The thyroid gland, it sits in the front of your neck just below your Adam’s apple, which is why the doctor feels your throat sometimes when he/she is doing a physical. They are feeling for any abnormalities and growths or more specifically a “Goiter”.
In general, the thyroid is responsible for producing the primary metabolic hormones T4 and T3 and another one called calcitonin which regulates calcium levels. When functioning properly, those hormones T3 and T4 can be an exercisers best friend, taking all that time in the gym and helping you burn off excess fat. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and many people experience the side effects of a slow or “Hypothyroid” and don’t even realize it. Many times, thyroid disorders come on gradually and more often than not, most of us attribute it to “getting older”. Then one day you experience joint pain, sluggishness, infertility or heart disease which are a few among many symptoms. You may not even consider it’s your thyroid.
So if you notice you have any of the following symptoms below, be sure to see your doctor because an untreated thyroid problem can complicate into other diseases or may be the result of an under lying disease, like an auto immune disorder like Hashimoto’s or a pituitary disorder.
FYI- The pituitary gland is the size of a pea and hangs off the bottom of the hypothalamus which is gland located in the base of the brain. The pituitary senses when thyroid hormones are low and secretes TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone, into the blood stream. It travels to the thyroid gland and tells it to make T4. T4 is then converted into a more active form called T3.
Here are some of the symptoms of a slow thyroid:
Tired or out of breath
Increased sensitivity to cold
Unexplained weight gain
So you ask how does this condition occur?
For some people it can be a genetic inheritance or if you are one of those “yoyo” dieters or poor eaters, you can be setting yourself up for thyroid problems, especially if you suffer from anorexia or other types of food deprivation such as “Fad” diets”. Since women are effected more than men, let’s take a look at how most women are programmed to lose weight- according to today’s culture. So ladies listen up!!!!
Your thyroid problems can actually be caused by a condition called Estrogen Dominance. This is where estrogen and thyroid compete against one another, since they both have opposite effects on fat metabolism (Estrogen stores it). In this case, you guessed who wins this contest.
Most women begin their diet with a daily food intake consisting of a piece of celery and a cracker and decide that should do it for the day. Ok seriously, you will lose weight but the problem is when the body is starved for food, it shuts down many other “less important” processes to conserve energy, one of which is ovulation. Your body say’s “if I’m not getting enough food to support one person, why would I support two?” So your ovaries shut down and Bang…..you now have a hormone problem. Estrogen then builds up because your progesterone is shut down and you guessed it, the weight starts to pack on. In general about 2lbs a month.
That’s one of the main reasons taking birth control causes weight gain. Are you getting it ladies, please stop listening to the latest super models and eat!! They all probably have more problems than you can imagine anyway. That doesn’t mean run out to the nearest Crispy Crème or beef stand and load up. Just be smart about it. Check out my dietary guidelines page for a good starter.
So you ask how do I know if I have a thyroid problem?
Well in addition to having some of the symptoms I previously listed, another way to check or confirm that you may have a problem is by monitoring your rising body temperature. This should be done for 5 days in a row. If your waking temperature is lower than 97.5 you have a low body temperature and if you have symptoms, you should see your doctor for further tests. For women who are menstruating do this test after the 3rd or 4th day of your menstrual cycle as it may affect your body temperature. Be sure to take your temperature before you even get out of bed. So put that thermometer on your nightstand.
Although a lower than normal body temperature is indicative of a slow thyroid there are other medical conditions that can effect body temperature and you should see your doctor for medical advise if you do have a lower than normal rising body temperature.
Other causes or complications of thyroid disorders
1. Sometimes it could be as simple as not enough protein in the diet, especially if your lacking an amino acid called Tyrosine. Amino acids are building blocks of protein and tyrosine helps make thyroid from the mineral Iodine, which leads us to our next one.
2. Iodine is what’s known as a “trace mineral” that is important in the production of thyroid hormones. A deficiency is rare in the United States since most table salt is made up of iodine or “Iodized salt”. In addition, foods like kelp as well as seafood and seaweed are high in iodine.
3. Selenium is also known as a trace mineral and is extremely important in the conversion of T4 to T3, which is the thyroid hormone responsible for eating away fat like packman ate up those little cherries.
4. Some medications may be affecting your thyroid gland. One of the more common ones is Lithium, which is a psychiatric drug. So be sure if you are on any medication that you ask your doctor if it can cause complications to your thyroid gland.
5. Some people suffer from a tumor to the pituitary gland, which produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH. So no TSH or improper functioning TSH and no T4!
6. Pregnancy sometimes causes thyroid problems due to a psychologically depressed condition called postpartum hypothyroidism. The body produces antibodies to their own thyroid gland and if left untreated can cause a miscarriage or a condition called preeclamsia. A condition in the last three months of pregnancy that causes a significant rise in blood pressure. Low thyroid is only one cause of preeclampsia as there are others.
7. Radiation from cancer treatments to the head or neck may affect your thyroid. In addition, too many x-rays as well. Be sure your dentist uses good equipment and his/her x-ray machine is operating properly. Also, be sure that if you change dentists, you don’t get un-necessary x-rays done. Have them transferred from the other.
8. Too much fluoride or chlorine and I do mean the fluoride in your tooth paste as well as tap water. They block the iodine receptors in the thyroid gland and reduce production of the hormones. Can you say purified water!
9. If you already take thyroid hormones like synthroid or levothyroxine, certain things like excess soy or fiber can interfere with absorption, as well as iron supplements, calcium supplements and aluminum hydroxide which is found in some antacids. Also cholestyramine, which is used to treat high levels of cholesterol in the blood. So the best thing to do is take them on an empty stomach and at the same time everyday, unless otherwise directed by your doctor or other healthcare provider.
