Support for your Thyroid
Though it weighs less than an ounce, the beautiful, butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the middle of the lower neck plays a very important role in our bodies. The thyroid gland is the queen of all hormones as it helps to regulate metabolism and plays a significant role in energy levels, heart rate, and fertility. It’s also involved in gastrointestinal function, blood sugar regulation, stomach acid production, brain chemistry, and liver detoxification. So it’s hardly surprising that when the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, the rest of the body is tremendously impacted.
The signs of a thyroid condition are often subtle and misdiagnosed. In fact, most people brush it off as just “getting older” or “feeling run down,” not understanding why they’re experiencing certain specific symptoms when all of their medical tests are clear. Often, what western doctors consider acceptable thyroid hormone levels (as determined via blood testing) are actually sub-optimal and can manifest as signs and symptoms of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism (underactive or overactive thyroid gland).
Hypothyroidism is much more prevalent than hyperthyroidism and will therefore be the primary focus of this guide. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 40% of the population suffers from subclinical hypothyroidism. Why is hypothyroidism more common? There are several factors at play, including, but not limited to: genetic predisposition, insufficient iodine intake, overconsumption of conventional soy products, excessive toxic burden (personal care products, cleaning agents, environmental toxicity), estrogen-dominance, candida, injury to the pituitary gland, as well as consumption of the toxic halides: chlorine, fluoride and bromine, all of which interfere with thyroid function.
How might you know you have an underactive thyroid? Let’s take a closer look to decipher those signs and symptoms
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHYROIDISM
FATIGUE - Low energy, fatigue or lethargy are probably the most common symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid dictates how much energy we have; when thyroid hormones are running low, so are you. You could experience anything from feeling a little more tired than usual to feeling extremely fatigued on a consistent basis. This is a common indication that the thyroid is not functioning properly.
WEIGHT ISSUES- As mentioned above, the thyroid gland produces the hormones that regulate metabolism, which affects how effectively a person can metabolize food and burn energy (calories). A sluggish thyroid gland and metabolism inhibits your ability to break down fat, making you resistant to weight loss. (Conversely, if you have an overactive thyroid, you could be losing weight for no reason due to the thyroid having cranked up the metabolism).
SLEEP PROBLEMS- If your thyroid function is low, you’ll be familiar with the experience of waking up feeling unrested and wanting more sleep than usual. In these cases, the body often takes a couple of hours after waking up to feel fully awake and energetic - usually, around 10am.
IRREGULAR PERIODS- Irregular periods (or absence of menstruation) is a common sign of thyroid conditions in women. Girls who have either menstruated at a very young age or who begin menstruating quite late may have thyroid problems. In addition, any change in menstrual patterns, such as periods that are more or less frequent, heavier or lighter, or the lack of a period may require a comprehensive thyroid evaluation.
LOW LIBIDO- A thyroid imbalance can disrupt your desire for sex as it affects the metabolism of estrogen and testosterone in the body. If your lowered libido can’t be explained by other factors - such as stress, anxiety, or body image issues - then it’s definitely wise to have your thyroid hormone levels checked.
IRREGULAR BODY TEMPERATURE- When your thyroid hormone levels are low, it affects your body's temperature control. This can cause you to feel cold all the time, or to have night sweats and hot flashes.
INFERTILITY- An underfunctioning thyroid (as well as one that is overactive) can make it challenging for women to conceive, as imbalances with the thyroid hormone can upset the balance of the hormones that trigger ovulation.
DEPRESSION- When your thyroid is off balance, so is your brain. If you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious and don’t know why you could have an underlying thyroid problem. The health of the thyroid is intimately connected to the adequate production of serotonin in the brain, so a thyroid that is not functioning optimally can result in brain-related symptoms such as brain fog, mental fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration.
HAIR LOSS- When thyroid levels are low, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly, resulting in hair loss.
HEALING & PAMPERING THE THYROID GLAND THROUGH FOOD
OPTIMIZE YOUR DIET- To keep thyroid hormone levels balanced in the body, the thyroid regulates many body functions including the central and peripheral nervous systems, heart rate, menstrual cycles, body weight, and body temperature, to name just a few. If the thyroid is not in balance, it can have a domino effect and cause other body functions to go out of balance as well. Make a conscious effort to include at least one or two of the following foods in your diet every day:
Brazil nuts - these tasty nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, a vital mineral that’s essential in converting the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) into its active form of T3. A few Brazil nuts go a long way - consume just 4 per day to get adequate amounts of selenium.
