Is Your Thyroid Healthy?

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Did you know that a tiny, butterfly shaped gland nestled in your throat is responsible for producing and regulating one of the most important hormones in your body? This mighty gland is called the thyroid, and while it’s relatively small in size, it plays a large role in our endocrine (hormone) system.

The thyroid gland produces a hormone that interacts with many other hormones (insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). We’re still learning so much about how the endocrine system works,  but looking at how intimately all hormones communicate with each other, it’s no wonder so many symptoms and diseases are tied to a poorly performing thyroid!

How does the thyroid gland work?

The main hormone the thyroid produces is thyroxine, or T4. It is inactive.  Most of the active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine (or T3), comes from the conversion of T4 to T3 in different areas of the body, including liver, gut, brain and muscles.

The “active” T3 is then able to regulate many function in the body including energy production and metabolism. When all systems in the body are working well, the right amounts of T4 and T3 are produced. But if something is negatively affecting the thyroid or other organ systems in the body, this hormone balance gets disrupted and we start to experience various symptoms.

Some of the factors that impact a healthy functioning thyroid are: nutritional imbalances, toxins, allergens, infections, insulin resistance, and stress. All of these can all be problematic to the proper function of the thyroid, leading to dysfunction of the gland, and potentially to wider spread systemic disease.

What happens when the thyroid can’t function normally?

There are three main thyroid conditions: low thyroid disease, hyperactive thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.  In fact, thyroid diseases are highly prevalent in North America with an estimated 20 million Americans and 1 in every 10 Canadians having some form of thyroid disease, and over 12% of Americans developing a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Because thyroid conditions are tied to so many varying symptoms, up to 60% of people with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, with women being 5-8x more likely to affected than men.  It is estimated that one in eight women will suffer from a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.

Thyroid diseases are tied to many less obvious disorders including  acne, autoimmune diseases, eczema, fibromyalgia, gum disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and infertility. Because the thyroid is linked to almost every bodily function, symptoms of an underlying thyroid problem are wide and varied, making it more difficult to identify the thyroid as the root cause of the disorders. As a result, many people are misdiagnosed and treated for other conditions before looking at the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism

When the thyroid is compromised, the body is unable to produce or convert the right amounts of thyroid hormones. A number of symptoms often point to an underactive thyroid, which is the basis of hypothyroidism.

These symptoms include lethargy or fatigue, foggy thinking, depression, water retention, weight gain even if you’ve been exercising and eating well consistently, persistently rough/scaly skin and/or dry/tangled hair that are unresponsive to treatments, hair loss (particularly in women), sensitivity to cold, an inability to warm up in a sauna or to sweat during exercise, and a consistently low basal body temperature.

Hyperthyroidism

If the thyroid over-produces thyroid hormone, that can cause very different problems.  Some symptoms of hyperthyroidism include feeling restless, nervous, or emotional, poor sleep quality, fatigue, muscle weakness, difficulty concentrating, frequent bowel movements, disappearance of or irregular menstruation, weight loss, rapid, forceful, or irregular heartbeat, eye problems (associated with Graves’ disease) or swollen thyroid/goitre.

Given that the thyroid is so deeply important to overall health, whether you have an obvious thyroid dysfunction or not, it’s imperative that your naturopathic physician always investigates and considers a thyroid imbalance when any of the symptoms above are occurring.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is an uncommon cancer; only 3.1% percentage of all cancers diagnosed.  Around 54,000 people a year are diagnosed but thankfully it is not very fatal; around 2,000 die from it.  98% of patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer survive at least five years. There are three types: papillary, medullary, follicular and anaplastic.  

Thankfully, you can help maintain your thyroid health naturally!

When it comes to managing the optimal function of your hormones, the building blocks are almost always found in nutrition first.

To maintain a healthy thyroid, first make sure you’re maximizing your nutrition by:

  1. Avoid your individual food sensitivities.  Since hypothyroidism may be, and hyperthyroidism always is, related to autoimmune disease, investigated what causes auto-immunity is important. Having your own food sensitivity test done, through Alletess, a highly respected lab company, is very recommended. Other tests for auto-immunity include: Vitamin D3, Celiac disease, stool analysis of your microbiome, testing for environmental toxicity, diet diary and analysis of your stresses.  
  2. Focus on your iodine level: Iodine is present in almost every organ and tissue and has a direct effect on the thyroid. Iodine might just be the most important part of your thyroid health as our diet and environment make maintaining dietary iodine levels difficult. Chemical agents in commercial food ingredients have the side effect of lessening iodine.  Daily exposure to chemicals found in water such as bromine, fluorine, chlorine all negatively impact iodine levels by attaching themselves to iodine receptors in the body. You can see why focusing on consuming enough of this nutrient is so important.

You can increase your iodine levels by:

    1. Choosing to eat organic to minimize exposure to chemical pesticides
    2. Avoid eating, drinking, or storing food and drinks in plastic containers
    3. Look for “no bromine” or “bromine-free” labels on organic whole-grain breads and flours if you eat grains
    4. Increase your dietary intake of wild-caught seafood and ocean fish
    5. Use natural personal care products to minimize absorbing toxic chemicals through the skin
    6. Add RDA levels of iodine: 150 mcg a day.  DO NOT use extremely high doses of iodine; it is dangerous.  

Seek out foods containing zinc and selenium: Zinc and selenium are two micronutrients that play critical roles in thyroid health. Zinc-rich foods include: oysters, beef, pork, and chicken while selenium rich foods include: brazil nuts, fish, and liver.

You can gain control over your health by learning how to manage and maintain your hormones through nutrition, lifestyle, and medical support. If you’re dealing with, or suspect you have, thyroid issues, please take time to book an appointment to visit us. We want to help you take control of your health! Testing and comprehensive hormonal assessments are available.

Call at 480-284-8155  

To your best health!

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