We often hear about the connection between thyroid and hair loss, but many of the women we talk to don’t know that the thyroid plays a role in almost every system in the body. This is why low thyroid (Hypothyroidism) can make us feel so unlike ourselves. Many women talk about fatigue, mental fog, depressed moods, constipation, dry skin, and even brittle nails when it comes to low thyroid symptoms.
Some women have already been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, others are experiencing symptoms, but still show thyroid levels in a normal range (called subclinical Hypothyroidism), and some are simply wondering how to support their thyroid and prevent future issues. It’s common knowledge that you can take a prescription for an underactive thyroid, but did you know that you can find natural thyroid symptom relief?
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Here’s how to minimize thyroid symptoms, while supporting your overall health.
1. Eat thyroid-supporting foods
Low thyroid hormones make it difficult to heal the gut. At the same time, an inflamed gastrointestinal system and leaky gut syndrome contribute to thyroid diseases such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Many people with Hashimoto’s can improve by skipping all of the drastic dietary changes touted on the web and instead follow an anti-inflammatory Primal or Paleo diet. (There are slight differences were Primal is okay with dairy and fats but Paleo avoids. For our purposes we will call it the Paleo diet.) The Paleo diet has been found very effective in restoring digestive health, reducing inflammation and is an excellent choice as a life-long solution or as maintenance after the repair of the gut is completed. The Paleo way of eating is based on foods we were genetically designed to eat such as lean meats, fish and other foods that made up the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors many years ago. Paleo diet is especially beneficial for those with low thyroid or Hashimoto’s disease who show signs of multiple food allergies and need to eliminate all grains and dairy. This diet can successfully address these health issues and can be enough to slow down the progression of autoimmune conditions especially in those who are on the early stage of Hashimoto’s disease.
In addition to the Paleo diet, being aware of and using the foods, as they are available will help reduce food allergies by limiting the amount of exposure to a food. This is an essential step in attaining and maintaining your health. It is very difficult to stay healthy year around without avoiding food allergies and taking the extra measures and time to care for ourselves during times of stress and change.
Eating seasonally is important first for providing the right type of fuel to protect us from the climates of our environment. Eating seasonally provides the best foods to support health and keep us in balance.
Variety and Rotation
Eating a variety of foods provides us with a variety of nutrients. Eating and varying many of the whole foods will assure a proper amount of nutrients without excess of potentially harmful levels of sugars, lectins or even proteins.
Rotating our diet means eating different foods from season to season and within each season rotating our diet day to day and not repeating the same foods every day. Using the seasonal rotation gives your body a rest from constant exposure while the daily rotation limits the amount of exposure. This reduces the potential to become allergic or sensitive to particular foods, which can result from repeatedly stimulating our body’s immune and cellular systems with the same nutritional biochemistry. The protein molecular parts of a food are usually what we become sensitive to. We build up antibodies against these antigens and then whatever food we eat (Yes, even healthy organic food) we develop a reactive immune response.
2. Avoid thyroid-damaging foods
Foods rich in iodine and selenium are thought to be thyroid supporting. Their supporting role causes the thyroid to work better. If you DO have “Primary Hypothyroidism”, foods high in iodine and selenium would be beneficial. However, do not assume you have “Primary Hypothyroidism” until a Functional Medicine Doctor assesses your thyroid. In the past ten years, I have seen only two women with this form of “Primary Hypothyroidism”!
There is a better than 99% chance that you do not have Primary Hypothyroidism. You may be doing more harm than good eating foods like seaweeds, like lato, kelp, nori, gamet, dulse and balbalulang, sea vegetables, and dietary supplements.
The inflammation caused by Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (Hypothyroidism). Thyroid supporting foods like iodine, tyrosine and selenium cause the thyroid to sputter back to life, even causing temporary Hyperthyroidism, or autoimmune attack on the thyroid followed by a crash back into low thyroid. This cycling back and forth between Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism and autoimmune dysregulation causes further injury to an already damaged thyroid.
