In the United States, every year roughly 100,000 people will develop primary hyperparathyroidism. (1) If you’re over the age of 50, a woman or have a history of kidney stones, calcium or vitamin deficiency, you’re at an increased risk for developing this condition.
What are the symptoms of parathyroid disease? Not everyone with hyperparathyroidism will experience any noticeable symptoms. (2) In fact, about 80 percent of primary hyperparathyroidism cases are asymptomatic (non-symptomatic). When they do occur, symptoms can include fatigue, bone and joint pains, weakness, loss of appetite, excessive urination, dizziness and confusion.
What happens if parathyroid disease goes untreated? Hyperparathyroidism affects calcium levels, which has an affect on organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, teeth and kidneys. With that being said, untreated hyperparathyroidism can cause complications such as kidney stones, heart disease, bone fractures and osteoporosis.
Currently, the common ways to remedy hyperparathyroidism symptoms include surgery to remove the affected parathyroid tissue, hormone replacement therapy, and/or medications including calcimimetics and bisphosphonate to protect the bones. Natural remedies can also help manage symptoms and support recovery. These include eating a healthy diet, exercise, pain relief with essential oils, prevention of vitamin D deficiency, quitting smoking and managing nausea.
What Is Hyperparathyroidism?
Hyperparathyroidism is a condition characterized by an excess of parathyroid hormone in the bloodstream. The parathyroid glands are located in the neck around the thyroid gland and secrete a hormone called parathyroid hormone. The main job of the parathyroid glands is to regulate calcium and phosphorous levels in the body. Every person has four small parathyroid glands, which are normally only about the size of a grain of rice. (3)
Normally, when calcium levels decrease, the body produces more parathyroid hormone (or PTH) to bring levels back up. And when calcium levels increase, the body produces less of the parathyroid hormone so levels fall back down. People with hyperparathyroidism wind up having too much calcium in their blood and below normal (or sometimes near normal) amounts of phosphorous.
Parathyroid hormone has some of the following important functions: (4)
- Stimulates bones to release calcium and phosphate into the bloodstream
- Causes the kidneys to excrete less calcium in the urine
- Causes the kidneys to release more phosphate in the blood
- Stimulates the digestive tract to absorb more calcium
- Causes the kidneys to activate more vitamin D, which allows for more calcium absorption
There are two main types of hyperparathyroidism:
- Primary hyperparathyroidism, which happens when one or more of the parathyroid glands becomes enlarged. This causes overproduction of parathyroid hormone and high levels of calcium in the blood (called hypercalcemia).
- Secondary hyperparathyroidism, which occurs as a result of another disease such as kidney disease or vitamin D deficiency. It results in low levels of calcium. Low levels of calcium in the blood causes increased parathyroid hormone production.
- Normocalcemic primary hyperparathyroidism is when parathyroid hormone levels are higher than normal, but the blood calcium level is normal. Many patients with normocalcemic primary hyperparathyroidism will go on to develop classic primary hyperparathyroidism.
Hyperparathyroidism Symptoms and Signs
Hyperparathyroidism symptoms occur when organs or tissues are damaged or don’t function properly due to abnormally high calcium levels circulating in the blood and urine. There can also be too little calcium in bones and damage to the kidneys.
The mineral calcium is very important for many bodily functions, beyond just keeping the bones strong. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and almost 99 percent of the body’s calcium is stored in the structure of the bones and teeth. Calcium is needed to maintain dental health, for transmission of nerve signals, for muscle contractions and to work with other minerals like phosphorus and magnesium for many other functions.
Many times hyperparathyroidism symptoms will be very mild and nonspecific, so they can be mistaken for another health problem or simply overlooked/ignored. When someone does experience symptoms, the most common symptoms of hyperparathyroidism include: (5)
- Fragile bones, joint and bone pain and increased susceptibility to fractures (osteoporosis)
- Kidney stones (excess calcium in your urine can cause small, hard deposits of calcium that are very painful to pass)
- Excessive urination
- Abdominal pain and constipation
- Fatigue, feeling “run down” or ill and weakness
- Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
- Confusion, memory loss and forgetfulness
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Stiff, achy muscles
- Increased risk for cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk for complications in newborns that are born to mothers with untreated hyperparathyroidism
Can parathyroid problems cause weight gain? Some research suggests that many adults with primary hyperparathyroidism are heavier than adults of the same age without parathyroid disease. (6) Primary hyperparathyroidism may also be associated with an increased prevalence of hypertension, insulin resistance, lipid/fat/cholesterol issues and cardiovascular disease. There may be a connection between hyperparathyroidism and weight gain if someone feels very exhausted, depressed and unmotivated to eat well or stay active. However, hyperparathyroidism can also cause loss of appetite, nausea and potentially weight loss.
Hyperparathyroidism Causes and Risk Factors
Hyperparathyroidism occurs when too much parathyroid hormone is released, causing increased absorption of calcium in the digestive tract and release of stored calcium in the bones.
