining healthy thyroid function is crucial for optimal physical and mental well-being.

Thyroid Testing and Treatment is Common

One of the most common tests ordered by doctors is for thyroid function. So, it’s no surprise that the thyroid drug levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl) is one of the most prescribed drugs today.

In fact, prescriptions have increased 30 percent over the last decade, and thyroid drugs are now taken by seven percent of the U.S. population-- almost 23 million people! These high numbers are second only to the cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor.

What’s The Problem With Stimulating Your Thyroid?

While some medical conditions cause too much thyroid hormone to be produced, the concern of researchers at Johns Hopkins University is that this can also occur from doctors’ thyroid drug prescribing habits.

Their 2015 study found that up to 20 percent of people prescribed thyroid hormone for an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may be overtreated, placing them at risk for thyrotoxicosis.

Thyrotoxicosis is a serious condition linked to heart and bone disorders, but whether it harms the brain is unclear in research to date. However, researchers point out that exogenous (medication-caused) thyrotoxicosis was mostly excluded from previous studies on the issue. A new study addresses this shortfall and reveals some shocking findings.

Thyroid Drugs Increase Risk of Cognitive Decline by 39 Percent

Using their own database, the Johns Hopkins team identified 65,931 qualified participants over 65 with an average age across the cohort of 71.

The overall finding showed patients with thyrotoxicosis from any cause - excluding those triggered by acute illness or other medical factors - had a whopping 39 percent increased risk of a cognitive disorder diagnosis, including mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

By age 75, 11 percent who experienced thyrotoxicosis were diagnosed with a cognitive disorder compared to 6.4 percent who never had high thyroid hormone levels. By age 85 the figures grew to 34 percent versus 26 percent respectively.

Dosage Matters

Of those prescribed thyroid hormone, the degree of risk for a cognitive disorder was tied to dosage. Patients with excessively high thyroid hormone levels had a 65 percent increased risk of cognitive impairment, while those with a more moderate degree of hormone excess had a 23 percent increased risk.

The study’s senior author Jennifer Mammen said: “Our results suggest that an increased risk of cognitive disorders is among the potential negative consequences of thyroid hormone excess, a common consequence of thyroid hormone therapy.”

Levothyroxine is Massively Overprescribed

In fact – you may want to hold on to your chair when you read this – according to a Yale and Mayo Clinic 2021 study that looked at a decade of prescribing, 90 percent of prescriptions for levothyroxine may be unnecessary. That’s right, 21 million out of the 23 million annual prescriptions written may be of no value or, worse, be potentially harmful!

What’s going on?

Researchers say that although hypothyroidism is only diagnosed when thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland is elevated, and thyroxine (T4) produced by the thyroid gland is low, this only applied to ten percent of prescriptions. Most were written for mild (subclinical) hypothyroidism where TSH is barely elevated and T4 is within the normal range. Astonishingly, 30 percent of prescriptions were written for patients with normal thyroid function. That bears repeating, 30 percent of patients who received thyroid drugs had a normal thyroid test!

TSH is Higher in Winter

Dr. Joe El-Khoury, associate professor of laboratory medicine at Yale, who was not involved in the above study, explained, saying, “Study after study has shown that there is greater risk when you overtreat with levothyroxine in patients who may not need it. The emerging evidence is very concerning because we’re actively giving patients a drug that they don’t need that can have potentially severe side effects, especially in elderly individuals over 80.”

He explained that doctors are unaware that TSH is subject to seasonal variation, being higher in the winter months and lower in the summer, and screening methods don’t take these variations into account. In addition, the normal range for TSH, which has an upper limit of 4.2, is outdated according to recent research. He believes it should be raised to seven. For those taking the drug he offers this advice: “Ask your doctor if levothyroxine is really right for you if your TSH value was less than 7 mIU/L when treatment was initiated.”

Whether you’re suffering from thyroid problems or not, it’s important to support your thyroid gland. Best of all, you can do it without taking a potentially harmful drug there are dietary and other natural strategies available.

Seven Ways to Support Your Thyroid

Integrative medicine doctor, Taz Bhatia MD, Founder/CEO of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta, offers these recommendations to:

  • Eat foods containing iodine – this mineral is essential for producing thyroid hormone. Good sources are seaweed, sea vegetables, fish, shellfish, dairy, and beef liver.
  • Limit sugar – this will support the thyroid gland's role in regulating carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Avoid gluten – people may be sensitive to gluten without realizing it. Those with gluten sensitivity are much more likely to develop thyroid issues.
  • Take probiotics – gut bacteria help regulate thyroid hormones.
  • Manage stress – this can trigger thyroid dysfunction.
  • Try acupuncture – a review found significant improvement in thyroid hormone markers with regular acupuncture sessions.
  • Try low dose naltrexone – although this is a prescription drug it’s extremely safe and is described by Dr. Bhatia as “one of the most promising ways to treat thyroid disease.”

By the way, naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it blocks the effect of opioid drugs such as heroin.

It was originally FDA-approved for weaning people off opioid addiction at doses of 50 to 100 milligrams. And eventually, the FDA approved it for use in those suffering from alcohol dependence.

The late doctor, neurologist and scientist Bernard Bihari, M.D., used the drug for patients with addiction problems in the early 1980’s in New York. Dr. Bihari uncovered that in addition to helping with addiction, naltrexone in low doses could also stimulate the immune system. Since then, numerous integrative and alternative doctors have used low-dose naltrexone to help fight a variety of illnesses, including autoimmune illness.

Dosage is usually around three to six milligrams and as with most drugs, you’ll need to be under a doctor’s care to obtain low-dose naltrexone and use it effectively.

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