Risk of developing an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, increases with age, during pregnancy, postpartum, and during menopause. With women being 5 to 10 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men, it’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, as well as to have the tools you need to be proactive about thyroid health now.
Learn about the most common causes of hypothyroidism, the nutrients your thyroid needs for healthy function, and whether medication is the best choice for thyroid disorders.
If you have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, your thyroid either isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, or your cells aren’t able to adequately use it.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland which sits in the base of the neck and coordinates the metabolism of almost all cells in the body. Thyroid hormone directly affects metabolism, weight, cardiovascular function, fertility, immune function, body temperature, and cholesterol levels–and that’s just the beginning.
When the thyroid is unable to produce or use sufficient quantities of thyroid hormone you’ll experience the following symptoms (1):
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
- Weight gain
- Dry, coarse skin
- Sleep disorders
- Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
- Hair loss
- Muscle cramps or joint pain
- Cold hands and feet
- Change in taste or smell
- Irregular periods, or spotting between periods
Unfortunately, hypothyroidism causes symptoms that are often attributed to other disorders or simply to the ‘normal’ effects of aging.
Hypothyroidism can also cause digestive problems by reducing the production of stomach acid necessary for nutrient absorption (2). You may notice heartburn, acid reflux, gas, bloating, or diarrhea. And while these can be broad symptoms, they could also be a result of low thyroid hormone.
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Hypothyroidism in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Even though ancient healing systems lacked the serum measurements and imaging techniques of modern medicine practice, traditional Chinese physicians understood disorders of the thyroid as a stagnation of ‘Qi’, or energy, or a yang deficiency, which was known to cause cold, clammy skin as a sign of imbalance.
Both change in energy and the development of overall imbalance are a good indicator of a problem with the body’s master hormone gland.
Modern TCM practices objective measurements, such as thyroid hormone levels, TSH values and the presence of autoimmune markers to clarify the nature of this disease and provide holistic treatment for hypothyroidism.
Women Are More Susceptible to Hypothyroidism
Women are more susceptible to autoimmune disease, which accounts for the majority of hypothyroid cases known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Pregnancy can also impact thyroid function, as well as inflammation and nutrition deficiency. You’ll want to begin by healing your gut when these factors are present.
Causes of Low Thyroid
The most common cause of thyroid disease in the developed world is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disorder wherein the body mistakenly attacks its own tissue (3).
There is also a remarkable link between gluten intolerance and autoimmune thyroid disease. Gluten, the main protein in wheat, has a similar molecular structure to thyroid tissue. If the immune system flags a gluten particle for destruction, this may result in a case of mistaken identity and the destruction of thyroid tissue (4).
Your thyroid uses iodine, amino acids, and other minerals to make and release T3, T4, and TSH, which are all part of healthy thyroid function. Without sufficient quantities of iodine, selenium, iron, other minerals, and essential fatty acids, you may compromise the health and function of your thyroid.
A leaky gut is unable to digest and absorb many nutrients required for thyroid function. To begin healing, fixing the gut is a top priority.
Inflammation creates immune dysfunction, increasing the likelihood that your body’s immune system may mistakenly attack its own tissues, including the thyroid gland (5).
Due to genetic, environmental, and other factors, many women experience high levels of systemic inflammation.
Postpartum thyroid disease can affect as many as 1 out of 25 women, and studies show that more than half of those will go on to develop a permanent thyroid problem in the future (6).
If being a new mom isn’t hard enough, thyroid issues in the postpartum period are often mistaken for depression, even though low thyroid itself is a well-known cause of depression.
Before you become pregnant, or early in your first trimester, request that your doctor check your thyroid levels to make sure you and baby have the hormones you need. Similarly, you can also request that your doctor check your thyroid levels postpartum if you feel something is amiss.
Healing Low Thyroid Naturally
Some of the underlying causes of hypothyroidism can be reversed naturally through diet, lifestyle, and holistic methods.
First, you’ll want to focus on a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and quality proteins.
Eliminating gluten from your diet may also help to promote healthy thyroid function if you have an autoimmune thyroid disease.
Calming inflammation by healing a leaky gut and eating more anti-inflammatory foods can also help support healthy thyroid function. You can read more about my 21-day course for healing your gut, or if you’re looking for an easy and comprehensive gut health support to add to your routine, check out Belly Fix.
Foods For Hypothyroidism
Your thyroid needs key nutrients to function properly. Begin with a foundation of quality protein, healthy fats, and a variety of healthy vegetables. Essential nutrients for a healthy thyroid include:
- Vitamin D
- Essential fatty acids (EFAs or healthy fats)
- Vitamin A
Foods high in thyroid supportive nutrients are:
- Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, which is important to include alongside iodine.
- Chicken and red meat contain zinc, iron, vitamin A, and some essential fatty acids.
- Tuna, shrimp, and shellfish contain iodine, selenium, and omega-3 fats, plus they’re a great source of protein.
- Eggs contain selenium, iodine, healthy fats, and vitamin A–but be sure to eat the yolk, as this is where much of the egg’s nutrition comes from!
- Berries, and dark leafy greens are good sources of antioxidants which can help decrease levels of inflammation and provide useful phytonutrients to support thyroid health.
Make sure to cook cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower before eating them, as raw cruciferous vegetables contain a compound that can affect thyroid health if consumed in large amounts.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need to be especially mindful of your dietary intake of zinc, vitamin D, iron, and essential fatty acids. Speak with a holistic and functional provider to evaluate the safety of efficacy of different diets in relation to your thyroid health.
Do You Need Thyroid Medication?
Your body needs thyroid hormone to live, and you cannot survive without it. So while natural supplements and a thyroid healthy diet can be a helpful therapy, there are many situations where medication is necessary for proper thyroid function.
Each case of thyroid dysfunction is unique, and there are several different kinds of thyroid medications–some natural and some synthetic–that are available. It’s important to always discuss the benefits and any risks with your doctor.
East West Medicine for Holistic Thyroid Health
Thyroid issues are increasingly common, especially for women, and they can mask or worsen other hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance, androgen excess, and others.
The above information may help you determine if your thyroid is at the root of your problems, and what steps you should take to maintain your thyroid health.
For more detail about thyroid health, and which power types are susceptible to thyroid dysfunction, check out the Super Women Rx for more East West methods for hypothyroidism.
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