Your thyroid is your body’s powerhouse. Your energy levels, metabolism, and heart rate are all controlled by this small, butterfly-shaped gland. Without enough thyroid hormone, your mitochondria aren’t able to produce the energy that your cells need for optimum performance. At the other end of the spectrum, your body can go into “overdrive” if it produces too much thyroid hormone.
With so much at stake with regards to your overall health, maintaining balanced thyroid hormone levels is important. However, one in eight women produce either too much or not enough thyroid hormone. Females are at higher risk for thyroid issues than men, and the risk for both genders increases with age. In fact the stats for those with undiagnosed thyroid disease are shocking. Hormonal changes like pregnancy or menopause can also make women more vulnerable to thyroid problems. Of course, it’s also easy to attribute thyroid symptoms to age or menopause instead of getting to the root of the issue.
To understand how your thyroid can wreak havoc on your health, you need to understand how it functions. Your thyroid sits at the base of your neck, where it performs the vital task of secreting thyroid hormone which in turn triggers a cascade of other hormones and processes throughout the body. The key point about thyroid hormone is that your body is very sensitive to the amounts it receives. Any imbalances can have far reaching repercussions.
The amount of hormone your thyroid secretes is controlled by the amount of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood. In other words, TSH is the “master” hormone, and it’s produced in your pituitary gland.
Further complicating thyroid health is the fact that your thyroid is vulnerable to autoimmune disorders. The autoimmune disorder Grave’s disease causes too much thyroid hormone to be produced. In contrast, Hashimoto’s disease causes your autoimmune system to attack your thyroid, slowing down thyroid hormone production.
Your thyroid can also become inflamed (this is called Thyroiditis), or develop nodules or small lumps which can disrupt your normal thyroid function.
If your thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, your body slows down, resulting in a condition called hypothyroidism. The symptoms of hypothyroidism show up in many troublesome ways and include:
Despite this long list of issues, about 60 percent of people with hypothyroidism aren’t aware of it. One reason for this is that it’s easy to blame thyroid symptoms on a poor diet or growing older. As well, hypothyroid symptoms tend to develop slowly, and we often blame ourselves for weight gain.
If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s a good idea to dig deep and figure out the root cause - including checking your thyroid! These uncomfortable symptoms do not have to be part of your “normal” day.
The truth is, when you ask to get your thyroid assessed your doctor will usually only test TSH. The problem with this is that we don’t know what hormones your thyroid itself is making because TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone and this is the signal your brain sends to the thyroid. I have often seen great TSH numbers but when we look further down and check free T4 (pro thyroid hormone), free T3 (active thyroid hormone) as well as antibodies to the thyroid, the story can be very different. If you have symptoms of hypothyroidism and your doctor says your thyroid is “fine”, I would urge you to dig deeper to really confirm that your thyroid is not being affected. You can also measure your body temperature as it is an indication of your metabolism. For more detailed information on lab testing and on temperature measuring technique click on the links. Remember that as a naturopathic doctor, I can send you to Lifelabs to test your blood more thoroughly.
In contrast, when your body produces too much thyroid hormone, the condition is called hyperthyroidism. With hyperthyroidism, your body’s functions accelerate. Although this might sound appealing, many of the symptoms are debilitating. Some signs of hyperthyroidism include:
As with hypothyroidism, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often attributed to other issues, such as stress.
One challenging problem with identifying thyroid issues is that many conventional medical doctors run one test for thyroid, only testing the amount of TSH in your blood. However, testing one hormone often doesn’t give the complete picture of thyroid health. A more holistic approach which tests various hormone levels throughout the system can often yield more information - and more effective treatment.
Unfortunately, prevention isn’t always possible, since triggers can sometimes be genetic. Other risk factors include chronic stress and a history of autoimmune diseases. In addition, more research is pointing to the role of environmental factors in disrupting thyroid function.
Addressing the lifestyle factors which can cause inflammation of your immune system can do a lot to help stabilize thyroid hormones whatever the cause of your imbalance.
Strategies for protecting your thyroid health:
Since stress can interfere with thyroid function by slowing the production of TSH, addressing your stress levels is important. Exercise is a good way to both reduce stress and improve your metabolism, which can help balance the effects of hypothyroidism.
Your thyroid is a crucial component of your endocrine (hormonal) system. Sugar is metabolized by another vital organ in the interconnected endocrine system, your pancreas. As a result, there is a complex relationship between diabetes and thyroid disease. Managing your glucose levels can help stabilize your thyroid.
Maintaining enough good bacteria in your digestive system can protect your immune system and reduce the risk of autoimmune problems.
Iodine is essential for good thyroid function, but too much can also lead to problems. Fortified salt, seaweed, and some seafood all contain high levels of iodine.
People with celiac disease are three times more likely to have a thyroid problem. Celiac disease can interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as iodine. If you have trouble digesting gluten, consider eliminating it.
Especially if you’re hypothyroid. Having hypothyroidism can slow your digestive system and lead to constipation, so you want to focus on keeping things moving
In general, the key is to focus on a whole-foods diet that will reduce inflammation. Avoiding artificial ingredients and regulating your blood sugar will reduce dietary stress and help maintain thyroid health.
When it comes to resolving thyroid issues, early detection is the key. It’s also important to complete thorough testing- evaluating thyroid hormone levels can be complex and often left undiagnosed by the conventional healthcare system. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of thyroid issues - either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism; give us a call! Thyroid issues do not have to affect your daily life.