World Thyroid Day

As it’s World Thyroid Day today, I wanted to focus this blog on our thyroid as it is a health challenge that I see come up quite often in my clinic.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in your neck.

Do any of these symptoms sounds familiar to you?

I am only going to cover the symptoms you may be experiencing with an under-active thyroid as these are the ones I see more commonly in clinic. It usually manifests as a “slowing down” of mental and physical activity :

·         Feeling depressed

·         Poor memory and concentration

·         Fatigue (throughout the day, not resolved by a good night’s sleep)

·         Exhaustion

·         Feeling sluggish

·         Constipation as the movement of food through your intestines is slowed down

·         Bloating (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth “SIBO” is often associated with hypothyroidism, where there is an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestines which can be caused by slow movement of food. These bacteria start to produce methane gas which can cause the bloating)

·         Weight gain and difficulty losing weight

·         Slow pulse / slow heart rate

·         Elevated cholesterol levels

·         Generally feeling cold

·         Dry skin

·         Brittle nails that break easily

·         Hair loss and / or hair thinning

·         Shortness of breath

·         Hoarseness or feeling of fullness in throat

·         Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints

·         Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness

·         Muscle weakness

·         Low libido

·         Heavy or irregular menstrual periods

What does the thyroid gland do?

·         It essentially regulates the metabolism, affecting every cell, tissue, organ and organ system in your body.

·         People with an under-active thyroid tend to find that their metabolism slows down and it is difficult to lose weight; whilst people with an-overactive thyroid find their metabolism speeds up and they might struggle to put weight on.

·         The cells in our thyroid gland are the only cells capable of absorbing iodine in our body! These cells combine iodine with the amino acid tyrosine to make our thyroid hormones known as T4 and T3.

·         Around 80% of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland are T4, and around 20% of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland are T3.

·         However, T3 is around four times more active than T4 so it is important to not only look at T4 levels but how well it is converting to the active hormone T3! There are a number of things that can dampen this conversion including stress and nutritional deficiencies.

What test are available to indicate whether your thyroid is over-active or under-active?

·         There is another hormone involved in thyroid function known as thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is released by the pituitary gland.

·         If you have a blood test with your GP and ask to test your thyroid function, they will usually test for TSH (and T4 if you’re lucky) but not for T3. High TSH levels may indicate that your thyroid is under-active as more of this hormone is required to stimulate your under-active thyroid gland.

·         If the doctor suspects that your TSH and/or T4 levels warrant further investigation they may refer you to an endocrinologist to test your T3 levels and to see if any antibodies are present which may be suggestive of Hashimoto’s, a condition when the body’s immune cells attack the thyroid gland (known as autoimmunity).

·         If I suspect that the thyroid needs some nutritional support, I usually recommend a private test which includes TSH, T4, T3 and the thyroid antibodies. It also tests for levels of iron, active B12 (the B12 tested by your GP isn’t the active form), vitamin D, folate and CRP HS which is a marker of inflammation.

·         Whilst I cannot diagnose medical conditions (your doctor would need to do this!) this usually gives me something that I can work with from a nutritional perspective and I always work with my clients’ doctors so they are fully supported medically as well.

These are my private thyroid results from March 2018

This was taken off the back of a very stressful number of years in my life and my TSH was higher than I would have liked whilst my T4 was slightly on the low side reflecting that my thyroid was probably struggling a bit. I made some adjustments to my diet and lifestyle, and things soon returned to normal 🙂

Three things you can do now to support your thyroid health

·         Exercise! If you suspect an under-active thyroid, your metabolism has likely slowed down and this is where exercise can be a huge benefit! Exercise stimulates the release of thyroid hormones and increases the sensitivity of your tissues to these thyroid hormones. If your adrenal glands aren’t already depleted (this is the only time I would not recommend exercise until we had worked on nourishing your adrenal glands) then high intensity interval training (HIIT) is excellent for raising your metabolism! It’s fun and you only need to do 15 to 30 minutes to gain the benefits!

 

·         Watch out for toxins such as heavy metals and BPA. Your thyroid gland acts like a sponge, absorbing toxins which reduce its function. Avoiding oestrogen-like chemicals from foods, plastics, the contraceptive pill and personal care products (face washes, moisturisers, deodorants etc) reduces our exposure to excess oestrogen. When our liver has difficulty detoxifying oestrogen, this can lead to oestrogen dominance which has been shown to interfere with our thyroid hormones.

 

·         Manage your stress levels. Prolonged stress elevates levels of our stress hormone cortisol which can impact thyroid function by reducing the production of TSH and also reducing the conversion of T4 to active T3. The body will always prioritise survival over anything else, so when we are stressed the levels of our sex hormone progesterone may also decline which can contribute to oestrogen dominance (in basic terms when levels of oestrogen are higher than progesterone – that’s for another day!). Find some lifestyle techniques that work for you: meditation, spending time in nature, listening to relaxing music or birds, prioritise a good night’s sleep and Epsom baths can all help.

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