In our previous blog we briefly highlighted a few of the most important nutritional tips to ensure a healthy thyroid. But what else can we do and why are thyroid problems so prevalent in the first place?
The causes of thyroid problems are often complex, and rarely the result of one single event. Other medical conditions, prescription medications, toxic environmental exposures and autoimmune disease are some of the leading causes of thyroid problems.
The most commonly encountered thyroid disease is hypothyroidism (the thyroid runs too slow). This also has many causes, however for our purposes today we want to focus on primary hypothyroidism, when the thyroid itself doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.
Here are some of the most often overlooked causes of hypothyroidism.
Halogens are a family of elements – a grouping of specific atoms that behave in similar ways. They include fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine. Perhaps you’ve heard of each of these:
We’re concerned about Halogens because it’s thought they can compete with the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland. Because other halogens are found throughout our environment, there is concern they negatively affect thyroid function.
You can try to avoid taking in excess halogens in your body by filtering your drinking water (make sure you review the filter’s specifications to see if it removes chlorine and fluoride), avoiding prolonged contact with new carpet and new car smells, and wash any new clothing you buy a few times before wearing it, for starters.
As I mentioned previously, iodine is vital for thyroid function. Too little causes serious medical conditions, as does too much. If you eat a healthy, whole food diet (roots, tubers, eggs and seafood including seaweed) you are getting plenty of iodine. Please DO NOT start taking massive amounts as is often suggested across the internet. Excess iodine can worsen hypothyroidism, and can lead to toxic thyroid or tumors of the thyroid.
We’ve talked about adrenal issues a lot. When a person is under chronic stress, they produce excess amounts of cortisol. Cortisol can then impede conversion of the thyroid hormone T4 (which is mostly inactive) into its active form T3. In some cases a very stressed person will appear to be hypothyroid when really the problem lies in the stress effect from the adrenal glands. Getting cortisol (and stress!) under control would improve thyroid function in this case. Adrenal function is easily tested using a saliva test kit at home.
While we’re talking about thyroid hormone conversion, sometimes a person’s individual biochemistry prevents them from properly utilizing prescription thyroid medication. Synthroid is a popular hypothyroid prescription medication that is made soley of T4. T4 must be converted into active T3 at the cellular level. If a person doesn’t convert efficiently, they’ll end up being told they’re on adequate amounts of thyroid medication, yet still have all their thyroid symptoms! This is why functional and integrative doctors like to prescribe a mixture of T4 and T3 medications. It can make a huge difference in how a person feels.
Which leads us to how we look at thyroid lab studies….
TSH and sometimes T4 are used as sole determinants of thyroid function in the screening process. However, there is increasing awareness among clinicians and growing evidence in the literature that TSH alone isn’t the best way to determine thyroid function. We always recommend a full thyroid panel that includes TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO) and Anti-Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TAA) to start whenever thyroid function is a concern.
When out of balance, these predominately female hormones can interfere with thyroid function, much the same way elevated cortisol can. Something I tell all my patients is that our hormones are like a symphony, when one is out balance it affects all the others. The idea that one hormone is “off” and has no repercussions elsewhere in the body is outdated.
When estrogen levels become elevated, it can increase the production of thyroid binding globulin, which essentially ties up circulating levels of thyroid hormone. It also slows the conversion of inactive T4 to active T3.
Progesterone affects thyroid function in a different way; it “primes” thyroid hormone receptors on the cells, helping it gain entry into the cells and also supports conversion of T4 to T3.
When a woman is estrogen dominant (elevated estrogen or relatively elevated estrogen in comparison to lower progesterone levels), this sets her up for functional thyroid issues. Estrogen dominance can be seen in women of all ages; overweight, sedentary lifestyle and processed food diet are some of the main causes of estrogen dominance.
Lastly, the thyroid gland itself requires specific nutrients to run efficiently. Like a specialized factory, it needs these nutrients to do its job correctly.
These are the most important nutrients for the thyroid:
Thyroid Support Complex contains all of these, and other thyroid-supportive nutrients to assist its normal function.
This is a lot of information! The idea is that there’s a lot more to hypothyroidism than simply getting a TSH, being told it’s too high, and given a prescription for thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism doesn’t just happen – with a little digging you can address other issues and lessen the burden on the thyroid, helping it function as it’s supposed to.
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