The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that releases hormones. Thyroid hormones help your body regulate the metabolism of ALL cells in your body. It’s a really big deal.
When you don’t have enough thyroid hormone, it’s called hypothyroidism. And it’s really important to keep an eye on it under long periods of stress. Like a corona-curve ball at home, work and in the world.
People talk mostly about the impact of hypothyroidism on weight because your thyroid is your metabolic master.
But there are soooooo many more symptoms that are equally – if not more important - to consider. In fact, you might notice some of these symptoms BEFORE weight is an issue.
Listen up because they impact your quality of life, confidence, ability to cope, ability to eat and digestion. Some days, a hypothyroid can derail even the simplest tasks like getting out of bed with a smile on your face and showing up as the mom, partner, friend, coworker you want to be.
Digestion: Acid indigestion, constipation, IBS, food intolerances
Muscle/Skeletal: Arthritis, carpal tunnel, muscle aches/joints
Energy: Fatigue, adrenal fatigue, low blood pressure
Sleep: Insomnia, night waking
Skin: Itchiness, extremely dry hair, skin, psoriasis, unhealthy nails
Gonads: Irregular periods, infertility, severe menopause symptoms
Mood: Irritability, panic attacks
Head: Headaches, tinnitus
Temperature: Cold hands/feet – heat/cold intolerances
There can also be emotional indicators … feelings of being humiliated, overwhelmed, powerless, unfulfilled, victimized or left out can impact thyroid function from an energetic perspective.
What does the thyroid actually do? Why is thyroid important?
It helps by first understanding the thyroid cascade. Here's a quick science lesson.
The hypothalamus produces thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) which is released mostly between midnight and 4am. This, in turn, signals to the pituitary to produce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH or thyrotropin).
TSH tells the thyroid gland to produce thyroxine (T4) and triodothyronine (T3). These hormones are almost identical in structure. The key difference is the number or iodines in each structure (T4 has 4 iodiones and T3 has 3).
Almost all T4 produced in the body will be converted to T3. T4 comprises 94% of all thyroid hormone produced and is a less active, but more stable form. T3 comprises only 7% of hormone produced by the thyroid, but is four times more potent and less stable than its counterpart. If there is a problem with the amount of these hormones produced or secreted OR a problem with conversion of T4 to T3, we run into issues.
Almost every cell in the body is affected by the activity of T3, as you will see in the list of the major actions of the hormones. Its key areas of activity are to regulate growth, oxidative metabolism, carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, cardiac activity, fertility and the basal metabolic rate.
Yes, your thyroid IS a big deal for men and women a like.
The major actions of the thyroid include:
Increase rate of ATP (energy) in cells (mitochondria which is also super important in autoimmune conditions). This cellular activity generates heat in the body and one of the mechanisms by which thyroid hormone increases metabolic rate
Promotes growth (especially important for children in vitro and early stages of life; low thyroid function can lead to dwarfism and thyroid is checked in babies when born)
Stimulates all aspects of carbohydrate metabolism (glucose uptake, glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, increased insulin secretion)
Enhances all aspects of fat metabolism (mobilizes fat from storage and elimination from body; however, decreased thyroid function increases plasma cholesterol)
Increases vitamin requirements (we need more vitamins and enzymes as co-factors for metabolic reactions)
Increases metabolic rate (decreased thyroid production almost always increases body weight)
Increases cardiovascular strength – increased blood flow for the heart, skin and cardiac output (when in hypo state, heart rate may fall)
Stimulates GI tract (increases appetite and digestive juice secretion/GI motility – hypo leads to constipation)
Increases thinking ability
Increases muscular activity
Required for normal sleep
Required for normal sexual functioning (hypo can cause loss of libo)
How do you test for hypothyroidism?
It’s estimated that at least 3.7% of US adults have an under-active thyroid.
An under-active thyroid can be diagnosed from a blood test from your health professional. In some cases, it can be cut and dry and the doctor can easily tell if your thyroid is underperforming.
This is also the case when there is thyroid autoimmunity - where the immune cells attack other cells in the body. In this case, the cells of the thyroid gland. Thyroid autoimmunity is five times more common in women versus men.
In both situations … hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroid … people are given medications to help return thyroid levels to normal.
When blood work falls in anywhere in the normal range and a person still has symptoms of low thyroid function, it’s called subclinical hypothyroid. Additionally, a person may have “normal” TSH and T4 levels, but there is a problem with conversion of T4 to T3 in the tissues of the body, due to low body temperature or the body lacking a key enzyme. This is called Wilson’s Syndrome.
In this case, measuring basal body temperature is the best approach to determine thyroid performance.
Many believe sub clinical hypothyroidism is greatly under-diagnosed and millions are suffering. A basal body temperature test is the easiest way to determine if this is your situation. Anything below 97.6F or 36.4C could be considered sub clinical hypothyroidism or Wilson’s Syndrome and should be followed with a health care practitioner.
If you are curious about how to correctly test your basal body temperature, send me an email and we can discuss. It's super easy.
