Most of us don’t really give our thyroid gland a second thought until we begin to show
symptoms that something maybe not quite right with this powerful little gland. It’s tucked away at the front of your neck, about the size and shape of a bow tie. Its role is essential for every cell to function properly. It is basically in charge of telling your body how fast to go, and it does this by a hormone called thyroxine, that talks to every cell in your body.
When things begin to go wrong the thyroid gland will either produce way too much hormone causing the body to literally speed up, which is called hyperthyroidism, or more commonly will not produce enough hormone and therefore causing your metabolism to slow down, called hypothyroidism.
This blog is focussing on the more common problem of underactive thyroid.
Hypothyroidism according to many functional medical doctors is a silent epidemic. People can suffer for many years with symptoms that our conventional medical system frequently doesn’t know how to treat because the symptoms can appear scattered and vague. If you are investigated and diagnosed with underactive thyroid, then you will most likely be prescribed with Thyroxine hormone to substitute for your body not being able to produce your own. While this is important, what the doctors generally don’t do is to work out why your thyroid this not working properly in the first place.
Why Is My Thyroid Not Working?
Most people with hypothyroidism don’t realize that the malfunctioning thyroid is usually not the primary cause of their condition. After all one’s thyroid doesn’t just stop producing thyroid hormone on its own, there is always a reason behind this. So while taking thyroid hormone may do a good job of managing your symptoms it is not doing anything for the cause of your condition.
As for what’s causing this problem, well this of course can vary. Many times it is caused by lifestyle factors, such as poor eating habits, lack of sleep, high stress over a long period of time, obesity, sedentary lifestyle etc. Other times it can be caused by environmental toxins, which directly affect the thyroid. Genetics can also be a factor although research shows that it doesn’t play as big a role as 1st thought.
The biggest cause of hypothyroidism is actually immune related. 90% of all people diagnosed with hypothyroidism, have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland directly. Unfortunately this is often missed with your diagnosis as special tests for thyroid antibodies are needed to confirm this diagnosis, and many doctors fail to run this test. If this is the cause of your underactive thyroid then the goal is to identify and address the reasons for this immune attack.
There are some other reasons that can increase your chances of having underactive thyroid. Women are 10 times more likely than men to get thyroid problems, although nobody knows why. You are also more at risk in pregnancy, if you are over 50, if you have another condition like pernicious anaemia, type 1 diabetes or the skin condition called Vitiligo. Some medication such as lithium and amiodarone can adversely affect the thyroid. Rather unfairly, having and overactive thyroid increases your risk of getting and underactive one in later life.
How Do I Know If My Thyroid Is Underactive?
Because an underactive thyroid slows your metabolism the symptoms can be many and varied for each person, this is why diagnosis can take a long time. The most common symptoms are constant fatigue, feeling the cold, weight gain despite a good diet and regular exercise, constipation, bloating, depression, dry skin and thinning hair.
You may also have some of the following. Forgetfulness, headaches, muscle cramps, slow heart rate, high cholesterol, poor circulation, iron deficiency anaemia, shortness of breath, poor appetite, swelling around the neck, voice changes, puffy eyes, recurrent infections, low libido, and infertility.
A diagnosis is made by a blood test to check thyroid function. Your thyroid stimulating hormone will be elevated and generally your active thyroid level or T3 will be low. This is when you will be generally started on the hormone thyroxine, and monitored with further blood tests till your levels are within normal limits. As mentioned previously this management doesn’t help with why your thyroid is not functioning properly.
It is important to point out at that many people have many of the symptoms that suggest low thyroid but the blood pathology is all within normal levels. The reference ranges for these tests are a guideline for doctors when diagnosing underactive and most doctors only consider treatment when the results are out of this range. For example if your TSH is in the upper levels of normal or even slightly over, your GP will not recognise that you may have a problem but this can indicate subclinical hypothyroidism.
How Can Natural Therapies Help My Thyroid Problem?
There are many ways that natural therapies can help with thyroid conditions, whether you have subclinical or fully diagnosed thyroid conditions, and seeking help from a professional natural therapist practitioner such as a naturopath is very important.
Unlike conventional medical treatments, a natural treatment protocol for hypothyroid tries to get to the underlying cause of your disorder. Generally your practitioner will assess your thyroid but will most likely also want to evaluate your adrenal glands, digestive system, hormonal levels, and other systems of your body that may be interfering with thyroid function. Diet, lifestyle factors and stress levels are also assessed. Addressing specific nutrient deficiencies, oxidative stress levels, food sensitivities, and inflammation are also important. Managing thyroid issues is often a complex process, and cannot be simply fixed with a herb or vitamin formula you may have picked up from the health food shop, getting professional advice is vital especially if you are currently taking thyroxine.
Having said this there are some very useful tips that you can do right now to support your thyroid, keep it healthy and improve your overall health.
Tool Kit For A Healthy Thyroid.
Making dietary changes is your first line of defence in treating hypothyroidism. Many people with hypothyroidism experience crippling fatigue and brain fog, which prompts them reaching for non-nutritional forms of energy like sugar and caffeine. These two deadly rascals can burn out your thyroid and destabilize blood sugar.
Say no to caffeine and sugar, this includes refined carbohydrates like white flour that your body treats like sugar. Make grain based carbohydrates less of a focus, eating non starchy vegetables to your heart’s content.
Up the Protein. Protein assists with transporting the thyroid hormone to all your cells in your body, helping to normalize thyroid function. Enjoy at each meal and include any of the following: nuts, and nut butters, quinoa, hormone and antibiotic free animal products such as organic grass fed meat, eggs and sustainably farmed fish and legumes.
Include plenty of healthy fats as these are essential for healthy hormonal production in all pathways, including thyroid hormones. Healthy beneficial fats include olive oil, ghee, avocados, flax seeds, fish, nuts and seeds cheese, yogurt full fat please and coconut milk products.
Gluten Free. The molecule composition of thyroid tissue is almost identical to that of gluten. So for those with Hashimoto’s it’s a case of mistaken identity. Eating gluten can increase the autoimmune attack on your thyroid.
De stress, adapting relaxation and time out is very important for adrenal and thyroid health, as your thyroid is very sensitive to the stress response.
Get a good night sleep that is deep and restorative.