Sea vegetables - these are very dense in trace minerals and also contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Sodium and iodine are the most predominant minerals found in sea vegetables and have long been used to treat thyroid imbalances such as goiters. Enjoy seaweed, kombu, dulse, kelp, hiziki, and other sea vegetables in order to increase your iodine levels. Here are some examples of how to incorporate them into your daily menu and diet:
Add a piece of kombu to a pot of beans or soup during cooking
Instead of salt, sprinkle kelp or dulse granules over your salads or hot dishes
Make nori wraps as a delicious and portable snack
Blueberries - these low-GI berries can help to reduce inflammation that is common in hypothyroidism as well as with adrenal issues (which, you’ll see discussed below, is commonly connected with an underactive thyroid).
Avocados - some call the avocado a “perfect food” due to its incredibly macro- and micro-nutrient profile. Avocados are a good source of potassium as well as vitamins A and C, all of which are crucial for good thyroid (and adrenal) health.
Eggs - like other proteins, eggs are a great source of B-vitamins, especially riboflavin (vitamin B2) and the yolks are high in vitamins A and D.
Chlorophyll - these green pigments that are found in algae and plants help to gently detox heavy metals from the body. Excess heavy metals in the blood like mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic are known to inhibit thyroid function. Chlorophyll is easily available at most health food stores.
COOK YOUR GREENS -If you have thyroid issues, then raw cruciferous vegetables may not be the best choice for you, especially in large amounts. Skip the kale smoothies and salads, and eat your greens cooked instead. Cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens, which can disrupt the thyroid if consumed in large quantities. Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, kale, and cauliflower.
MINIMIZE GRAINS- Grains that contain gluten should be limited or avoided as they’ve been implicated in autoimmune thyroid conditions. Limit wheat, spelt, kamut, durum, barley, rye, and oats, and instead enhance your diet with starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, and peas.
AVOID SOY- Soy is a goitrogen which blocks iodine uptake in the body. Fermented versions of soy, such as tempeh and natto, have a lesser effect and can be consumed in moderation.
HEALING THE THYROID WITH SUPPLEMENTS
Vitamin A, selenium, the B vitamins, iodine, vitamin D, and zinc are some of the vitamins and minerals that are necessary to ensure healthy thyroid functioning. To optimize the health of your thyroid, you may need to supplement your diet with some of these. Check with your health care practitioner to determine the nutrients that you most need. Below are some recommendations:
The B vitamins, especially B2 and B3, are critical for energy metabolism. A high-dose B complex will also help support skin tone, immune system, improve emotional health, and also support the adrenals. Take : 1-2 capsules per day; at breakfast and lunch. Try to avoid taking B vitamins in the afternoon as they have the potential to disrupt your ability to sleep.
Selenium protects the thyroid from the inflammation and oxidative stress that is suppressing its function and damaging thyroid tissue. It is also critical in the conversion of the hormone T4 to its active T3 form. Take: Up to 200mcg/day
Iron A deficiency in iron often accompanies hypothyroidism, since when the body is deficient, the thyroid compensates by conserving energy and dialing back its function. Take: 30-60mg iron amino chelate/day
Iodine - This mineral is required for thyroid hormone synthesis - without adequate amounts, our thyroid cannot make enough of its hormones and thus dials back its activity (hypothyroid). Take: The Suggested range can be anywhere from 12.5-50mg per day, depending on your individual needs. A high potency Iodine/Potassium Iodide blend is optimal for proper thyroid function.
Vitamin C - Needed for both optimal thyroid and adrenal function. Is also a powerful antioxidant and makes iron more absorbable. Take 3-6g/day or more (up to bowel tolerance)
Vitamin D - Many people with hypothyroid find themselves with low levels of vitamin D - which may explain why so many with low thyroid function experience bone problems. Vitamin D also contributes to immune function. Take: Dosage can range from 2,000-10,000 IUs per day, depending on your stores.
*Work with a practitioner before taking or combining supplements
SUPPORT THE ADRENAL GLANDS
The thyroid gland has a very close relationship with the adrenal glands, which are two small glands located above the kidneys. The adrenals are known as the stress glands, and they regulate the fight or flight response in the body. They’re also responsible for the production of many hormones. When the adrenals are exhausted from constantly being in high-stress mode, they increase inflammation in the body which in turn impacts the functioning of all the organs, especially the thyroid.
