If you’ve been feeling older, heavier, and slower, you may have simply chalked it up to the normal effects of aging. But that might not be the case at all.
Turns out you may be dealing with an extremely common and easily treatable health condition. And by making some minor changes—like adding a few simple nutrients into your daily routine—you could feel younger, lighter, and full of energy again.
Very Common, Often Missed
Underactive thyroid (also called hypothyroidism) affects millions of Americans every year, most of them women. The bad news: The condition is vastly underdiagnosed. That’s because many of the symptoms come on so slowly that they seem to be the signs of aging. And other signs may seem completely unrelated to your thyroid. Yet all of the following symptoms can be traced back to an underactive thyroid:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Thinning or brittle hair
- Cold sensitivity
- Trouble concentrating
- Thinning eyebrows
- Disappearing sex drive
- High cholesterol
- Puffy face
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
- Achiness or joint pain
- Unexplained infertility
Unfortunately, standard blood testing misses over half the people who could benefit from thyroid treatment. This is because the “normal range” includes borderline sub-optimal thyroid levels. What’s more, traditional diagnosis often does not take symptoms into consideration.
The good news: If you suffer from two or more of the above symptoms, you may want to consider a trial of thyroid support to see if it helps you feel better. Fortunately, an underactive thyroid can be addressed easily and naturally, so you can start feeling more like yourself again.
Your Body’s “Gas Pedal”
Your thyroid, which looks sort of like a small butterfly nestled in the front of your neck, is part of a delicate and complex system. Even a tiny glitch in that system can cause body-wide problems. Here’s why: Your thyroid acts like a gas pedal—and thyroid hormones are the fuel. Too little thyroid hormone means that everything slows down (hypothyroidism). Too much causes hyperthyroidism. To function at your best, your thyroid needs to stick to your body’s optimal speed limit.
When everything is working properly, your brain tells your pituitary gland to release a compound called thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH, into the bloodstream. This, in turn, causes the thyroid gland to release two thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. When the pituitary gland detects that your thyroid hormone levels are too low, it releases more TSH. But if this signaling system gets knocked off track, it sets off a chain reaction that can leave you feeling older, slower, colder, and just plain “off.”
Thyroid Hormones 101
There are two crucial hormones made by the thyroid—T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (tetraiodothyronine, also called thyroxine). Although your thyroid produces considerably more T4, T3 is 300 percent more active than T4. Under normal circumstances, T4 can be converted to T3 as needed with the help of selenium. The problem is that this conversion process can be undermined by a variety of factors including nutritional deficiencies, chronic stress, and autoimmune issues.
Why Underactive Thyroid Gets Underdiagnosed
To check for thyroid problems, most doctors test TSH levels—but testing this alone won’t catch the majority of people with underactive thyroid. Since TSH rises as thyroid function declines, levels over 5.0 mU/L are considered an indication of hypothyroidism. Yet many people with TSH values between 2.5 and 5.0 mU/L—values considered normal under current guidelines—have symptoms that indicate a sluggish thyroid. A go-to secondary test, checking free T4 levels, can also miss the mark much of the time. This means that many symptomatic people with subclinical hypothyroidism go undiagnosed and untreated.
Missed factors that can contribute to hypothyroidism can include:
- Insufficient iodine levels, a mineral essential for the production of thyroid hormones
- The excess production of the stress hormone cortisol
- Conversion glitches that occur when the body has trouble converting T4 into T3
- Low levels of selenium, a mineral that plays a key role in converting T4 to more active T3
- Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes your immune system to attack your thyroid and create so much inflammation that the gland can’t function properly
For a correct diagnosis, doctors need to look at test results in combination with all of your symptoms. And once that diagnosis is nailed down, you can start dealing with it…and reversing those frustrating symptoms.
Simple Lifestyle Changes Boost Thyroid Function
Once you suspect that you’re dealing with underactive thyroid, you can easily manage it with some basic changes to your daily routine. Two of the simplest ways to support your thyroid include:
- Getting some regular exercise—but don’t overdo it. Listen to your body to find the level of exercise that’s right for you. Over-exercising can cause additional oxidative stress, which can harm your thyroid and make your symptoms worse. Try taking a daily walk or bike ride to get some moderate exercise without overexerting yourself.
