Your thyroid, one of the largest endocrine glands, greatly influences almost every cell in your body. Aside from regulating your metabolism and weight by controlling the fat-burning process, thyroid hormones are also required for the growth and development in children and in nearly every physiological process in your body.
When your thyroid levels are out of balance, so are you. Too much or too little hormone secretion in this gland can spell trouble for your overall health and well-being.
Mounting research shows that 10 to 40 percent of people living in the United States have suboptimal thyroid function.1 Poor thyroid function has been linked to serious health conditions like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, eczema, gum disease, infertility, and autoimmune diseases, which is why it’s imperative that you to learn how your thyroid works and what can cause it to go off kilter.
The Thyroid Gland: Understanding How It Works
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland found inside your neck, right under your larynx or voice box. A two-inch long, brownish red, highly vascular gland, it has two lobes located on each side of the windpipe that are both connected by a tissue called the isthmus. A normal thyroid gland weighs somewhere between 20 and 60 grams.
Your thyroid is responsible for producing the master metabolism hormones that control every function in your body. It produces three types of hormones:
Triiodothyronine (T3) – Thyroxine (T4) – Diiodothyronine (T2)
Hormones secreted by your thyroid interact with all your other hormones, including insulin, cortisol, and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The fact that these hormones are all tied together and are in constant communication explains why a less-than-optimal thyroid status is associated with so many widespread symptoms and diseases.
Almost 90 percent of the hormone produced by your thyroid is in the form of T4, the inactive form. Your liver then converts the T4 into T3, the active form, with the help of an enzyme. T2, however, is currently the least-understood component of thyroid function and the subject of a number of ongoing studies.
If everything is working properly, you will make what you need and have the correct amounts of T3 and T4, which control the metabolism of every cell in your body. If your T3 is inadequate, either by scarce production or not converting properly from T4, your whole system suffers. T3 is critically important because it tells the nucleus of your cells to send messages to your DNA to rev up your metabolism by burning fat. This is how T3 lowers cholesterol levels, regrows hair, and helps keep you lean.
Your T3 levels can be disrupted by nutritional imbalances, toxins, allergens, infections, and stress, and this lead to a series of complications, including thyroid cancer, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism, which today are three of the most prevalent thyroid-related diseases.
Now, let’s discuss and delve deeper into these thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism: The Sluggish Thyroid Syndrome
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, a condition that is often linked to iodine deficiency.
Dr. David Brownstein, a board-certified holistic practitioner who has been working with iodine for the last two decades, claims that over 95 percent of the patients in his clinic are iodine-deficient.
In addition, 10 percent of the general population in the United States, and 20 percent of women over age 60, have subclinical hypothyroidism,2 a condition where you have no obvious symptoms and only slightly abnormal lab tests.
However, only a marginal percentage of these people are being treated. The reason behind this is the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of lab tests, particularly TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Most physicians believe that if your TSH value is within the “normal” range, your thyroid is fine. But as I always say, the devil is in the details. More and more physicians are now discovering that the TSH value is grossly unreliable for diagnosing hypothyroidism.
How to Know If You Are Hypothyroid
Identifying hypothyroidism and its cause is tricky business. Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are vague and overlap with other disorders. Physicians often miss a thyroid problem since they rely on just a few traditional tests, leaving other clues undetected.
The most sensitive way to find out is to listen to your body. People with a sluggish thyroid usually experience lethargy – Fatigue and lack of energy are typical signs of thyroid dysfunction. Depression has also been linked to the condition. If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, make it a point that your physician checks your thyroid levels.
It’s essential to note that not all tiredness or lack of energy can be blamed on a dysfunctional thyroid gland. Thyroid-related fatigue begins to appear when you cannot sustain energy long enough, especially when compared to a past level of fitness or ability. If your thyroid foundation is weak, sustaining energy output is going to be a challenge. You will notice you just don’t seem to have the energy to do the things like you used to.
Some of the obvious signs of thyroid fatigue include:
– Feeling like you don’t have the energy to exercise, and typically not exercising on a consistent basis
– A heavy or tired head, especially in the afternoon; your head is a very sensitive indicator of thyroid hormone status
– Falling asleep as soon as you sit down when you don’t have anything to do
– Weight gain – Easy weight gain or difficulty losing weight, despite an aggressive exercise program and watchful eating, is another indicator.
– Rough and scaly skin and/or dry, course, and tangled hair – If you have perpetually dry skin that doesn’t respond well to moisturizing lotions or creams, consider hypothyroidism as a factor.
– Hair loss – Women especially would want to pay attention to their thyroid when unexplained hair loss occurs. Fortunately, if your hair loss is due to low thyroid function, your hair will come back quickly with proper thyroid treatment.
– Sensitivity to cold – Feeling cold all the time is also a sign of low thyroid function. Hypothyroid people are slow to warm up, even in a sauna, and don’t sweat with mild exercise.
– Low basal temperature – Another telltale sign of hypothyroidism is a low basal body temperature (BBT), less than 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit averaged over a minimum of three days. It is best to get a BBT thermometer to assess this.
Any of these symptoms can be suggestive of an underactive thyroid. The more of these symptoms you have, the higher the likelihood that you have hypothyroidism. Furthermore, if you have someone in your family with Goiter, Diabetes, Multiple sclerosis (MS), Prematurely gray hair, Autoimmune diseases, (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s), Elevated cholesterol levels, Left-handedness, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, High or low thyroid function. If you have any of these conditions, your risks of thyroid problems become higher:
The more vigilant you are in assessing your own symptoms and risk factors and presenting the complete picture to your physician, the easier it will be for you to get the proper treatment.
Gluten – along with other food sensitivities, is a notorious culprit of thyroid dysfunction, as they cause inflammation. Gluten causes autoimmune responses in many people and can be responsible for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a common autoimmune thyroid condition. Approximately 30 percent of the people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have an autoimmune reaction to gluten, and it usually goes unrecognized.
Gluten sensitivity can cause your gastrointestinal system to malfunction, so foods you eat aren’t completely digested, often leading to a leaky gut syndrome. These food particles can then be absorbed into your bloodstream, where your body misidentifies them as antigens – substances that shouldn’t be there – and then produces antibodies against them.
These antigens are similar to the molecules in your thyroid gland. Because of this, your body accidentally attacks your thyroid. This is known as an autoimmune reaction, in which your body actually attacks itself. Testing can be done for gluten and other food sensitivities, which involves measuring your IgG and IgA antibodies.
Chris Kresser, an integrative medicine practitioner, recommends The Gluten-Free Challenge. This involves completely removing gluten from your diet for at least 30 days, and then adding it back right after. “If symptoms improve during the elimination period, and return when gluten is reintroduced, a diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can be made,” Kresser explains.
Soy – Believe it or not, soy is not the wholesome health food the agricultural and food companies have led you to believe. Virtually thousands of scientific studies now link soy foods to malnutrition, digestive stress, immune system weakness, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, infertility, and a host of other problems, on top of the damage it causes your thyroid. Soy phytoestrogens are potent anti-thyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.
Properly or traditionally fermented, organic, and unprocessed soy products such as natto, miso, and tempeh are fine – it’s the unfermented soy products that you should stay away from, like soy meat, soy milk, soy cheese, etc.
Bromines – Bromines are a common endocrine disruptor. Because bromide is also a halide, it competes for the same receptors that are used in the thyroid gland to capture iodine. This will inhibit thyroid hormone production resulting in a low thyroid state. Bromine can be found regularly in a number of places, including: pesticides, plastics, such as those used to make computers, bakery goods and some flours often contain a “dough conditioner” called potassium bromate. Soft drinks, particularly citrus flavored sodas.
The more you can free your body of the toxic halides, the more iodine your body will be able to hang onto, and the better your thyroid will function. Laura Power, a nutritional biochemist, offers these suggestions for increasing secretion of fluorine and bromine:
How to help yourself
– Increase your iodine and vitamin C intake
– Opt for unrefined sea salt
– Have Epsom salts baths
– Sweat in a far-infrared sauna
– Stress and Adrenal Function because stress is one of the worst thyroid offenders and your thyroid function is intimately tied to your adrenal function, which is intimately affected by how you handle stress.
– Iodine is perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to thyroid hormones. It is a vitally important nutrient that is detected in every organ and tissue. It is essential for healthy thyroid function and efficient metabolism, and there is increasing evidence that relates low to numerous diseases, including cancer.
