How low thyroid function creates chaos in your body
Current research estimates state that one in five women will be affected with Hashimoto’s or another thyroid disorder at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of women out there dragging themselves through their day, frustrated that their favourite jeans no longer fit but hiding their new found girth with an extra sweater because of a constant chill. They are also backed up (you know what I mean) and can’t buy enough moisturizer to sooth those flaky dry shins.
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid issue. It happens when the thyroid, that butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck just below your Adam’s Apple, stops producing enough hormones to keep all of those chemical reactions in your body in check. The result is a domino of unpleasant and life-altering symptoms.
The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, found in many foods, and convert it into thyroid hormones most commonly referred to as T4 and T3. Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body that can absorb iodine. When iodine enters the body it combines with these cells and the amino acid tyrosine to make the T4 and T3 hormones. These hormones are then released into the blood stream where they control metabolism.
While the symptoms of low thyroid function that are not limited to fatigue, weight gain, cold sensitivity and dry skin are troublesome, undiagnosed thyroid issues can be a dangerous health issue. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, cardiac disease, lupus, reproductive difficulties, diabetes and arthritis as well as numerous other health issues are associated with a poor functioning thyroid gland.
Naturopathic Doctor Amy Punke from New Glasgow says that as many as 50 percent of the one in 10 Canadians with thyroid issues are undiagnosed.
“I tend to see this in my practice; about only half of the patients are already diagnosed and are taking medication. Unfortunately, many patients still present with low thyroid symptoms despite taking medication and having normal blood work” says Dr. Punke.
From her office in Truro, Naturopathic Doctor Stephanie Millet, says that there are a number of factors that can lead to hypothyroidism and when symptoms of the disease become evident it is very important to seek medical intervention. She says the most common cause of hypothyroidism is autoimmune response where the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid tissue. This is also known as Hashimoto’s Disease. But Dr. Millet says that the condition can also be triggered by issues with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland causing interruptions between the signals from the brain to the thyroid. She also cites nutritional deficiencies and overload of stress on the adrenal glands that deplete healthy thyroid function.
While most people diagnosed with hypothyroidism are prescribed a synthetic hormone to regain normal thyroid function, Dr. Millet believes that there are naturopathic modalities than can help to strengthen the body and be supportive to overall health including hormonal function. She suggests working in collaboration with your medical and naturopathic practitioners for individualized care.
“In Naturopathic Medicine we look at each patient holistically, “says Dr. Millet. “Long-term use of medicine like Synthroid is often required when there is a physiological reason but we also look at the outside influences from other endocrine issues or if the adrenal system is chronically stressed. In my experience some cases of thyroid concerns can be managed through a naturopathic approach where we find a different route to the symptoms.”
Dr. Amy Punke says she see patients with some form of thyroid issue in her practice every day and although it is not as common as in the female population men can have similar clinical presentations but getting to the root cause is important to address. “This requires an individualized approach and often included stress reduction, healing intestinal hyperpermeability (also known as leaky gut) following an autoimmune protocol, correcting nutrient deficiencies and/or clearing heavy metals from the system.”
Nutrition is key to overall health regardless of the clinical diagnosis of any disease. Hippocrates said it best, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” However when it comes to preventing and managing the physiological affect of hypothyroidism there does not appear to be any evidence-based approach to disease control by nutrition alone. However, Dr. Punke believes that nutrition and mindfulness can play a huge role in prevention of thyroid issues.
“Some of my favourite ways to treat thyroid health is actually though diet and stress reduction. By working with nutrition you can make sure that you have adequate amounts of iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in your diet which are essential to thyroid function. While there are certain nutrients essential to thyroid health, there are also some foods that can harm your thyroid gland. Gluten containing grains such as wheat barely and rye have been shown to worsen thyroid function in some people.”
Dr. Punke adds that mindfulness practices have been shown to lower our stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol can be helpful in small doses and on a short-term basis, many of us have far too much cortisol floating around which can interfere with thyroid function.
There are differing opinions on whether foods high in goitrogens like soy, broccoli, peanuts, strawberries, and kale should be avoided by individuals with hypothyroidism. Goitrogens are compounds that are believed make it more difficult for the thyroid gland to create its hormones. However, these are also nutrient-dense foods. Unless there is an adverse reaction to consuming these foods health practitioners will recommend that they maintain a place in your diet.
“I recommend an ant-inflammatory diet and eliminating gluten containing grains. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on eating whole foods, avoiding processed foods that are high in sugar and including healthy fats such as raw nuts, seeds, coconut oil and avocados. I also recommend foods that are rich in probiotics such as fermented kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha.
– Dr. Amy Punke, Naturopathic Doctor, New Glasgow