If you ticked yes to the symptoms above, this article is for you!
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the neck and produces hormones that regulate your body’s metabolic rate. That means it influences everything from your energy levels and mood, to your digestion, appetite, heart rate, body temperature and your ability to gain or lose weight. It does this by producing two hormones, called T4 and T3.
An underactive thyroid is referred to as hypothyroidism. This is when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, or when not enough thyroid hormone is converted into its active form in the body. Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Weight gain
- Always feeling cold
- Hair loss (we talked about this in our Female Hair Loss article!)
- Fertility problems and/or menstrual irregularities
- Dry skin
- Poor concentration
As many of these symptoms can be vague and seemingly unrelated, many individuals go years without a diagnosis, attributing their symptoms to other causes, such as aging, over-eating, stress or IBS. Many patients express relief when we actually identify the underlying cause of their symptoms, and put in place strategies to support and regulate the thyroid’s function.
What Causes An Underactive Thyroid?
There are many causes of hypothyroidism, such as iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease and certain medications. Stress, infection and heavy metals can also affect thyroid function. Perhaps one of the biggest causes we see in clinic however is nutritional deficiencies, as nutrients are the building blocks for our thyroid hormones. Some of the most common culprits are iodine, selenium, iron, zinc and vitamin A deficiency. These nutrients are all required to produce and use thyroid hormone in the body.
For example, did you know around 75% of your body’s total iodine is stored in the thyroid gland? This is because iodine is essential to making thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, iodine deficiency is a common problem in Australia, especially for individuals who avoid iodised salt and/or seafood. Without enough iodine, your body physically cannot manufacture thyroid hormone. Iron deficiency is another common problem we see in clinic, especially in menstruating women, vegetarians and pregnant women. These women are at risk of impaired thyroid function, which can add to the fatigue already experienced as a result of iron deficiency.
Lastly, certain foods contain compounds called goitrogens, which can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. This includes soy products, raw kale, cabbage, raw broccoli and canola oil. In small amounts, goitrogens do not pose a problem, but in larger quantities, they can suppress the thyroid’s function. Excessive soy consumption is surprisingly common, given the many soy products on the market these days (think soy milk, soy yoghurt, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy sauce, soy meats and soy ice-cream). Fortunately, cooking or fermenting kale, cabbage and broccoli inactivates the goitrogenic compounds, meaning there’s no excuse not to eat your greens!
Because there can be many factors contributing to hypothyroidism, we work carefully with our patients to identify the underlying causes so we can address the problem at its root. Given the role of diet and nutrition in regulating thyroid function, this always involves a comprehensive dietary review, to determine whether nutritional factors may to be blame.
Hypothyroidism can be picked up in a blood test, so if these symptoms sound familiar, we recommend talking to your naturopath about them at your next appointment. Fortunately, there are many things we can do with nutrition and herbal medicine to treat an underactive thyroid, and we see fantastic results in clinic. If you’ve been experiencing signs of thyroid dysfunction, don’t put up with the symptoms any longer; talk to your naturopath to identify the cause and put in place strategies so you can feel healthy and vibrant again.