Fatigue. Unexplained weight gain. Brain fog. Mood changes. Digestive upsets. They might seem random, but all of these symptoms can occur when your thyroid function is impaired.
Let’s take a closer look at the thyroid, and why you might want to take steps to optimise your thyroid health.
What is the thyroid gland?
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. Although it is a small gland, it plays an essential role in your overall wellbeing.
What does the thyroid gland do?
The main function of the thyroid is to produce hormones. T3 and T4 are hormones that control your body’s metabolism, including heart rate, temperature, energy production and digestion.
The thyroid also produces another hormone, calcitonin, that regulates the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body.
What are the different types of thyroid disease?
There are several types of thyroid concerns, but there are three main ones to consider.
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is the most common thyroid condition. Symptoms of low thyroid function include fatigue, slow weight gain, constipation, depression, brain fog and intolerance to cold.
Hypothyroidism is often due to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s, but it can also be caused by poor nutrition, high stress levels and medications. In some cases, low thyroid function can be a result of treating an overactive thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism is less common, but still a significant health concern. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include feeling ‘tired but wired’, weight loss, intolerance to heat, insomnia, rapid heart rate, sweating and anxiety.
Hyperthyroidism will usually be due to an autoimmune condition called Grave’s disease. In some cases, inflammation or even cancer can cause the thyroid to produce too much T3 and T4.
Another potential thyroid issue is thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer will often have similar symptoms to low thyroid function, but it may also lead to symptoms typically associated with an overactive thyroid.
There are different types of thyroid cancer – some are very slow growing, and some progress rapidly. If your doctor suspects thyroid cancer, they will send you for an ultrasound.
Factors that can damage the thyroid
The thyroid is a vulnerable gland, so there are dozens of factors that can cause damage and impair thyroid function. Some of the most significant factors are:
Stress – this can inhibit the conversion and activation of thyroid hormones, as well as depleting vital thyroid nutrients. Stress throws out the balance of other hormones throughout the body, which can affect the thyroid indirectly as well.
Poor diet – a
diet that is low in thyroid supportive nutrients and high in processed, sugary
foods can contribute to thyroid concerns.
There is also a potential for gluten to contribute to thyroid issues, due to molecular mimicry. A protein in gluten closely resembles thyroid tissue, so if the body is already reacting to the thyroid, gluten can exacerbate this.
Autoimmunity – an autoimmune state is the most common cause of thyroid disease. If you already have one autoimmune condition, you’re at a higher risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid condition.
High goitrogen intake – Goitrogens are compounds found in everyday foods that can inhibit thyroid function. If you consume large amounts of unfermented soy or raw brassicas such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower, your thyroid may be impaired.
Medication – some types of medication can cause damage to the thyroid. If you’re unsure, ask your GP whether any of your medications could contribute to thyroid concerns.
Inflammation – if your thyroid is vulnerable, any type of inflammation can lead to thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid. Inflammation can also contribute to flares in autoimmune thyroid conditions.
How to support thyroid health naturally
Whether you are dealing with a diagnosed thyroid condition or just want to protect your thyroid health, there are steps you can take.
Eat a variety of wholefoods
The best foundation for a healthy thyroid is a nutrient-rich diet of wholefoods. Wholefoods include meat, eggs, fish, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. If these foods are the staple of your everyday diet, you’re on your way to a happy thyroid.
Different wholefoods contain different thyroid-supportive nutrients. Selenium is found in meat, fish, eggs, Brazil nuts, mushrooms and seeds. Zinc is rich in foods such as meat, eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and nuts. Iodine is found in fish, shellfish, seaweed and wholegrains.
Other nutrients that support thyroid health include iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin D and magnesium. If you eat a variety of wholefoods, you will consume all of these vital nutrients on a regular basis.
Some wholefoods do contain goitrogens, which may be a concern for some. When eating cruciferous vegetables such as kale and broccoli, make sure you cook them prior to eating. Research suggests that steaming or boiling goitrogen-containing foods can reduce the levels significantly.
Manage your stress levels
As stress is a contributing factor for thyroid issues and autoimmune disease, it’s key to manage your stress. Find a stress management technique that works for you. You might like to try gentle exercise such as pilates or yoga, meditation, reading or journaling.
Seek professional advice
Every person is unique. The management of your thyroid health should be tailored to your specific concerns, contributing factors and goals. So the best way to ensure your thyroid is at its best to is to work with a group of practitioners that can support you and your thyroid in a holistic way.
Our team are here to support you to optimise your thyroid health naturally.