Thyroid disease is one of the most common health problems women face today. Hypothyroidism or low-functioning thyroid affects more women than men. Especially susceptible are women going through a peri-menopausal or menopausal period of their lives. It is estimated that millions of people are suffering from this condition and can’t get proper treatment due to improper diagnostics. Physicians, usually only look at the value of the brain hormone TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) as an absolute indicator of thyroid dysfunction and ignore other hormone deficiencies. In addition, many factors mentioned in this article that contribute to hypothyroidism are often overlooked and ignored by healthcare providers thus hindering proper treatment for millions of sufferers.
Typical symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Fatigue, weakness, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, coarse or dry hair, hair loss, dry skin, eye and face swelling, infertility, cold intolerance, muscle aching and cramps, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles, decreased or low libido.
These symptoms may vary between each individual. The level of severity may differ based on thyroid hormone deficiency and the length of time that the body has been deprived of the proper amount of this hormone.
If you suffer from any or several of the above mentioned symptoms you may want to consider the following 9 very important factors that may be implicated in thyroid dysfunction and treatment.
1. Check Your Estrogen Levels
One of the most overlooked factors of hypothyroidism is estrogen and progesterone imbalance. Many women treated with synthetic estrogen replacement therapy along with women using oral birth control pills become estrogen dominant. Excess estrogen suppresses your thyroid function and as your thyroid slows down you gain more weight. Additional fatty tissue, and more importantly, fat around your waistline produces more estrogen that in turn suppresses your thyroid further leading to more weight gain. Invariably, weight gain or loss is not simply a matter of calories in and calories out. It is a complex process that has to be addressed by rebalancing one’s hormones.
2. Check Your Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands. High cortisol levels are both inflammatory and catabolic contributing to thyroid and metabolic disorders, cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, immune suppression, altered glucose metabolism, elevated blood pressure, altered sleep patterns and hormonal disruption. In addition high cortisol usually has an inverse relationship to (Dehydroepiandrosterone) DHEA (a precursor to sex hormones). Thus chronically elevated cortisol levels suppress DHEA resulting in weight gain and hormonal imbalance. Without proper adrenal support your thyroid treatment is not going to be effective.
3. T4 to T3 Conversion Problems
Most people taking thyroid medications are prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone, usually T4 that is supposed to convert to the active form of thyroid hormone T3. The problem arises when there is interference with this T4 to T3 conversion process. Selenium is one of the key factors involved in converting inactive T4 to active T3, yet today it is common for selenium levels to be very low and many people even have selenium deficiency. Also common today is higher exposure to heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead either through dental materials, vaccines or environmental pollutants. These highly toxic substances interfere with thyroid function and the conversion process. In addition, high or low cortisol levels, as well as autoimmune problems can interfere with T4 to T3 conversion. Many who are taking thyroid medications continue to have symptoms related to hypothyroid yet their blood results (mostly TSH) may be in the “normal” range. In cases like these it is often related to problems with T-4 to T-3 conversion process. T3 supplementation along with T4 may be required in such cases.
4. Check Your Temperature
People with hypothyroid often have low body temperature. If you have not been diagnosed with hypothyroid condition your low body temperature may point to a subclinical hypothyroid. If your body temperature is chronically low it may mean that your thyroid medication is not working well (assuming that you have a correct dose). If your blood tests are ‘normal’ and yet your body temperature is low and you are still struggle with fatigue, stress, weight and mood swings, ‘it is not in your head’, you might be suffering from Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome. Low body temperature undermines your immune function and will make you more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. You can simply check your temperature by taking your readings first thing in the morning on three consecutive days; get the average from your three readings. If your average temperature is below 36.2 C or 97.2 F, you may be dealing with Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome. Specialty treatment may be required to get your metabolism and temperature back into the normal range.
