Today, in our predominantly meat eating, processed food consuming society, thyroid impairment is a growing epidemic. Unfortunately, there are so many myths and much confusion about the issue.
WHAT IS YOUR THYROID?
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland located in the lower part of your neck. It secretes hormones such as: T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine).
The hormones T3 and T4 provide energy to cells in your body. Most Medical Doctors and Naturopathic Doctors will take a blood test to look at another hormone called TSH. TSH is produced by the pituitary, and not the thyroid. It secretes more TSH when the pituitary detects that the thyroid is under-producing hormones, and it secretes less TSH when it detects that the thyroid is over-producing hormones.
The common scenario is this:
1. Person goes to doctor for thyroid test.
2. Person comes back from doctor with elevated TSH and is automatically diagnosed with hypothyroidism (slow, sluggish thyroid) or hyperthyroid (over-producing thyroid).
3. Person gets prescription for pills.
The problem with the above scenario is that while TSH is a good predictor of what the pituitary is doing, it is NOT always a great predictor of what is going on with the thyroid. And, once someone begins taking thyroid stimulating medication it is often a one way street. Thyroid medications can damage thyroid tissue, the liver and the heart.
Thyroid issues can be related to many different factors that should be looked into. In my practice, I work extensively with women who have been told they have a thyroid problem, put on medications, and not gotten better. In a lot of cases, they feel either exactly the same or worse. In other cases, I’ve had clients who weren’t feeling bad at all, but who were put on medications anyway because they had elevated TSH.
There are many possible causes for thyroid impairment (or symptoms of such) but six common causes are:
~ Hashimotos Thyroiditis (an auto-immune condition)
~ Gluten intolerance or celiac disease
~ Heavy Metal Toxicity
~ Sudden changes in the hormone estrogen that may occur after pregnancy, or menopause
~ Lack of Iodine in the Diet
~ Vitamin D deficiency
Two of the most common causes are Hasimotos and Gluten Intolerance.
Hashimoto’s is an AUTO-IMMUNE condition that actually attacks the cells of the thyroid, slowly destroying its ability to function. Unfortunately, even when Hashimoto’s is diagnosed, the common treatment is to replace the hormone with thyroxine or levothyroxine, a synthetic analog.
The danger in going down this road is that most people will stay on T4 the rest of their lives. This only masks symptoms, and does nothing to stop the progression of the actual disease.
In the beginning, your thyroid tests come back normal. However, your immune system is still attacking your thyroid. What usually happens in this scenario is that your symptoms may get worse and the amount of T4 you are given often increases. And it becomes a downhill journey from there.
From a holistic health perspective, auto-immune conditions can be managed best with anti-inflammatory eating, and gentle herbal support, as well as lifestyle changes such as including yoga and meditation to balance the body’s overall immune response.
2. GLUTEN INTOLERANCE
Great news for those with impaired thyroid function. Research has confirmed a link between celiac disease/gluten intolerance and impaired thyroid function. So many people I see, particularly women, are suffering from some form of thyroid sluggishness and hormone imbalance and find it very difficult to drop weight, even while eating what appears to be a healthy diet.
Symptoms of a thyroid condition, such as changes in weight, bowel habits and mood, often overlap celiac or gluten intolerance symptoms.
Celiac disease may be triggered after infection by a type of virus that biologically resembles the proteins in gluten, or it may be triggered in susceptible people by pregnancy, severe stress, or physical trauma.
But there is good news for people who are experiencing thyroid issues related to gluten intolerance. The research shows that when following a gluten-free diet, thyroid antibodies return to normal levels.
On my own personal road to healing my thyroid, I took a holistic approach and eliminated all gluten, began with a 30 day juice fast, and then moved into a mostly raw food diet with small but adequate amounts of essential fatty acids in the form of nuts, seeds, flax oil, and coconut, which were critical to healing.
Eating a healthy gluten-free diet is easier if you are eating mostly raw, because vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are naturally gluten free. Even vegans who don’t eat much in the way of fresh raw foods can fall prey to hypothyroidism if they have a sensitivity to gluten, because many of the vegan “proteins” sold in processed forms as burgers, lunch meats etc… contain wheat gluten. As does Nama Shoyu, a condiment popular in the raw community, but made from wheat.
Be very cautious of products labeled “GLUTEN FREE”. The concern I have with these products is that they cause weight gain for many people, because many pre-made gluten-free foods are higher in calories, fat, and sugar. And, if you are already having issues with a sluggish thyroid, these foods will only make it more challenging to lose weight.
Ultimately, supporting and restoring your thyroid health often involves many factors, not just one. Diet and lifestyle are two very important components, as well as PROPER detoxing of the body to eliminate toxic residue from animal foods and environmental toxins.
It is important to work with practitioners who are willing to work with you long term, and who look at the whole picture, rather than just the immediate results of a blood test. Thyroid health and balance is not always an easy answer, but with patience and time, your life can return to normal.