Have you put your weight gain, racing heart, fatigue, and declining muscle strength down to simply part of getting older? We often tend to accept these symptoms without looking too much into them. What if it’s not age, but something else?
Your thyroid is a little gland that can affect everything from your brain function to your weight. It might be small, but it can pack a mighty punch when it comes to your metabolism. While ‘controlling’ your metabolism may not be possible, there are certainly ways that you can maintain a healthy thyroid…
What is the thyroid and where is it located?
The thyroid gland is a small (about 5cm wide) butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of your neck, just above your Adam’s apple. It uses iodine from the foods you eat to make two main hormones:
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Thyroxine (T4)
These hormones regulate your metabolism, meaning they impact nearly every cell in your body from your heart rate to how fast your intestines process food. They are also a little like Goldilocks, where they can’t be too high or too low, otherwise things start to go wrong!
What causes thyroid problems?
Thyroid problems occur when your T3 or T4 hormone levels are either too high or too low. This can happen because of iodine deficiency, an autoimmune reaction (where your immune system attacks itself), inflammation, nodules or lumps on the thyroid, cancer, or radiation therapy.
What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?
It’s estimated that up to 60% of people who have thyroid disease are unaware, with one woman in eight developing a thyroid disorder in her lifetime! Are you one of those women?
Because the thyroid hormones regulate vital body functions such as:
- Heart rate
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
You could be experiencing symptoms that range from extreme fatigue to unexplained weight loss or weight gain. It will depend on the type of thyroid problem you have as to your specific symptoms.
What are the most common thyroid problems?
Hyperthyroidism is, as the name suggests, when your thyroid is hyperactive and produces too much of the thyroid hormones. If you’ve noticed symptoms of restlessness, racing heart, increased sweating, shaking, thin skin, brittle hair and nails, muscle weakness, weight loss and bulging eyes (Graves’ disease), then perhaps it’s time to get a blood test!
Most treatments for hyperthyroidism are aimed at minimising the hormone production through drug, radiation, or surgical treatment.
Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by nodules on the thyroid, thyroiditis (swollen gland often happening during pregnancy) or Graves’ disease.
The ominously sounding Graves’ disease (named after the doctor who described it over 150 years ago) is a hereditary autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. The gland compensates by increasing the hormone production. This leads to symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism, with equivalent treatment options. Unfortunately, successful hyperthyroid treatment often leads to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland is underactive producing too little thyroid hormone. It is often mild and because it mainly affects middle aged women, you may write -off your symptoms of trouble sleeping, tiredness and fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dry skin and hair, weight gain, depression, sensitivity to cold temperatures, frequent and heavy periods, and joint and muscle pain to ‘getting older’.
Hypothyroidism is often caused by Hashimoto’s disease.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease with symptoms of hypothyroidism that can progress for a long time before it causes noticeable thyroid damage. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. If left untreated it could lead to heart problems, including heart failure, anemia, confusion and loss of consciousness. Treatment for Hashimoto’s often involves thyroxine (T4) hormone replacement with Levothyroxine (a synthetic hormone).
How can you help your thyroid health?
Ditch the processed foods for thyroid health
We all know that a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, lean meat, and healthy fats (think olive oil) is good for our waistline as well as the functioning of our bodies. So, it’s probably no surprise that eating highly processed foods can have a negative impact on thyroid health. Research found a diet high in animal fats and processed meats is associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
In fact, the same researchers also found that those with Hashimoto’s disease who were consuming higher levels of plant oils had increased triiodothyronine levels (that’s a good thing!) and improved blood pressure for those on levothyroxine hormone replacement therapy.
Essentially, if you ditch the processed foods and replace them with a healthy diet you can benefit in many more ways than just your thyroid function!
To Soy or Not to Soy?
It’s been thought that the isoflavones in soy may be linked to thyroid disorders because they compete with an enzyme needed for making thyroid hormone. This is one of those situations where it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper before giving up your favourite soy latte…
Doctors at Harvard health say that Iodine, the mineral needed for thyroid hormone production, naturally blocks the anti-thyroid effect of the isoflavones in soy. And a meta-analysis looking at the effect of soy on thyroid function confirms that soy has no effect on thyroid hormones.
There are other things you may want to give up on to prevent thyroid dysfunction or worsening of symptoms…
Cut the cigarettes to cut your chances of thyroid disease
Apart from cigarettes containing carcinogens that can lead to cancer they also have toxins that may affect your thyroid. In particular, thyiocyanate disrupts the uptake of iodine which makes it harder for you to produce the essential thyroid hormones.
In addition, research has linked smoking to an increase in risk of the thyroid autoimmune disease Graves’ hyperthyroidism. The good news is that the sooner you quit and the longer you abstain from smoking, your risk of Graves’ disease decreases.
Like most things in life, stress alone won’t cause a thyroid disorder, but it can certainly make it worse or more likely you’ll develop one. Constantly increased amounts of stress-producing cortisol can interfere with thyroid hormone production, meaning your thyroid has to work harder to make sufficient amounts. This results in exacerbating symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Also, because stress impacts the function of the immune system, scientists believe that chronic stress contributes to the development of thyroid autoimmune diseases, such as Graves’ and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in those who are already susceptible.
While it’s easier said than done, perhaps it’s time to look into ways to reduce your stress for good. Mind-body exercises, physical activity, getting into a positive sleep pattern , eating a balanced diet and getting your gut health in order to improve your immunity will lay a good basis for reducing chronic stress AND your thyroid function.
Your gut microbiome can be friend or foe to your thyroid
It’s weird to think that the bacteria living in your gut have anything to do with the thyroid or the thyroid hormones flowing around your body. But as we are learning the gut microbiota has connections to many facets of your health.
Researchers have found a strong correlation between dysbiosis (unbalanced gut microbiota) and thyroid disorders. This dysbiosis can cause a 3-way blow to the thyroid with leaky gut syndrome causing an inflammatory immune response, a direct effect on thyroid hormone levels through the inhibition of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Additionally, the gut microbiome influences the absorption of minerals (iodine, selenium, zinc, iron) essential for optimal thyroid function. Many of these micronutrients are often found deficient in people with autoimmune thyroid diseases (such as Graves’ and Hashimoto’s).
The flip side of these findings means that taking control of dysbiosis, with the use of probiotics means you could possibly improve thyroid function.
Probiotics and your thyroid
Studies in animals suggest supplementation of probiotics have beneficial effects in thyroid diseases and positive effects on absorption of trace elements needed for thyroid function, with researchers highlighting the possibility of probiotics as an adjuvant therapy for those with thyroid disease.
Happy Mammoth’s Probiotic Power Greens is a great way to create a balanced gut microbiome. The unique formula of beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and probiotics can help not only help your overall health but give your thyroid function the best chance of working optimally.
The bottom line on your thyroid
While your thyroid is probably not something that comes to mind when you’re thinking of your health, it’s clear that the tiny endocrine organ can have a huge impact.
While you can’t control whether you get a thyroid disease you can certainly adopt a healthy routine that will benefit your thyroid function. Replace the cigarettes and processed foods with a balanced diet and probiotics to get your gut health working for you! Your thyroid, in fact your whole body will thank you. If you want to find more ways for your body to thank you with clearer thinking, better moods and improved digestive health take our Comprehensive Health Assessment to get a full recommendation on the best products to take specifically for you!