While studying biological sciences at Northwestern University, Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH, quickly took a liking to naturopathic medicine. He was struck by its emphasis on acting in concert with the body’s capacity to heal. When it comes to treating thyroid conditions, Beil says it’s not as simple as taking a pill and hoping for more energy, less anxiety, and better sleep. At his practice in Mt. Kisco, New York, Dr. Beil has learned that, while many of his patients exhibit typical symptoms, traditional medicine has struggled to make the correct diagnosis. In fact, about 75 percent of his patients run up against this very problem.
Beil has naturopathic and classical Chinese medicine degrees from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He is also a licensed acupuncturist. Beil shared more about naturopathic treatment of thyroid conditions with HealthCentral.
HealthCentral (HC): Why has traditional medicine fallen short for your patients?
Beil: The thyroid sets the throttle, or thermostat, for how much energy we burn. It also works in conjunction with all the hormones. So if it runs too hot or cold, all the systems can go out of balance. The thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is the most common test, but (it’s) only one of a dozen different thyroid tests. You can have a normal TSH and still have the thyroid be completely out of balance. I see it every day — the doctor runs a test and labs are fine, so there must be something wrong with you. It’s the classic case of doctors treating the lab test instead of the person.
HC: How do you differ in your treatment?
Beil: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common thing I see and much more common than pure hypothyroidism. (It’s) an autoimmune condition, (where) something is setting the immune system off. One of the things I do is a food-sensitivity test. The most common foods that people react to are wheat, gluten, and dairy. So we have to calm down the immune system before we address the hormone issue.
HC: What other external factors do you look for?
Beil: There are many environmental toxins that are hormone disruptors. We also locate different infections, both current and latent, that might be active to the point where the they’re causing somebody to show symptoms but are operating in the background. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the classic example of a virus that has acute effects at the time of infection and then goes dormant.
HC: Who makes for a good candidate for your care?
Beil: The people this works for are those who are willing to be engaged in their own health. We ask a lot of people because it’s a lot easier to just take a pill. This means I’m emphatic that people get informed. They have to make the changes and it helps if they understand why.
HC: What types of lifestyle changes can help?
Beil: How much exercise do they get, what is their diet like, and are they getting enough sleep? The management of stress is also critical. It negatively affects thyroid function because of the balance of all the different thyroid hormones.
HC: How does a stressed person manage stress?
Beil: Breath work; meditation.
HC: Just sitting and breathing is hard. How can we make it easier to meditate?
Beil: We have an inherent physiological response to natural settings. That sets up a baseline of balance that allows all the other systems to return to their normal operating state. Go to the park once or twice a week; allow the experience to happen. I call it settling in. Then there’s this idea of neuroplasticity. Doing these things over and over makes long-term shifts, so when you encounter stressful situations, the edge can be taken off in a permanent way. But I use a biofeedback system called emWave Pro. It provides a moment-by-moment assessment of the subtle changes of the signals that the heart is receiving from the nervous system — particularly during relaxation activities such mindful breathing or meditation.
HC: What kind of products do you suggest?
Beil: Ashwagandha is very good at normalizing and regulating thyroid function. Vitamin D3 enhances cells’ ability to regulate metabolism and Vitamin B12 and magnesium are essential for making thyroid stimulating hormone. That’s the pituitary hormone that regulates the production of thyroid hormone. Also there’s tyrosine, an amino acid that is an essential ingredient of thyroid hormone. Important food sources are seaweed, fish, Brazil nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, eggs, berries, and avocados.
HC: How long does it take to resolve issues?
Beil: If a woman in her mid-50s comes in and maybe she’s been suffering for 20 years with something like Hashimotos. She might feel lethargic and tired or have symptoms like constipation, low grade muscle, or joint pain. Upon treatment, she should feel better after a few weeks but can take a couple of years to clear up completely.
HC: How do you stop patients from getting discouraged during treatment?
Beil: After already seeing two or three doctors, we usually start to see benefits within a couple of weeks. People would notice enough benefits to have them be encouraged. On the other hand, I can continue to check their labs. Are they coming back into normal range? Are they moving in the right direction or do we change course?
HC: What results do you get for hyperthyroid?
Beil: I’ve only seen two patients with hyper because it's much more treatable and most people go traditional [and use medication].
HC: What about goiter?
Beil: An enlarged thyroid gland, usually goiter is a sign of hyperthyroidism. I haven’t seen a lot of these. Medically, doctors look at radio surgery. We try and not let it come to that. One of the fundamental philosophies that we practice under is treating the cause, not the symptoms.