Feeling Lousy? Your Thyroid could be to Blame!
Does fatigue drag you down day after day?
Do you have brain fog, weight gain, chills, or hair loss?
Do you feel depressed down or anxious?
Your thyroid gland could be to blame!
The thyroid is the gland located at the front of the neck just below the voice box. Since the hormones of the thyroid gland regulate metabolism in every cell of the body, a deficiency of thyroid hormones can affect virtually all body functions. There are two definitions of an under active thyroid. One is where the thyroid is not responding to the pituitary’s secretion of TSH, termed primary hypothyroidism (most common) and the other is where the pituitary gland is responsible and not secreting sufficient levels of TSH, termed secondary hypothyroidism.
The thyroid’s functions are numerous. The thyroid has a profound effect on overall health via its modulation of:
- Carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism
- Vitamin utilization
- Digestive process
- Muscle and nerve activity
- Blood flow
- Oxygen utilization
- Hormone secretion
- Sexual and reproductive health
- Brain function
No wonder we feel lousy when the thyroid isn’t doing its job properly.
So what are the symptoms of an underactive thyroid?
- Cold extremities – hands, feet, nose and buttocks
- Intolerance to cold
- Hair loss
- Dry coarse hair
- Dry, rough skin
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness and joint stiffness, muscle fatigue, fibromyalgia
- High cholesterol
- Transverse grooves in nails
- Oedema (fluid retention)
- Weight gain and obesity
- Menstrual irregularities/Infertility
- Decreased libido
- Drooping eyelids
- Puffy face
- Sleep easily but do not wake refreshed
- Loss of eyebrows in outer third, I actually see this a great deal in clinic.
- Fatigue, apathy, “brain fog”
Causes of thyroid imbalances
- Iodine deficiency
- Nutritional deficiencies i.e. Zinc, Vitamins E, selenium and A
- Chronic or severe short term stress
- Autoimmune problems
- Starvation diets
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Protein deficient diets
- Lack of exposure to full spectrum sunlight
- Excessive cortisol (hormone released when we are stressed)
How do you find out if you have a thyroid issue?
A medical Thyroid Function Test can effectively diagnose an under active thyroid, however it does not allow diagnosis of a ‘slightly’ under active thyroid. The medical test looks at a set reference range. If the blood test results fall within this range then treatment is usually given. If the test falls slightly out of this range medication cannot usually be prescribed as it may cause the thyroid to become overactive. Therefore a thyroid that is sub clinically under active does not usually get addressed and is classed as ‘normal’ even though it can have a huge impact on one’s health, especially one’s weight.
The range which is used for TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone) is also controversial as a very broad cross section of the population is used to define the range. The higher the TSH level, the lower the functioning of the thyroid as more Thyroid Stimulating Hormone is required to stimulate the thyroid.
Many medical professionals believe that a TSH above 2.5mu/l may mean that the patient may be in the early stages of hypothyroidism.
Broda Barnes. M.D., who wrote “Hypothyroidism – an Unsuspected Illness”, proposed the following axillary (underarm) temperature test to determine sub-clinical hypothyroidism which may not show up in the standard thyroid blood chemistry test. It is based on a test of the basic function of the thyroid: its ability to regulate the metabolic furnace of the body, e.g. to create heat or control temperature.
The most accurate way to do this is to record the basal body temperature daily for 5 to 10 days when the patient is absolutely basal, totally relaxed and not artificially warmed (as with electric blankets, heated water beds etc.)
TEST INSTRUCTIONS. Do this before you get out of bed, before you do anything!
1. Use only an oral thermometer, either basal or digital. Place on bedside stand.
2. Place the thermometer under your armpit (not in your mouth)
3. Record your axillary body temperature.
Barnes does not like the oral temperature because so many people have low-grade unsuspected sinus infection which generates heat in that area thereby falsely raising the oral temperature.
FOR WOMAN ONLY Do this test during or just after Menses: to avoid the rise in basal temperature during ovulation
FOR MEN and MENOPAUSAL WOMEN It makes no difference when you do this test.
The average optimum temperature range is 36.6 to 36.8 – 37C or 97.8 – 98.2F
An average temperature below 36.5C or 97.0 F suggests low thyroid function if any of the symptoms listed accompany the low axillary temperature.
TSH is released from the pituitary gland. TSH then travels to the thyroid, sending the signal for the thyroid to make its hormone. The hormone the thyroid makes is not active but an inactive form called T4. T4 needs to be converted to T3 before you have an active functional hormone. Other hormones impact this. Estrogen is a thyroid antagonist (antagonist means a compound that works to decrease activity) and progesterone is a thyroid agonist (i.e. helps thyroid action). So, having too high estrogen levels and not enough progesterone is an issue. Cortisol is needed to prime the thyroid receptors and make them more sensitive, but too much cortisol will decrease conversion of T4 to T3.
In addition, conversion of thyroid from T4 to T3 requires a healthy liver. Also about 20% of T4 to T3 conversion happens in the GI tract and is related to healthy gut bacteria…….so; high sugar diets and antibiotics impact this. Restoring proper gut bacterial flora is important for thyroid metabolism.
So what can you do at home to improve your thyroid health?
