Your Thyroid Explained
By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN
February 22, 2018
Do you ever feel tired when you wake (even after sleeping well), depressed, or maybe you have trouble losing weight? If so, you may be one of the estimated 30 million Americans with a thyroid problem. The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the center of your neck and is considered the master gland of metabolism.
Long story short, if your thyroid is not running optimally, then neither are you.
The most common disease related to thyroid function is hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is underactive. 90% of thyroid imbalances are due to hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, half of the 30 million Americans with thyroid disease have no idea their health issues are related to thyroid! Many have been prescribed antidepressants, sleeping pills, and told to work harder to lose weight … these recommendations don’t address the underlying issue of hypothyroidism and are a frustrating roadblock to say the least.
Why Thyroid Issues are Difficult to Diagnosis
More than half of Americans are not diagnosed properly for thyroid issues. Here are some common reasons why:
- Symptoms of thyroid imbalance (fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, “brain fog”, constipation, dry skin, hair thinning/loss, muscle or joint pain, cold hands and feet, and even infertility) are not always obvious and can look like many unrelated issues.
- The most common tests done to screen for thyroid problems are one or two tests (TSH and T4) which don’t tell us the whole picture. A full thyroid panel is necessary to diagnose thyroid imbalance: TSH, T4, FT3 (Free T3), and thyroid antibodies.
- Even if someone has the full thyroid panel, the “normal” lab reference range is too broad. Many patients have thyroid lab results that appear in the “normal” range, but yet all of their symptoms indicate thyroid imbalance.
Do You Suspect A Thyroid Issue?
Here are some tips to move forward and take charge of your health:
- Find a doctor who is willing to run a full thyroid panel including antibodies.
- Trust your instincts. If your lab results fall within normal ranges and you have several symptoms of thyroid imbalance, you may still have hypothyroidism, and want to consider getting a second opinion.
Nutrition to Improve Your Thyroid Function
Regardless of your diagnosis, everyone should be interested in having better thyroid function since energy, moods and metabolism depend on it. The good news is that proper nutrition can help.
- Include healthy fats at each meal and snack (coconut oil, olive oil, butter, avocadoes, almond butter, nuts, seeds and olives) and avoid low-calorie/low-fat diets. Our bodies need good fats to produce thyroid hormones, absorb vitamins and minerals, maintain energy, and prevent blood sugar from crashing.
- Eat adequate high-quality proteins for energy and metabolism (grass-fed meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, and fish). Not only does protein increase metabolism up to 30% after consumption, but also it provides the amino-acid L-Tyrosine which is necessary to produce thyroid hormones.
- Add vegetables at every meal and avoid a low-carbohydrate diet. Vegetables are the best form of carbohydrates due to their high content of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so load up on veggies and also consider adding ½ cup of starch such as sweet potatoes or brown rice, with meals. Research including the landmark Vermont Study, has found that if your carb and calorie intake are too low, your Free T3 levels will drop.
- Eliminate gluten grains, especially if you have tested positive for thyroid antibodies. A sensitivity to gluten grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye, is linked to Hashimoto’s, the most common form of hypothyroidism.
Supplements to Support Hypothyroidism
The most important tools you have to support thyroid hormones are found at the end of your fork! However, in many cases, it can also be beneficial to add in specific supplements. It’s important to work with a nutritionist or doctor who is knowledgeable about thyroid supplements to determine individual needs.
Here are a few common deficiencies found in those with hypothyroidism:
- Iodine – Your body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones T4 and T3.
- Selenium – Needed to convert T4 to active T3 thyroid hormone; selenium can also decrease thyroid antibodies.
- Zinc – Helps to convert T4 to active T3 thyroid hormone
- Omega-3 and GLA – These essential fatty acids help regulate thyroid hormones and reduce inflammation, especially with autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Thyrotain – Helps to support the thyroid gland, the production of T4 and T3, and the conversion of T4 into T3
If you’d like to learn more about supporting your thyroid, take a listen to the popular Dishing Up Nutrition podcast, Thyroid: Fatigue, Weight Gain & Depression and consider a personalized approach with an individual nutrition consultation available in-person or by phone.