- Avoiding ultra-processed foods. Many processed foods contain inflammatory ingredients like gluten, soy, bromides, and excess sodium. Clean eating with a focus on lean proteins and lots of fruits and vegetables can help support your thyroid and reduce some of the symptoms of underactive thyroid.
Try Thyroid-Healing Herbs
Stress takes a toll on your thyroid gland and interferes with thyroid hormone production. Proven stress-management herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola balance your body’s stress response, along with minimizing fatigue and maximizing energy. In one study that appeared in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, ashwagandha helped manage the stress response and increased T3 and T4 levels in people with hypothyroidism—and it did so within just 20 days. Rhodiola also helps prevent stress-related complications by supporting the adrenal glands. A study in the Journal of Medicinal Food reported that rhodiola clinically enhances thyroid function without overstimulating the thyroid gland. Taken together, this herbal duo combats stress to get your thyroid back on track.
3 Key Ingredients Keep Thyroid Hormones in Balance
Along with simple lifestyle changes, the most important thing you can do for your thyroid is to supply the building blocks it needs to create and manage T3 and T4. To ensure your body has what it needs for the right balance of thyroid hormones, you need to supply it with three key nutrients:
Your body needs both iodine and tyrosine to create thyroid hormones. To help your body convert T4 into more active T3, you’ll also need plenty of selenium. Let’s take a closer look at these crucial nutrients.
You may think you get enough iodine from salt, but you almost certainly don’t. Iodine was added to table salt to prevent deficiency, but many of us don’t use enough iodized salt to get even the paltry iodine RDA of 150 micrograms (mcg) per day. You need more than that to take full advantage of iodine’s health benefits, including making thyroid hormones. In fact, despite well-meaning warnings about avoiding too much iodine, you can safely take up to 50 times more than that very low RDA.
In addition to most people not getting enough of this important mineral, there are also iodine blockers like chlorine, fluoride, and bromide in our food and water supplies. Plus, both soy and gluten can make it harder for your thyroid to absorb and utilize iodine.
You can increase your iodine intake by eating more seaweed, seafood, egg yolks, and dairy. Another option is to take a high-quality iodine supplement. For the best results, make sure iodine supplements contain the three forms that are easiest for your body to use—potassium iodide, sodium iodide, and molecular iodine.
The second ingredient in the thyroid hormone recipe is the amino acid tyrosine (also called L-tyrosine). Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins, which is why tyrosine is mainly found in high-protein foods like beef, poultry, and eggs. And because tyrosine is used in protein building, your body uses it to make many compounds, including:
- Dopamine, which boosts mood, memory, and motor skills
- Adrenaline, which helps your body react to and escape from threats
- Melanin, which gives color to your hair, eyes, and skin, and protects your skin from sun damage
Along with those critical responsibilities, tyrosine is a necessary component of thyroid hormones. Your thyroid can’t function at full capacity without it. So if you’re dealing with underactive thyroid, make sure you’re getting all the tyrosine it needs.
Your thyroid contains the highest concentration (by percentage) of selenium in your entire body—and for good reason. This important mineral:
- helps your thyroid produce T3 and T4
- is necessary for converting T4 into more active T3
- helps prevent thyroid disease
Research shows that selenium protects your thyroid by reducing levels of thyroid antibodies (called TPO), which can attack the gland and cause inflammation. Selenium also provides antioxidant protection to your thyroid, shielding it from oxidative stress. As a result of these powerful defenses and critical functions, studies have found that supplementing with selenium helps reduce symptom severity in people with underactive thyroid.
You’ll find selenium in several foods, including fatty fish like tuna and salmon, shellfish like shrimp and scallops, turkey, eggs, and shiitake mushrooms. If you’re not getting enough selenium from food, look for a high-quality selenium supplement.
Combining these thyroid-friendly nutrients with the healthy habits listed above can help improve a sluggish thyroid, whether you suffer from subclinical hypothyroidism or a more pronounced form of the disease. This not only helps improve symptoms but may also help you rediscover the energy you need for an active and fulfilling life!