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Oh the thyroid.

Tons of women ask me all the time about this lovely little butterfly-shaped gland and how they can make sure she is in top-top shape.

Our thyroids play a huge role in regulating not only our energy and metabolism but also our reproductive health. When a woman goes to her doctor about menstrual/hormonal/fertility issues, the thyroid is not often checked – but it should be! This is because there is a special conversation happening between the hypothalamus & pituitary and the endocrine glands – the adrenals, the thyroid and the ovaries.

They all work in a series of axes – the HPA Axis (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis), the OAT (Ovarian Adrenal Thyroid Axis) and the HPO (Hypothalamic Pituitary Ovarian Axis) – which means that when one gland isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to, the other glands will feel the heat.

Over time this leads to a domino-effect breakdown in overall endocrine function – adrenals, thyroid and ovaries! Think of it as the hormone superhighway – if there’s traffic or an accident, things slow down on the highway, and eventually everything comes to a screeching halt. Ideally, we want 70mph all day every day!

The Best Testing For Your Thyroid

This test from Lets Get Checked will give you a complete picture of what’s going on in thyroid land.  TSH and T4 alone are not sufficient enough to determine thyroid issues so you want to get a complete test like this one.

(Use code Hormones20 to get 20% off the price of the test)

This thyroid antibody test will provide a complete picture of how your thyroid is performing, with online results in 2 to 5 days.

Biomarkers covered:

  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
  • Free Thyroxine (FT4)
  • Free Triiodothyronine (FT3)
  • Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TGAB)
  • Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO/TPEX)
Get Yours

Hypothyroid vs Hyperthyroid

Hypo means too little, whereas hyper means too much. Basically, if you’re hypothyroid, you’re not making enough (of either or both) T3 and T4. When you’re hyperthyroid, you’re making too much thyroid hormone.

Symptoms of Hypothyroid:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Depression
  • Amenorrhea
  • Low sex drive
  • PMS
  • Excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Aches and pains
  • Chronic colds and illnesses
  • Hair loss and brittle hair
  • Dry skin
  • Infertility

Symptoms of Hyperthyroid:

  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Weight loss even if you’re eating the same or more food
  • Heart racing and irregular heartbeat
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Tremors
  • Heat intolerance or increased perspiration,
  • Development of a goiter (an enlarged, swollen thyroid gland)
  • Proptosis (bulging eyes)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Fine brittle hair
  • A lighter menstrual flow
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Amenorrhea (no menstrual cycle).

If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms then you should definitely get your thyroid tested.

Causes of Hypothyroid

  • Birth control pills (I know, I’ve been on a bit of a BCP rampage recently, but for good reason!). BCP’s increase thyroglobulin, a protein that binds thyroid hormone and prevents it from being free to be used by the body. This slows down your thyroid function. In addition, the BCP weakens your gut’s ability to absorb certain key minerals that are vital to a healthy functioning thyroid.
  • Goiter and lack of iodine. Lack of iodine is the leading reason of hypothyroidism around the world. Thyroid cells are the only ones in the body that can absorb iodine so if we lack this vital mineral, our thyroid can become enlarged (a goiter) in order to absorb as much iodine as possible.
  • Stress! (you knew that was coming too right *wink*). When we’re stressed, as in the shitty boss breathing down our necks or the venti latte we drank hurriedly this morning, our adrenals pump out a bunch of cortisol to help us deal with that stress. Unfortunately, high cortisol affects your hypothalamus and pituitary (the thyroid bosses). This causes you to make less free T3 and more reverse T3, which blocks thyroid receptors. Boo.
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals. In particular, Bisphenol-A (BPA). This is a known endocrine disrupting hormone found in canned food linings and some plastic water bottles. It slows down your thyroid function by blocking thyroid receptors.
  • Chronic dieting/eating low fat foods. This is somewhat complicated because it involves the hormone leptin, a regulator of body weight and thyroid function. Chronic dieting and lots of low-fat foods can cause leptin resistance, which means leptin is no longer communicating with the hypothalamus correctly. Without proper communication from leptin, the hypothalamus thinks that you are in starvation mode. This slows down thyroid hormone production AND causes you to retain body fat (at all costs!). Double whammy!
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This is when your immune system develops antibodies against the cells in your thyroid that produce thyroid hormones, causing the cells to destruct (aka it attacks your thyroid). Over time, this process destroys your thyroid tissue, which leads to less thyroid hormone production. When your hypothalamus gets the message that your thyroid is slacking on the job, it tells the pituitary to produce more TSH to stimulate the thyroid. This is why TSH is high with hypothyroidism. Eventually, your thyroid can’t keep up with demand and you start to become fatigued, you put on weight and you lose your cool way more often. To assess for this condition, a doctor must run the TPO antibody test, to measure the level of antibodies in the thyroid tissue.

Causes of Hyperthyroid

  • The most common cause of hyperthyroidism worldwide is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. Just like Hashimoto’s, it has a specific antibody test called the thyroglobulin antibody test.
  • Inflammation of the thyroid or thyroiditis can cause the thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormone. Symptoms include pain over the thyroid area, and obvious swelling of the thyroid.
  • Consuming too much iodine, or taking too much synthetic thyroid hormone to treat hypothyroidism, can swing the thyroid into hyperthyroid mode.

Natural Solutions For Hypothyroidism

If you are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism you don’t need to wait for tests to start taking action. Here are a couple of things to get you started.

  • Get off gluten. Gluten sensitivity or celiac disease (full blown gluten allergy!) can cause serious intestinal issues like leaky gut syndrome. This causes undigested food particles to “leak” out of the gut lining and allows them to wreak havoc on the immune system. It appears that celiac sufferers are much more likely to have Hashimoto’s, the auto-immune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid. Get tested for gluten sensitivity and remove gluten from your diet if you have a sensitivity or allergy.
  • Check your Vitamin D levels. Don’t underestimate the power of vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D actually blocks T3 production. You should test your D levels at least once a year to make sure you are not deficient. Your levels should be 75-90 mg/mL but I am finding many women in the 20-30 range (myself included!). Expose your arms and legs to sun for 20 minutes a day and supplement with 2000IU a day if you feel you need additional support.
  • Increase your intake of good fat and cut out this low-fat nonsense. As you now know, starvation diets wreak havoc on leptin levels and thyroid function. We need adequate fat and cholesterol in order to make pregnenolone, which makes our sex hormones, in particular progesterone. As I described above, we need adequate progesterone for optimal thyroid function.
  • Reduce goitrogenic foods. Weird word isn’t it? Goitrogens are compounds found in many foods, in particular the Brassica family of vegetables, that can cause the thyroid to malfunction. Think kale, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard greens etc. Cruciferous vegetables have gotten a bad rap for people with thyroid issues. What we’ve since learned is that, as long as iodine levels in the body are adequate, the benefits far outweigh the harm. The thing is, iodine levels tend to be low in people who have low thyroid function. Lightly cooking these vegetables reduces their goitrogenic effect by about a third. You may even want to limit them to 2-3 times a week if you are diagnosed as hypothyroid, or you notice your symptoms becoming worse in conjunction with eating these foods.
  • Have some Brazil nuts. Three Brazil nuts a day is enough to get the recommended amount of selenium, a trace mineral that the body needs to convert T4 to T3, the active form of thyroid hormone. Selenium is also needed to increase glutathione, an antioxidant made by the body that keeps the immune system, and particularly the thyroid antibodies, under control.  For maximum benefits, always buy organic Brazil nuts and soak them overnight in spring water.
  • Stop exercising so hard. This relates back to the stress factor. If we are working out too hard/too much, our adrenals might interpret this as a sign of stress or danger. When our adrenals sense danger they automatically go into cortisol production overdrive. Remember, cortisol inhibits the production of valuable thyroid hormone. So we end up having the opposite effect than we thought, we don’t lose weight as easily or we put on weight (aarrgh!).
  • Seriously reduce your exposure to chemicals by using a water filter (shower, kitchen or whole house), natural body care and home care products. This is a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many chemical-laden products you are exposed to on a daily basis. These include the chlorinated chemical compounds, such as PCBs, dioxins, and flame retardants, as well as  xenoestrogens like BPA and phthalates. All of these chemicals bind to cells in our immune and endocrine systems, as well as the delicate tissue in our thyroid glands, damaging their function. Radiation and electromagnetic frequency or EMF are also just as harmful. The most studied thyroid disrupting heavy metals include mercury, cadmium and lead. Heavy metals disrupt thyroid function in a number of ways: they interfere with iodine uptake into the thyroid, they mess with the conversion of T4 to T3, and they block thyroid receptors from receiving thyroid hormone.

Natural Solutions For Hyperthyroidism

When diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or dealing with it’s symptoms, it can feel beyond frustrating. Just know that this condition is treatable and there is a lot you can do.

  • Go crazy on the cruciferous veggies! Cruciferous veggies contain goitrogens, which are compounds that suppress thyroid hormone production. Broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage and a whole host of other veggies are included in this list. I usually have to tell people to limit these foods so if you’re dealing with hyperthyroidism then today is your lucky day!
  • Start to cut back or cut out stimulants. Caffeine and sugar can cause or worsen anxiety, nervousness, irritability and insomnia so do yourself a favor and remove them from your diet. If you love your coffee too much to part with it then try decaf or try an alternative like Dandy Blend or Teeccino.
  • Reduce thyroid antibodies by reducing inflammation in your gut. This goes for Hypo and Hyper because Hashimoto’s and Grave’s are autoimmune diseases in which your immune system attacks your thyroid. 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and many women with thyroid issues also have gut problems – gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea etc. Not a coincidence! It therefore makes sense to reduce anything that will adversely affect your gut and ultimately your immune system.

How to reduce thyroid antibodies:

  • Try an elimination diet. Gluten, refined sugar, dairy, soy and corn are common culprits. Keep track of what you are eliminating and how you and your digestive tract feel.
  • Introduce probiotic-rich foods and/or a probiotic pill. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kim-chi rebuild healthy gut bacteria, while helping to push out the bad bacteria that can sometimes take over. A probiotic pill taken daily is also a good idea too.
  • Stop the stressing. You know when you feel nervous your stomach has butterflies. That’s the mind/body connection right there. Our digestive tract is the first thing that shuts down when we’re stressed, this is because it’s not needed for immediate survival when we’re in fight or flight mode! So seriously, do whatever you need to do to deal lower your stress response. Your health and life depend on it.

Additional Solutions

If you want even more solid solutions to address your thyroid/adrenal/reproductive issues then take my quiz to determine which of my programs is right for you. Each of my programs has a module that breaks down how your thyroid functions, the causes of thyroid problems, as well as my thyroid healing protocol to help you get your thyroid humming along again!

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Medical Disclaimer

Information in this post and on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. The information is a result of practice experience and research by the author. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.

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