5. Iodine Deficiency
Although the medical establishment continues to insist that there is no iodine deficiency in North America, just denying the problem does not make it go away. In fact, iodine deficiency is on the rise and has become one of the major causes of hypothyroidism. Iodine levels have been gradually declining in our food supply and in our bodies. Water fluoridation is a major contributor to iodine deficiency. It is also important to recognize that iodine is a halogen. Just like bromine, fluoride, and chlorine they are being absorbed through your food, water, medications and environmental pollutants. These toxic halogens compete and occupy iodine receptors thus contributing to iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency is compounded by the North American diet that is low in fish, kelp and other seaweeds, sea vegetables and shellfish.
6. Check Your Gluten / Wheat Sensitivity
Gluten and other food sensitivities are common causes of hypothyroidism because they cause inflammation. People with gluten sensitivity are unable to digest their food properly. As these undigested food particles enter your blood stream your body produces an autoimmune reaction against these antigens thus attacking itself. These antigens are similar to molecules in your thyroid, and your immune system may attack your own thyroid. It is estimated that up to 30% of people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis have an autoimmune reaction to gluten, yet this usually is not addressed. If you are dealing with hypothyroid condition, try going gluten free for at least one month and see if it makes a difference in how you feel.
7. Avoid Consumption of Soy Products
In the past several decades the consumption of soy based products has skyrocketed. Soy has been shown to inhibit thyroid function and raise estrogen levels in your body. The vast majority of soy grown today is GMO and used as cheap protein fillers in a myriad of food produced ranging from protein powders to cheese and even hamburgers. Soy used in fast food and processed food account for 20% of the total calorie intake in North America.
8. Check Your Ferritin Levels
Ferritin levels show the amount of iron stored in your body. People with hypothyroid condition may have difficulty absorbing iron. Low iron levels can have symptoms that are also common to hypothyroid such as fatigue, cold hands and feet, low sex drive, foggy mind, etc. Dealing with low ferritin levels may range from adding iron rich foods to your diet to iron supplementation, however do not take iron supplementation based on symptoms alone. Identifying the underlying cause will determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
9. Your Emotional Issues
Proper thyroid function is much more than just producing the right amount of hormone – it is an intricate collaboration between the brain, the gland, different hormones as well as cellular communication between different tissues of the body. As much as we appreciate the bio-chemical component of thyroid dysfunction we also have to recognize the psycho-emotional influence as well. It is no surprise that thyroid dysfunction may produce anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart palpitations, hyper-mania and even postpartum depression. Our emotions and thoughts influence a biochemical cascade of reactions in our bodies that affect us on every physical level. The thyroid gland wraps around your throat and your voice box. Is there something that you’re unable to express? Or, is there a trust issue that has been broken and you’re unable to repair?
Hypothyroidism is much more prevalent today than previously thought and affects millions. Millions more are also affected by suboptimal function if not by the full blown hypothyroid condition. Thyroid hormones are used by every cell in your body to regulate metabolism, body weight, energy, body heat and optimal brain function. In our fast-paced, technology-driven, stress-filled, nutrient-depleted environment your thyroid gland may be the first to be affected. It could be very frustrating to have any of the above-mentioned symptoms and not being able to get proper help because ‘your test results are in the normal range’.
I suggest you identify and treat the underlying cause, e.g., hormone imbalance, iodine deficiency, environmental toxicity, gluten sensitivity, stress, adrenals, etc.. Find someone competent to help you identify the root cause and guide you through your treatment.
Proper diagnostic lab tests are necessary to make the most accurate assessment that will lead to correct treatment. As mentioned before in this article, relying on TSH as the only way to diagnose hypothyroid will result in only catching a minority of people that require treatment. Free T4 and T3 levels may also point out a mild or subclinical hypothyroid condition. In addition, thyroid antibodies should be checked to be certain that there is no autoimmune connection to hypothyroidism.
Next adjust your diet to aid in your recovery to include iodine rich foods as well as selenium, tyrosine, zinc and omega-3 fats, in addition to foods containing vitamins A, B, C and D. When necessary, appropriate supplementation should be considered.
Reduce your stress levels. Initiate a meditation practice to help heal your adrenals, start a moderate exercise program and use saunas or hot soaks with Epsom salt for detoxification.
The good news is that with all of this information you are empowered now and have more control than you think. Aim to take control of things that you can control; the way you think, the way you behave and the lifestyle choices you make.