Thyroid dysfunction is a leading cause of weight gain and fatigue. Even if your thyroid is “within normal limits” when your regular doctor tests it, if it’s not functioning optimally, it can make it difficult for you to lose weight, think clearly, and feel good.
Because when your thyroid ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy…
For optimal health and wellness, you want a thyroid that’s humming along just like it should, and there are plenty of things that we can do to help it!
As an integrative medicine physician assistant, I want to equip you with the tools to repair thyroid dysfunction and help you to feel your very best. Some things are easier to talk about than to write, so here’s a video on thyroid dysfunction and what you can do to feel better:
What Is Your Thyroid And What Does It Do?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck.
It produces the hormones T1, T2, T3, T4, and reverse T3. These hormones play a role in metabolism, core body temperature, energy levels, ability to think clearly, mood, hair loss, reproductive hormone health, and more.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is released from the pituitary gland in the brain to tell the thyroid to make more thyroid hormone. The hormone T4 is converted to T3, which is the more active version of thyroid hormones.
Thyroid dysfunction can take months to years to express itself in a way that shows up in labs, but it may affect how you feel long before that.
Hypothyroidism is when the body does not make enough thyroid hormones, and hyperthyroidism is when too many thyroid hormones are produced.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid condition that ultimately results in hypothyroidism. It’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism in people over the age of 6.
People with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis also tend to have a higher rate of other autoimmune conditions, like pernicious anemia, celiac disease, etc.
Other autoimmune thyroid conditions are less common and include atrophic thyroiditis, juvenile thyroiditis, post partum thyroiditis, silent thyroiditis, and focal thyroiditis.
Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction
Common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction can include:
- temperature intolerance (you feel hotter or colder than everyone else in the room)
- difficulty losing weight and/or weight gain
- hair loss or losing the outer third of your eyebrows
- fatigue or lack of energy
- decrease in movement or feeling sluggish
- “cankles” (thickening of the ankles) or a yellowish tint to your heels
- pale face
- puffiness to the face (called “moon facies” in medical texts)
- constipation or diarrhea
- difficulty conceiving or menstrual irregularities
- muscle and joint pains and cramps
- hoarse voice and sensation of pressure in your throat
- dry skin and less sweating
- numbness or tingling in fingers or feet
- memory problems or loss
- sleep apnea
- daytime sleepiness
- waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling back asleep
- swelling in your arms or legs
- thickened nails with deep ridges
- lowered heart rate, elevated blood pressure (specifically the bottom number), lowered body temperature (you should be 98.6; if you’re frequently 97 or 96, it could be thyroid dysfunction)
- decreased reflexes
- enlarged tongue
- slower speech
- elevated cholesterol levels
What Can Cause Thyroid Dysfunction?
Many things can play a role in this:
- autoimmune diseases
- leaky gut
- HPA axis dysregulation (adrenal fatigue) and emotional stress
- food allergies (especially gluten and dairy)
- pregnancy and the postpartum period
- nutritional deficiencies (iodine, selenium, glutathione)
Where Did Our Iodine Go?
Lack of iodine in the diet can lead to hypothyroidism, and it’s wayyyy more common than you would expect!
Decades ago, the food industry started adding iodine to table salt to help us make thyroid hormones. In recent years, there’s been a shift towards mineral salt.
Mineral salt (depending on where it’s from) can lack sufficient iodine concentrations. While kelp, seaweed, and seafood are great sources of iodine, ironically, sea salt is not!
Additionally, most processed flours today are brominated. There’s fluoride and chloride in the water supply. All of those chemicals can displace iodine, making it harder for us to get iodine from our foods.
Labs To Check Thyroid Dysfunction
You have to, have to, HAVE TO have a FULL thyroid panel so you know how your body’s working right now:
- Free and Total T3
- Free and Total T4
- reverse T3
- thyroid antibodies– anti-TPO (anti-thyroid peroxidase), anti-Tg (anti-thyroglobulin)
Conversion from T4 (less active thyroid hormone) to T3 (more active thyroid hormone) can suffer if you have adrenal fatigue or nutritional deficiencies. If you make too much T4, your body will store it as reverse T3; this can also happen with heavy metal toxicity.
Additional labs that are really helpful:
- CBC (complete blood count, check for anemia)
- BMP (basic metabolic profile, check your kidney function and sodium levels)
- Lipid panel (cholesterol levels; huge link better hypothyroidism and high cholesterol)
- Creatinine Kinase- rare to see this, but it can be elevated in severe hypothyroidism
- Prolactin levels- may be elevated if you have primary hypothyroidism (like from a brain tumor)
Treatments For Thyroid Dysfunction
Conventional treatments for hypothyroidism; they’re synthetic thyroid hormones:
- Cytomel (this is just T3 for if you don’t convert T4 to T3 well)
More natural options that are still prescriptions:
- Armour Thyroid
- WP Thyroid (hypoallergenic)
These options come from dried pork thyroid hormone that contain T1, T2, T3, T4, and thyroglobulin (the protein that carries thyroid hormones through the blood stream).
Things That Can Help to Naturally Improve Your Thyroid Function
If you have antibodies to your thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis being the most common), don’t worry!! You can get rid of them! I have seen tons of patients whose antibodies have healed and disappeared!
If you have Hashimoto’s:
- STOP Gluten (forever; so sorry but it’s NOT your friend); stop most dairy until your antibodies heal up and then see what happens. You may be able to tolerate some goat’s milk or cheese (A2 proteins).
