How this tiny gland can cause big trouble
If you feel chronically tired, can’t seem to lose weight, or have difficulty tolerating cold temperatures, your thyroid could be to blame. Then again, if you suddenly find yourself feeling wired and anxious, experience unexplainable weight loss, or feel hot when others around you don’t—well, that could be a thyroid issue too. The truth is, a lot can go wrong with this important gland.
Your thyroid is a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. Though small in size, it has a tremendous bearing on your overall health. Your thyroid is fueled by iodine obtained through foods you eat and its job consists of producing and releasing hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) into the bloodstream. T3 and T4 regulate everything from heart rate to body weight to cholesterol levels. Your thyroid is in charge of everything that controls your overall metabolism. In fact, it maintains so many functions that it is called the “master regulator.”
Unfortunately, the thyroid has a reputation for malfunctioning in one way or another. An estimated 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disease—and up to 60 percent of them aren’t even aware of it. Thyroid cancer, hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease), and hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease) are the most prevalent thyroid conditions today. While both males and females are affected, women are five to eight times more likely than men to suffer from thyroid disorders.
Why is thyroid disease so widespread? A lot can be attributed to diet and environment. Your thyroid is constantly under attack by things like chlorine, fluoride, and bromide, which your body absorbs through foods you eat, water you drink, and various environmental toxins you’re exposed to on a daily basis. Other factors that interfere with proper thyroid function include digestive imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic stress. Foods containing gluten as well as “goitrogenic” foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, soy, and spinach can also have also wreak havoc on thyroid health.
Hyper Versus Hypo
If your thyroid is producing too much or too little of its important hormones, almost every organ in your body can be thrown off kilter. The two most common disorders people experience are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your body has too much T3 and T4. These hormones flood your system, causing ugly symptoms like hair loss, nervousness, irritability, anxiety, shaky hands, and excessive sweating. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, takes place when T3 and T4 are present in low amounts in the body. Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism, with symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, high cholesterol levels, and even infertility.
The health of your thyroid is nothing to brush off or take lightly. Low thyroid function in particular can be very serious. Disruptions to proper thyroid function can alter your personality, take away the enjoyment of life, and eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and anti-social behavior.
Nutrients to the Rescue
The good news is that there are a number of ways to help your body restore healthy thyroid function. The one you’ll really want to pay attention to is iodine supplementation.
Iodine is a mineral that your body requires in order to produce balanced amounts of those important thyroid hormones T3 and T4. It’s also been shown to lower the incidence of breast and prostate cancer, prevent fibrocystic breast disease, and increase the health of uterine and ovarian tissue. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to obtain iodine through diet alone. While iodine used to be present in bread and most other foods made from flour, it has mostly been removed from these daily food staples and replaced with bromide. Bromide actually affects the iodine receptors in your body negatively.
Today, your best bet for obtaining sufficient iodine is through supplements. The best formulas deliver three forms of iodine—sodium iodide, potassium iodide, and molecular iodide. David Brownstein, MD, is considered an expert in iodine and often recommends that his patients take anywhere from 12.5 and 25 mg of iodine each day. It’s important to work with your doctor to determine which dosage is right for you.
In addition to iodine, your thyroid also requires nutrients like L-tyrosine and selenium. L-tyrosine is an amino acid needed to create the thyroid hormone thyroxine to support mental well-being and daily energy. Selenium is a key mineral that is most abundantly found in the thyroid and critical to proper thyroid function. It supports the conversion of T4 into the active thyroid hormone T3. Selenium works seamlessly with iodine and L-tyrosine to protect the thyroid from the risk of oxidative stress and cancer.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
Getting diagnosed with a thyroid disorder can be a frustrating process, as many symptoms mimic those of other diseases or even conditions like menopause and pregnancy. If doctors do suspect a thyroid issue, they often order incomplete tests and therefore base results on inaccurate numbers. Many physicians will order just one blood test, a TSH. It’s important for you to insist that your doctor also test you for Total T3, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies.
You should also learn as much about thyroid heath and its specific nutrient needs as you can. Two helpful resources include Dr. David Brownstein’s book, Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It and a book by Dr. Robert Thompson titled, What Doctors Fail to Tell You About Iodine & Your Thyroid. Both of these books provide invaluable advice on the best ways to take back your health and support healthy thyroid function for a lifetime.
Which Is It: Hyper or Hypo?
Do you suspect you have a thyroid disorder? Take a look at the following symptoms to see which ones apply to you. Educating yourself on these warning signs is your first step toward reclaiming your health.
- Brain fog
- Brittle nails
- Cold hands and feet
- Cold intolerance
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Difficulty losing weight
- Dry, itchy skin
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Fibrocystic breast disease
- Hair thinning or loss
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues like diarrhea and frequent bowel movements
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hair loss
- Hand tremors
- Increased appetite
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss