When we feel hot, we might crank up the A/C. When we feel cold, it’s generally a good idea to pull out a nice, warm sweater. Did you ever give any thought to HOW your body is signalling temperature cues to your brain?
We all have a secret weapon located just below the centre of our necks. We call this the thyroid gland and among other things, it is our body’s internal thermostat.
How the Thyroid Gland Works
Our thyroid gland helps us regulate our body temperature by secreting hormones that control how quickly we burn calories and utilise energy for all our body functions.
The thyroid uses iodine and protein from our diet to create thyroid hormone (especially T4). Our tissues then convert that T4 into the powerful metabolic hormone T3.
Although it might be small, the thyroid gland is critical to our survival because proper regulation of our metabolic rate controls heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. Without it, we would not be able to survive.
Because the thyroid is such an important part of our biology, we tend to feel unwell if things are not functioning as they should. There are a few thyroid conditions that are responsible for a variety of symptoms.
Hashimoto’s Disease: Also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis, is a type of autoimmune disease, and is unfortunately very common. It’s what happens when your immune system doesn’t recognise your own thyroid and tries to protect the body by attacking it.
Hypothyroidism/Thyroid Under-Function: Following repeated attacks from the immune system, the thyroid gland may become damaged and unable to produce enough thyroid hormones to meet the body’s needs. When the body lacks the hormones that help turn food into energy, we are left with a sluggish metabolism. Hypothyroidism is an often under-diagnosed and under-treated condition that mostly affects women between the ages of 30-50.
An under-active thyroid causes symptoms like fatigue, an inability to tolerate the cold, easy weight gain, elevated LDL cholesterol, painful PMS, depression, hair loss, brain fog, poor GI motility (often including constipation), and muscle weakness or low stamina.
Hyperthyroidism: You can get too much of a good thing, including excessive thyroid hormone production. People with an overactive thyroid gland, may experience anxiety, irritability, arrhythmia, palpitations, mood swings, difficulty sleeping and a swelling in your neck from an enlarged thyroid gland known as goitre.
What Can You Do?
Get Tested. If you have some unexplained symptoms and suspect you might be suffering from a thyroid condition, ask your doctor for a full thyroid test panel (ideally TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3, and both Tg and TPO thyroid auto-antibodies). We look to TSH because it is a brain hormone, not a thyroid hormone. Different tissues have different thyroid levels of receptors for thyroid hormone and different levels of T4 to T3 conversion. The brain may be supported sufficiently (and thus TSH looks good) while other tissue is struggling.
Review your existing prescriptions. If you have been prescribed hormone medication but are still not feeling right, your existing thyroid hormone prescriptions may not be working. This could be due to an insufficient dosage or because you may be a poor T4-to-T3 converter. This means you would need a compounded blend or a natural thyroid extract, or sufficient other nutrient and anti-inflammatory support to boost T4 to T3 conversion.
Overhaul your diet. As with most things, optimal nutrition can do wonders to help with thyroid conditions. Studies show that when specific foods are added (in moderation) to a diet, they can contribute to thyroid health.
Chew your food well. Good “eating hygiene” means chewing your food well. This helps to bring key amino acids into the body to support hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis.
Maintaining a balanced, whole foods diet is key for the thyroid. Monitor your body and stick to the foods that feel good for you as every person is different and while some of the foods suggested below may feel good for some, they may result in feelings of sluggishness for others.
Foods to Include
Sea vegetables. Seaweed is good for the thyroid because they contain high concentrations of iodine, as well as supportive iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, magnesium, calcium, copper, chromium, vitamin A, and B vitamins.
Seafoods. Look for those with a pink colour as they are a good source of iodine and healthy fats. Shrimp, lobster, salmon, halibut, sardines, and crab meat are good iodine sources.
Nuts and seeds. The thyroid absorbs iodine and combines it with tyrosine (an amino acid) to produce thyroid hormones. Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats and minerals and are also a great source of plant-based protein. Look at Brazil nuts specifically as Selenium is necessary for T4 to T3 conversion. Brazil nuts are one of nature’s most potent sources of selenium, so you only need a few per day. Other sources of Selenium are turkey, smoked herring, scallops, chicken, eggs and walnuts. If you try a selenium supplement, don’t exceed 200 mg/day, and be sure to take it on a full stomach.
Coconut Oil. Coconut oil is a medium chain saturated fat and is nature’s richest source of MCTs (medium chain fatty acids) which increases metabolic rate and can help increase energy for those who have insulin resistance or other forms of poor metabolism.
Protein and Iron. Maintain a varied diet rich in protein. Include fish, chicken, eggs, seafood, cheese, or plain yogurt. Organ meats such as liver are really good for thyroid function too if your body tolerates them well. Choose organic and grass-fed varieties.
Zinc. Many people are Zinc deficient. Meats and seafood are good sources of zinc with oysters being the strongest source overall. Pumpkin seeds and chickpeas are some of the best vegetarian sources for zinc.
Foods to Avoid
Processed foods. We know these foods are not good for us because most of them are just empty calories, void of any real nutritional value. Eating too much of them can inhibit thyroid function.
Processed Soy Products. These deserve a special mention because with the rise in vegetarianism, more people are eating these foods. If you do choose to consume soy products, be sure to supplement your selenium and iodine intake. Soy has to be fermented to release its natural goitrogens, anti-nutrients which inhibit the body’s ability to use iodine, promote goitre formation and act like anti-thyroid drugs. The processed versions lack this and the isoflavones in soy have been associated with decreased thyroid hormone output.
Too much Raw Cruciferous vegetables. As we mentioned before, too much of a good thing can be bad. Even very healthy foods like these. This family of vegetables includes goitrogens which are deactivated with heat (not so with those in processed soy). Foods like broccoli, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes, turnips, bokchoy, arugula, daikon, and rutabaga contain goitrogenic compounds. Small servings of these raw veggies are fine.
Fluoride. Fluoride and chlorine block iodine receptors in the thyroid gland. Many fluoride-free toothpastes are available. Some water treatment systems filter out chlorine and fluoride so it is best to choose distilled or spring water. Look for unbleached and unbromated flours.
Caffeine. If you rely on coffee to get you through the day, it is likely that you are not getting enough rest and that your stress levels are too high. Caffeine can’t make up for lack of rest and sleep and often leads to exhaustion of the adrenal gland. Our thyroid works in tandem with our adrenal glands so optimal functioning of both is critical.
In most cases, thyroid conditions can be controlled with daily medication that is adjusted according to regular blood work monitoring. Healthy eating, the right supplements and regular exercise can help you feel your best and improve your thyroid blood work. There is no reason to fear a thyroid condition, yet it does need to be monitored and treated.
If you think you may be suffering from symptoms of Hypothyroidism, reach out to me for a FREE, 20-minute discovery call and let me see how I can help you.