Should you get your thyroid tested?

woman checking her thyroid

How Healthy is Your Thyroid and Why Does it Matter?

Did you know that a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland nestled in your neck is responsible for producing some of the most important hormones in your body? This small but mighty gland is called the thyroid.  While it’s relatively small in size, it plays a huge role in our endocrine (hormone) system.

This gland produces hormones that interact with many other hormones (like insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone).  Looking at how intimately all hormones communicate with each other, it’s no wonder so many symptoms are connected to a poorly performing thyroid!

How does this gland work?

Most of what the thyroid produces is an inactive hormone called thyroxine, or T4. Most of the active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine (or T3), comes from the conversion of T4 to T3 in different areas of your body, including your liver, gut, brain and muscles.

This “active” T3 is then able to regulate many functions in your body including energy production and regulation of your metabolism. Think of the thyroid as the “gas pedal” for your body.  Constantly regulating the speed that everything else runs.  When all of the systems in your body are working well, the right amounts of T4 and T3 are produced. But if something is negatively affecting the thyroid or other organ systems in the body, this hormone balance gets disrupted and we start to experience various symptoms.

Some of the factors that impact a healthy functioning thyroid are nutritional imbalances, toxins, allergens, infections, and stress. All of these can all be problematic, leading to dysfunction of the gland, and potentially to wider spread systemic disease.

What happens when the thyroid can’t function normally?

When the thyroid is compromised, the body is unable to produce or convert the right amounts of thyroid hormone. Consequently, we experience disorders such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroid cancer. In fact, these diseases are highly prevalent in North America.  An estimated 20 million Americans and 1 in every 10 Canadians have some form of thyroid disease.  Over 12% of all Americans will develop such a condition during their lifetime. Because thyroid conditions are tied to so many varying symptoms, up to 60% of people with disease are unaware of their condition.   Women are 5-8x more likely to be affected than men. It is estimated that one in eight women will suffer from such a disorder during her lifetime.

Thyroid disease is tied to many less obvious disorders including acne, autoimmune diseases, eczema, fibromyalgia, gum disease, constipation or irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and infertility. Because the thyroid is like your gas pedal for all of your cells, it can be linked to almost every bodily function.  Symptoms of an underlying thyroid problem are wide and varied which can make diagnosis difficult.  As a result, many people are misdiagnosed and treated for other conditions before looking at their thyroid.

Hypothyroidism

Symptoms of an underactive thyroid

  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Foggy thinking
  • Depression
  • Weight gain even if you’ve been exercising and eating well consistently
  • Persistently rough/scaly skin
  • Dry/tangled hair
  • Hair loss (particularly in women)
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • An inability to warm up in a sauna or to sweat during exercise
  • Consistently low basal (resting, first morning) body temperature

Hyperthyroidism

Symptoms of an overactive thyroid

  • Feeling restless, nervous, or emotional
  • Poor sleep quality or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • The disappearance of or irregular menstruation
  • Weight loss
  • Rapid, forceful, or irregular heartbeat
  • Eye problems (associated with Graves’ disease)
  • Swelling in your neck or having a goitre

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition where your immune system is creating antibodies that are attacking your thyroid.  Over time, this autoimmune attack can damage the gland and cause it to cease working properly.  Autoimmune disorders are complicated, but they can be improved through natural medicine.  Factors like food sensitivities, latent infections, and adrenal fatigue all need to be considered to reverse Hashimoto’s.

Euthyroid Sick Syndrome

This is a condition where blood tests for the thyroid may show normal levels of TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone.  Yet, levels of T3 are low.  When T3 drops, your pituitary ought to respond by producing more TSH to stimulate more production of T4 and then conversion to T3.  Euthyroid refers to the fact that thyroid itself appears to be in working order as TSH is normal.  Treatment of Euthyroid Sick Syndrome often entails looking at the person as a whole and supporting the entire endocrine system as well as resolving stressors.

