Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that is responsible for nearly all of your metabolic processes, including brain function/cognition, female hormone balance, fertility, GI function, body temperature, cardiovascular function, and lipid/cholesterol metabolism. Thyroid hormones regulate other hormones including insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. You can see why this little gland is so important to your health!
It’s estimated that between 30-50 million Americans have thyroid dysfunction. Many are undiagnosed. Women are 10 times more likely than men to have thyroid issues.
Are you tired, constipated, cold or notice weight gain? Do you have the outer third of your eyebrow thinning or missing? Are you noticing increased hair loss? Are you depressed or lethargic? It could be your thyroid…
10 signs of an under-active thyroid:
1. Fatigue after sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night or needing to take a nap daily.
2. Weight gain or the inability to lose weight.
3. Mood issues such as mood swings, anxiety or depression.
4. Hormone imbalances such as PMS, irregular periods, infertility and low sex drive.
5. Muscle pain, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendonitis.
6. Cold hands and feet, feeling cold when others are not, or having a body temperature consistently below 98.5.
7. Dry or cracking skin, brittle nails and excessive hair loss.
9. Mind issues such as brain fog, poor concentration or poor memory.
10. Neck swelling, snoring or hoarse voice.
Many of you are probably thinking: but I’ve had my thyroid checked, and my doctor said it was normal or “within range.” Unfortunately, many conventional doctors don’t test for Free T3 and Free T4, which are the better markers when it comes to thyroid dysfunction. TSH and T4 are not the most accurate indicators of thyroid dysfunction, and these are the markers most often tested by your doc. The next time you go, ask your doc to test for:
Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)
Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)
What are the ‘optimal’ lab values for thyroid tests?
In my practice, I have found that the below are the ranges in which my patients (and myself) thrive. I listen to my patients as well and take how they are feeling into account.
TSH 1-2 UIU/ML or lower (Armour or compounded T3 can artificially suppress TSH)
FT4 >1.1 NG/DL
FT3 > 3.2 PG/ML
RT3 less than a 10:1 ratio RT3:FT3
TPO – TgAb – < 4 IU/ML or negative
TOP THYROID HEALING FOODS, HERBS AND NUTRIENTS:
1. Ashwagandha. This adaptogenic herb modulates your immune and endocrine system to regulate hormones. It’s useful for both hypo- and hyperthyroid and autoimmune thyroid cases because of its balancing effect: if levels are too high or low, it aids in normalizing them. It’s also an excellent tonic for tired adrenal glands, and your adrenals and thyroid greatly impact one another. Ashwagandha has a long list of positive benefits including the following:
- combats stress
- eases anxiety
- relaxes the mind and mood
- regulates immune system
- rejuvenates adrenals
- balances hormones
You can take it in a tincture or capsule- 500 mg 1-2x/day.
2. Selenium is a powerhouse antioxidant, meaning it combats free radical damage in your body. It also seems to have a balancing effect for both hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Selenium is necessary for thyroid hormone conversion: It converts T4 to the active form of thyroid hormone, T3. Several studies have shown selenium to be beneficial for autoimmune thyroid conditions; it may lower antibody levels and reduce inflammation. (source) You can get all the selenium you need in a day by eating just 4-5 Brazil nuts. But be careful about taking selenium supplements: “long term consumption of high doses of selenium can lead to complications such as gastrointestinal upsets, hair loss, white blotchy nails, garlic breath odor, fatigue, irritability, and mild nerve damage.” (source)
3. Perhaps the most necessary nutrient for thyroid health is iodine. In fact, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. The thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormones T4 and T3. And actually iodine has many functions in the body, including breast health, brain function, stomach acid production, and removal of halide toxins (fluoride, chlorine, etc). Most people think they get enough iodine from iodized salt, but it’s far less than needed, and most iodized salt is refined sodium chloride, not the good unrefined sea salt that most of us have been told to consume. Sea salt doesn’t contain much, if any, iodine (which is why table salt is iodized). Sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, dulse, wakame, and kombu are some of the best sources of iodine. Shellfish is another good one. But again, be careful with iodine supplementation: there’s a lot of confusing info about how supplementing with iodine can aggravate antibody levels if you have Hashimoto’s (though some practitioners say if you take balanced levels of selenium and iodine together this won’t be a problem). So, get your levels tested. I often recommend kelp supplements to those who are low iodine.
4. Liver gets a mention because it is truly one of the most nutrient dense meats we’re not eating. Considered nature’s multi-vitamin, it is high in vitamins D, A, B vitamins, iron, zinc and protein, ALL of which are crucial for a well functioning thyroid. I wish I loved liver, but I just can’t stomach it. If that’s you, you can take desiccated liver capsules every now and again (I do). Here are some other ways to sneak liver into your diet. Try and get a few ounces weekly.
5. Fermented foods make the list because of their probiotic power. Did you know that 20 percent of thyroid function depends on a sufficient supply of healthy gut bacteria? Most of us have poor probiotic diversity because of antibiotic use, too much sugar, birth control pills, conventionally raised meat that’s been fed antibiotics, etc. Getting plenty of probiotic-rich foods from all sources helps correct this imbalance and also starve out bad bacteria. The majority of your immune system is in your gut, so good probiotic levels are key for those with autoimmune conditions. Choose from fermented vegetables (raw kraut, kimchi) and Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar.
6. Go gluten-free! If you have Hashimoto’s, try going completely grain and legume free.
7. Get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.
Sources: Amy Myers and Mary Vance.