“It is estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. In Canada there is a staggering number of people affected. Recent studies indicate that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition of one type or another. Of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed!” https://thyroid.ca/thyroid-disease/
The Thyroid: The Master Gland
The thyroid gland is attached to the front of the trachea and consists of two flat-like ovals that resemble a shape of a butterfly. The Thyroid secretes hormones that help regulate almost every cell in our body. It controls our metabolism by regulating how quickly we burn calories and controls our bodies sensitivity to other hormones.
When your thyroid is functioning properly you may feel happy, energized, and are thinking clearly. Your weight is stable, and you have regular bowel movements every 12-24 hours. Those are just a few examples of what a healthy thyroid might look like.
When your thyroid is not functioning properly, you might notice memory problems/brain fog, dry skin and nails, unexplained weight gain, a puffy face, and constipation. You may also notice thinning of the outer sides of the eyebrows and that you are losing more hair. And don’t forget about the classic symptom of cold hands and feet.
Did you know that 15% to 20% of people with depression are low in thyroid hormones? (1)
What Causes Low Thyroid?
While there are many factors that can disrupt normal thyroid function like stress and age, an overlooked cause might be from environmental toxins. These pollutants, also known as “endocrine disruptors,” can wreak havoc on our thyroid. Not only do they disrupt thyroid function but can interfere with other hormones, such as estrogen.
Examples of some of the endocrine disruptors are PCB’s, red dye #3, synthetic fragrances, Xenoestrogens, and glyphosate. Where are these found? Plastics, non-organic food, perfumes, cosmetics, cleaning products, air fresheners and so much more. Take some time to assess what you might be breathing in (synthetic fragrance from a candle) or what you put on your skin (parabens in body lotion) in a day that might contain these environmental toxins and take steps to greatly reduce your exposure. If you are not sure about the safety of specific brands/products, a great resource is ewg.org.
While environmental toxins might be an overlooked cause, it is important to address ALL areas of concern (stress, nutrient deficiencies, lifestyle factors, etc.) when dealing with thyroid issues.
Foods to Temporarily Avoid
While there is some contradictory information in the nutrition world, it might be helpful to avoid certain foods as a precautionary while you sort out re-balancing thyroid function. Eliminating certain foods during this time does not necessarily mean you can never eat them again. Everyone is unique in how they react to these typical “problem” foods so it’s easiest to avoid them for a short period of time to see if they improve your symptoms. Common “problem” foods are ones that contain goitrogens such as soy, millet, and cruciferous vegetables. As well, gluten is a common issue for people with low thyroid function.
These compounds interfere with the cells’ uptake of iodine, which an important nutrient for optimal thyroid production. Well cooked goitrogen-containing foods such as broccoli removes most of these compounds, so if you want to continue to enjoy these foods I would do so sparingly and never have them raw. Cooking doesn’t remove goitrogens from soy or millet, however; so I would avoid them all together for the time being.
While people with celiac disease should never consume gluten, is it ok to eat gluten if you suspect you are sensitive to it? First and foremost, ensure you speak with someone who can get you the proper testing done to determine if you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. If you have thyroid issues, IBS, or Leaky Gut Syndrome, it might be worthwhile to eliminate gluten from your diet for a certain time period to see if symptoms improve. We need to be able to absorb nutrients like iodine, zinc, copper, selenium, etc. so if gluten is damaging our gut, we might not be even getting the nutrients our thyroid needs.
Important Nutrients to Support Thyroid Health
Vitamin D important for so many aspects of our health, but particularly important for someone with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s. It can be hard to get enough of this hormone from the sun alone, especially where we live, so a supplement might be beneficial to you. Note: Testing your Vitamin D levels is a great way to see where you are at and then working with a practitioner to determine the right amount for you.
Selenium is important for the conversion of T4 to T3 and can protect the thyroid from iodine (I thought iodine is important for thyroid health? More on that below). Getting enough selenium is critical but getting too much can be toxic. The therapeutic dose is around 150mcg to 200mcg from all sources (food and supplements). So while Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium, you should not eat more than 1-2/day as roughly 1 Brazil nut contains around 96mcg.
While iodine is important for the production of thyroid hormones, it can also make your symptoms worse if you have Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease. In most Western countries, iodine-deficiency hypothyroidism is not as common as we have many iodine-fortified foods. And if you are eating seafood 2-3 times per week, you are probably getting a sufficient amount of iodine. Dosing can be very tricky to determine, so it’s best to work with a practitioner if you are wanting to take it as a supplement.
Zinc is also important for the conversion of T4 to T3 and it also it is necessary to stimulate the pituitary gland to make the proper amount of TSH. Taking too much zinc can interfere with copper absorption so taking the correct ratio is important. If supplementing, a general guideline is 20mg of zinc to 2 mg of copper. If you don’t want to take a supplement, an excellent source of zinc is raw oysters.
As mentioned above, the ratios of zinc to copper are important as an imbalance can result in hypothyroidism. Copper stimulates the production of the thyroxine hormone T4 and prevents over absorption of T4 in the blood cells by controlling the body's calcium levels (2). Meats, eggs, bee pollen, liver, and crab are great sources of copper.
Why taking basal temperatures is important
Sometimes we have all the symptoms of low thyroid but nothing shows up on our blood work. This is where taking daily temperatures every morning can truly tell us how our thyroid is functioning. Because your temperature is lower in the morning, taking your temperature at this time will work best. All you need is a basic thermometer (make sure it reads at the lower scale, between 96 – 99 degrees) and a log book to track your recordings. For about 1-2 weeks, immediately upon rising, place the thermometer under your arm for 4-5 minutes and then record your temperature. If your basal temperature is consistently below 97.8 degrees, then this is a good indicator that your thyroid is not functioning optimally. Note: to get accurate temp readings don’t test when you are menstruating.
While there are many other nutrients, lifestyle recommendations and various treatments to support your thyroid, taking a few simple steps to ensure you are maximizing its potential can be a game changer. Everyone is unique and therefore, there is no “one sized fits all” approach when dealing with thyroid issues so if you are not sure where to start, reach out to a practitioner that can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms.