A Hidden Epidemic: Considering Hypothyroidism
Thyroid issues affect about 10 percent of the population in general and are a common health concern among my patients. Women are four times more likely than men to have thyroid problems and the majority have hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid is not producing enough hormones. Most conventional medical practitioners treat all hypothyroid cases the same, but there are several underlying causes and different approaches are needed for different people in order to balance thyroid function.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located below the Adam’s apple on the front of the neck. It regulates the metabolism of every cell in the body. Symptoms of a low functioning thyroid can therefore cause all kinds of issues including fatigue, weight gain, depression, forgetfulness, constipation, dry skin and hair loss, chronic pain and inflammation, cold sensitivity and low body temperature. Hypothyroidism can also contribute to high cholesterol and other cardiovascular issues.
In general, the best diet to support the thyroid includes decreasing carbohydrate intake and increasing vegetable intake. It was once thought that eating raw brassica family plants like broccoli, kale, and cabbage would inhibit thyroid hormone production, but you would have to eat such a huge amount to make that happen, it is very unlikely. Cooked brassicas are perfectly safe. Thyroid hormone is made from Iodine. Adults need about 150 micrograms daily to prevent deficiency. Mega dosing on iodine can exacerbate thyroid issues, so more is not better. Zinc, vitamin A and Selenium are other crucial nutrients for healthy thyroid function.
I recommend annual screening blood tests for my patients. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is the most common thyroid screening test. It is useful, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Some people have an underactive thyroid with normal TSH. T4 is the storage form of thyroid hormone and free T3 is the active form. It is helpful to test these levels as well as thyroid antibodies. If you suspect you have a thyroid issue or know you do but don’t know if you have thyroid antibodies, get them checked! Most healthcare providers don’t bother to test for antibodies, but naturopathic doctors routinely test for them because we want to identify and treat the underlying cause.
Balancing immune function can normalize thyroid function if you have autoimmune, also known as Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism. This occurs when the immune system starts perceiving the thyroid gland as a foreign invader and begins attacking it. The trigger can be either an infection or exposure to toxins such as excess fluoride (the main component of Teflon), bisphenol A (from plastics and canned foods and drinks), perchlorate contaminated drinking water and mercury. Amalgam fillings and tuna are common sources of mercury exposure.
There is likely a genetic predisposition, so if you know you have a family history of thyroid problems, it’s important to be especially careful. Digestion is the foundation of health and thyroid health is no exception. If your gut is irritated by a food allergy, infection or from taking too many antibiotics, you are more likely to develop any type of autoimmune disease. Gluten is the most common food allergy trigger, but other foods can be problematic.
Subclinical hypothyroidism can occur when all the lab tests are normal, but your metabolism is not. If you have symptoms of low thyroid and a body temperature that averages below 97.8 degrees first thing in the morning before getting out of bed, you are likely have a sluggish thyroid that needs support. Eliminating toxins, avoiding food allergens and adding in supportive nutrients like Vitamin A, Zinc, Selenium and Iodine can make a big difference.
If you are feeling sad, fat and tired all the time, don’t just blame it on lack of willpower or stress and stay stuck. See a naturopathic doctor or other qualified healthcare practitioner and investigate your thyroid health. You are worth it!