Iodine is a potent anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti- cancer agent. It has four significant roles in your body, namely to maintain your weight and metabolism, to develop brain and cognitive function in children, to optimize fertility, and to strengthen your immune system.
In addition to iodine’s disappearance from our food supply, exposure to toxic competing halogens –bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate– has dramatically increased. You absorb these halogens through your food, water, medications, and environment, and they selectively occupy your iodine receptors, worsening your iodine deficit.
Here are more factors contributing to falling iodine levels:
– Diets low in fish, shellfish and seaweed
– Vegan and vegetarian diets
– Less use of iodide in the food and agricultural industry
– Fluoridated drinking water
– Rocket fuel (perchlorate) contamination in food
– Decreased use of iodized salt
– Less use of iodide in the food and agricultural industry
– Use of radioactive iodine in many medical procedures, which competes with natural iodine
How to Increase Your Iodine Levels Naturally
Sadly, it’s thought that up to 40 percent of the population worldwide is at risk for iodine deficiency.10 As a matter of fact, iodine deficiency is one of the three most common nutritional deficiencies, along with magnesium and vitamin D.
But this doesn’t mean that you should start popping iodine supplement pills to fix this issue. Ironically, research has shown that taking too much iodine may also lead to a subclinical version of the condition, which is a milder form that is often missed by laboratory tests.
In fact, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) has issued a statement warning about the risks of too much iodine, especially from iodine, potassium iodide, and kelp supplements. According to the ATA, such supplements may “contain iodine in amounts that are up to a thousand times higher than the daily Tolerable Upper Limits for iodine.”
Moreover, they advised against the ingestion of iodine or kelp supplements containing in excess of 500 micrograms iodine daily, and noted that ingesting more than 1,100 micrograms of iodine per day (the tolerable upper limit) may cause thyroid dysfunction.
Personally, I do not advise taking iodine supplements, as their risks usually far outweigh their benefits.
Simple Steps That You Can Do to Improve Your Thyroid Health
Here are simple ways that you can take in order to improve the performance of your thyroid:
– Identify and treat the underlying causes. Find out what’s really triggering your thyroid problems – whether it’s iodine deficiency, hormone imbalance, environmental toxicity, or inflammation – to address it appropriately. For best results, consult an integrative medical practitioner.
– Load up on fresh iodine-rich foods. As an alternative to iodine supplementation, eat enormous amounts of toxin-free sea vegetables or sea weeds like spirulina, hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu, which are loaded with the thyroid-friendly nutrient, iodine, and other beneficial minerals. However, make sure that these are harvested from uncontaminated waters. The recommended dose is about five grams a day or about one ounce per week. Raw milk and eggs contain iodine as well.
– Pay attention to other key aspects of your diet. Munch on Brazil nuts, which are rich in selenium. Load up on foods high in vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids. Consume coconut oil. Veer away from gluten and soy-containing foods and beverages.
– Minimize your stress levels. Take a break, meditate, soak in the tub, go on vacation – do whatever works for you. Practice Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), an energy psychology tool that excellently reduces stress.
– Make an effort to limit your exposure to toxins. Filter your air and water to avoid contact with poisonous contaminants. Use an infrared sauna and hot soaks to help your body combat infections and detoxify from petrochemicals, metals, PCBs, pesticides, and mercury. Taking chlorella for detoxification is also advised.
– Avoid all sources of bromide as much as possible – Bromides are a menace to your endocrine system and are present all around you. Despite a ban on the use of potassium bromate in flour by the World Health Organization (WHO), bromides can still be found in some over-the-counter medications, foods, and personal care products. Being a savvy reader of labels can save you from tons of toxic trouble.
– Get adequate amounts of sleep. Inadequate sleep contributes to stress and prevents your body from regenerating fully. For more helpful tips on getting high-quality sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.
– Exercise. Exercise directly stimulates your thyroid gland to secrete more thyroid hormone and increases the sensitivity of all your tissues to thyroid hormone. It is even thought that many of the health benefits of exercise stem directly from improved thyroid function.
– Walk your dog in the park, jog in the morning, and incorporate strength training and other core-building routines. You can also give Peak Fitness a try.
Progesterone is essential for thyroid health as it supports its natural function so hormone balance plays a very important part. If you are oestrogen dominant then your progesterone levels are going to need a boost and the following articles can also help: