Feeling fatigued and spacey? Are you often cold? Concerned that your hair is thinning? While there are many potential root causes to these symptoms, one of the first things I check is thyroid function. If your thyroid isn’t functioning well, you aren’t functioning well.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Women are more likely to have thyroid problems, but I see them in men as well. (source)
Take my thyroid quiz. (The more “yesses” you have, the more likely something has gone awry.)
The thyroid gland is located in the throat, around the larynx and trachea, and shouldn’t be visible from the outside unless there is a problem. As the largest organ in the endocrine (hormone-secreting) system, it plays a central role in how efficiently you burn energy (calories) so it is important for metabolism and weight management. Looking at the big picture, it plays a role in most every function of the body.
The thyroid produces the hormones T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). It produces T4 in much greater abundance than T3, but this is the inactive form and less bioavailable.
Our body converts T4 into the biologically available T3 but the process is complex and delicate. While hypothyroidism is associated with low T4 and T3 levels, T3 – the active hormone that we really use and need – is the one that usually dips the lowest.
The thyroid also secretes Calcitonin which regulates calcium levels and bone metabolism.
Trends I am seeing in my practice
1) A spike in autoimmune-related thyroid disorders
While I still see people with general age-related sluggish thyroid, most cases of hypothyroidism are rooted in immune dysfunction (namely Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease). In these cases, the immune system produces antibodies that bind to healthy thyroid cells. (source)
• Hashimoto’s disease – The inflammation associated with Hashimoto’s is now the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the U.S. In those with Hashimoto’s, antibodies attack and destroy the thyroid cells, reducing T3 and T4 output.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s may include: fatigue, weight gain (weight loss can occur as well), constipation, depression, thinning hair, feeling cold and a heavy or irregular menstrual cycle
• Graves’ disease – In the case of Graves’ disease, the antibodies bind to and overstimulate the cells increasing T3 and T4 output. This also throws the body off balance.
Symptoms of Graves’ may include: insomnia, goiter (enlarged thyroid gland), frequently warm/hot, night sweats, anxiety, frequent bowel movements, weight loss and changes in menstrual cycle
2) Thyroid problems in the younger population
In the past, thyroid issues were known to arise when people hit their 40s-50s. Now I am seeing many in the younger generation diagnosed as early as their 20s (and even in teenage and childhood years). This is correlated with the higher rate of autoimmune disorders we see today.
3) Thyroid Cancer – Thyroid cancer is the 9th most common type of cancer, with the number of new cases increasing by approximately 5.5% each year over the last 10 years. Still, it has a very high survival rate – almost 98%. (source)
Risk factors include family history of thyroid cancer or goiter, and radiation exposure. It’s wise to wear a protective vest when receiving routine x-rays.
How to balance your thyroid
Some patients, depending on the condition and severity, will need thyroid medicine. But in many cases we find that they are able to reduce or even eliminate the need for meds with dietary and supplement intervention.
Getting the right supplements together for a thyroid patient requires a customized plan, so today we are focusing on supporting your thyroid with a diet that reduces inflammation in the gut and is full of foods that support thyroid health.
- Target gut health. We know that 70% of the immune system is in the gut so this is the first place we go when dealing with autoimmune-related thyroid problems. Here are some steps you can take to restoring gut health and stabilizing an overactive and confused immune system:
- Remove inflammatory foods such as sugar and other sweeteners, gluten and dairy. Research shows that gluten in particular is strongly linked to Hashimoto’s and Graves’ so I recommend most of my thyroid patients eliminate or drastically reduce their intake.
- Keep your candida in check. Here are some tips.
- Know your food sensitivities. If your body is reacting to a certain food and you continue to eat it, it will wreak havoc on your immune system. Gluten, dairy, corn and soy are some of the most common food sensitivities I see, but the list of potential culprits is long and everyone is different. Take an ALCAT test or try an elimination diet to determine what you are reacting to. Then avoid those foods altogether or eat according to a rotation-diet plan.
- Follow a gut-healing protocol. Incorporate bone broths and probiotic-rich foods (such as kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut) – critical for healing an inflamed, leaky gut and calming an overactive immune system. If you are not used to foods rich in healthy bacteria, start slowly. Research gut-healing regimens such as the 21-Day Belly Fix Diet or The GAPS Diet.
- Eat Thyroid-Supportive Foods. To improve thyroid function, most of my patients benefit from a diet high in selenium, iron, iodine and magnesium as well as a b-complex.
Here are some foods to consider including in your diet:
- Selenium-rich foods
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Fish (especially orange roughy, light canned tuna, cod)
- Iron-rich foods
- Nuts & seeds
- Red meat (lamb, beef, goat)
- Dried fruits (especially turkish apricots)
- Iodine-rich foods
*start with 2x/week and stop if there is any adverse reaction
- Sea vegetables (a super-dose of iodine. discontinue if there is an adverse reaction)
- Potatoes (organic, skin-on)
- Dried prunes
- Iodized salt, or for a natural alternative – pink himalayan salt
- Magnesium-rich foods
- Nuts & Seeds
- Dark Chocolate (extreme dark chocolate cravings often indicate a deficiency in magnesium)
Keep an eye on this little butterfly-shaped gland that regulates so many functions in your body. With healthy-gut habits in place and a diet rich in thyroid-supporting foods, you will go a long way toward preventing and even reversing thyroid disease!