As I explained in last week’s blog, the thyroid system plays a critical role in your metabolism. Along with insulin and cortisol, your thyroid hormone is one of the big three hormones that control your metabolism and weight.
The key is the right testing to confirm that a sluggish thyroid is contributing to a stalled metabolism and other problems. Once you know this for sure there are many ways to help correct thyroid problems.
There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly, exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
I treated her with a low dose of Armour® thyroid, a natural thyroid replacement.
Well, she lost 20 pounds and improved her body composition and mood. And all of her other symptoms went away.
How did I know she and other patients had low thyroid function? I ask about symptoms, perform a physical exam, and consider potential causes of thyroid problems. Then I do the right tests.
Most doctors just check something called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which doesn’t give a full picture of the thyroid. In fact, even the interpretation of this test is incorrect most of the time.
The newer guidelines of the American College of Endocrinology consider anybody with a TSH level over 3.0 as hypothyroid. (1) Most doctors think that only anything over 5 or 10 is worth treating. Unfortunately, this leaves millions suffering unnecessarily.
Besides TSH, Functional Medicine practitioners perform other essential tests including free T3, free T4, and thyroid antibodies. We also look for associated problems such as gluten intolerance, food allergies, and heavy metals, as well as deficiencies of vitamin D, selenium, vitamin A, zinc, and omega-3 fats.
Last week I provided some strategies to address underlying causes of hypothyroidism. Here, I want to dive a little deeper to address some strategies to heal your thyroid.
Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
To integrate all of these elements and create a successful set of techniques to cope with your thyroid problems, I recommend these six strategies.
Strategy 1: Eliminate the causes of thyroid problems.
Carefully consider things that may interfere with your thyroid function and eliminate them. As you will see, there are a good many things that can impede optimal thyroid function.
Diet is a good place to begin. Certain foods have developed a reputation for playing a role in thyroid dysfunction, but this reputation isn’t necessarily connected to the latest scientific evidence.
For instance, soy foods and the broccoli family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens) have all been said to cause thyroid dysfunction, but they also have many other health benefits. Research on these foods to date has been less than conclusive. In one study, rats fed high concentrations of soy had problems with their thyroid.
The take-home message: If you are a rat, stay away from tofu. Human studies have shown no significant effect when soy is consumed in normal quantities. (2)
On the other hand, there are food groups where substantive evidence supports a link to an autoimmune disease of the thyroid that slows down your metabolism.
Gluten is one of them. (3) If you think you are having a thyroid problem, you need to do a blood test to identify any hidden reaction to gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, kamut, and spelt. Gluten sensitivity or allergy can cause many different types of symptoms, from migraines to fatigue to weight gain.
Besides doing the blood test, you can simply eliminate gluten from your diet for three weeks. If your symptoms go away, you have a clue that your system might not like this food. If you want to take this self-test a step further, reintroduce gluten into your diet and see if your symptoms recur. If they do, that is another major clue.
There are other food allergies besides gluten that can stall thyroid function. You might want to work with a medical practitioner to pinpoint and eliminate these food allergies. A good place to begin is my book The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.
Besides certain foods and food allergies, toxins can slow down your thyroid. Testing yourself for mercury and getting it out of your system and your environment becomes crucial. (4) You also want to avoid fluoride, which has been linked to thyroid problems, (5) and chlorinated water.
Checking for pesticides is more difficult, but supporting your body’s detoxification system by eating organic foods, filtering your water, and eating detoxifying foods can be very helpful to heal your thyroid.
Stress also affects your thyroid function negatively. Military cadets in training who were subjected to intense stress had higher levels of cortisol, higher inflammation levels, reduced testosterone, higher TSH, and very low T3. Treating the thyroid without dealing with chronic stress can precipitate more problems.
A common form of chronic stress – adrenal gland exhaustion or burnout – particularly becomes dangerous for hypothyroidism. Adrenal gland exhaustion occurs when your adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the physiological needs created by stress.
To remedy this chronic stress, incorporate what I call active relaxation. You might also consider my UltraCalm CD to melt away stress and anxiety.