Could your thyroid be responsible for your health problems?
By Jessah Shaw, Adv Dip (Nut Med)
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. The thyroid gland manufactures the two hormones: T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). The thyroid produces much more T4 than T3; however, T3 is the active hormone and is known to be much stronger than T4.
What do thyroid hormones do?
Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling the basic activity of each cell in the body, including metabolism, growth and development. Because the thyroid is essentially the body’s thermostat, controlling things like temperature, hunger levels and energy expenditure, if you have a thyroid issue it can be quite problematic.
What are the most common thyroid problems?
The two main types of thyroid problems are: hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).
Hypothyroidism occurs if hormone levels drop below normal causing your metabolism to slow down and energy levels to fall. In developed countries such as Australia and the USA, the most common cause of hypothyroidism is the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is when the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid cells, causing inflammation and leaving the thyroid unable to produce sufficient thyroid hormone.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Decreased appetite
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Slow heart rate
- Poor memory and concentration
- Decreased libido
- Dry skin and hair
- Scalp hair loss
- Slow reflexes
- Aches and pains in muscles and bones
- Fluid retention
Hyperthyroidism on the other hand is a lot less common and is most commonly caused by the autoimmune disease, Graves’ disease. Hyperthyroidism is when thyroid hormone levels become too high, causing your metabolism and all body processes to speed up.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Rapid pulse and heart palpitations
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling overly sensitive to heat
- Increased sweating
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Inability to sleep
- Irritability, anxiety, nervousness and even panic attacks
- Diarrhoea or frequent bowel movements
- Hand tremors
- Mood swings
- Fatigue and weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Joint pains
- Trouble concentrating
- Brittle nails
Here are some tips for a healthy thyroid gland:
1) Eliminate gluten
The majority of thyroid conditions are caused by an autoimmune disease, and research has indicated that gluten intolerance can be a trigger for autoimmunity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, oats, rye and barley. You can see if you have an intolerance to gluten through a simple blood test. Another option is to eliminate gluten and grains from your diet for 6 weeks and then reintroduce them into your diet and monitor your symptoms. Many thyroid patients benefit from following a diet free of gluten. If you have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity and have autoimmune thyroid disease, we recommend you avoid gluten altogether.
2) Consume good quality protein
The thyroid gland needs adequate amounts of tyrosine to manufacture thyroid hormones. We also need sufficient protein every day as the liver needs the amino acids in protein to carry out phase two detoxification reactions. Tyrosine is found in protein rich foods like red meat and poultry, as well as almonds, avocados, bananas and pumpkin seeds.
3) Go raw
We should be consuming raw vegetable salads every day, not only in summer. Our liver urgently needs the antioxidants and enzymes in raw foods that are required for sufficient digestion. A convenient way to add raw foods into your diet is through raw vegetable juicing. Juicing is an excellent way to receive antioxidants in a highly concentrated and absorbable form. There are some great recipes in Dr Cabot’s book ‘Raw Juices Can Save Your Life’.
4) Eat some good fats
Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna), raw nuts and seeds, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil and nut oils. These fats can reduce inflammation in autoimmune thyroid disease and improve cell membrane health which allows thyroid hormones to function more efficiently. You also need the right fats in your diet to keep your immune system strong and to heal and repair liver cells.
5) Manage stress
When you are stressed your body pumps out large amounts of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones release inflammatory proteins and antibodies that can suppress immune function and damage the adrenal/thyroid glands. This is why individuals with thyroid problems can experience hormonal changes such as decreased libido, fertility problems and mood swings. It’s essential to find ways to deal with stress such as meditating, exercising, reading a book or socialising with loved ones.
6) Reduce toxin exposure
In this day and age, toxins are everywhere and it’s near impossible to avoid them altogether. But there are ways to minimise your exposure to toxins. Toxins are found in pesticides, insecticides, cleaning products, personal care products and industrial fumes. Where possible, switch to using natural products, eat a clean diet, and ensure adequate circulation by keeping your windows open for at least an hour every day. Exposure to toxins has been linked to formation of thyroid nodules and autoimmune thyroid disease.
7) Feed your thyroid the right nutrients
Ensure that you have a healthy diet, plentiful in nutrients that are needed for sufficient thyroid health. These include iodine, selenium and vitamin D. Iodine and selenium are required for the production of thyroid hormones and healthy thyroid tissue. Vitamin D helps to support healthy immune function. Thyroid hormones are required for energy production and an efficient metabolic rate.