by Colleen Cackowski
Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in your neck just below your Adam’s apple, is your primary gland which is responsible for energy and metabolism. Every cell in your body has thyroid hormone receptors and the thyroid is like a master gland which affects all of those cells at some level.
The hormones that the thyroid produces (TSH) are important to keep in balance. If too little thyroid hormone is produced, things in the body can slow down too much. If the thyroid is underactive, you may experience unpleasant symptoms like a hoarse voice, puffy face, obesity, fatigue, sluggishness, lack of energy and increased sensitivity to cold. Hypothyroidism is common; in fact, 40 percent of us are at risk for hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency.
Pain medications, antihistamines and antidepressants may slow down the thyroid and can cause iodine deficiency. Medications which make you feel sleepy may also slow down both your thyroid and your metabolism.
When too much thyroid hormone is present, some of your body systems go into hyperdrive, and you may experience hyperthyroidism. Symptoms associated with this include accelerating metabolism, sudden weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, sweating, or irritability. If left untreated, an overactive thyroid can eventually lead to congestive heart failure and possibly premature death.
About 10% of the population already has a thyroid problem. The tricky thing about thyroid problems is that many of the symptoms that are associated with thyroid imbalances—whether the thyroid is too active or not active enough—are easy to dismiss as the result of some other condition or lifestyle factor. For example, a symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. As we age, many people experience weight gain and usually attribute it to things such as getting less exercise or an increase in calorie intake. Few people think that their unexplained weight gain could be a potential sign of an underlying thyroid problem. If weight gain is the only symptom you have, it may not be related to thyroid imbalance, but if you also have other symptoms such as fatigue and depression, it could be related.
What symptoms should you be aware of if you suspect you might have HYPOthyroidism (underactive thyroid)?
•Fatigue or lack of energy
•Dry, coarse skin and/or hair
•Sensitivity to cold
•Heavy and/or irregular periods
•Puffiness or bloating
•Unexplained weight gain
•Muscle cramps, muscle pain, tenderness
•Slower than normal heart rate
There are different reasons why the thyroid gland might be under-producing. The pituitary gland may not be producing enough hormone to stimulate the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland itself might be damaged, or it could be caused by a diet deficient in iodine or Hashimoto’s disease. If you have one of the risk factors for hypothyroidism AND also have multiple symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider and get a blood test to see how much thyroid hormone your body is producing.
•Over the age of 60
•A history of thyroid or autoimmune problems in your family
What symptoms should you be aware of if you suspect you might have HYPERthyroidism (overactive thyroid)?
•Unexplained weight loss despite an increased appetite
•High blood pressure
•High heart rate or heart palpitation
•Irritability and nervousness
•Excessive hair loss
•Muscle weakness and/or tremors
•Compromised vision or eye irritation
•Sensitivity to warm temperatures
•More frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease; however, it could also result from over-treating hypothyroidism or it could be due to Plummer’s syndrome. Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism, but it is still relatively common, especially in families with a history of thyroid disorders.
Women over 20 are at the highest risk.
Symptoms Can Be Confusing
Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be confused with other conditions, or the other way around. For example, nervousness and heart palpitations could be due to hyperthyroidism, an anxiety disorder, or a cardiac concern. In women, hyperthyroid symptoms which are related to a sensitivity to hot temperatures can often be confused with symptoms of menopause. Conversely, a person with hyperthyroidism who is often constipated and who suddenly experiences more regular bowel movements might not realize or be concerned that this a possible symptom of a thyroid imbalance.
Know your body. If for any reason you do not feel like yourself and can’t get back to feeling good again no matter what you try, it’s wise to investigate further to see what might be going on in your body. By taking charge of your own health, actively observing how you feel and listening to your body, you can potentially head off problems before they get bigger.
In the meantime, prevention is better than cure and living a healthy, active lifestyle is a wise choice for ensuring ongoing health and quality of life. A strong and healthy body is in a better position to defend itself against any form of illness.
How to Support a Healthy Thyroid
What should you do if you have all of the symptoms (hair loss, tiredness, feeling cold all the time, memory problems, brittle nails, etc.) and yet your blood tests are “normal”? Pay close attention to how you feel and treat your thyroid naturally with the recommendations below to keep it working at an optimal rate so you never have a problem with it.
Making dietary changes is your first line of defense in treating thyroid imbalance.
•Avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes due to reaching for non-nutritive energy foods like sugar and caffeine. Many people with hypothyroidism try to combat crippling fatigue and brain fog by reaching for unhealthy short-term energy snacks and fast foods. This strategy always backfires in the long run. Instead, make sure you get enough non-starchy vegetables and nutrient dense foods which fulfills your body’s need for true nourishment.
•Increase protein intake. Protein is what transports thyroid hormone to all the tissues in your body. Enjoy a small portion at every meal to help normalize thyroid function. Choose healthy proteins such as nuts and nut butters, quinoa, chia, and organic hormone- and antibiotic-free animal products. Note that soy and soy products can be endocrine disruptors which impede cell receptors and disrupt the feedback loop throughout your entire hormonal system.
•Eat more fat. Contrary to popular belief, fat is your friend. Cholesterol is the precursor to hormonal pathways; you need healthy fats, especially omega 3s, in your body as building blocks to keep your hormones balanced. Natural, healthy fats include organic extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and coconut milk products, hemp seeds, ghee, avocados, flax seeds, wild fish, krill, and raw nuts and nut butters.
•Increase nutrient-dense foods. While not the cause of thyroid imbalance, not having enough of certain nutrients and minerals can aggravate or exacerbate symptoms. Make sure your body is well-resourced to keep you healthy and keep your immune system strong. Focus on getting adequate supplies of omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, zinc, selenium, copper, vitamin A, all B vitamins, and especially iodine, particularly from food sources including sea vegetables, wild saltwater fish, asparagus, eggs, lima beans, spinach, mushrooms, sesame seeds, summer squash, chard, and garlic. Since the body does not make iodine, it relies on the diet to get enough. Iodine can also be applied topically to the skin and absorbed transdermally.
•Give up the gluten. The molecular composition of thyroid tissue is almost identical to that of gluten, so particularly for anyone with Hashimoto’s disease, eating gluten can increase the autoimmune attack on your thyroid.
•Be careful with goitrogens. Goitrogens are foods which can interfere with thyroid function. They include things like include cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, rutabaga, turnips, spinach, watercress, strawberries, peaches, peanuts, radishes, and millet. Cooking inactivates goitrogenic compounds, so eating cooked versions in moderation (once or twice a week) is okay.
•Get more glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful immune-boosting antioxidant that boosts your body’s ability to regulate the immune system, reduce autoimmune flare-ups, and heal and protect thyroid tissue. Foods that assist the body in producing glutathione are: avocado, asparagus, broccoli, peaches, spinach, garlic, grapefruit, squash, and raw eggs.
•Address food sensitivities. Any food that produces a sensitivity effect will tax the immune system. The more things building up that challenge the immune system, the less capacity the body has to respond to new attacks, and the more likely it will be to trigger an inflammatory response. Eat more whole foods and less processed foods to avoid inflammation.
•Create a healthy internal ecosystem. Healthy gut bacteria is responsible for at least 20 percent of thyroid health. Supplement with probiotics as well as consuming fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, miso, and kefir.
•Address adrenal issues. There is an intimate connection between the thyroid and adrenal glands. It’s uncommon to have a thyroid imbalance without also having an adrenal imbalance. They affect each other, so take steps to get your adrenals healthy in order to support a healthy thyroid. Try to find some kind of practice or hobby which provides relaxation, since stress triggers both the adrenals and the thyroid. Incorporate moderate exercise into your daily routine to help balance these important glands.
Along with foods which are good to eat, there are also foods which are recommended NOT to eat. Stay away from things like soy, sugar, dairy, and artificial sweeteners which slow down the function of the thyroid gland. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol is recommended. Cooked oils, except coconut oil, have the capacity to disturb production of thyroid hormone.
Herbs and supplements can be helpful. Selenium and tyrosine are amino acids whose deficiency leads to less production of thyroid hormones. Selenium converts dormant T4 into active T3 hormone which can cure hypothyroid.
Coconut oil is the optimal choice for oils to cook with. Coconut oil increases metabolism as a result of the increased secretion of thyroid hormone. Consume at least 1-3 teaspoons of coconut oil every day.
Pear juice regulates production of thyroid hormone, especially in women. Drink a glass of pear juice every morning to enjoy this advantage.
Make conscious choices with your diet and lifestyle and you will be able to maintain healthy thyroid function!