Having thyroid disease or any thyroid imbalance can be frustrating. You may have many unwanted symptoms and feel as if no matter what you do they just won’t go away.
Supporting the thyroid takes a whole-body approach, In this article, we take a look at the fundamentals to focus on for thyroid health.
Your thyroid is a small gland sitting at the base of your neck. It produces the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. These act like your very own accelerator pedal, affecting every single cell in your body. If your thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, your energy levels will dip, you may have dry skin and hair, constipation, low mood, sensitivity to cold, low libido, and a tendency to gain weight.
Did you know that your gut health can affect your thyroid?
Nutrition plays a key role in helping to improve gut health and thyroid metabolism. Thyroid problems are strongly associated with chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome and microbiome dysbiosis.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a specific type of thyroid condition that is generally characterized by an under-active thyroid gland or the inability to convert inactive thyroid hormone to active thyroid hormone that is used by the cells of the body. The thyroid is one of the primary organs responsible for regulating your metabolism.
The state of our metabolism can influence the function of every cell in our body and how those cells utilize the body’s resources, and so, a sluggish thyroid can dramatically hinder the overall function of the body.
The thyroid is regulated by a biological signalling chain made up of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and of course the thyroid gland. This exchange is called the hypothalamus-pituitary -thyroid axis or the HPT axis. What this means is that the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are constantly monitoring the body’s thyroid hormone levels (T3 & T4) and sending signals to the thyroid to either produce more or less depending on current conditions. When this axis becomes faulty, thyroid hormone levels can become either too high or too low, referred to as hyper- or hypothyroidism respectively
Those who have this condition will typically experience symptoms like:
- Decreased Libido
- Cold hands and feet
- Fluid retention
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Poor memory
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Weight gain
- Tingling sensation in the hands
- Slow heart rate
What is Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is characterized by an abundance of active thyroid hormones.
While there could be other factors involved, it is becoming apparent that a large majority of hyperthyroidism is caused by some form of autoimmunity and chronic inflammation in the body. Individuals dealing with this condition feel wired, anxious, and unable to relax. These people will also tend to encounter irregular heartbeats, unwanted weight loss, and insomnia. While it is helpful to understand that most cases of hyperthyroidism are caused by autoimmunity, it may be even more important to then understand what the biggest factors causing autoimmunity are.
The Importance of a Healthy Microbiome and Your Thyroid Health
Trillions of micro-organisms exist in your gut; bacteria, fungi and even viruses – collectively called your microbiome. This inner ecosystem usually lives in your gut and has been found to influence the health of all many other organs of the body. So, it’s not surprising it affects hormone balance. However, so close is the connection between the gut and the thyroid that scientists have coined a new term: the gut/thyroid axis.
The influence of Gut health on proper Immune Function & Inflammation is extensive. – Over two-thirds of your immune function sits in your gut, with the bacteria in your microbiome dictating how well your immune system functions. Therefore an unwell microbiome leaves you with an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid caused by immune system cells mistakenly attacking it instead of an invader. This damages the gland and it can’t produce sufficient thyroid hormones to function properly.
The connection is so strong researchers have suggested measures of bacterial balance in the gut could be used to diagnose people at risk of developing thyroid disease.
Some bacteria naturally found in your gut manufacture substances called short-chain fatty acids by fermenting fibre from plant foods. These play major roles in helping your gut communicate with the rest of your body, as well as regulating inflammation. The types of gut bacteria in people with hypothyroidism tend not to be very good at making these fatty acids.
A healthy microbiome creates a healthy intestinal lining. If the bacteria in your microbiome is unbalanced, the lining of your intestines can become too permeable. When this happens, toxic substances are absorbed into your bloodstream, initiating a chain of events leading to inflammatory molecules travelling to your thyroid gland.
Unbalanced gut bacteria reduce the absorption of minerals essential for your thyroid. These include iodine, iron and copper, needed to make thyroid hormones, and zinc and selenium, important for converting thyroid hormones to their active form.
Here are 7 Fundamental Steps for Thyroid Health
1. Eat More Cruciferous Veggies:
Cruciferous veggies are loaded with indole-3 carbonyl (I3C) which binds and eliminates toxic xenoestrogens that interfere with hormone function. These veggies include kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, watercress, & Brussel sprouts among others. These are some of the best things you can eat to support healthy hormones.
Be sure to lightly steam or marinate cruciferous veggies before eating. When you steam the veggies it binds to goitrogens (thyroid blocking nutrients) and it breaks down the tough outer cellulose that is challenging to digest. Lightly steaming maintains a very high percentage of original nutrients while making the veggie more digestible & bioavailable. I personally love to have steamed broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts with grass-fed butter or ghee (clarified butter) melted on it. The butter and ghee provide tons of healthy fats, fat-soluble antioxidants and brain-enhancing nutrients like choline and phosphatidylserine.
