Over 26% of women in or near peri-menopause are diagnosed with underactive thyroid – 20 million Americans are on thyroid medications. And, there is an estimated 13 million undiagnosed cases of underactive thyroid according to the Center for Disease Control. It is no wonder that more and more people especially women are suffering from so many conditions like –
- Bone Loss
- Hair Loss
- Poor Digestion
- Gallbladder and Liver Conditions
- Hormone Imbalances
- Poor Blood Sugar Control
- High LDL Levels
- Storing Fat – Not Burning Fat
- And, of course – Weight Gain
As you can see the thyroid plays not only a major role in maintaining a healthy weight – BUT in our overall health. So with many people on medications, why are we not seeing a better improvement in our health? A majority of my clients are women and are on thyroid medication – some for thyroid cancer and auto-immune conditions but some just because they cannot seem to manage their weight. Might there be other factors? Maybe nutritional deficiencies?
The thyroid gland depends on many different nutrients to produce thyroid hormones – iron, iodine, tyrosine, zinc, selenium, vitamins E, B2, B6, C, D! Wow! And, that is just to produce thyroid hormone! With the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is high in calorie and low in nutrients, maybe that is cause of underactive thyroid?
Did I say iodine deficiency? Yes, it is no longer a nutrient deficiency of the past – and this is for quite a few reasons –
- Plants grown in poor soil or soil that is low in minerals and nutrients.
- Switching to sea salt like Celtic Salt, Himalayan Salt – that is not iodized.
- Processed foods and eating out (non-iodized salt)
- Avoiding salt due to high blood pressure or excessive water retention.
- Exposure to chemicals that block absorption of iodine like bromide and fluoride.
- Avoidance of foods high in iodine – shellfish, eggs
Or, if you have poor digestion due to lack of thyroid hormone this leads to poor absorption of nutrients – this becomes a vicious cycle. It is not uncommon for my clients to come to me with both under active thyroid and poor gut health such as IBS. So my first go to is to evaluate their diet and conduct a nutritional evaluation to determine nutritional deficiencies. And, some cases, I like to start with Organic Acid Testing – this tests for gut bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies and improper protein metabolism.
There is no doubt that the thyroid gland plays a major role in weight management but what is often overlooked is its role in our overall health. The thyroid also functions in maintaining bone metabolism, proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, hormonal balance, gall bladder and liver health, blood sugar control, promoting fat burning and yes, even keeping our LDL cholesterol levels at healthy levels. Perhaps this why the symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid can be so varied as it has such an impact on our overall health.
There are currently six disorders of the thyroid function of which only one can be successfully treated with medication which can explain why so many women go on medication and it works for a while but then ceases to be effective. Current research shows the other remaining disorders are a result of exposure to toxic substances, poor diet, use of birth control pills or HRT, and high stress levels. Some experts feel that one of the major drivers to an underactive thyroid is the exposure to toxins such as perchlorate, PBDE’s (flame retardants found in household items), pesticides, phthalates like bisphenol-A (BPA) found in plastics. These toxins hinder the thyroid’s ability to produce thyroid hormone thereby decreasing the body’s ability to convert fat into energy. How do we get exposed to these chemicals? These chemicals are heavily used in fertilizers that seep into the ground water showing up in our drinking water, pesticides used on fruits and vegetables, plastics, and used in other common household items. This is one of the reason why doing a detox/cleanse program prior to starting a weight loss program can be so effective in boosting your metabolism as well as promoting fat burning.
As noted earlier, diet as well as high levels of stress plays major roles in thyroid health. A diet that that is high in sugar, highly processed food, fast food, and unhealthy fats also has an impact on thyroid health. Not only does a diet high in sugar and low in whole foods lead to nutrient deficiencies and it can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes impacting the thyroid. Continued high levels of stress also plays havoc with the thyroid by leading to hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.
The three micro nutrients that play a major role in thyroid health and in the metabolism of thyroid hormones are vitamin D, iodine and selenium. Vitamin D, which is really not a vitamin but a hormone, acts as a “pro-hormone” assisting the metabolism of thyroid hormone. Whereas it now recommended to take vitamin D supplementation (2000 IU daily), it best to test your vitamin D levels to assure that you are taking the right amount to get your levels up and to make sure you do not over consume vitamin D as it can toxic when taken at too high of levels. It is best to get iodine from your diet by consuming foods such seafood, shellfish, seaweed, milk and eggs that contain iodine and avoid supplementation as this can aggravate thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto, an auto-immune disease that attacks the thyroid. Selenium is also best to get through the diet (Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, saltwater fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, poultry and mushrooms) and through a high quality multi-vitamin containing selenium. Additional supplementation of selenium above what is in a multi-vitamin should only be done if you been tested for your levels of T3 and T4 as it can conflict with absorption of other nutrients.
How do you know if you your thyroid is functioning at optimal levels? First start by evaluating your symptoms. Common symptoms of an under active thyroid are:
- Weight gain or trouble trying to lose weight
- Constipation; chronic digestive problems
- Excessive amounts of sleep required to function properly
- Hypersensitivity to cold weather and/or poor circulation in your hands and feet.
- Loss of hair, dry and/or brittle hair
- Dry skin
- Edema or water retention especially facial swelling
- Loss of the outermost portion of eyebrows
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or just want to make sure your thyroid is functioning at optimal levels have your thyroid levels tested. Most medical doctors will only test for your TSH levels which does not properly evaluate the thyroid function. Contact me today to learn more how you can get the lab testing that you need.