In part 1 of this article, we began delving into the factors which affect the thyroid and how well it functions. We mentioned that common symptoms of thyroid
dysfunction are fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, cold hands and feet, sluggish bowels, depressed mood, cognitive decline and low vitality. We also talked about the first 5 out of 11 causes: 1) High blood sugar, 2) Chronic Inflammation, 3) Being obese or overweight to begin with, 4) Stress, and 5) an overtaxed liver.
In part 2 we will discuss the remaining causes and preventative measures to take to keep our thyroid function intact and normal.
6. Stomach and Intestinal track Imbalance
The balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria in the gut plays a role in the activation and utilization of thyroid hormones. Approximately 20% of thyroid hormone conversion takes place in the stomach, so if too many “bad” gut bacteria set up shop, thyroid hormone conversion becomes difficult (Strakis & Chrousos 1995). Low thyroid function is strongly associated with digestive problems and can quickly become a vicious cycle (each making the other worse). It doesn’t help that food choices are typically high in processed carbohydrates and sugars, while low in fiber. This can trigger the downward spiral of blood sugar imbalance, weight gain, inflammation, and thyroid dysfunction.
You can reset your digestive tract to health by reducing (not eliminating) carbohydrate intake (breads, pastas) and try to eliminate processed carbs; eating more fiber–rich foods like vegetables and fruit; and adding naturally fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut to provide friendly bacteria. A supplemental probiotic may also help to restore gut–bacteria balance.
7. A Leak in belly
50 million Americans suffer from some type of autoimmune disease today (AARDA 2016)—and autoimmune thyroid conditions are the most common form of autoimmune disorder, affecting approximately 7%—8% of the population (Betterle & Zanchetta 2003).
An autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system starts attacking the body (in this case the thyroid gland), leading to tissue destruction and impaired glandular function. If left unchecked, the disorder will eventually destroy the gland or organ. Autoimmune conditions may be present for 5—10 years before any symptoms show up (Kharrazian 2012) and, since a typical thyroid lab–test screen doesn’t include the test for autoimmune thyroid disease, it’s often missed until significant damage sets in.
With over 70% of the immune system located in the gut, experts now believe that all autoimmune diseases—whether they affect the pancreas (as in type 1 diabetes), the nerves (as in multiple sclerosis) or the thyroid gland (as in Hashimoto’s disease)—are rooted in the digestive tract (Campbell 2014). The balance of bacteria in the large intestine (microbiome) has an intimate connection with the immune system. If the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria gets thrown out of whack, it may damage the gut wall and allow the passage of bacteria, viruses and undigested proteins into the bloodstream, triggering an unnecessary immune response.
This condition is commonly known as leaky gut and has been identified as a common feature in people with autoimmune thyroid disease (Fasano 2012). . A leaky gut also triggers an inflammatory response from the immune system, which may further exacerbate thyroid dysfunction. Restoring gut– bacteria health and the integrity of the gut wall is a top priority for anyone struggling with symptoms of low thyroid function.
8. Too Much Exercise
Typically, people who complain about symptoms of low thyroid function to their doctors, but have normal lab tests, are told to exercise more to resolve weight gain. Unfortunately, this is often poor advice.
When people do the same cardio workout (at the same moderate intensity) for days, weeks and months on end, their body will adapt to the training stress after 4—8 weeks. If they continue with this type of training, they can actually burn fewer calories, not more (Boutcher & Dunn 2009). Worse yet, doing even more of the same type of training will stress the nervous system and increase cortisol output, which also impairs healthy thyroid function (Walter et al. 2012). In short, the “more is better” approach to exercise for weight loss can backfire.
To trigger fat loss and get the thyroid back in balance, you need to shorten the duration of exercise bouts and increase the intensity. Putting in short and intense sprints is one option. Another option is to lift heavier weights to add strength and lean muscle. Reducing training volume and increasing intensity is a great way to get the thyroid back on track.
9. Iodine Supplementation
Many individuals who struggle with cold hands and feet, sluggish bowels, low mood and weight gain have likely been told by some health providers that iodine is great for boosting thyroid function. While this is true for some people, for others it can actually worsen an autoimmune thyroid condition (Mazziotti et al. 2003). Supplemental iodine can contribute to autoimmune thyroid conditions. Get a professional medical opinion before supplementing.
10. Low Selenium Levels
If lab tests reveal only mildly elevated TSH levels and normal T4, it’s likely the thyroid problem is “downstream” of the thyroid gland. Since the T4 hormone must be converted into the active T3 to exert its positive effects on mood, metabolism and mental clarity, in a person who is deficient in essential minerals like selenium. It’s therefore very important to get the right amount of selenium.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for selenium is 50—55 micrograms per day for men and women (Institute of Medicine 2000). However, that is the amount required to fight off disease, not necessarily to promote health. The good news is that it’s quite easy to get more than the daily dose of selenium. Brazil nuts are by far the richest dietary source of selenium, with just two providing over 100 mcg of selenium to support healthy thyroid hormone conversion. Other great sources include fish—like salmon, tuna and halibut—as well as shitake and crimini mushrooms.
11. Low Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is important for the formation of thyroid hormones and the body’s ability to take up thyroid hormone. Vitamin D plays a key role in keeping the immune system in balance and boosting production of regulatory immune cells that help to prevent autoimmune reactions (Holick 2004). Research shows a strong association between autoimmune thyroid conditions and low vitamin D levels (Smith et al. 2000). Foods like egg yolks and mushrooms contain vitamin D, but they’re not enough to keep levels up through the winter months. The sun is far and away the best source of vitamin D; therefore, anyone who struggles with thyroid dysfunction may benefit from taking a supplement during the winter months.
For those of us who work in the weight loss industry and try to help our clients find the best path, we must always look beyond what “works” for most people and entertain the possibility that something metabolic is not functioning correctly. The thyroid is the first place to look. Rachel, after her meds were adjusted and her thyroid function returned to normal, began dropping weight on a steady basis. Week after week she showed exceptional and outstanding weigh loss.
I try to always keep an open mind with my weight loss clients. When the standard approach doesn’t work, it’s time to look elsewhere. Very soon, we hope to be introducing yet another scientifically proven approach in our clinic to help people that need to lose weight have an even better chance to succeed in both the short and, more importantly, long term. Stay tuned! But in the meanwhile, by taking all the steps necessary to keep your thyroid functioning properly and in turn keep you healthy will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”