- Selenium supplementation can be very helpful (usually 200mcg/day)
- DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) cream from a compounding pharmacy applied to the thyroid area of your neck. This increases the glutathione levels, which helps your body to heal
- L-Tyrosine- 500mg twice a day can be helpful for making better thyroid hormones. Tyrosine helps to put iodine to good use
- Vitamin D- It has been noted in major medical journals that almost every patient with Hashimoto’s has low levels of vitamin D. Supplementing can help to improve thyroid function.
A Note About Glutathione
Glutathione is amazing for decreasing inflammation and healing up your thyroid (and a bunch of other things). Unfortunately, it’s really had to take a supplement of glutathione. Stomach acid usually destroys the nutrients.
So, you can get glutathione into your body by eating lots of organic fruits and vegetables, meat from a reputable source (like Butcher Box), and nuts. You can also improve your levels by exercising and decreasing your stress levels.
You can also take the precursors (things that break down into it) of glutathione to increase your supply. You can take supplements like ALA (alpha lipoic acid), selenium, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), milk thistle, and glutamine.
Other Ways To Support Healthy Thyroid Function
Additional supplements that can help:
- Zinc- zinc and T3 levels have been positively correlated, which means that higher levels of zinc also translated into higher levels of T3, the most active thyroid hormone
- Magnesium- this mineral is an integral part of the make up of thyroid hormones. It’s essential for making T4, and it’s difficult to make any of the thyroid hormones without sufficient magnesium
Get Enough Iodine
As mentioned above, use table salt one or twice a week.
You can also increase your intake of foods that are high in iodine, like kelp, seafood, cod, cranberries, and plain yogurt.
If you suspect that you may have hyperthyroidism, please see your doctor right away and do NOT pursue any supplements for iodine (can worsen this condition). Too much iodine leading to too many thyroid hormones is incredibly dangerous to your health!!
Along those lines, I would caution you against iodine supplementation unless you are under the care of a physician. You can create more problems with self-treating with iodine!
Heal Up Your Leaky Gut!
To be able to better absorb your nutrients and reduce the burden on your system, you need to be sure that you’re healing up your leaky gut, too. Practicing good gut health (read more HERE) will help to improve thyroid dysfunction.
I have never seen a patient who had Hashimoto’s who did not also have leaky gut… just sayin’!
Give Your Adrenals Some TLC
The adrenal glands/HPA Axis work hand in hand with your thyroid. For optimal thyroid health, you need to also work on your adrenals.
And if you choose to eat healthy and take supplements, there are so many things that help both the adrenals and thyroid, as well as promote good gut health.
Consider Possible Detox
There is a strong correlation between heavy metal toxicity and autoimmune thyroid conditions. If your thyroid antibodies come back positive, it could be very helpful to also test for heavy metal toxicity.
Increasing your glutathione levels can also help you to detox, as well as support that healthy thyroid function.
Foods To Avoid
If you have thyroid dysfunction, please don’t eat RAW brassica vegetables. These vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, soy, and brussel sprouts.
When these foods are raw, they have a high level of goitrogens, which keep thyroid peroxidase from working like it should.
You can have them steamed, as cooking them thoroughly breaks down the goitrogens.
Functional Foods To Support Healthy Thyroid Function
Here’s some great goods to nutritionally equip your thyroid to be its very best (ie, and help you lose the weight and feel great!):
- Complex Carbohydrates- Eating these helps to decrease the amount of reverse T3 that you make, which means that your T4 converts better to T3. T3 is the most active thyroid hormone to help you lose weight and feel great. Complex carbs are released more slowly into the blood stream than simple ones (like white flour, sugar, white rice, and white potatoes). Pairing your complex carbs with protein also blunts the glycemic response.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids- things like consuming fish and taking fish oil supplements
- Coconut oil- great at reducing inflammation
- Seaweed- for its higher concentration of iodine
- Sprouted Seeds- this includes things like flax seeds, hemp, and chia seeds because they’re high in ALA
- Clean Water- as noted above in the discussion of iodine, this would not include tap water.
- Lots of fresh fruits and veggies for good glutathione levels
Support Your Thyroid With a Holistic Approach
You are more than just your thyroid, but a happy thyroid that functions at its peak will greatly improve your overall health.
While you’re supporting healthy thyroid function, it’s important to also consider these other areas of health covered in this 6 Days Series of Holistic Health:
- What Is Holistic Health (and what to know on your first dr’s visit)
- Leaky Gut- How to Heal It Up and Why Gut Health Is the Foundation of Real Health
- Heal Adrenal Fatigue and Reset Your HPA Axis
- Reducing Toxin Exposure For True Health
- Balancing Female Hormones
Resources That I Love
…to help you be healthy naturally:
- Supercharge Your Weight Loss- Need a little extra “oomph” to help you stay on plan? Several of my friends recently introduced me to HealthyWage. If you’re losing weight well with THM or if financial rewards motivate you to stay on track, then HealthyWage is perfect for you!
- Save on Healthy Meat– ButcherBox is my new favorite way to buy antibiotic free, grass fed beef, pork, and chicken! It’s cheaper than I can get it in the local stores, and it comes right to my door! Use the code AP10 to get $10 off your first box and FREE nitrate-free bacon!!
- Get Healthy Foods for Less- Thrive Market is like the online Costco for healthy groceries, and they even have healthy meat and seafood! We love saving money with wholesale prices on healthy groceries and products that get sent right to our home! Get an extra 25% OFF your first order when you sign up at Thrive Market HERE!
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