What you need to know about your thyroid … Part one

Weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, constipation, depression, menstrual issues, loss of libido, insomnia, diarrhoea, poor concentration, and heart palpitations can all be associated with some form of thyroid dysfunction.

While there are other possible causes which need to be ruled out, thyroid disorders are a very common presentation 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) which may be helping their symptoms (at least to some extent) but they are looking for additional help with their symptoms. Or they may want to see if they can reduce their dependence on medication.

Either way, there is a lot that can be done 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 client who has symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, but their doctor does blood tests which come back “normal” so they struggle on, perhaps with a recommendation to retest in 12 months. Then they come to me, we do a bit more digging 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 doing this, we can avoid the need for pharmaceutical medication down the track and get them feeling a whole lot better.

So, why do we care about thyroid function anyway?

Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland which sits just below your voice box in your throat. One of its roles is the production of thyroid hormones which then enter the blood stream and acts 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. These include:

  • maintaining your basal metabolic rate (this is the amount 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 but there are a variety of reasons why this can be disrupted. When things get out of whack you can end up with a thyroid which is sluggish (underactive) or alternatively, a thyroid which is working a bit too hard (overactive) and you won’t be feeling very good.

Nutrients required for healthy thyroid function

In addition to a variety of vitamins, good levels of thyroid hormones require the right amounts of the following key nutrients:

  • tyrosine (an amino acid from protein)
  • iron
  • selenium
  • iodine
  • zinc

Furthermore, you need your liver, kidneys and mitochondria (the little energy battery packs in your cells) to be working well too.

Potential causes of thyroid dysfunction

There are many, many steps in the production and use of thyroid hormones. Consequently, there are a number of opportunities for this finely-tuned system to go awry. 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 and other environmental toxins
  • heavy metal exposure, especially mercury, cadmium and lead
  • repeated stress
  • chronic infections
  • certain food sensitivities
  • some medications
  • overactive immune system 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.
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