In Australia hypothyroidism affects 6 to 10% of women and often goes undetected, meaning there are many women walking around feeling tired and worn out without even knowing the cause.
We see women every day with underactive thyroids who improve significantly by implementing nutrient and diet support. What we have found in our years of clinical practice is the medical reference range for diagnosing an underactive thyroid is too wide and that many women experience symptoms with even a minor imbalance.
In this blog we will educate you on what hypothyroid is, the symptoms you may experience and nutrient to help support the optimal functioning of the thyroid and therefore your entire body.
To understand what hypothyroidism is, it is important to first understand what the thyroid is and its role in the body.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in the neck and is responsible for releasing two hormones known as free thyroxine (T4) and free triiodothyronine (T3). The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, found in many foods, and convert it into thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine. These cells combine iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. Those two hormones are then released into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body where they control metabolism (conversion of oxygen and calories to energy).The thyroid gland is under the control of the pituitary gland, a small gland the size of a peanut at the base of the brain. When the level of thyroid hormones (T3, T4) drops too low, the pituitary gland produces thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more hormones. Under the influence of TSH, the thyroid will manufacture and secrete T3 and T4.
Thyroid hormones have the ability to affect the speed at which cells use oxygen and make proteins, heart and breathing rates, body temperature, growth, digestion, energy consumption, weight, fertility and skin health.
The most common signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:
– Weight gain
– A puffy, sensitive face
– Decreased sweating
– Slowed heart rate
– Elevated blood cholesterol
– Dry skin and thinning hair
– Impaired memory
– Sensitivity to cold
– Muscle weakness
– Muscle stiffness, aches, and tenderness
– Heavy menstrual bleeding
– Difficulty sleeping
“The thyroid gland is like the drummer in the band, setting the pace for cellular metabolic activity, including the cells that make up your brain.”
Byron J. Richards
Causes and symptoms of hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is often the result of one of two common causes.
The first is a result of previous (or ongoing) inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves a large percentage of the thyroid’s cells damaged and incapable of producing hormones. This inflammation can cause thyroid hormones to leak into the bloodstream, can interfere with the conversion of the hormone T4 into T3, and can also cause elevation in rT3 ( or reverse triiodothyronine), which is thought to be released when you are ill, and can block the T3 hormone from working.
The most common cause of thyroid gland failure is called autoimmune thyroiditis also called Hashimoto’s disease, it is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which cells within the thyroid are gradually destroyed by autoantibodies. The antibodies bind to the thyroid and prevent the manufacture of sufficient levels of thyroid hormone. In addition to binding to thyroid tissue, these antibodies may also bind to the adrenal glands, pancreas, and acid-producing cells of the stomach. This reduces the capacity for thyroxine production and causes hypothyroidism.
Because symptoms of hypothyroidism can resemble those of other diseases and vary widely, a person may not recognise them as a problem warranting exploration or treatment. Experts believe that between 40 and 60 percent of people with thyroid disease do not know they have it.
How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?
Typically, blood tests are used in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Three measurements are often considered. The first two measurements include free thyroxine (T4) and free triiodothyronine (T3), both produced by the thyroid itself, while the most common standard measurement is thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by the pituitary gland to regulate the thyroid. The TSH test is often the only test performed to assess patient thyroid status in most cases. This approach leaves many gaps in the full thyroid health picture and can allow for a dysfunctional thyroid to be missed. The T3 and T4 blood levels should also be tested to see how much thyroid hormone is both active and stored in the system. Often this additional testing will uncover a need to treat the thyroid.
In addition, thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and TSH receptor antibodies (TRAb) should be tested in cases of suspected thyroid disorder to rule out any autoimmune component to the disease.
Nutrients for hypothyroidism
There are several nutrients necessary for optimal thyroid function. These include:
Iodine is critical for thyroid function and thyroid hormones production. As a mineral naturally found in the earth’s soil and ocean waters, most saltwater and plant-based foods contain iodine naturally.
Foods rich in iodine:
– Seaweed- Fish – Dairy products- Iodised sea salt
Another mineral needed for thyroid hormone production is selenium, as it helps protect the thyroid from damage caused by oxidative stress. The thyroid gland contains high amounts of selenium, with a deficiency often resulting in thyroid dysfunction.
Foods rich in selenium include:
– Brazil nuts- Fish- Eggs- Meat- Poultry – Cheese – Whole grain
Tyrosine is an amino acid with an affinity for the thyroid gland and a precursor of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Deficiency of tyrosine is seen regularly in the plasma of those with hypothyroidism.
Foods rich in tyrosine include: – Soy – Chicken – Fish- Peanuts- Almonds- Avocado- Bananas – Milk – Cheese and dairy products
Zinc, much like vitamin D, is important in maintaining a balanced immune system and may play a role in T cell differentiation. Zinc is also required for thyroid hormone production. An optimal concentration of zinc is needed for healthy levels of T3, T4, and thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH).
Foods rich in zinc include:
– Grass-fed meat- Shellfish like oysters, crab, mussel and shrimp- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans- Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds
5. Vitamin A
Vitamin A deficiency has been identified as one of the factors contributing to iodine deficiency. Consequently, increasing intake has been shown to improve iodine status and thyroid function.
Foods rich in vitamin A include: – Beef liver- Cod liver oil- Sweet potatoes- Carrots- Spinach- Broccoli- Kale
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps modulate the expression of immune cells while maintaining a balanced immune response and decreasing the development of pro-inflammatory markers. Vitamin D also reduces autoimmune antibodies and decreases the body’s inflammatory response. Our body synthesises vitamin D from the sun, but can also obtain it from certain dietary sources, such as fatty fish and egg yolks. Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is still the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.
Foods rich in vitamin D include :- cod liver oil- salmon- eggs yolk – sardines- mushrooms- beef liver
How can a naturopath help with hypothyroidism?
Optimal thyroid function requires a specific combination of nutrients, so often getting the balance right using a therapeutic dose of the vitamins and minerals the body is lacking can make all the difference.
A naturopathic approach to hypothyroid may include:
– Target the key drivers behind autoimmunity- Correct nutrient deficiencies, primarily those responsible for hormones production, conversion, and distribution into all cells of the body- Address secondary conditions where issues have been identified, such as digestive issues, infertility, irregular menstrual cycle.
Serena Di Modugno, Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip WHM,
Currently studying BHSc Nutritional Medicine
Serena is a qualified naturopath with a focus on MTHFR, allergies, anxiety and disordered eating.
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