There appears to be a direct link between gluten intolerance and thyroid dysfunction symptomatology. You don’t have to have celiac disease to have sensitivity to gluten. The antibodies produced against gluten appear to stimulate an immune attack on thyroid tissue. Many individuals who have autoimmune thyroid condition present with hot flashes, tremors, anxiety and increased heart rate/pulse after exposure to gluten.
Lectins are natural toxins that aren’t limited to just grains. They are found in especially high levels in most common grain and legume varieties. Lectins are also known as phytohemagglutinins (PHA). Lectins inhibit the natural repair system of the GI tract, potentially leaving the rest of the body open to the impact of errant, wandering (i.e. unwanted) material from the digestive system, especially when these lectins “unlock” barriers to entry and allow larger undigested protein molecules into the bloodstream. The most common potentially ‘toxic’ major lectin containing food groups are:
- Grains, especially wheat and wheat germ, but also quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, oats, rye, barley, millet and corn
- Legumes (all dried beans, including soy and peanuts)
- Fresh Dairy (perhaps more so when cows are feed grains instead of grass, or grazing on rye grass; a speculation based on research showing transference of lectins into breast milk and dairy and Dr. Peterson’s agrees with this based on professional case review and personal experience growing up on a dairy farm.
- Nightshade (includes potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper).
Lectin absorption can be higher if the food is uncooked, or eaten by individuals deficient in stomach acid, proteolytic enzymes, or secretory IgA antibodies (which bind lectins in the gut). Ingestion of the lectins present in certain improperly cooked vegetables can result in acute GI tract distress. In addition to gastrointestinal issues PHAs adversely affect the thyroid.
Thyroid Exposure to Lectins
Phytohemagglutinins (PHA) can act as Long-Acting Thyroid Stimulators (LATS) and cause the activation of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Receptor Antibodies (TSH-R Ab). These LATS appear to act similarly to TSH via the TSH receptor. The LATS are unable to “fit” the receptor sufficiently well to stimulate the thyroid but not enough stimulation to produce thyroid hormones. This activates the immune system to produce TSH-R Ab to the thyroid stimulating hormone receptors.
For those with low thyroid, their TSH levels will be low but the thyroid is being stimulated resulting in swelling, tenderness and irritation to the thyroid. Those who have Hashimoto’s, hyperthyroid or Grave’s disease the TSH-R antibody will stimulate the production of TPO antibodies resulting in an immune attack on the thyroid causing further destruction. This is often the case for those with elevated TPO antibodies who are doing all the right things but still have high TPO Ab.
Cytokine Exposure to Lectins
Cytokines are several different types of substances that are produced by cells within the immune system. These substances relay signals between the immune system cells. PHA markedly increases the levels of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines (especially interleukin 2 receptor (IL-2), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), IL-6, IL-8, IL-17 and IL-22). Inflammatory cytokines may be partially responsible for the development of significant symptom burden (e.g., pain, fatigue, headache, achiness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, irritability, and hemolytic anemia, distress, disturbed sleep).
After eating lectins (PHA) your immune system can have a severe reaction sometimes known as a cytokine storm. Essentially, this is a situation where the balance of communication between immune cells and the cytokines present is interrupted.
When the inflammatory cytokines are involved in some sort of storm situation, there is a loopback created between both types of cytokines and the immune cells. This results in a runaway production pace that has the effect of exacerbating the ill effects of a condition, rather than helping the immune system deal effectively with whatever is ailing the body. There are several common signs that indicate that a storm is present, including fever, body aches and nausea, along with stronger symptoms that are related directly to the ailment itself.
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Many cytokines are undetectable in blood because they are produced locally and have a very short half-life. This requires specialized testing done with the NEI Stimulated Cytokine panel, which measures these cytokine and chemokines.