10. You may also be suffering from a condition called adrenal fatigue which has many of the same symptoms of hypothyroid. The two glands usually work together to produce energy. So be sure to ask your doctor about that, especially if you’re a “type A” stressed out person. Usually if one’s effected the other is as well or one could be masking the other.
Be prepared when you see your doctor!
Lets face it, many times doctors are extremely busy and if you don’t take care or due diligence in your own health, what makes you think anyone else is? Doctors can only do so much and many times they need you to do some homework to help them diagnose your condition. Would you go to a financial advisor without a plan and say “hey, make me more money”. They may end up costing you more money! Same thing applies to your doctor. Keep a dairy of how many calories you’re eating for several weeks before your appointment. Write down your starting weight any symptoms you have and when they started? How severe are they? What seems to improve them or make them worse? A list of the supplements you’re taking and medications. The more the doctor knows the less likely you will waste time with un-necessary tests or requests.
For example, I had a client whose blood levels of TSH were within the normal range but low and she was putting on weight but the doctor would not increase her thyroid, because she was “within the range”, which is huge. Do you blame the doctor. He/she had nothing to go on other than weight gain with no proof to back up what she claimed she was eating or how much she was exercising.
I had her write down her exercise routine for six weeks as well as logging her calories meticulously on a web site. She went back to the doctor armed with this information. He increased her dosage based on the information she gave him and lost the weight she gained and feels much better. A good web site I use for logging calories is called www.myfitnesspal.com.
Before I begin it’s important to remember other deficiencies caused by diet and stress that possibly are effecting your energy levels could be low vitamin B12 and low vitamin D. These two are very common deficiencies and should be tested as well to rule them out.
Once you have a blood test, don’t accept the doctors phone call stating, “your in the normal range” and forget about your thyroid concerns. Ask for the test results and keep a record of them. If you can also show that over the years your thyroid has hit the skids dramatically, even though your with the normal range, isn’t that more ammo for you to discuss with the doctor?
A high TSH level is indicative of a slow thyroid and as of 2003, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist has changed the recommendation for what is a normal range for TSH levels. It went from 0.05 > 5.5 to a smaller range of 0.3 > 3.0. So be sure your doctor is aware of current information as well. Some doctors disagree with the change but it is important you mention it.
I get blood work done 1x a year and thyroid hormone levels is one of them. Be sure your doctor doesn’t only test your TSH. That actually is testing your pituitary, which may be having issues. Mention that you also want your T4 and Free T3 tested (not “Total T3”) These additions will provide a more complete and accurate measure. There are many types of thyroid tests out there and the ones I mentioned are a good start. I recommend listening to what your doctor tells you to do. He or she will respect you far more though as a patient if you are proactive with your health. Remember, you and your doctor are a team. Together you can come up with a game plan for any concerns you may have, just be informed.
Natural ways to aid your thyroid:
1. Some of the first steps in taking care of your thyroid is to eat a balanced diet containing lots of fruits and vegetables. A good addition to your diet is sea vegetables. They are very rich in iodine. A good one is Nori, which is what is used to wrap sushi.
2. Lean meat like chicken, turkey and fish as well as egg whites, will provide you with the required amounts of protein that include the amino acid tyrosine.
3. The best way to get enough selenium is to incorporate Brazil nuts into your diet. You don’t need many, maybe 5 or 6 tops. So be mindful of your calorie intake. Asparagus is good to.
4. That brings us to healthy fats. If your diet does not have enough fat in it, the body will save fat, because it saves what it doesn’t get! That doesn’t mean to load up on it either but things like coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, almonds and my favorite avocado’s, (not guacamole either) are great choice’s in keeping your metabolism running it’s best. Incidentally avocados are especially good for thyroid health.
5. Eliminate sugar. Not only is it bad for the immune system it causes a spike in insulin who’s main function is to lower blood sugar at all costs. The easiest way to do that is by making fat. Most foods containing sugar are empty calories as well and can limit all the important nutrients your thyroid gland needs.
6. Watch out for Goitrogenic substances. These are substances that interfere with the thyroid glands uptake of iodine and can inhibit its function. They are certain chemicals, drugs and foods. The list is way too long but I will provide you with a link to them. Click on the word above.
7. Eating smaller more frequent meals tells your thyroid to keep burning because food is plentiful. In the old days we didn’t have Costco and Jewel so are bodies became very good at anticipating starvation subsequently making us really good at storing fat. Eating smaller more frequent meals can be a good kick start to a sluggish metabolism that has been abused for years with alcohol, fried foods, sugar and stress.
8. Fiber is good because it helps with one of the most common side effects of a slow thyroid, constipation. In general fiber is also good for digestion and removing toxins from our bodies. These toxins that sit in our bodies from low fiber diets can be toxic over time and cause a host of secondary ailments. Word to the wise, be sure to drink a lot of water if your eating fiber as water is what helps move the fiber through…if you know what I mean ☺
9. A nice cold shower also stimulates thyroid production. What I do when I’m finished showering is turn the water to a slow tricle and run it over my knees or which ever body part is aching or causing you pain. It’s much faster and goes deeper than sitting with ice on it. After about 1 minute on each knee I do a 5-6 quick whole body circles under the cold water and that should do it.
10. Last but certainly not least and in my opinion the most important is…drum roll…EXERCISE. You need about 20-30 mins 3x a week to start and going up from there is even better. I suggest hiring a good personal trainer to make sure it’s safe and effective as well as a productive in the shortest amount of time. I know a good one John Turk
Remember the information contained above is for informational purposes and in no way should be taken over the advise of your doctor or other healthcare provider or nutritionist. Do your own research and consult with your doctor especially if you are already taking medication or under a doctors care.
All the best and hope that helped.