Critical Roles of the Thyroid
The thyroid is a small gland located at the front of the neck which produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic function and body temperature. It also greatly impacts the way the heart, muscles, and digestive system operate. Maintaining optimal levels of thyroid hormones can greatly impact all areas of life due to the fact that these hormones travel throughout the blood stream and are carried to every tissue within the body.
Conventional Medicine vs Functional Medicine
It is estimated that roughly 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease with up to 60% unaware of their condition (1). The most common cause of low thyroid function is the autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s disease (2). This debilitating condition can cause many people to have extremely low levels of energy, have dry and thinning hair, poor digestion, depression, and intolerance to cold. Sadly, this condition is often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed in conventional medicine which leaves many to suffer for years with their doctors telling them that their “bloodwork looks normal”. This is because the routine testing only looks at thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). If this test comes back within the normal range, doctors will tell patients they are fine.
The functional medicine approach is to test for much more than TSH. A full comprehensive thyroid panel should include:
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid antibodies (TPO, thyroglobulin)
- Thyroid supportive nutrients (selenium, magnesium, iron, ferritin)
- Urinary iodine
These tests, in addition to adrenal markers such as stress hormone and DHEA along with sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, can give an even more comprehensive picture of the body to develop a personalized treatment instead of utilizing synthetic hormones like levothyroxine.
Prevention Nutrition and Lifestyle Practices
Even without a diagnoses of a thyroid condition, many people can experience symptoms of low thyroid which is why a full thyroid panel can be so valuable. Subclinical hypothyroidism is where thyroid hormones are normal but TSH is slightly elevated. One study showed that nearly 27% of patients diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism end up developing full blown hypothyroidism within 6 years (3). This information means that taking a proactive approach to thyroid health can be extremely valuable. By focusing on ways to boost thyroid health naturally, years of suffering, expensive treatments, and low energy can be avoided.
Big 3: Endocrine Disrupting-Chemicals (EDC’s), Inflammation, Stress
EDC’s are chemicals or compounds that are typically man made which negatively impact the way hormones are produced or utilized in the human body. These are chemicals which our ancestors did not have to worry about such as BPA from plastics, pesticides, phytoestrogens, chemical cleaners, and exhaust fumes from factories or vehicles. These can greatly disrupt reproduction, growth and development, metabolism, and even lead to cancer. Understanding the damaging effects of EDC’s is important and can help highlight how avoiding them can help improve long term health.
Inflammation and high levels of stress can greatly reduce thyroid function due to the fact that it can decrease levels of hormones which are produced and circulated throughout the body. Inflammation and stress can also exacerbate symptoms of low thyroid such as low energy, poor mood, and sluggish digestion. The best ways to mitigate this are:
- Reduce sugars and refined carbs
- Avoid processed meats and vegetable oils
- Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night
- Engage in light to moderate exercise daily
Top Food to Boost Thyroid Health
Due to their high nutrient density and low levels of inflammatory compounds, these foods can be a great addition to any diet but especially for those suffering from suboptimal thyroid function.
- Brazil Nuts
- Dulce Flakes or other unrefined Seaweed products
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Grass-fed Liver and other organ meats such as heart and kidney
- Pastured Eggs
Foods to Avoid
These foods can increase the risk of developing thyroid disorders due to their inflammatory effects, insulin raising properties, and digestive disrupting compounds.
- Refined Sugars
- Conventional Dairy (Especially low fat versions)
Lifestyle Practices to Improve Thyroid Function
These simple, yet effective healing practices are easy enough to start incorporating today
- Manage Stress through meditation, deep breathing, gratitude, and laughter
- Find beauty in the simple things
- Prioritize gut function and digestive health
- Begin a strength and resistance training routine based on progressive overload principles
- Consume a vegetable rich diet of all varieties
- Establish a nightly routine to enhance higher quality sleep
- Listen to your body and learn when to say “no” to overstimulating or stressful events
At Colorado Center for Functional Medicine, our team of practitioners and health coaches can work with you to help improve all areas of thyroid health. Whether you have an existing condition, are experiencing symptoms, or simply want to prevent future complications we are here to support you on the journey.