In thyroid disease, both heart structures and heart function may remain normal at rest, however impaired cardiovascular and respiratory adaptation to exertion becomes unmasked during exercise.
Exercise for those with Hyperthyroid, Hashimoto’s, or Thyrotoxicosis
For those suffering from Hyperthyroid, Hashimoto’s, or Thyrotoxicosis: mitochondria oxidative dysfunction (Mitochondrial Dysfunction) during exercise mostly causes intracellular acidosis. Intracellular acidosis produces vasodilation in large arteries (located in your core) and vasoconstriction in small arteries (located in your muscles) as well as decreased muscle contraction strength. This combination of the increased oxidative damage and the lack of blood and strength to your muscles could lead to more damage occurring. Those of you suffering from Hyperthyroid, Hashimoto’s, or Thyrotoxicosis are hereby excused from exercise that exceeds your Physiologic Adaptive Reserve (PAR) until your condition is under control. This would include cardio, aerobics, running, weightlifting or other strenuous activity. We still recommend low exertion exercise listed below that does not exceed your PAR.
Exercise for Low Thyroid (Hypothyroid)
In Hypothyroidism, disorders of the thyroid gland can worsen old cardiac symptoms or cause new ones. Thyroid conditions can accelerate an underlying heart problem. Even worse, doctors frequently forget to think about the thyroid when cardiac symptoms are worsening. If they don’t think of it, they will certainly miss the association and correlation.
Thyroid hormone is very important for normal cardiovascular function, so when not enough thyroid hormone is present neither the heart nor the blood vessels function normally. In Hypothyroidism the heart muscle is weakened in both its contraction phase, and also its relaxation phase. This means that the heart cannot pump as vigorously as it should, and the amount of blood it ejects with each heartbeat is reduced.
Low Exertion Exercises and the Lymphatic System
These abnormalities partly explain why those with thyroid conditions are intolerant to exertion. Unless something goes terribly wrong with it, the lymphatic system is pretty much disregarded and undervalued in U.S. medicine. The lymphatic system is a defense mechanism against infection, viruses, bacteria and disease. It is comprised of fluid, vessels and ducts. Provided the lymphatic system is functioning at its peak, it clears toxins we absorb from our environment, wastes and infection from all tissues of the body through proper flow and drainage. The only pump for this system is movement. The dilemma for the thyroid sufferer is you are damned if you do exercise and damned if you don’t. The key is movement without exceeding your PAR.
The following list of exercises will provide movement to pump your lymphatic system without bankrupting your PAR.
Low Exertion Exercises
Whole Body Vibration
Whole body vibration can offer some fitness and health benefits. With whole body vibration, you stand, sit or lie on a machine with a vibrating platform. As the machine vibrates, it transmits energy to your body, forcing your muscles to contract and relax dozens of times each second. You may feel as if you’re exerting yourself when you do whole body vibration, if so utilize lower level programs.
The typical rebound mini-trampoline is about 3′ in diameter and 9″ high. It is safe, easy to use, and effective. Research has led some scientists to conclude that jumping on a mini-trampoline is possibly the most effective exercise yet devised by man, especially because of the effect rebounding has on the lymph in the body. Most importantly, rebounding is FUN! The mini-trampoline subjects the body to gravitational pulls ranging from zero at the top of each bounce to 2 – 3 times the force of gravity at the bottom, depending on how high the person is rebounding. Unlike jogging on hard surfaces, which puts extreme stress on certain joints such as the ankles and knees eventually damaging them, rebounding affects every joint and cell in the body equally. Plus, there are no cars, dogs, and bad weather to worry about.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that doesn’t require special equipment and can be done almost anywhere. If walking outside isn’t an option, opt for walking on a treadmill indoors. As with any form of exercise, stretching will help warm up your muscles before you begin exercising. If you are new to walking, start with short distances and gradually increase the length of your walks. Walk quickly enough to increase your heart rate, then slow down for the last several minutes of your walk.
