By Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished
Before I leapt into the world of functional medicine I was always struck with fear and confusion when I heard big terms like thyroid dysfunction or thyroiditis. In fact, I really didn’t even know what roles the thyroid played in the body but it sounded important so every time I got my labs back with the stamp “normal” on them, I exhaled an audible sigh of relief. So, instead of asking you to get a graduate degree in nutrition to understand what I now know and adore about the thyroid I’m here to break it down for you. Plain and simple.
WHAT IS THE THYROID GLAND?
The thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands. As a beautiful butterfly-shaped gland found in your neck, it powerfully regulates your metabolism, weight, temperature, brain function and heart rate [to name just a few of its roles] via a delicate balance of thyroid hormones [TSH, T4, T3, and rT3]. Additionally, every single tissue in the body has a thyroid hormone receptor, further magnifying the fact that if the thyroid is struggling, symptoms of imbalance abound.
Compelling research indicates that about 20 million Americans suffer from suboptimal thyroid function [13 million of whom are undiagnosed] begging the question: “what is negatively impacting our thyroid?” And even more importantly: “how do we proactively give our thyroid the therapy it clearly craves?’
SIGNS OF THYROID DYSFUNCTION:
Labs are an incredible indicator of thyroid dysfunction; however, oftentimes only the lab TSH is drawn which does not tell the full story. Ideally T4 + T3 + r T3 are drawn to showcase how TSH is being converted into the active end-product T3. See below for a chart of which labs I recommend and my interpretation. If labs aren't plausible, listen to your body. Are you starting to notice any of the following symptoms? Consider asking your OBGYN or a functional medical practitioner to order the labs. Just watch, they will be so impressed by your breadth of knowledge and ownership.
1. You feel fatigued after sleeping 8-10 hours at night or absolutely NEED to take a nap daily.
2. You're seeing stubborn weight gain or the inability to lose weight [despite your BEST efforts and intentions].
3. Your mood swings like a pendulum and errs on the side of anxiety + depression.
4. You're in the trenches of hormone imbalances such as PMS, irregular periods, infertility or an absentee sex drive.
5. You've been soothing chronic muscle pain, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis- to no avail.
6. No matter what, those cold hands and feet of yours won't quit [and no it's not Raynaud's].
7. Lotions, potions and spa treatments don't seem to do much for your dry + cracking skin, brittle nails and excessive hair loss.
8. You’re stuck in a rut of apathy, depression, or deep brain fog resulting in poor concentration or poor memory.
9. You’re experiencing neck swelling, snoring or hoarse voice.
10. Constipation. [Enough said].
The more vigilant you are in assessing your own symptoms and bringing a complete picture to your physician, the easier it will be for you to find the treatment you both crave and deserve!
TOP 5 THYROID DISRUPTORS:
If you checked quite a few of those questions off as “yes! That’s me!’ don’t you dare fall prey to fear or apathy. Instead, consider this an opportunity to evaluate the most powerful disruptors and then courageously address them at the root. And the line up of thyroid triggers includes:
1. STRESS: trauma, chronic cardio, limiting food intake [particularly carbs and fat concurrently]
2. INFLAMMATION: via chronic injury, infection or stress, anti-nutrients [i.e soy, processed grains]
3. RADIATION: via dentistry or chemo
4. TOXICITY: mercury, cadmium, lead, chlorine, flouride, bromine, and pesticides
5. AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE: Graves + Hashimotos
THRYOID TLC 1 - 2 - 3 Whether your thyroid function is inhibited by stress, inflammation or auto-immunity there are some very powerful ways to reinvigorate it to do it’s job properly and also for it’s message to be received properly. Here is a step-by step roadmap that I’ve built for you to give your thyroid a bit of TLC: 1. Remove the triggers
Take a look at your cleaning products, hair, skin and beauty products and systematically remove any with chemicals. A great way to tell if your beauty products need an upgrade is by looking at the EWG’s database called Skin Deep.
Consider decreasing or eliminating soy altogether as research continues to reiterate it’s negative impact on the thyroid gland.
Decrease intake of processed grain [and sugar] swapping it for root vegetables, fruit and squash [their complex carbohydrate counterparts]. By removing processed grains and sugars you not only decrease intake of anti-nutrients you also manage inflammation by keeping blood sugar more stable.
2. Optimize gut bacteria
Always keep cultured food in the refrigerator and use liberally. Cultured foods include kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
Feed your gut bacteria with different types of fiber consistently throughout the day. Strive for 5 + “fists” of colorful vegetables.
3. Manage stress with daily self care and intentional activity
Sleep is your number one priority with thyroid dysfunction. The only way the thyroid can heal itself is if it’s given the chance to rest.
Managing stress to decrease the thyroid's “flight or fight” response is also key. Gentle yin yoga, combined with time in complete “air plane mode" will remind the body that you are not in any danger.
Exercising with your heart rate between 120-140 will also be very impactful since high cortisol levels [induced by activity with HR above 140] can suppress thyroid function. Consider pilates, barre and other forms of strength training while healing the thyroid gland.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS:
And here is where I get to put on my propellor hat and paint in a few more details that serve as linchpins to optimized thyroid function. As you’ll recall, TSH is not the only reflection of how healthy your thyroid is. TSH simply tells the thyroid gland to secrete T4 [inactive thyroid]. Your liver then converts T4 into T3 [the active form of thyroid]. If T3 is inadequate either by scarce production or improper conversion from T4 your whole system’s metabolism is “cooking" over embers instead of fire. Therefore it is critically important to support conversion steps from T4 to T3. Below are the nutrients required for this conversion step:
1. IODINE: sourced from sea vegetables & avoid uncooked cruciferous vegetables as they prevent optimal uptake of iodine.
2. SELENIUM: 1-2 brazil nuts a day is sufficient [other sources = wild salmon, mushrooms, egg yolks].
3. MAGNESIUM: hypothyroidism > disregulation of magnesium. The best sources are leafy greens, mineral water, dark chocolate and supplemental magnesium citrate or glycinate.
4. B12: check for MTHFR mutation. Liver + sardines + salmon are the best source. Sublingual methylcobalamin is best supplementally.
5. CHECK IRON [ferritin] + D LEVELS: if low replete with clinical guidance.
TEST > REBALANCE > RE-TEST
I’m sure I've made it obvious by now how important thyroid function is. Not normal thyroid function. OPTIMAL thyroid function. So get your levels checked. And get them checked often! Check out the chart below to see the labs that are most indicative of optimal thyroid function and seek a functional medical practitioner to re- balance what is found to be suboptimal. You’re a powerful force of vibrance and energy. Don’t let a sluggish thyroid gland indicate otherwise.
To your [thyroid induced] vibrance,