Thyroid Tests

Simple blood tests can identify a potential problem.  We prefer to do comprehensive thyroid blood work that includes TSH, free T3, free T4, anti-TPO (or anti-thyroperoxidase) and anti-thyroglobulin.  It’s a common misconception that if TSH is normal, then all of the remaining tests will also be normal.  This is not true.  I have reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of thyroid test results and found that patients can have a normal level of TSH, and even normal levels of free T3 and free T4, but thyroid antibody levels are not normal.  If you suspect a problem, I would highly recommend having complete testing done.

Whether you have an obvious problem or not, it’s important to understand how the thyroid works so that you can keep your body functioning optimally.

Tips to Improve Thyroid Function

When it comes to managing the optimal function of your glands, the building blocks are almost always found in nutrition first and foremost.

6 Tips to maintain a healthy thyroid through diet

  1. Go gluten and dairy free: Most people go gluten and dairy free only when there is an obvious sensitivity like a gut problem to either type of food. Sensitivity to gluten and dairy can be much more subtle when it comes to the thyroid. These foods trigger inflammation, disordered immune system function and are associated with autoimmune thyroid issues.
  2. Focus on your iodine level: Iodine is present in almost every organ and tissue and has a direct effect on the thyroid. Iodine is just one of the most important nutrients for this gland.  Chemical agents in commercial food ingredients have the side effect of decreasing your iodine level. Daily exposure to chemicals found in water such as bromine, fluorine, and chlorine all negatively impact iodine levels by competing with iodine for absorption. You do not need to take iodine supplements, however, and too much iodine can also damage your thyroid.  Using a little bit of good iodized sea salt each day will meet your iodine needs.
  3. Look for “no bromine” or “bromine-free” labels on organic whole-grain bread and flours if you eat grains
  4. Increase your dietary intake of wild-caught seafood and ocean fish
  5. Seek out foods containing zinc and selenium: Zinc and selenium are two micronutrients that play critical roles in thyroid health. Because they can be toxic in very high doses, it’s best to achieve healthy levels through diet. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, pork, egg yolks, shellfish and chicken while selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts, fish, and liver.
  6. Manage stress: Stress and overall health are inextricably linked. Make sure you’re taking time to meditate, relieve stress, and get your mindset on track so that you can enjoy the benefits of overall health.

You can gain control over your health by learning how to manage and maintain your thyroid through nutrition, lifestyle, and naturopathic medicine support. If you’re dealing with, or suspect you have this or other health issues, please take time to book an appointment to visit us at our clinic. We want to help you take control of your health! Comprehensive testing and hormone assessments are available.

Call or email us at 416-481-0222 or Info@ForcesofNature.ca

To your best health!

The team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic

References:
https://articles.mercola.com/thyroid.aspx
https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Aug 25:jc20152222. Epub 2015 Aug 25. PMID: 26305620

Boost Metabolism

woman exercising to boost metabolism

Rev Up Your Engines! 3 Effective Ways to Boost Metabolism

By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Your metabolism dictates how quickly and efficiently you burn calories to use for fuel and maintaining your body temperature.  The higher your metabolism, the more calories you can consume in a day without gaining weight.  Many of the patients that I see, complain of a sluggish metabolism – they don’t feel like they overeat, they consume healthy food, exercise regularly and yet they gain weight easily.  Let’s take a look at three ways you can boost metabolism to help with weight loss.

Nourish Your Thyroid

Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck that regulates your metabolism.  Think of it like the gas pedal for your body.  A sluggish thyroid means a slow metabolism  In order to do it’s job, your thyroid needs iodine, zinc, selenium, copper and tyrosine to build thyroid hormones.

Our main food source of iodine is iodized salt.  As a public health measure, iodine was added to table salt as a means of gently supplementing everyone with a little extra iodine, to stave off underactive thyroids.  However, excessive salt intake is considered unhealthy, so people have either stopped using salt in food preparation or shifted to using sea salt instead.  Those of you strictly avoiding salt or using sea salt may not be getting the benefit of the iodine added to regular table salt. I recommend switching to iodized sea salt, which is readily available at most health food stores.

Selenium is a trace mineral that is vital to healthy thyroid function.  Brazil nuts are a rich food source and consuming as little as 3 Brazil nuts per day supplies plenty of selenium for your thyroid.

Zinc is found naturally in beef, pumpkin seeds, egg yolks and shellfish.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, so protein rich foods like beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, beef, fish and chicken will supply the amino acid, tyrosine, that is also crucial to healthy thyroid function.

Restore Your Adrenals

The adrenal glands are your stress glands; they help your body cope in times of stress. They assist the thyroid hormone to function properly by enabling transfer of the hormone into the tissues where it works to increase metabolism. The adrenal glands need substantial amounts of vitamins B5, B6, C, potassium, magnesium and zinc especially while under
stress.

To nurture healthy adrenals:

  1. Eat lots of leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and spring mix salad greens.  These are chock full of B vitamins, C, zinc, potassium, magnesium and zinc, everything that the adrenals need, all in one food.
  2. Get adequate rest and sleep.  Stop working by 8 p.m. and relax.  Aim to be in bed by 10 p.m..  The adrenals operate on a daily schedule that is regulated by daylight.  They peak in the morning and taper off to their lowest between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m..  Try to work with their schedule, not against it.
  3. Reduce your stress.  Easier said than done, but whatever you can do in this regard will help your adrenals and help to maintain a healthy cortisol level.  Excessive cortisol contributes to weight gain around your waist.  Stress reduction through psychotherapy, exercise, yoga, tai chi and massage therapy can all help if stress is the problem.

Exercise

Exercise can boost metabolism for up to 48 hours afterward, so get off the couch and walk briskly, dance, go on the treadmill, do something active for 30 minutes 5-7 times per week.  Exercise, but not to the point that you feel exhausted after, you should feel energized after exercise.  It’s also the best stress reliever there is.  Weight training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) are particularly good for building muscle mass.  Muscles burn more calories than non-muscle tissue, so muscle can boost metabolism even while you are sleeping.

Are You Getting Enough Iodine?

picture of a thyroid gland

Iodine, Thyroid and Pregnancy

Research shows that women from iodine-deficient areas should use iodized salt for at least 2 years before becoming pregnant to prevent thyroid problems during pregnancy and to protect the fetus against the harmful effect of iodine deficiency on brain development.

The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ in the neck and a key part of the endocrine system, produces hormones and helps regulate the body’s metabolism.

There is an increased risk of neurological development problems in infants born to mothers who had low levels of thyroid hormone in early pregnancy. Even mild isolated thyroid problems can interfere with fetal brain development.

Researchers found that the rate of thyroid failure was nearly 6 times higher in short-term users of iodized salt compared with long-term users.

In the clinic, I often see people whose concerns include low energy, sluggish metabolism, can’t lose weight or gain weight easily, hard to get out of bed in the morning, thinning hair and feeling cold even in the summer. While there are many possible explanations, low thyroid function could be one reason for these symptoms. I will often ask if they are consuming iodized salt. Sea salt, while it’s healthier than regular table salt, is often NOT iodized. Supplementing salt with iodine was a public health initiative designed to top up everyone’s iodine intake in areas where the soil is particularly iodine deficient. Those on salt restricted diets or who are using salt that is not iodized, run the risk of an iodine deficiency. My recommendation is to ensure that everyone is using a little iodized sea salt each day or you can also get iodine naturally by consuming seaweed like kelp, wakame or bladderwrack.

There are several other nutrients that are essential for healthy thyroid function, including copper, zinc, selenium and tyrosine.  Supporting these nutrients can sometimes turn around an underactive thyroid, but more often than not, a sluggish thyroid is due to Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid problem.  Treating that successfully is a whole other, bigger kettle of fish!

Warning:  Too much iodine can also be bad for your thyroid, so only supplement with iodine under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor. 

To increase your iodine intake there’s a new recipe for seaweed salad in the healthy recipes section on our website to check it out click here.