People who participate in yoga use special movements, called poses, to strengthen muscles, increase range of motion and improve balance. Poses are performed in conjunction with breathing exercises and meditation, which can be helpful in reducing stress. Yoga can also help reduce heart rate and blood pressure and may help with such health conditions as sleep problems, insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, pain and cancer.
Walking Waist Deep
You do not need to fully submerge yourself to benefit from water walking. If you only have a shallow area to walk in or if you want to start off easily, walk in water that is up to your waist. Walk as you normally do on land, gently swinging your arms at your sides. Stand up tall and gently squeeze your abs to support your back. When you get to the end of the pool, do not turn around. Walk backward. Walking backward works the opposite muscles that walking forward does. You also can walk sideways to tone your inner and outer thighs.
During low-impact aerobics, participants perform dance-type moves set to music. While high-impact aerobics uses movements that require both feet to be off the ground at the same time, low-impact participants keep one foot on the ground at all times. The knees and ankles must absorb the stress of the landing when you jump, making high-impact aerobics a bad choice for people with certain health conditions. Low-impact aerobics allow you to reap the benefits of an aerobic workout without worsening or causing joint problems.
4. Stress, Rest and You
Stress, adrenal health and cortisol levels influence thyroid hormone levels and thyroid health. For example, the stress hormone cortisol can inhibit the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and the thyroid hormone T4.
One of the main issues that people have when they are stressed is the fact that they don’t know how to prioritize things in their daily routines. They try to tackle everything head on and not achieving the required results, they start feeling the stress build-up. By properly prioritizing your tasks you achieve extra clarity of where you are and can easily focus on what needs to be done instead of trying to do everything at the same time. Promote a calm environment. Some calming tactics are deep breathing, meditation and rest periods. Getting restorative sleep at night is crucial.
We have several options for testing the neurotransmitters involved in stress, sleep and free radical damage. More often than not an adrenal problem is really an underlying neurotransmitter problem. The Neuroscience testing provides us with information on neurotransmitters and hormones. We can then assemble a support program for your individual needs because when supporting neurotransmitter, we have learned there is no one size fits all supplement program. The Metametrix testing shows us your precursor neurotransmitter building blocks, free-radical damage and ability to detox efficiently in addition to putting together a custom made multi-vitamin formula specific to your requirements.
So how can you learn to prioritize so that you are at the top of your list without any added stress and worry? Here are a few tips to get you started right away.
- Make a list of what you mostly need right now. You might need to recharge your energy by talking with a friend or getting a life coach, journaling or simply getting more rest during the day.
- Ask for help. As much as we try, we can’t do everything on our own. We all need support and asking for help is quite a natural thing to do, even though so many people are reluctant to acknowledge that they need help. There are many people who are ready to help you; all you need is simply ask.
- Learn to say no. It is amazing how many people simply can’t say ‘no’. They take on every task, they help everyone and they try to do everything even when they clearly have no time. You have to learn to hold your ground and simply say ‘no’ when you know that you can’t take anything anymore. Your goal is lowering levels of stress to something more manageable. Once you start to see headway in what you are doing, it will lead to even less stress, which goes on to a positive sort of catch 22, which finally will lead you to a healthier way of living.
5. Emotional Health
Yes, thyroid disease can affect your mood — primarily causing either anxiety or depression. Generally speaking- the more severe the thyroid disease, the more severe the mood changes.
If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you may experience unusual nervousness, restlessness, anxiety and irritability. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), you may experience mild to severe fatigue and depression.
Louise Hay. For anyone unfamiliar with this true gem of a human, she’s the author of “You Can Heal Your Life”, which has sold more than 50 million copies has some thyroid advice: “Look in the mirror and ask (your sick thyroid), ‘how can I love you back to life’?” Thyroid problems she says are all about creativity being blocked. She then explained that many women feel torn up by the pressure to be all things. And their creative self gets blocked. Journaling how you feel, even one line a day, can be helpful.