Most people realize that their thyroid is important for controlling
their metabolism and body weight.
But did you
know that depression, heart disease, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia,
PMS (premenstrual syndrome), menopausal symptoms, muscle and joint
pains, irritable bowel syndrome, or autoimmune disease could actually
indicate a problem with your thyroid?
signs of a sluggish thyroid gland include weight gain, lethargy,
poor quality hair and nails, hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, cold
hands and feet, and constipation – and these symptoms are relatively
of the conditions you might not associate with
your thyroid include:
- High cholesterol
- Low libido
- Gum disease
- Fluid retention
- Skin conditions
such as acne and eczema
- Memory problems
- Poor stamina
And there are,
in fact, many more conditions that can be associated with poor thyroid
function. Your thyroid plays a part in nearly every physiological
process. When it is out of balance, so are you. This is why it is
so important to understand how your thyroid gland works and what
can cause it to run amok.
The sad fact
is, half of all people with hypothyroidism are never diagnosed.
And of those who are diagnosed, many are inadequately treated, resulting
in partial recovery at best.
The Hidden Epidemic
simply means you have a sluggish or underactive thyroid, which is
producing less than adequate amounts of thyroid hormone.
hypothyroidism means you have no obvious symptoms and only slightly
abnormal lab tests. I will be discussing these tests much more as
we go on since they are a source of great confusion for patients,
as well as for many health practitioners.
have unfortunately become quite common.
The same lifestyle
factors contributing to high rates of obesity, cancer and diabetes
are wreaking havoc on your thyroid… sugar, processed foods, stress,
environmental toxins, and lack of exercise are heavy contributors.
More than 10
percent of the general population in the United States, and 20 percent
of women over the age of 60, have subclinical hypothyroidism. But
only a small percentage of these people are being treated.
Why is that?
Much of it
has to do with misinterpretation and misunderstanding of lab tests,
particularly TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Most physicians
believe that if your TSH value is within the range of u201Cnormal,u201D
your thyroid is fine. But more and more physicians are discovering
that the TSH value is grossly unreliable for diagnosing hypothyroidism.
And the TSH
range for u201Cnormalu201D keeps changing!
In an effort
to improve diagnosis of thyroid disease, in 2003 the American Association
of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) revised the u201Cnormalu201D TSH range
as 0.3 to 3.04. The previous
range was defined as 0.5 and 5.0, which red-flagged only the most
glaring hypothyroidism cases.
new range is still not wholly reliable as the sole indicator of
a sulky thyroid gland. You simply cannot identify one TSH value
that is u201Cnormalu201D for every person, regardless of age, health, or
that though, most physicians who carefully follow this condition
recognize that any TSH value greater than 1.5 could be a strong
indication that an underactive thyroid is present.
Your TSH value
is only part of the story, and your symptoms, physical findings,
genetics, lifestyle and health history are also important considerations.
Only when physicians learn to treat the patient and not the lab
test will they begin to make headway against thyroid disease.
How Your Thyroid Works is Step One
gland is in the front of your neck and is part of your endocrine,
or hormonal, system. It produces the master metabolism hormones
that control every function in your body.
Thyroid hormones interact with all your other hormones including
insulin, cortisol, and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone,
The fact that
these hormones are all tied together and in constant communication
explains why an unhappy thyroid is associated with so many widespread
symptoms and diseases.
gland produces two major thyroid hormones: T4 and T3. About 90 percent
of the hormone produced by the gland is in the form of T4, the inactive
form. Your liver converts this T4 into T3, the active form, with
the help of an enzyme.
also produces T2, yet another hormone, which currently is the least
understood component of thyroid function and the subject of much
work in a feedback loop with your brain – particularly your
pituitary and hypothalamus – in regulating the release of thyroid
hormone. Your pituitary makes TRH (thyroid releasing hormone), and
your hypothalamus makes TSH. If everything is working properly,
you will make what you need and you'll have the proper amounts of
T3 and T4.
Those two hormones
– T3 and T4 – are what control the metabolism of every
cell in your body. But their delicate balance can be disrupted by
nutritional imbalances, toxins, allergens, infections and stress.
If your T3
is inadequate, either by insufficient production or not converting
properly from T4, your whole system suffers.
