The thyroid is a butterfly- shaped gland in the neck that’s responsible for many hormones, affecting the functioning of the whole body. Underactive thyroid, or hypoactive thyroid, is very common in the UK, particularly in women, with 15 in 1000 having a diagnosable condition.
When the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, many symptoms can arise, including: weight gain, low energy, hair thinning, poor sex drive, low bone density, mood disturbances, poor circulation, menstrual irregularities, and fertility issues. Yet, sometimes these symptoms can arise, with regular test results appearing normal.
Doctors usually only test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in order to determine thyroid health, but this doesn’t always give us the full picture, as we really want to be assessing whether the thyroid hormone is getting where it needs to, and if there are any other issues in question. This is why I always like clients to check their TSH together with Free T4, Free T3 and thyroid antibodies. Additionally, doctors TSH ranges are slightly different from that of nutritional therapists. In terms of fertility, I want to see a TSH of between 1 and 2. Anything above 2.5 and I’d be wanting to do some thyroid support!
As well as thyroid medication, which can be very effective in certain situations, as a nutritional therapist I want to be focusing on the food side of things to help bring down the levels.
Thyroid issues, especially autoimmune thyroid conditions (where the immune system essentially attacks the thyroid gland), are commonly linked with intestinal permeability, in which gluten plays a massive role. It can also cause gut inflammation, ultimately preventing the absorption of key nutrients to protect the thyroid. Please note that if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition, it may be worth screening for coeliac disease, as the two are likely to be found together.
Gluten grains include: Wheat, barley, spelt, rye and some oats can be cross contaminated with gluten too so watch out for those.
Opt for starches in the form of veggies i.e. squashes, sweet potato, carrots, and consider a gut protocol if you have digestive issues alongside this.
Cook Your Greens
Leafy green veg and other brassicas like cauliflower contain goitrogens, which can block iodine uptake in the thyroid (iodine is essential for thyroid function, but there’s a careful balance between not having enough and having too little). Ensuring you cook your veggies is a great way of reducing these irritating substances, so put away your raw kale salads and spinach juices, and opt for a nice helping of steamed veg instead!
Soy contains the isoflavones daidzein, genistein and glycitein, which can block activity of an enzyme called thyroid peroxidase (TPO), which again affects iodine production and therefore reduces thyroid output. It’s best avoided all together with thyroid issues, including soy sauce, tofu, soy milk and yoghurt, and edamame.
Have Regular Meals
Balancing blood sugar is essential for adrenal health and preventing the body from having a stress response. If the blood sugar dips too low, or the body thinks it’s starving, which can send messages to our adrenals that something just isn’t right. As the adrenals are so intricately linked with the thyroid, we want to make sure we support them as best as possible, so skipping meals and fasting is not an option. Eat within an hour of waking, and keep feeding yourself at regular intervals!
Cut Down the Caffeine
Similarly to above, caffeine can stimulate cortisol production, in turn negatively affecting the adrenals. Additionally, with autoimmune thyroid conditions, there can be a cross reactivity with gluten, dairy and caffeine (linked to intestinal permeability), so removing these three trigger foods is an important place to start. Try swapping your coffee for roasted chicory or dandelion blends!
Environmental toxins can wreck havco with the thyroid, and whilst it’s not always an option to move to the beach and out of the London air, you can definitely start by removing hazards from your direct environment. Opt for natural skincare, beauty, cleaning products and avoid plastics like BPA as these all contain toxins that disrupt hormone functioning. For makeup I love Content Beauty, for house hold bits I opt for Method products, and I always try and cook with stainless steel and store my water in a stainless steel flask!
Focus on Important Nutrients
The thyroid needs B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iodine and magnesium to function effectively. Whilst these nutrients can be readily obtained through your veggies, sometimes a therapeutic dose is needed to bring up the levels higher in the body. I’d avoid supplementing with iodine unless you know you’re deficient though as it can sometimes cause more issues, especially with autoimmune conditions.
If you suspect that you have thyroid issues, it’s always a good idea to work with a practitioner to uncover the root cause of why these problems developed in the first place. Additionally, if you want more information on comprehensive thyroid testing, please get in touch !