In about 90 percent of people with primary hyperparathyroidism, the underlying cause is a non-cancerous tumor (called an adenoma) in one or more of the parathyroid glands. In the other 10 percent of people with this condition, the parathyroid glands become enlarged and produce too much hormone. Rarely, a cancerous tumor located on one or more of the parathyroid glands will cause hyperparathyroidism. Cases of parathyroid cancer make up less than one percent of the total number of patients with primary hyperparathyroidism. When a tumor forms or cancer develops, this interferes with the parathyroid gland’s ability to regulate how much PTH is released.
Hyperparathyroidism risk factors include:
- Being a woman, since this condition is more common among women (especially post-menopausal women) than men. In the U.S, it’s estimated that about one in 500 women over the age of 60 will develop this condition each year. (7)
- Being an older or elderly adult.
- Having had radiation therapy in the neck, such as to treat cancer.
- Genetic inheritance or family history of hyperparathyroidism.
- Having a history of multiple endocrine neoplasia, which is a rare hereditary disorder.
- History of kidney disease or kidney failure. Your kidneys convert vitamin D into a form your body can use, and vitamin D is needed to regulate calcium levels. Chronic kidney failure is the most common cause of secondary hyperparathyroidism.
- Severe calcium deficiency.
- Severe vitamin D deficiency, which affects calcium absorption.
- Taking the drug lithium, which is most often used to treat bipolar disorder.
Conventional Hyperparathyroidism Treatment
Hyperparathyroidism is usually detected by routine blood tests, which can indicate that you have elevated calcium in your blood. It’s common for a diagnosis to be made even before someone has any noticeable symptoms. Other tests that can be used to confirm a hyperparathyroidism diagnosis include: bone mineral density test (DXA) to measure calcium and other bone minerals, urine test to determine how much calcium is excreted in your urine, ultrasound to look at the tissue around the parathyroid glands, imaging tests of the kidneys to check for abnormalities and a sestamibi scan to help identify which parathyroid gland(s) are hyperactive.
How do you treat hyperparathyroidism? Sometimes no treatment will be required if there is little risk for complications, such as low bone density or kidney stones. When the condition does require treatment, hyperparathyroidism treatment usually involves:
- Surgery to remove the affected parathyroid gland (called parathyroidectomy). (8) When is hyperparathyroidism surgery necessary? Surgery is the most common treatment for primary hyperparathyroidism. The goal of this surgery is to remove any abnormal tissue in the parathyroid gland that is affecting hormone output. Surgery for hyperparathyroidism is usually effective, nearly resolving the condition in about 90–95 percent of cases. (9)
- Calcimimetic medications such as cinacalcet (Sensipar), which trick the parathyroid glands into releasing less parathyroid hormone by mimicking the effects of calcium. (10)
- Hormone replacement therapy, which can help bones retain calcium.
- Bisphosphonate medications, which help stop bones from losing calcium and reduce the risk for fractures.
What is considered a high parathyroid level? A normal/average parathyroid hormone (PTH) level ranges between 10 and 65 pg/ml. Hyperparathyroidism may be diagnosed or suspected when PTH levels are above this normal range. However, usually other tests are needed to confirm hyperparathyroidism, not just one value. (11)
6 Natural Remedies to Help Hyperparathyroidism Symptoms
1. Eat a Hyperparathyroidism Diet
What foods should you eat when you have hyperparathyroidism?
To prevent calcium deficiency, which can make hyperparathyroidism symptoms and complications worse, it’s important to eat foods high in calcium. Adults between the ages of 10–50 need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, or 1,200 milligrams per day for women age 51 and older and men age 71 and older.
- The best sources of calcium include: dairy products (I recommend raw milk, goat’s milk, kefir, yogurt or aged cheeses), leafy greens and other veggies like broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, okra, Swiss chard, green beans, rapini, carrots, turnip, rhubarb and watercress, almonds, navy beans, black eyed peas, organic edamame/tofu, tortillas made with lime, sardines, rockfish, clams, seaweed, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, sweet potato, berries, figs and oranges.
- Other foods that can help manage hyperparathyroidism include: foods high in magnesium, like all types of leafy greens, cocoa, avocado, bananas, healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil, grass-fed meats and fresh herbs and spices.
- Make sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to help prevent kidney stones. Drink a glass ideally every 1–2 hours, or until you notice that your urine is a very light yellow. To help protect your kidneys, it’s best to drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day.
- You’ll get the most benefit from calcium if you avoid foods that cause inflammation, take a toll on gut health and interfere with nutrient absorption. Inflammatory foods to avoid include those with added sugar, processed grains, refined vegetable oils and synthetic ingredients.
Keep in mind that if you undergo surgery for hyperparathyroidism, you may experience pain, a sore throat and trouble chewing afterward for several days or more. While you should be cleared to eat whatever you want after surgery, you will likely want to consume softer foods, but may struggle to swallow smoothies/liquids. Try having mostly semisolid foods such as pureed veggies or fruit, coconut ice cream, oatmeal, avocado, banana, mashed potatoes, soups or chia pudding.