You see, T3
is critically important because it tells the nucleus of your cells
to send messages to your DNA to crank up your metabolism by burning
fat. That is why T3 lowers cholesterol levels, regrows hair, and
helps keep you lean.
to Know if You are Hypothyroid
hypothyroidism and its cause is tricky business. Many of the symptoms
overlap with other disorders, and many are vague. Physicians often
miss a thyroid problem since they rely on just a few traditional
tests, so other clues to the problem go undetected.
But you can
provide the missing clues!
The more vigilant
you can be in assessing your own symptoms and risk factors and presenting
the complete picture to your physician in an organized way, the
easier it will be for your physician to help you.
with hypothyroidism have significant fatigue or sluggishness, especially
in the morning. You may have hoarseness for no apparent reason.
Often hypothyroid people are slow to warm up, even in a sauna, and
don't sweat with mild exercise. Low mood and depression are common.
and constipation are major clues, especially if you already get
adequate water and fiber.
Are the upper
outer third of your eyebrows thin or missing? This is sometimes
an indication of low thyroid. Chronic recurrent infections are also
seen because thyroid function is important for your immune system.
sign of hypothyroidism is a low basal body temperature (BBT), less
than 97.6 degrees F averaged
over a minimum of 3 days. It is best to obtain a BBT thermometer
to assess this.
How about your
family history? Do you have close relatives with thyroid issues?
Some of the
family history that suggests you could have a higher risk for hypothyroidism
- High or
low thyroid function
diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis, Sjogren's,
disease or ulcerative colitis
It might be
useful to take an online thyroid assessment quiz, as a way to get
Shomon has a good one. Some of the classic symptoms are mentioned
above, but there are many more – too many to list here.
If you suspect
you might be hypothyroid, you should see a healthcare provider who
can evaluate this, including ordering the basic lab tests for thyroid
lab tests are not the end-all, be-all for diagnosing a thyroid problem,
they are a valuable part of the overall diagnostic process. The
key is to look at the whole picture.
suggest a very high incidence of borderline hypothyroidism in Westerners.
Many cases are subclinical, and even u201Csublaboratory,u201D not showing
up at all in standard laboratory measurements.
subclinical hypothyroidism often triggers or worsens other chronic
diseases, such as the autoimmune diseases, so the thyroid should
be addressed with any chronic disease.
will order only one test – a TSH level. This is a grossly inadequate
and relatively meaningless test by itself, as well as a waste of
your money. It would be like saying you know your water is pure
because it tastes fine.
the following panel of laboratory tests if you want to get the best
picture of what your thyroid is doing:
– the high-sensitivity version. This is the BEST
test. But beware most all of the u201Cnormalu201D ranges are simply dead
wrong. The ideal level for TSH is between 1 and 1.5 mIU/L (milli-international
units per liter).
T4 and Free T3. The normal level of free T4 is between
0.9 and 1.8 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter). T3 should be between
240 and 450 pg/dl (picograms per deciliter).
antibodies, including thyroid peroxidase antibodies and anti-thyroglobulin
antibodies. This measure helps determine if your body
is attacking your thyroid, overreacting to its own tissues (i.e.,
autoimmune reactions). Physicians nearly always leave this test
more difficult cases TRH can be measured
(thyroid releasing hormone) using the TRH stimulation
test. TRH helps identify hypothyroidism that's caused
by inadequacy of the pituitary gland.
that might be indicated for more complex cases are a thyroid scan,
fine-needle aspiration, and thyroid ultrasound. But these are specialized
tests that your physician will use only in a small number of cases,
in special situations.
Even if all
your lab tests are u201Cnormal,u201D if you have multiple thyroid symptoms,
you still could have subclinical hypothyroidism.
Your Thyroid Healthy in a Toxic World
Now that you
have some understanding of the importance of your thyroid and how
it works, let's take a look at the factors that can readily cause
problems with your thyroid gland.
choices dictate, to a great degree, how well your thyroid will function.
If you follow
my plan to eat for your nutritional type,
and my nutritional
plan your metabolism will be more efficient, and your thyroid
will have an easier time keeping everything in check. Eating for
your type will normalize your blood sugar and lipid levels and enhance
your immune system, so that your thyroid will have fewer obstacles
food, processed food, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and anything
with chemical ingredients. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, and choose
as many organics as possible.
and Other Food Sensitivities
food sensitivities are among
the most common causes of thyroid dysfunction because they cause
autoimmune responses in many people and can be responsible for Hashimoto's
thyroiditis, a common autoimmune thyroid condition. Approximately
30 percent of the people with Hashimoto's thyroiditis have an autoimmune
reaction to gluten, and it usually goes unrecognized.