The adrenals can be supported naturally with adaptogens, which are a unique group of herbs used to improve the health of your adrenal glands. Adaptogens help strengthen the body’s response to stress and enhance its ability to cope with anxiety and fatigue. Some great examples to experiment with include ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola. Below are some herbs to try to support optimal thyroid and adrenal health.
HEALING THE THYROID AND ADRENALS WITH HERBAL MEDICINE
Adaptogens, as mentioned above, are wonderful herbs that are specifically restorative to the adrenal glands, helping you to respond to stress, restore health, vitality, immunity, stamina, and sense of wellbeing. They help you to cope more easily with the demands of everyday life, providing a sense of calm and energy at a deep level. They also help to establish a new stress set-point by reprogramming the nervous system, boosting energy and relieving chronic fatigue, enhancing memory and mental stamina, improving mood, calming inflammation, regulating immunity and helping to restore hormone balance. Because of the intimate connection between the adrenals and thyroid, by giving some love to your adrenals, you will also be supporting your thyroid. Below are some recommendations:
Ashwagandha -For deep exhaustion. Has gentle, soothing and calming effects, improving sleep, relieving anxiety and alleviating nervous system exhaustion while improving memory and learning. Relaxing for muscles and reduces inflammation. Also has a stimulating effect on the thyroid and supports thyroid hormone synthesis. Take: In tincture form, up to 5mL 3x/day
Guggul - Has been shown to improve thyroid function, increasing the conversion of T4 to the active T3 form. *Do not take during pregnancy (safe during breastfeeding, but discontinue if baby gets an upset tummy) Take: 750mg/day
Rhodiola- Helps to alleviate depression, as well as help promote better energy and cognition. It’s also thought to help the adrenals spread cortisol production better throughout the day and counter stress. Take: In tincture form, 5mL 3x/day. *Can be stimulating for some-so take earlier in the day.
Holy Basil- Along with being a fantastic adaptogen, holy basil also helps to enhance cerebral circulation, therefore improving cognitive function (memory, brain fog, etc.) which is often associated with hypothyroid. Take: As a tea or infusion, 1 tsp in 1 cup of boiling water, up to 3x/day
Eleuthero/Siberian Ginseng - Increases mental alertness and performance, increases energy and stamina, reduces stress and fatigue, reduces dream-disrupted sleep and insomnia, enhances immunity, especially against viral infections, improves detoxification. Take: Tincture form, up to 5mL 3x/day
NOTE: there have been rare cases of insomnia reported with the use of Eleuthero; if you have insomnia, select a different herb, or consider taking Eleuthero before noon
Maca helps to balance the endocrine system for both men and women. It aids in regulating thyroxine levels (T4) and also contains zinc, iron, and vitamins B2, B3, and B6, all of which help to support optimal thyroid production. Take: Try up to 1 tsp/day of dried root. NOTE: some people may find maca overly stimulating. If this is the case for you, reduce the dose by ½ or even ¾.
LIFESTYLE SUPPORT FOR THYROID HEALTH
PRACTICE SELF-CARE- When we’re under constant stress, cortisol and other stress hormones can be chronically elevated, which can wreak havoc on our other hormones. To counteract stress, try deep breathing, meditation (even just a few minutes a day has undeniable benefits!), or yoga - whatever it takes for you to be present and to take your mind off your to-do list. Spending some quiet time in nature or by the sea is also highly beneficial.
MINIMIZE EXPOSURE TO TOXINS - There are thousands of new chemicals manufactured each year, and these can have a profound impact on our thyroid health. Many of the chemicals we’re exposed to are the ones we purchase and bring into our own homes, such as personal care and beauty products, and cleaning products. Many of these chemicals are capable of disrupting the natural balance of our endocrine systems, of which the thyroid gland is a very important member.
It’s easy to make DIY personal care and household cleaning products, and it has also become quite easy to find clean, chemical-free products for purchase. Some chemicals to avoid are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, dioxin, parabens, flame retardants, and BPA.
By using a holistic approach that includes a healthy diet and lifestyle, minimizing exposure to toxins, and including beneficial herbs and supplements, you will support not only your thyroid gland, but your entire body so that you will achieve balanced, optimal health.