2. Minimize Bone and Joint Pain
Try to stay active and stretch daily if possible to maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness. Regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises and strength training, is also important for keeping bones strong. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce your risk for complications such as cardiovascular disease. Other ways to help manage bone and joint pain include:
- Applying peppermint essential oil to achy areas
- Doing yoga or tai chi
- Taking warm baths with Epsom salts
- Massage therapy or acupuncture
- Taking anti-inflammatory supplements including turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
3. Combat Nausea and Loss of Appetite
If you’re struggling with nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite, these tips may be able to help:
- Avoid foods that can make digestive issues worse, including fatty/greasy foods, high-sodium packaged foods, strong-smelling veggies, too much animal protein, spices, oil or cheese. Eat smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than one to three big meals.
- Make sure to stay hydrated, such as by drinking water, herbal tea or coconut water and eating fresh fruits and veggies.
- Add some lemon and lime juice to ice water and sip it throughout the day.
- Try consuming ginger root, ginger tea, using ginger essential oils or taking ginger capsules several times per day. Taking vitamin B6 one to three times per day may also curb nausea.
- Get fresh air by taking a walk outdoors. Try to keep up with gentle exercise as long as possible since this may help regulate your appetite.
- Essential oils that can help calm your stomach and improve your mood or appetite include ginger, chamomile, lavender, frankincense, peppermint and lemon.
- Get enough sleep, since fatigue may cause you to feel unwell.
4. Manage Depression and Fatigue
Also aim to eat whole foods that support production of neurotransmitters, which are the brain’s messengers that control your mood, energy levels and appetite. Additionally, supplements that may help lift your mood include omega-3s, probiotics, B vitamins, St. John’s Wort and adaptogen herbs such as rhodiola and ashwagandha.
Other ways to manage stress and support mental health include: exercise, getting adequate sleep, finding social support, spending time outdoors, meditation, acupuncture, journaling, reading and volunteering.
5. Prevent Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D helps maintain appropriate levels of calcium in the blood, and it helps your digestive system absorb calcium from your food. The standard recommendation for vitamin D intake is 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day for people one- to 70-years-old, and 800 IUs per day for adults age 71 and older.
The very best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is by getting direct sun exposure. Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. To a lesser extent, you can also consume some vitamin D from your diet. Try to spend about 15–20 minutes in the sun each day without sunscreen, allowing as much of your skin to be exposed as possible. During the winter, or if you can’t spend time outdoors, you can supplement with vitamin D daily.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should be supplementing with vitamin D and calcium year-round, since many times it is necessary to maintain normal levels. (13)
6. Avoid Smoking and Certain Medications
Smoking can lead to various health problems, including weakening your bones and potentially contributing to cardiovascular problems. Talk to your doctor or a therapist about the best way for you to quit smoking, such as joining a smoking cessation group, using a nicotine patch or trying hypnosis, meditation or other approaches.
You should also avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol or taking calcium-raising drugs, including some diuretics and lithium. (12) Discuss any medications you take with your doctor to make sure they are not worsening your condition.
Visit your doctor or an endocrinologist (who specializes in hormone-related conditions) if you experience any signs or symptoms of hyperparathyroidism. This can include fatigue, depression, joint and bone pain, etc.
Keep in mind that many hyperparathyroidism symptoms can be caused by any number of disorders, including autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders or other thyroid disorders. There are also conditions that can cause high calcium levels in the blood, such as: Sarcoidosis, multiple myeloma, Paget, milk-alkali syndrome, high vitamin D levels and advanced cancers that spread to the bone, such as breast cancer, lung cancer and kidney cancer.
The earlier someone with hyperparathyroidism is treated, the better. An early, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help to correct the condition and prevent symptoms from worsening.
- Hyperparathyroidism is a condition characterized by an excess of parathyroid hormone in the bloodstream. The parathyroid glands are located in the neck around the thyroid gland and secrete a hormone called parathyroid hormone. The main job of the parathyroid glands is to regulate calcium and phosphorous levels in the body.
- Hyperparathyroid symptoms don’t always occur, but when they do, they can include fatigue, bone and joint pains, weakness, loss of appetite, excessive urination and confusion.
- Hyperparathyroidism affects calcium levels, which has an affect on organs and tissues, including the heart, bones, teeth and kidneys. Complications caused by untreated hyperparathyroidism can include kidney stones, heart disease and osteoporosis.
- Risk factors for hyperparathyroidism include being a woman over the age of 60, calcium and vitamin D deficiency, history of radiation therapy, genetic factors/family history, kidney disease or failure and taking the drug lithium.
- Standard treatments for hyperparathyroidism are surgery, hormone replacement therapy and/or medications including calcimimetics and bisphosphonate.
- Six natural remedies that can help manage symptoms and support recovery include: eating a healthy diet, treating bone and joint pain with exercise and more, managing depression and fatigue, preventing vitamin D deficiency, quitting smoking and managing nausea.
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