How this works
is, gluten can cause your gastrointestinal system to malfunction,
so foods you eat aren't completely digested (aka Leaky Gut Syndrome).
These food particles can then be absorbed into your bloodstream
where your body misidentifies them as antigens – substances
that shouldn't be there – our body then produces antibodies
are similar to molecules in your thyroid gland. So your body accidentally
attacks your thyroid. This is known as an autoimmune reaction or
one in which your body actually attacks itself.
be done for gluten and other food sensitivities, which involves
measuring your IgG and IgA antibodies.
that is bad for your thyroid is soy.
Soy is NOT the health food the agricultural and food companies would
have you believe.
Soy is high
in isoflavones (or goitrogens), which are damaging to your thyroid
gland. Thousands of studies now link soy foods to malnutrition,
digestive stress, immune system weakness, cognitive decline, reproductive
disorders, infertility and a host of other problems – in addition
to damaging your thyroid.
organic soy products such as natto, miso, and tempeh are fine –
it's the unfermented soy products that you should stay away from.
is one of the best foods you can eat for your thyroid.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat comprised of medium chain triglycerides
(MCTs), which are known to increase metabolism and promote weight
is very stable (shelf life of 3 to 5 years at room temperature),
so your body is much less burdened with oxidative stress than it
is from many other vegetable oils. And coconut oil does not interfere
with T4 to T3 conversion the way other oils can.
Iodine is a
key component of thyroid hormone.
In fact, the names of the different forms of thyroid hormone reflect
the number of iodine molecules attached – T4 has four attached
iodine molecules, and T3 has three – showing what an important
part iodine plays in thyroid biochemistry.
If you aren't
getting enough iodine in your diet (and most Americans don't),
no matter how healthy your thyroid gland is, it won't have the raw
materials to make enough thyroid hormone.
and bromine are also culprits in thyroid function, and since they
are halides like iodine, they compete for your iodine receptors.
If you are
exposed to a lot of bromine, you will not hold on to the iodine
you need. Bromine is present in many places in your everyday world
– plastics, pesticides, hot tub treatments, fire retardants,
some flours and bakery goods, and even some soft drinks. I have
written a special
article about bromine and its influence on your thyroid gland
and I encourage you to read it.
and Adrenal Function
Stress is one
of the worst thyroid offenders. Your thyroid function is intimately
tied to your adrenal function, which is intimately affected by how
you handle stress.
Many of us
are under chronic stress, which results in increased adrenalin and
cortisol levels, and elevated cortisol has a negative impact on
thyroid function. Thyroid hormone levels drop during stress, while
you actually need more thyroid hormones during stressful times.
becomes chronic, the flood of stress chemicals (adrenalin and cortisol)
produced by your adrenal glands interferes with thyroid hormones
and can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
unstable blood sugar, and more.
stress response can lead to adrenal exhaustion
(also known as adrenal fatigue), which is often found alongside
toxins place additional stress on your body. Pollutants such as
petrochemicals, organochlorines, pesticides and chemical food additives
negatively affect thyroid function.
One of the
best de-stressors is exercise, which is why it is so beneficial
for your thyroid.
stimulates your thyroid gland to secrete more thyroid hormone. Exercise
also increases the sensitivity of all your tissues to thyroid hormone.
It is even thought that many of the health benefits of exercise
stem directly from improved thyroid function.
as simple as a 30-minute walk is a great form of exercise, and all
you need is a good pair of walking shoes. Don't forget to add strength
training to your exercise routine, because increasing your muscle
mass helps raise your metabolic rate.
Also make sure
you are getting enough sleep. Inadequate sleep contributes to stress
and prevents your body from regenerating fully.
excellent way to reduce stress is with an energy psychology tool
such as the Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT). More and more people
are practicing MTT and experiencing amazing results.
Options for a Sluggish Thyroid
Here are some
suggestions that can be used for general support of your thyroid,
as well as treating an underperforming one:
- Eat plenty
of sea vegetables such as seaweed, which are rich in minerals
and iodine (hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu). This
is probably the most ideal form of iodine supplementation as it
is also loaded with many other beneficial nutrients.
- Eat Brazil
nuts, which are rich in selenium.
