The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the center of your neck and is considered the master gland of metabolism. If it’s not running optimally, then neither are you. Part of the endocrine system, the tiny but mighty thyroid, produces the hormones T3 and thyroxine T4, which help manage energy levels and metabolism and are vital for overall health.
Hyperthyroidism vs. Hypothyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, which causes irritability, nervousness, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss, sleep disturbances, and vision problems.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. The most common symptoms are extreme fatigue, depression, brain fog, and unexplained weight gain. Hashimoto's is the most common form of hypothyroidism and is an autoimmune disease. According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 60% of people with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
Why Thyroid Issues Are Difficult To Diagnosis
Dialing in thyroid health can be tricky. Symptoms of thyroid imbalance (fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, “brain fog,” constipation, dry skin, hair thinning/loss, muscle or joint pain, cold hands and feet, and even infertility) are shared with many other diagnoses, including menopause.
The most common tests done to screen for thyroid problems are one or two tests (TSH and T4) which don’t tell the whole picture. A full thyroid panel is necessary to diagnose thyroid imbalance: TSH, T4, FT3 (Free T3), RT3 (Reverse T3), and thyroid antibodies. Find a doctor willing to run a full thyroid panel, including antibodies.
The conventional “normal” lab reference range may be too broad even if someone has the full thyroid panel. Many patients have thyroid lab results in the “normal” range, yet all of their symptoms indicate thyroid imbalance. You might need to have your levels in a tighter range to feel your best.
While supplementing with some form of thyroid medication may be appropriate, as always, diet and lifestyle come into play. Here are some things I suggest for optimizing diet for proper thyroid function:
✔ Eating a nutrient-dense diet is critical. The thyroid needs many nutrients to function properly, including iron, selenium, zinc, iodine, vitamin D, and B vitamins. Deficiency in any of these key nutrients can influence thyroid function.
✔ Eat a diverse diet, including bright-colored produce and quality sources of protein and fat at each meal. Enjoy the bulk of carbohydrates from vegetables, and don’t omit them altogether.
✔ Blood glucose imbalances can exacerbate thyroid issues. Some ways to help stabilize glucose are reducing the intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars while increasing the intake of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Watching meal portions, walking after meals, exercising before eating, and eating most of your calories earlier in the day when we are more insulin sensitive can help tremendously with glucose.
✔ A gluten free diet often helps reduce thyroid antibodies when autoimmune thyroid disease is present. For example, a study of women with autoimmune thyroiditis showed a reduction in thyroid antibodies after 6-months on a gluten-free diet.
✔ There's increasing evidence to suggest that low vitamin D levels may play a role in thyroid disorders, including Hashimoto’s. As we gage our ability to turn vitamin D from the sun into active vitamin D in our bodies is reduced. Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified dairy, eggs, and cod liver oil. Some people will need a supplement to help get their vitamin D3 levels in their target range.
✔ Selenium is an essential component of the enzymes that convert T4 to T3. One food to consider is brazil nuts (it only takes two per day to make a difference in selenium!)
✔ Omega 3:6 intake. Aim for a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s around 1:1 and 3:1. This means minimizing your intake of refined vegetable seed oils and including some fatty fish regularly into your routine (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies).
✔ Manage stress and inflammation. Addressing systemic inflammation, and chronic stress are major approaches to enhancing thyroid health. Many potential factors affect the T4 to T3 conversion, but when it comes to chronic inflammation, including gut health, adjusting thyroid dosage or supplements won’t fix the root issue.✔ Minimize toxins. Toxins are found throughout our environment. They can be found in our food supply, our water supply, our household products, and our personal care items. It is almost impossible to eliminate all exposure to toxins; however, you can limit your exposure. You can learn more about reducing BPA exposure here.