6 Ways to Improve Your Thyroid Function
Weight that just won’t come off, tired and sluggish all the time, dull and thinning hair, horrible PMS…sound all too familiar? Your thyroid might be the culprit behind all these symptoms! Dr. Melissa Willms, ND, talks to us about what might be causing your sluggish thyroid, and what you can do to fire it up.
It has been estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. In Canada 30% of the population – over 10 million people – suffer from a thyroid condition. Of those, as many as 50% remain undiagnosed.
Your thyroid is the key to your metabolism. It is a small gland that sits at the front of your neck and produces metabolism driving hormones such as T3 and T4. Thyroid hormones have many important functions in the body. When your thyroid is slow, you may experience:
- muscle weakness
- weight gain
- intolerance to cold
- dry skin
- brittle nails
- hair loss
- poor memory
- brain fog
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- frequent illness
- recurrent miscarriage
Naturopathic doctors can check the health of your thyroid through physical examination as well as blood testing. Your thyroid hormones should be routinely checked.
- T4 which is converted by the body to T3
- T3 is the most active hormone
Additional thyroid related lab testing should include:
- reverse T3 – a marker of how much stress you are experiencing
- thyroid antibodies – a marker of autoimmune thyroid disease (either Grave’s or Hashimoto’s)
- vitamin D, iron, zinc, B12 and celiac disease can also be tested and all play a role in a dysfunctional thyroid gland.
What exactly causes your metabolism and thyroid to go haywire? A naturopathic doctor considers a multitude of factors including:
Stress – Often the thyroid will get sluggish after periods of intense stress such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Pregnancy, cancer treatment, training for a sporting event, or a chronic illness can also trigger thyroid dysfunction.
Deficient Diet – Zinc, selenium, iodine and iron are some of the minerals important for the creation of thyroid hormones. Those taking thyroid medications such as synthroid and eltroxin also require these minerals for optimal function of these medications. If levels are low or suboptimal, the thyroid will run out of gas and slam on the brakes. Sometimes nodules may also develop as a result of low zinc, selenium or iodine.
Terrible Toxicity - Our world is full of toxins; in our water supply, air, food and even our homes. Environmental toxicity has become unavoidable. Chemicals, synthetics, pesticides, herbicides, mercury, lead, bromine, chlorine and fluorine are some of the compounds that can cause hormone traffic jams and block thyroid hormones from sending their important signals.
Allergies and Sensitivities – If you are eating foods that your body does not like, your immune system will create antibodies that act against these foods. This leads to ongoing inflammation. The inflammation will find your vulnerable spots, whether it’s your skin, digestive system, joints or even your thyroid. Gluten intolerance has been scientifically linked to autoimmune hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. If you have thyroid disease, I highly recommend avoiding all gluten and wheat. This can also help reduce your antibody levels.
As a naturopathic doctor, I look at your health like a big puzzle. Your past medical history, current symptoms, lab test results, lifestyle habits, job, living conditions, and stress levels are all pieces of a big puzzle. I put your health puzzle together, piece by piece, and determine the root cause of your concerns. In Hypothyroidism, the naturopathic approach depends on the individual. No two treatment plans are alike. However, the goals are the same:
Detoxify – Your body detoxes every day through the liver, bowels, kidneys and skin. As we age, the pathways of detoxification get sluggish and toxic traffic jams occur, causing a reduction in metabolism and subsequent weight gain. 1-2 doctor supervised cleanses per year are a common recommendation in the treatment of thyroid disease. This typically involves eating a clean diet and incorporating supportive supplements or treatments such as colon hydrotherapy, intravenous nutrients or B12 injections.
Stress Less – Your adrenal glands play a pivotal role in hormone balance through the production of cortisol. If too much cortisol is produced due to ongoing stress, thyroid hormone, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone go on hiatus and cease to be produced. To support the adrenal glands and thyroid, my favourite herbs are Withania, Rhodiola or Holy Basil. Withania can actually help increase your metabolism through the production of T3, your active thyroid hormone.
Antioxidant Power – In Hashimoto’s, oxidative damage plays a role in autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland. Dosing up on antioxidants such as CoQ10, NAC, quercetin, and EGCG (a compound found in Green Tea) can protect the gland from damage and support hormone production.
Clean Eating – Eating a healthy diet is one thing but consider having your food sensitivities tested to make sure even the healthy foods you consume are ok for your body and thyroid. I use a blood test to assess antibody levels against various foods including dairy, wheat, eggs, coffee and even chocolate! Eliminating your food sensitivities can improve energy, support weight loss, clear your skin and reduce aches and pains.
Sunshine – Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients when treating autoimmune conditions and thyroid disease. Most Canadians are deficient, even in the summer. You can safely supplement with 1000 IU’s daily. Consult a naturopathic doctor for higher dose recommendations and consider having your vitamin D levels tested.
Address Deficiencies – Zinc, selenium, iodine and iron are important drivers in the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, even in those who are taking thyroid medications such as synthroid and eltroxin. These can be found in a multimineral formulas or as individual supplements. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium and zinc can be found in pumpkin seeds.
Thyroid disease can be debilitating and frustrating to manage and cope with. For a holistic and individualized approach, consider consulting with a naturopathic doctor.
Dr. Melissa Willms is a Naturopathic Doctor at Sanas Health Practice in Kitchener, ON. This green smoothie lover strives to empower her patients to achieve optimal health through cleansing and detoxification practices and nutritional based medicine. She regularly gives public seminars at Goodness Me and other community organizations. She has special interests in thyroid disease, women’s health, infertility, menopause and weight loss. Dr. Melissa has transformed her own life and strives to foster the same passion for adventure, life balance, and optimal health in each of her patients. Dr. Melissa Willms is a member of the following associations: OAND, CAND, College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
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