by Cassie Irwin, ND
The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating the body’s metabolism, growth and development. Its scope extends to most tissues and organs in the body, playing a role in energy production, heart rate control, digestive regularity, healthy structure of skin, hair and nails, mood balance, and reproductive hormone health.
After reading this list, you can understand how many body functions may be affected if the thyroid gland suffers. And thyroid disease is all too common. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Canadians have some type of thyroid disease, whether that’s hypothyroidism (under-functioning), hyperthyroidism (over-functioning), or autoimmune thyroid diseases like Graves’ and Hashimoto’s.
In honour of thyroid health month, let’s dive into the symptoms, assessment methods, causes and natural supports for thyroid health.
Possible Signs of Thyroid Disease
Heart palpitations or low heart rate
Irregular and heavy menstrual cycles
Loss of muscle mass
Diagnosis & Testing
If you’ve experienced symptoms of thyroid disease, but your blood work came back normal, I’m sure you’ve felt frustrated and discouraged about getting the care you need. There are instances in which the values in blood work don’t fit the threshold for thyroid disease, despite feeling unwell. In this case, we consider that to be “sublaboratory” thyroid disease, which may also benefit from implementing the foundational thyroid supports outlined below.
We also run into the issue of not testing enough thyroid values in the blood. Sometimes all that’s tested in your doctor’s office is TSH. While this is the most important marker for thyroid disease, it doesn’t give us the whole picture. In fact, TSH is not even a thyroid hormone! It’s a brain hormone released to tell the thyroid to make thyroid hormones.
To get a better understanding of thyroid health, I recommend a full thyroid panel, which includes TSH, active thyroid hormone free T3, inactive thyroid hormone free T4, reverse T3 to see the impact of stress, infection and inflammation on thyroid function, and autoimmune antibodies against the thyroid gland, anti-TG and anti-TPO. Naturopathic Doctors can requisition this blood work for you and interpret the results to implement an individualized treatment plan.
TRY THIS EASY HOME TEST
If you’re curious about your thyroid function and want to try a test at home, consider measuring your basal body temperature. Use an oral thermometer under the tongue, first thing in the morning while you’re still in bed. The normal range for basal body temperature is 36.5- 36.7 degrees Celsius or 97.8-98.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Track this for a few weeks to determine your average, and if it consistently falls above or below the normal range, consider asking your healthcare provider for thyroid testing. If you’re a menstruating woman, bear in mind that your basal body temperature rises at ovulation.
CAUSES & CONTRIBUTORS
- Insufficient nutrition, particularly of zinc, selenium, iodine, healthy fats and protein
- Pregnancy and postpartum
- Pituitary adenoma (benign tumour in the brain)
- Gut dysbiosis
- Adrenal fatigue, officially known as HPA-Axis Dysfunction
- Chronic stress
Considering the diverse underlying causes of thyroid disease, as well as factors that perpetuate it, treatment needs to address both rather than just suppress the symptoms. Everyone has a different story and therefore needs a different treatment.
For instance, your niece may have autoimmune thyroid disease triggered by the hormonal changes of pregnancy; your neighbour may have thyroid disease mediated by chronic infection and inflammation; whereas your mother may be dealing with thyroid disease from long standing stress from helping your father through cancer treatment. Naturopathic Doctors tailor thyroid treatment by addressing underlying causes along the way.
One of the biggest missteps I see is when patients embark upon a thyroid treatment plan on their own is that it doesn’t support the adrenal glands (stress organs). There is almost always an element of adrenal fatigue (scientifically known as “HPA Axis Dysfunction”) that precedes the development of thyroid disease. Vitamin C, herbal adaptogens, and magnesium, as well as lifestyle strategies to recover from stress, can be helpful for nourishing the adrenal glands.
FOUNDATIONAL THYROID SUPPORT
- Reduce stress and support adrenal function with regular rest, vitamin C, herbal adaptogens, and magnesium
- Eat a whole-foods diet that’s low in processed foods and high in phytonutrients (plant-based foods), healthy fat sources, and protein. If you’re hypothyroid, ensure adequate sources of selenium (2 brazil nuts per day).
- Regular routines – wake up and go to bed at the same time every morning and night. This helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, and as a result, will encourage hormone balance.
- Meditation and deep breathing – to stimulate the healing and balancing functions of the parasympathetic nervous system
- Herbal therapies – Ashwagandha can help with low thyroid hormone production; whereas Lemon balm can help lower overactive thyroid.
- Ensure you have sufficient blood levels of vitamin D and supplement if needed
Speak with your Naturopathic Doctor to investigate underlying causes of and contributors to your thyroid woes, and to initiate individualized treatment.
Dr. Cassie Irwin, ND
Naturopathic Contributor, The Peanut Mill Natural Foods Market