Our Friend, The Thyroid
Most people, with the exception of doctors, nutritionists, philosophers, and therapists (both the mental and physical kind), don’t realize just how complex a machine the human body is. Everything that is part of the body has an important function, and that function affects how other parts function.
Enter the thyroid.
|The cutest gland there is! Available at iheartguts.com.|
The thyroid is likely to be one of the most underappreciated organs in the body. It is part of the endocrine system, a family of glands that secrete hormones directly into the blood. This gland, found in the neck below the thyroid cartilage (which forms the “Adam’s apple”), is responsible for how quickly your body uses energy, makes proteins, and how sensitive the body is to other hormones. The thyroid also produces its own hormones, the principal ones being triiodothyroinine (T3) and thyroxine (also referred to as tetraiodothyronine, or T4). These hormones regulate the rate of metabolism, which directly affects the growth and rate of function of many other systems in the body.
Essentially, if your thyroid isn’t performing correctly, your entire body suffers.
This butterfly-shaped gland has received a lot of attention as of late, seeing how reports of hypothyroidism has boomed in the last few decades. This condition is simple enough to understand: the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone (opposite of hyperthyroidism, in which the gland produces too much of the hormone). The most common cause of hypothyroidism is inflammation of the thyroid gland, which damages the gland’s cells. Autoimmune or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, is the most common example of this condition. Some women develop it after pregnancy, and can be referred to as postpartum thyroiditis. The highest risk are women and those over fifty in age.
Other common causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Congenital (birth) defects, or when the disorder is passed from parent to child
- Radiation treatments to the neck to treat different cancers
- Radioactive iodine used to treat hyperthyroidism
- Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland, done to treat other thyroid problems
- Viral thyroiditis, which may cause hyperthyroidism and is often followed by temporary or permanent hypothyroidism
- Iodine deficiency, often cited as the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide
- Certain drugs such as amiodarone, medication to treat hyperthyroidism (propylthiouracil and methimazole), lithium, radiation to the brain, and treatment for Sheehan syndrome
The symptoms seem ordinary in appearance, because who doesn’t get constipated or feel blue once in a while? So it is very important to condition the overall factors that may be a warming sign that you have an underactive thyroid.
- Being more sensitive to cold
- Rapid thoughts
- Fatigue or feeling slowed down
- Heavier menstrual periods
- Joint or muscle pain
- Paleness or dry and itchy skin
- Thin, brittle hair or fingernails
- Poor muscle tone
- Weight gain, inability to lose weight, or water retention
- Elevated serum cholesterol, even when eating a balanced and healthy diet
Late symptoms, if left untreated:
- Decreased taste or smell
- Puffy face, hands, and feet
- Slow speech
- Thickening of the skin
- Thinning of the eyebrows
- Thyroid-related depression
- Low basal body temperature
- Thinning of the outer third of the eyebrows (sign of Hertoghe)
- Impaired memory and cognitive function (i.e., brain fog)
- Reactive hypoglycemia
- Yellowing of the skin due to impaired conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A
- Gynecomastia and decreased libido (for men)
- Irritability, mood swings, and acute psychosis (uncommon)
In my personal experience having this condition, I had the majority of the early symptoms and a few of the late symptoms, the most notable being low basal body temperature, yellow hands and feet, and brain fog. These three still continue to show themselves from time to time with my treatment, meaning that I’m still playing around with the dose of Armour Thyroid.
|Armour Thyroid (source)|
The purpose of treatment, like Armour Thyroid, is to replace the thyroid hormone that is lacking. Doctors will prescribe the lowest dose possible that effectively relieves symptoms and brings your TSH level to a normal range. My doctor gave me a series of prescriptions, ranging from 30 mg to 90 mg, to slowly increase the amount over time. I went from 30 mg twice daily in April 2011 to today, 150 mg in the morning and 150 mg in the evening. I have to be careful, though, as too much thyroid medication can cause hyperthyroidism, as seen in these symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid weight loss
- Restlessness or shakiness
- Heat intolerance
In most cases, thyroid levels return to normal with proper treatment, but for some people thyroid replacement must be taken for the rest their lives.
There has been a controversy with how you can be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. In the case of Stop the Thyroid Madness, it is a website (and book) that talks about how thyroid mistreatment and hypothyroidism misdiagnosis are common occurrences every day. There are many who go undiagnosed because “medical professionals who not only fail to note the entire cluster of your hypothyroid symptoms, but rigidly rely on the TSH lab test,” proclaim them as “normal”. My experience on being called “normal” is noted here.
Then there are those part of the T4-Only Club, those diagnosed with a thyroid problem, but treated with T4-Only medications like Synthroid, Levoxyl, Oroxine, and Eltroxin. The body, the author of STTM writes, is not meant to live on a storage hormone alone, “leaving many patients with their own brand or intensity of lingering symptoms.” Natural desiccated porcine thyroid treatments like Armour (as well as Naturethroid and Westhroid) are considered to be superior alternatives towards long-term healing. It gives us the ability to learn what works, and what mistakes in terms of dosage we have made or overlooked that need correction.
Healing is a process, and I’m still learning after a year of my diagnosis. Besides Armour, I’ve researched which foods help as well as inhibit thyroid function and eat a majority of what is listed below.
Types of foods typically associated with hypothyroidism include raw goitrogenic vegetables, soybean-related foods, and gluten-containing grains, the latter two I don’t eat anyway. Those with hypothyroidism are encouraged to limit the following:
- Some raw vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, kale, mustard greens, and radishes)
- Some raw fruits (strawberries and peaches)
- Peanuts, raw
- Soy (tofu, edamame, miso, etc.)
- Millet (a gluten free grain)
- Gluten-containing grains (barley, bulgur, rye, semolina, spelt, wheat, etc.)
A diet for hypothyroidism should include whole foods rich in iodine, niocin, riboflavin, zinc, as well as vitamins B6, C, and E. These nutrients naturally support proper thyroid functions as well as overall good health and vitality.
Goitrogenic foods can be enjoyed when cooked thoroughly, but it is advised to limit your consumption of them to 1 – 2 times a week. It is also encouraged that you eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, wild seafood, and have as wholesome and unprocessed a diet as possible (it's easier than you think).
Iodine: a major component of thyroid hormone balance and is antimicrobial
- Cow’s milk, whole
- Yogurt, or any cultured dairy
Selenium: helps to convert T4 to T3
- Brazil nuts
- Cod, wild
- Crimini mushrooms
- Sunflower seeds
High Polyphenols: acts as an anti-fungal
- Broccoli and cabbage, cooked
- Olive oil, extra virgin
- Green tea
- Brown rice
Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Fresh pork
- Mushrooms, cooked
- Bok Choy
- Brown rice
- Chickpeas (socca!)
- Fresh pork
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
Vitamin C: boosts thyroid gland function
- Cooked cabbage, red
- Kiwi fruit
- Peppers, bell, red
- Tangerines and other mandarins
Vitamin E: works with zinc and vitamin A to produce thyroid hormone
- Brazil nuts
- Cooked broccoli
- Sunflower seeds
Taking thyroid hormone and eating healthily are essential to making your life with hypothyroidism a happier and more fulfilling one, but what about exercise?
Exercise is something that can be difficult for someone with a hypothyroid, in that the condition can make you mentally and physically sluggish, hindering your desire to go to the gym or run around the neighborhood. While both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism require formal medication treatment under the care of a professional physician, research has shown that exercise successfully complements treatment plans, particularly those with hypothyroidism. To quote Ann Jemerson’s (2011) article on LiveStrong:
A study published in “Neuroendocrinology Letters” in 2005 reported that maximal aerobic exercise increases the circulating levels of thyroxine, triiodothyronine and the thyroid-stimulating hormone. In addition, physical activity increases your metabolic rate, hinders weight gain and combats stress.
(Want to read the entire article? Click here.)
However, in Tom Brimeyer’s article “Hypothyroidism Exercise”, he states “exercise can have some amazing benefits but not all exercise is created equal.” In fact, he goes on to say most forms of exercise, most notably cardiovascular and any form of intense exercises, are not beneficial and will only make you more hypothyroid.
This article was rather hard for me to accept, especially since my fitness regimen in 2012 has focused on running and rock climbing. Other articles, such as the one found on Thyroid Guide (“How exercise benefits hypothyroidism”), writes:
General activities such as rowing, swimming, walking, cycling, biking and dancing also help in reducing weight, and can be helpful in hypothyroidism. Out of the 20 minutes of exercising schedule, 1 minute of rigorous exercising everyday will be of great help. Going by the recommendations of experts, the time allotted for exercise by hypothyroid patients should be around 30 minutes per session and 4-5 days a week.
However, the recommendations may vary from one expert to another. It also depends on the kind of exercise that is done, whether it is strength training or aerobic. A combination of the two may work the best. Strength exercises strengthens the muscle mass. They protect joints, tendons and ligaments. Aerobic exercises make the lungs and heart of an individual stronger.
Exercises like lunges, leg raises and push-ups can be done. Nevertheless, exercises that increase the heartbeat will be more beneficial. Exercising also affects the mood of a person positively.
I do believe that Brimeyer was right to encourage Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Yoga, all three I have personally done in the past and have worked wonders for me. All three are great stress relievers and perfect for those who’ve been warned by healthcare professionals to not stress themselves with intense activity. However, I believe that I feel better by doing Insanity, rock climbing, and the like, and will continue to do both until I'm told otherwise.
As I said in my disclaimer (found at the bottom of the page), I’m not a physician, a health expert, a physical therapist, or a nutritionist. If you believe you have symptoms of a thyroid condition or gluten intolerance, consult your doctor, do your own research, and do what you believe is right. Starting in May 2012, thyroid-oriented posts debuted on Meals with Morri, in which I write about interesting news or information I find from various forms of social media or publications. If you find something interesting pertaining to thyroid research and treatment, please feel free to email me with a link.
Wikipedia, "Hypothyroidism" (has a number of valuable references I recommend reading)http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/
PubMed Health, "Hypothyroidism"
World's Healthiest Foods, "What are goitrogens and in which foods are they found?"