Weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, constipation, depression, menstrual issues, loss of libido, insomnia, diarrhoea, poor concentration, heart palpitations, high cholesterol, joint or muscle pain.
What do these troubling symptoms have in common? They are all potential symptoms of some form of thyroid dysfunction.
Thyroid disorders make a regular appearance in my naturopathic clinic. I see many clients with underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or autoimmune thyroid conditions (Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).
Sometimes clients come to me with an already diagnosed condition. They may be on pharmaceutical medication (like neomercazole or thyroxine). Their medication may be helping their symptoms (at least to some extent) but they are looking for additional support. Perhaps they still have lingering fatigue or other symptoms that are impacting their enjoyment of life. Or maybe, their diagnosis has been something of a wake-up call to take better care of themselves.
There is much we can do to improve thyroid function and, especially, symptoms.
What if you don’t have a diagnosed thyroid condition but you still feel terrible?
One of the most common situations I see is the person who has a number of symptoms of thyroid dysfunction (as listed above). Their GP orders blood tests which come back “normal” so they struggle on, perhaps with a recommendation to retest in 6 or 12 months.
[Note: Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t automatically exclude other possible causes, but it seems that thyroid disease is often overlooked until such time it is staring you in the face. Research now suggests that thyroid antibodies may be elevated 8-10 years before thyroid dysfunction occurs and yet they are often the last things to be tested!]
Then they come to me, we do more detailed testing and analysis and discover that while their thyroid is technically still “working” it’s not working very well. In my mind (and my clients agree) this is a great time to jump in and do some maintenance and repair work to improve thyroid function. Often, by getting in early (before the damage is done), we improve how they feel right now and potentially avoid further problems down the track. We are being proactive.
So, why do we care about thyroid function anyway?
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits just below your voice box in your throat. One of its roles is the production of thyroid hormones which then enter the bloodstream and act on a variety of tissues and organs throughout the body.
Your thyroid is responsible for or contributes to a number of vital processes in the body which keep us feeling great.
- maintaining your basal metabolic rate (this is the number of kilojoules you burn when you are at rest…a bit like how fast or slow your car idles)
- regulation of body temperature
- production of energy by stimulating the use of carbohydrates, fats and proteins
- excretion of cholesterol (to help regulate cholesterol levels)
- the action of adrenaline and therefore exerts an influence over heart rate and blood pressure
- normal growth and development
The amount of thyroid hormone circulating in your blood is generally tightly regulated. However, there are a variety of reasons why this can be disrupted. When things get out of whack you may end up with a thyroid that is sluggish (underactive) or alternatively, a thyroid that is working a bit too hard (overactive). Either way, you won’t be feeling very good.
Nutrients required for healthy thyroid function
There are many vitamins and minerals required for healthy thyroid function, but in particular, good levels of thyroid hormones require the right amounts of the following key nutrients:
- tyrosine (an amino acid from protein)
Furthermore, your liver, kidneys and mitochondria (the little energy battery packs in your cells) need to be working well too.
Potential causes of thyroid dysfunction
There are many intricate steps in the production and use of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, this means there are a number of opportunities for this finely-tuned system to go off the rails.
Some of the factors that may contribute to thyroid problems include:
- nutritional deficiencies or excesses in your diet
- problems with digestion or absorption of nutrients
- chemical exposure in particular to fluorine, chlorine, bromine flame retardants, pesticides, perchlorates, PCBs, mould and other environmental toxins
- heavy metal exposure, especially mercury (including high intake of canned tuna), cadmium and lead
- repeated stress
- chronic infections (including oral/gum problems)
- certain food sensitivities
- some medications
- overactive immune system (perhaps driven by chronic infection) leading to autoimmune problems
By now, you have probably gathered that there are a lot of influences on your thyroid health. In part two, I will go into some of the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and explain what you should do if you know or think your thyroid is contributing to your ill health.