Written byAlyssa Hustedt, guest blogger
Did you know that 1 in 8 women will experience a thyroid imbalance or disorder in their lifetime? In addition to those diagnosed, there are many others who do not fit the medical criteria of thyroid disease but will feel the effects of poor thyroid function. The thyroid gland influences almost every cell in your body and its hormones play a huge role in maintaining health, vitality and even fertility. Today, I am here to share with you the signs and symptoms of a thyroid imbalance, which lab markers to ask your doctor for and what you can do to support your thyroid naturally.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ at the front of the neck and its function is to take iodine and other nutrients and convert them into thyroid hormones—thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Every cell in the body depends on these hormones for regulation of their metabolism. Thyroid hormones regulate body weight and control the rate at which the body produces energy from food thereby directly impacting energy levels. Hypothyroidism can cause infertility by preventing ovulation and adequate levels are critical in pregnancy because these hormones greatly influence growth and development of a growing baby.
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can include feeling sluggish or tired, difficulty losing weight, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, cold sensitivity, lack of sweating, feeling mentally sluggish, depressed, experience a “pins and needles” sensation like when a limb falls asleep, puffiness in the face and/or neck or have loss of the outer 1/3 of the eyebrow.
Not as common–but just as concerning–are the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism. These can include increased BMR, weight loss, increased appetite, heat intolerance, hypertensive tendencies, feeling anxious or irritable, difficulty falling asleep, may suffer from rapid or irregular heartbeat, brittle hair, an increased number of bowel movements per day and hyperpigmentation of the skin or flushed skin (a red face).
Many, if not all, of us have had our TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) tested because many doctors solely rely on TSH to determine if there is a thyroid dysregulation. TSH is not a thyroid hormone itself—it is the hormone that the pituitary gland uses to signal to the thyroid to release thyroid hormones. Anything below .5 can be considered hyperthyroid and anything above 5.5 hypothyroid depending on the lab you use. These numbers may be a bit opposite of what you would expect and that is because when your thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) start to get low the pituitary will begin to “yell” at the thyroid gland resulting in higher TSH. In other words, the pituitary starts to send more TSH to the thyroid to signal it to start releasing more hormones. The opposite is true as well: when thyroid hormones are sufficient or too high in the body, the pituitary will back off sending TSH to the thyroid and the number will drop. As a functional practitioner, I like to see TSH between 1 and 2. This is a much narrower range than lab range but is generally where a person feels the best. The closer the TSH gets to 3 and beyond, the more you may begin to experience hypothyroid symptoms.
The problem with only testing TSH is that you could be missing some key components in the equation. For example, your TSH could be perfectly normal (so between 1 and 2) but your T4 and T3 might be out of lab range low and cause hypothyroid symptoms because you are not obtaining adequate amounts of actual active thyroid hormones. When I run a lab panel, I like to see the full picture. This includes TSH, Total T4, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, T3 Uptake and TPO & TGB antibodies. Testing for the TPO & TGB antibodies is important with any thyroid imbalance because this will indicate if you have any thyroid autoimmune (meaning that your body is producing antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid gland itself). This is something to be concerned about and supplementing for autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or Graves ’ disease may look different than only having a thyroid imbalance or insufficiency. The autoimmune component in any system of the body should not be ignored.
SO what can you do to support your thyroid gland?
- If you have any type of thyroid imbalance, dysregulation or autoimmune, it is crucial that you eliminate all gluten from your diet. Gluten is like the Devil to your thyroid gland. Besides the fact that gluten is a gateway to leaky gut and other autoimmune conditions, thyroid hormones and gluten molecules look very similar. Gluten sensitivity can exacerbate an attack on the thyroid and in return Hashimoto’s can set up gluten sensitivity.
- Focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet. Throw out the packaged foods, sugary drinks and drive-thru meals. Eat to nourish, not deplete your body. Choose whole, well-sourced foods. Shop on the outer edges of the grocery store and always check labels for added chemicals and preservatives.Specific nutrients to fuel your thyroid include: Iodine which can be found in sea vegetables. Selenium (which helps turn T4 into active T3) found in well-sourced brazil nuts, fish, eggs, raw dairy and grass-fed meats. Zinc is in seafood, beef and lamb, pumpkin seeds and mushrooms. Magnesium can be found properly prepared beans and nut, brown rice and green leafy vegetables. Other nutrients to support thyroid include Vitamin C, A, B2, B3 and B12. You are likely to obtaining these vitamins if you are eating a nutrient-dense, well-sourced diet and if your body is properly digesting. Side note: You can have a pristine diet but if you are not properly digesting and absorbing your nutrient rich foods, you can become deficient.
- Removing toxins. Toxins will compete with iodine specifically. Remember that the thyroid’s job is to turn iodine into thyroid hormones. Certain halogens have a similar structure and will compete with iodine—specifically fluorine, chlorine and bromine. One of the reasons you may be struggling with an underactive thyroid is that you are not getting acquiring adequate amounts of iodine and in turn your thyroid is displacing iodine with these toxins. Estrogen dominance is another condition that will affect the thyroid. Also emotional toxins affect the thyroid. Prolonged stress will fatigue the adrenal glands and cause the thyroid to put on its breaks. This can be any kind of stress—illness, being in a bad relationship, work stress, overuse of caffeine or alcohol, lack of sleep, excessive exercise, prescription drugs, persistent fears, financial stress and more. Any kind of stress if it becomes chronic can become toxic to your life. Learning how to manage stress is the key.
- Lastly, if you struggle with thyroid issues, I encourage you to find a functional practitioner to work with to help you investigate further into where the root of your imbalances lie. Is it poor digestion? 20% of your non-active T4 is converted to active T3 in the gut. And 40% of that conversion process happens in the liver so if your liver is not functioning correctly it can prevent that conversion from happening. Or maybe it is adrenal fatigue or food sensitivities, anemia or heavy metals. Working with someone who can help you support these systems, not just manage them but work towards healing can seriously change your life.
It has changed my life. I have spent most of my life in a state of extreme fatigue and being able to experience the flip side has been amazing. Life truly is so different when your body is working the way it was intended too and the opposite is true as well—life can be so crippling if you are facing a chronic illness or if you have a thyroid imbalance. My heart goes out to you today. Don’t give up. Keep searching, keep seeking, find a practitioner that can give you answers, guidance and direction and move you towards a full and happy life. Doing things naturally is not easy—it takes some determination, disciple and patience but it is WORTH it. YOU are worth it.