Risk factors for low thyroid
There is a lot of medical and media pressure towards eating a “low salt diet,” but that can impair thyroid hormone production. Iodine is a key component of the thyroid molecules and found readily in iodized salt and sea vegetables. If you are consuming less than 100mcg/day, you have a deficiency. The great lakes area of Canada/US, the Swiss Alps and Tasmania are all areas where there is an iodine deficiency and it must be added to salt or bread.
If a person does not consume enough protein and all nine essential amino acids in their diet (found naturally in animal meat), they will lack essential amino acid phenylalanine, which is a precursor to tyrosine. Tyrosine is the starting molecule for T3 and T4 development.
If person has low stomach acid, it can interfere with protein absorption. The natural aging process, a diet high in unhealthy fats and sugar, and chronic stress reduce HCl.
STRESS!!! A healthy production of cortisol is necessary for healthy thyroid function. When the adrenals are exhausted, they produce less cortisol (aka stress hormone) and that impacts the thyroid function as it picks up the job of cortisol.
Impaired conversion of T4 to T3, heavy metals, estrogen dominance, poor lymphatic circulation, and even intermittent fasting (when done in-correctly) can also contribute to the development of hypothyroidism.
Foods and nutrients for your thyroid
Enough iodine from food - Iodine is naturally found in fish and seafood. Other foods that contain iodine are navy beans, potatoes, and eggs. Sometimes levels of natural iodine depend on the amount of iodine in the soil. Iodine is also added (i.e., fortified) to some foods.
Iodine-deficiency is not very common in the developed world, so supplements are likely not necessary, and may exacerbate certain thyroid issues.
HOWEVER, during pregnancy and breastfeeding iodine requirements increase by up to 60%, so pay attention to eat enough iodine-containing foods.
Check with your healthcare professional before taking supplements, and always read the label.
Enough selenium from food - Some people recommend selenium (another essential mineral) to support the thyroid. A recent review of several clinical studies showed that there is not enough evidence to recommend selenium supplements to people with certain thyroid conditions. Because of this, it’s best to stick with selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts, mushrooms, meat, and fish.
Be mindful of goitrogens - Goitrogens are plant-estrogens that prevent the iodine in your blood from getting into your thyroid where it's needed to make thyroid hormones. Goitrogens themselves are not that powerful, unless they're eaten excessively, or are combined with a diet already low in iodine. They are found in "cruciferous" foods such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale.
Goitrogens should be cooked until thyroid health resumes. You see, goitrogens can be deactivated by cooking the foods they're found in. Because these cruciferous vegetables are very nutritious, you may choose to cook them instead of eliminating them altogether.
Enough protein - Increase organic, grass-fed or wild/free range meats, seafood and fish (animo acids). Animal meat will also include essential amino acids for hormone production.
One of the common symptoms of thyroid issues is the inability to lose weight. If this is the case, protein is additionally beneficial. Protein has a "thermogenic effect" because your body has to spend energy metabolizing protein; this means that calorie-for-calorie, carbs will promote weight gain more than protein will.
Gluten-free - Try going gluten-free. There is evidence of a link between underactive thyroid and gluten sensitivity. There may be a "cross-reactivity" where the immune cells that are sensitized to gluten can attack the thyroid cells by mistake; this is essentially how autoimmunity works and can affect more than just your thyroid. You might request getting tested for celiac disease if you are experiencing thyroid issues.
Lifestyle upgrade - Weight gain and difficulty losing weight are very common when it comes to thyroid issues. In this case, it’s important to get enough regular exercise, enough quality sleep, and reduce stress.
Sleep is critically important here. And the more regular your bedtime routine, the better.
Reduce your toxic load - yes, this is the season of our generation where chemicals to disinfect has skyrocketed, but what can you do at home to help reduce chemical load on the body? Laundry? Household cleaners? Organic versus conventional foods?
Supplementation – Without a doubt, supplements can help you get out of a subclinical hypothyroid hole faster than food alone. This is important to remember … not all supplements are equal and you are unique in your biochemistry. For optimum and safe results, you need to work with a health care practitioner on your overall thyroid health.
Key supplements MIGHT include …. L-tyrosine (for molecule production), ashwagandha (contraindicated with autoimmune and used to help enhance thyroid function), gugguls (conversion), potassium iodide (hormone production), B-complex to support adrenals, overall multivitamin with thyroid co-factors, a thyroid combo supplement.
If you have concerns about your thyroid, start with a basal body temperature test, and then ask to be tested. That along with testing for celiac disease can help to confirm your best plan to move forward in good health.
Foods to support your thyroid include iodine- and selenium-containing foods, cooked cruciferous foods, and gluten-free foods. Don't forget to eat enough protein to help boost your metabolism. Also, consider reducing the amount of raw cruciferous foods you eat.
Supplementing with iodine or selenium should be done with a health professional’s advice.
And regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress-reduction are all part of the holistic approach to supporting your thyroid.
Do you or someone you know have concerns about your thyroid? What diet and lifestyle factors have you gotten the most benefit from? Let me know in the comments below.
Applied Endocrinology, Text, Institute Of Holistic Nutrition, 2018