Cruciferous veggies also contain phenyl isothiocyanates and sulforaphane which are extremely powerful anti-carcinogenic molecules. These vegetables are some of nature’s best defence against environmental toxicity. The best form is cruciferous sprouts, so I recommend consuming broccoli or kale sprouts on a daily basis. Simply add some to a salad each day. Even if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and struggle to digest cruciferous veggies, you can get all the benefits from a mouthful of sprouts each day without the potential digestive problems that come from the fermentable fibres.
2. Support the Liver
A huge part of boosting thyroid health involves supporting the liver. We are exposed to hundreds of toxins on a daily basis. From toxins in our food, water supply, and the environment it is hard to completely avoid them. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some control over the toxins that impact our health.
To help support thyroid as well as overall health, I recommend steering clear of artificial fragrances such as candles, air fresheners, and perfumes as these can all disrupt hormone balance which is the last thing we want when trying to support our thyroid.
Perchlorate is another toxin that can directly harm the thyroid. Small amounts can be found in soil, but it has also been found in water as well as certain foods that may have been grown in soil contaminated with this toxin. It is commonly found in drinking water, dairy products, and meat from animals that may have been fed from soil contaminated with perchlorate. This is one of the many reasons I highly recommend drinking clean, filtered water, avoiding dairy products, and consuming grass-fed and organic animal products from reputable farms.
There are quite a few supplements I recommend when it comes to supporting the liver. Dandelion root is a popular option as it has a diuretic effect on the body, so it can help your liver more efficiently flush out toxins while also supporting fluid levels. Milk thistle is another popular supplement for liver support, and likely one of the most talked about. This supplement contains silymarin which is an antioxidant helpful for decreasing the risk of liver disease. Not only that, but silymarin also helps support glutathione levels in the liver which is incredibly important for helping the body fight disease
3. Iodine & Zinc
When it comes to iodine, while iodine is very important for thyroid function, remember that too much in the case of a selenium deficiency can worsen thyroid issues. However, having an iodine deficiency can also lead to things like goitres and hypothyroidism since iodine is needed in order to make thyroid hormones. To make sure you are getting enough iodine, try adding some seaweed in the form of kelp or kelp flakes to your diet.
Zinc is another important supplement since it plays a critical role in immune health. Supporting the immune system is especially important when dealing with an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Zinc is also important for supporting the conversion of T4 to T3. Having a zinc deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism. I recommend taking 20-40mg of zinc per day with food. You can also add foods rich in zinc to your diets such as pumpkin seeds, spinach, nuts, and grass-fed beef.
4. Support the Digestive System
One of the first places I start with each of my patients is to help them support their gut health. Without a properly functioning digestive system, everything else is thrown off balance. There are many different areas to look at when it comes to gut health. Leaky gut is a big one since a large majority of patients with autoimmune diseases also have leaky gut.
Leaky gut is often referred to as intestinal permeability since the tight junctions in the gut become leaky allowing toxins as well as undigested food to leak into the bloodstream. This can lead to inflammation and an immune response which can ultimately lead to autoimmune diseases since your immune system is so overworked from attacking all the foreign invaders. The immune system winds up mistaking healthy tissue for a foreign invader, and the thyroid is just one area of the body that may be targeted.
5. Inflammatory Foods
Grains, dairy, sugar, and soy are also problematic as they can also cause inflammation in the body. These things can often be hidden in packaged foods so read your labels! I also recommend sticking to whole foods over refined and packaged foods because not only do you reduce your risk of exposure to these inflammatory foods, but you will also be fueling your body with the nutrition that it needs to function at its best.
Instead of consuming these inflammatory foods, I recommend replacing them with anti-inflammatory foods such as:
- Dark leafy greens
- Wild-caught salmon
- Olive oil
- Chia & Flaxseeds
Spices: Turmeric & Ginger
6. Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables are a super-rich source of minerals and iodine. Iodine deficiency is a well-studied causal factor in hypothyroidism and is absolutely necessary for the production of thyroid hormone (8). The best forms of seaweed for dietary iodine are kelp, kombu, nori, and wakame.
These are typically purchased in whole, dry form or are sometimes sold as seasoning blends that help disguise the seaweed taste if you prefer. Kelp is the highest in iodine, but all the sea vegetable types are rich sources of trace minerals including iodine, magnesium, selenium and more. They are also a fantastic source of chlorophyll for overall bodily detoxification. This is a key food to use on the hypothyroidism nutrition plan.
7. Test Your Thyroid
The importance of holistic connectivity, which considers you as a whole, with all parts of your body affecting the others is vital for thyroid health. it’s impossible to consider the health of your thyroid independently from your gut. . depending on your health history, nutritional status and lifestyle. These are the factors taken into account when constructing your treatment plan.
Functional tests can examine what shape your microbiome is in and the messenger substances the bacteria are releasing. A functional thyroid test will reveal your levels of active hormones plus any antibodies your body may be produced against your thyroid gland. Following this, nutrients to support your gut and your thyroid will be recommended, along with dietary suggestions like eating plenty of plant fibre and fermented foods to support your microbiome