- Get plenty
of sunlight to optimize your vitamin D levels; if you live where
sunlight is limited, use vitamin D3 supplementation.
- Eat foods
rich in vitamin A, such as dandelion greens, carrots, spinach,
kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and sweet potatoes.
- Make sure
you are eating enough omega-3 fatty acids.
- Use pure,
organic coconut oil in your cooking – it's great for stir
fries and sauting many different meats and vegetables.
- Filter your
drinking water and your bathing water.
- Filter your
air, since it is one of the ways you take in environmental pollutants.
- Use an infrared
sauna to help your body combat infections and detoxify from petrochemicals,
metals, PCBs, pesticides and mercury.
- Taking chlorella
is another excellent detoxification aid.
- Take active
steps to minimize your stress … relaxation, meditation, hot
soaks, EFT, whatever works for you.
If you know
your thyroid function is poor, despite making the supportive lifestyle
changes already discussed, then it might be time to look at thyroid
hormone should be done only after you have ruled out other conditions
that could be causing the thyroid dysfunction such as adrenal fatigue,
gluten or other food allergies, hormonal imbalance, etc. It is always
best to get your thyroid working again by treating the underlying
cause, as opposed to taking an external source of thyroid hormone.
supplementation is necessary.
pharmaceutical treatment usually consists of replacing only T4 in
the form of Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothyroid, Unithroid, and levothyroxine,
leaving your body to convert this to T3.
has shown that a combination of T4 and T3 is often more effective
than T4 alone. The conversion to T3 can be hampered by nutritional
deficiencies such as low selenium, inadequate omega-3 fatty acids,
low zinc, chemicals from the environment, or by stress.
taking T4 alone will result in only partial improvement.
Taking T3 alone
is usually too stimulating. The drug Cytomel is a very short-acting
form of T3 that can cause palpitations, anxiety, irritability and
insomnia. I never recommend this drug.
By far, the
better approach is combined T4 and T3 therapy.
products, like Armour Thyroid
are a combination of T4, T3 and T2 made from desiccated, or dried,
porcine thyroid. Armour Thyroid has gotten a bad rap over the years,
perceived by physicians to be unstable and unreliable in terms of
dosage. However, many improvements have been made in the product,
making it a safe and effective option for treating hypothyroidism
In fact, a
study done ten years ago clearly demonstrated that patients with
hypothyroidism showed greater improvements in mood and brain function
if they received treatment with Armour Thyroid than if they received
dose for Armour Thyroid ranges from 15 to 180 milligrams, depending
on the individual. You will need a prescription.
Once on thyroid
replacement, you will not necessarily need to take it for the
rest of your life, which is a common misconception. Once all
the factors that have led to your thyroid dysfunction have been
corrected, you may be able to reduce or discontinue the thyroid
Once on thyroid
hormone replacement, I recommend you monitor your progress by paying
attention to how you feel, in addition to regular lab studies.
You can also
routinely check your basal body temperature. If you are on the correct
dose, your BBT should be about 98.6 degrees F.
If you begin
to feel symptoms such as anxiety, palpitations, diarrhea, high blood
pressure, or a resting pulse of more than 80 beats per minute, your
dose is likely too high as these are symptoms of hyperthyroidism,
and you should let your physician know immediately.
A thyroid problem
is no different than any other chronic illness – you must address
the underlying issues if you hope to correct the problem. The path
to wellness may involve a variety of twists and turns before you
find what works for you.
But hang in
If you approach
it from a comprehensive, holistic perspective, you will find in
time that all of the little steps you take will ultimately result
in your feeling much better than you could have ever imagined.
Revision of Hypothyroid Diagnosis Guidelinesu201D March 1, 2003
Allergiesu2014Do You Have Unexplained Symptoms?u201D July 13, 2007
Gut' Intestinal Protein Linked to Autoimmune Disordersu201D May
Evidence Soy is Not as Healthy as Originally Believedu201D August
Toxins Disrupting Your Thyroid and Iodine Production?u201D September
All the Time? Exhausted for No Reason? You Could Have Adrenal Fatigueu201D
August 18, 2009
Treatment Improves Weight Loss, Thyroid Disease, and Rheumatoid
Arthritisu201D September 12, 2008
One Hour FREE Vitamin D Lecture to Clear Up All Your Confusion on
this Vital Nutrientu201D December 16, 2008
Study Proves Armour Thyroid Better Than Synthroidu201D January 2,