The Hypothyroidism Epidemic

It seems each year I am learning of more friends being diagnosed with an under active thyroid, referred to as “hypothyroidism.”
Every cell in your body uses thyroid hormone, which means optimal functioning of your cells, muscles, organs, tissues, all require adequate thyroid hormone.   Since all functions in the body are dependent upon thyroid hormone, small variations can have significant ramifications on your health. An insufficient amount of thyroid hormone slows down cellular metabolism (chemical reactions) and various functions throughout the body. One example being body temperature. Heat is generated as a result of cellular metabolism. One crucial function of the thyroid gland is to maintain a steady body temperature. Not only are chemical reactions in your body temperature sensitive, but so are vitamins, minerals and enzymes. A change in normal body temperature, increased or decreased, can impact the functioning and utilization of any one of them. Although signs and symptoms of thyroid hormone deficiency are vast, some of the more common ones include:  weight gain, cold hands and feet, fatigue, infertility, and hair loss.

While improper functioning of your thyroid gland may be the primary cause of thyroid hormone deficiency, hypothyroidism can also be secondary to other conditions. Given the interconnectedness of the various systems in your body, thyroid function can be affected when any one of them is out of balance. If you are experiencing hypothyroid symptoms, I encourage you to first rule out other conditions and root causes. If hypothyroidism is secondary to other conditions, thyroid hormone supplementation may mask symptoms temporarily, however in some instances it will exacerbate symptoms. Conditions to consider prior to beginning thyroid hormone treatment include: anemia, blood sugar imbalance and adrenal fatigue.
Iron is needed for both proper thyroid hormone functioning, and red blood cell production. Red blood cell production takes priority, therefore a deficiency in iron, or anemia, can result in low thyroid function. Sources of iron-rich food include: grass-fed beef, leafy greens and beans.

Your adrenal glands secrete the stress hormone cortisol. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the population is living in a constant state of stress, requiring excess cortisol production. Also requiring excess cortisol production is a diet containing processed, packaged foods full of refined flours and sugars which cause dramatic spikes and dips in blood sugar. In response, cortisol is needed to rebalance blood sugar. Over time, the constant demand for cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue, as well as affect thyroid function. An inability to maintain a balanced blood sugar significantly weakens thyroid metabolism and can ultimately result in autoimmune tissue destruction (i.e., Hashimoto’s).  Not only does your blood sugar affect your thyroid, but your thyroid also affects your blood sugar. Remember, with hypothyroidism various functions in the body slow down. One example is insulin’s response to elevated blood sugar.  Insulin is the hormone secreted by your pancreas to help glucose (sugar in your blood) enter cells to be used for making energy. Hypothyroidism slows the insulin response to elevated blood sugar, resulting in a slower entrance into the cells and reduced energy production.

There are many nutritional recommendations to better support the systems mentioned, and I have highlighted a few of them.

  • Include healthy fats (e.g., coconut oil, avocado, nut butters, nuts, and seeds) and protein with every meal and snack.
  • Eat every two to four hours, beginning with breakfast if you struggle with low blood sugar.
  • Include vitamin C rich foods (e.g.,oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, pineapples and strawberries).
  • Include foods rich in pantothenic acid (i.e., B5) to support cortisol production (e.g., mushrooms, avocado, sweet potato, lentils, dried peas, chicken, turkey, and broccoli).

If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I encourage you to explore potential contributing factors before beginning thyroid hormone supplementation. Additional considerations to those listed above include: a leaky gut (increased permeability of the lining of the small intestine), environmental toxins and nutrient deficiencies. It’s pretty amazing how making dietary changes to address a specific challenge in the body, can beneficially impact other parts as well!