Diet plays a huge role in thyroid. In my clinic I take all my thyroid patients, hypo or hyper thyroid off gluten immediately. I am yet to see a patient who did not have some improvement by doing this. I am not saying all thyroid patients have celiac disease, far from it, but a subset of autoimmune thyroid patients have dietary-triggered autoimmunity, due to celiac disease, or a wheat/gluten intolerance. For these patients, going on a gluten-free diet may eliminate antibodies, and cause a remission of their autoimmune thyroid disease. Even for some patients who do not have celiac disease, going on a gluten-free diet may reduce antibodies, reduce bloating, and help with energy and weight loss.
Additionally certain foods will interfere with thyroid function, these foods, which are described as goitrogenic, can make the thyroid function less efficiently, because they can prevent the thyroid from getting enough iodine to function properly.This does not mean you need to avoid your favorite foods however. The enzymes involved in the formation of goitrogenic materials in plants can be at least partially destroyed by heat, allowing you to enjoy these foods in moderation, steamed or cooked. Soy compounds also interfere with the absorption of iodine, especially “raw” soy products including soymilk. This effect has not been observed to the same extent in fermented soy products such as Tamari.
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese Broccoli
- Pine nuts
- Red Radish
Minimize or try to avoid refined carbohydrates, not only are these detrimental for health in general as they deplete B vitamins and stress the pancreas, but they also cause a surge and then a drop in blood sugar levels, which can further deplete energy levels and encourage weight gain, which is a key symptom of hypothyroidism.
Key Nutrients to Increase
Zinc: Zinc, together with Vitamin E and Vitamin A, plays an important role in the manufacturing of thyroid hormones. A zinc deficiency will lead to a lower production of thyroid hormones. Zinc is a cofactor in the conversion of T4 to T3, which is essential for the body’s use of thyroid hormones at the cellular level.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A, together with Zinc is important in the manufacturing of thyroid hormones.
Vitamin A Rich Foods
- All orange and yellow colored vegetables, as they are a good source of vitamin A
- Organic grass fed cow dairy products
Iodine: Iodine is the most essential mineral for the thyroid gland and is necessary for the production of T4 hormone. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism or goiter (enlarged thyroid gland). Iodine is very deficient in modern day soils, especially in in-land (non coastal) areas.
Iodine Rich Foods
These include seafood, sea vegetables (seaweeds) and sea salt.
- Incorporating sea vegetables into the diet is much easier than many people realize.
- Kombu can be added to cooking legumes, to make the legumes more digestible and add valuable nutrients to the meal.
- Dulse flakes are readily available and can be sprinkled as they are onto all foods.
- Arame seaweed needs only to be soaked for ten minutes and then can be eaten as is, or added to salads, soups, stir-fries, etc.
- Many whole foods cookbooks include recipes for sea vegetables, including baked goods and desserts, which use the sea vegetables agar or Irish moss as thickeners.
- Nori is used to wrap sushi, and can be used at home to make all kind of wraps or hand rolls, or shredded and used as a condiment on foods, it is especially delicious shredded on top of rice dishes.
Selenium: Selenium is a required cofactor in the conversion of T4 to T3. Selenium levels are very low in most modern-day soil, especially in Australia. It has been shown that thyroid disease is highest in areas where the Selenium levels are low.
Selenium Rich Foods
- Brazil nuts
- Sardines and most fish
Tyrosine: Tyrosine is an amino acid (protein building block). When combined with iodine in the thyroid gland, the hormones T4 and T3 are manufactured. A deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism and fatigue. Stress and poor digestion significantly depletes tyrosine levels.
Iron: Iron is necessary to assist our cells utilization of thyroid hormones. If you are anemic, your cells struggle to use T3 and your cellular energy levels will suffer.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D3 deficiency had been linked to Hypothyroidism and auto immune diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease. Vitamin D deficiency is still a common problem in many populations, particularly older adults. Numerous studies have shown that optimizing your Vitamin D levels may actually help prevent as many as 16 different types of cancer including pancreatic, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers.
Vitamin D Rich Foods
- Organic grass fed cow dairy products
Although you may feel tired and fatigued due to your hypothyroidism, exercise is critical to your wellbeing. Exercise daily for 45 minutes. In addition to being great for helping to improve energy levels, exercise stimulates thyroid hormone secretion and increases the sensitivity of the tissue to thyroid hormones.
Yoga can have a very beneficial effect on the thyroid, via increased circulation and stimulation of the thyroid gland, as well as via its stress-reducing actions walking is easy, practical and relaxing.
Just get moving!
Schedule time for exercise, just as you would an important meeting.
Sunshine: Try to get some sunshine while you exercise- at least 15 minutes every day. This will help your skin make vitamin D, which is required for healthy thyroid hormone action inside your cells.
Try to reduce stress levels as part of a daily routine. Stress, and the corresponding hormones involved in the stress response (cortisol) can contribute to hypothyroid issues. Work in finding tools and strategies to put in place when you feel stressed. Some examples include:
- Learn meditation and practice meditation for 15 minutes twice daily
- Exercise daily- yoga is especially good for reducing stress
- Learn breathing techniques
- Hypnotherapy, massage and acupuncture are excellent stress reducing therapies.
- Ensure you are getting at least 8 hours sleep every night and rest well. The more rested you are, the better you will cope with day-to-day stress.