Are you cold, miserable, tired or putting on weight?
Hormones produced by the thyroid gland regulate the metabolism of every cell in the body. It is the equivalent to an accelerator pedal in our cars it can speed up processes or slow them down. If it starts to dysfunction you may develop some of the following symptoms.
Hypothyroid – under active
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– Persistent fatigue.
– You feel cold when others are comfortable, especially hands and feet.
– Frequent muscle cramps in calves, thighs and upper arms.
– Joint pain.
– Bruise easily.
– Gain weight for no known reason.
– Finger nails may split or break easily.
– Hair loss might occur or become thin and brittle.
Hyperthyroid – overactive
– You may feel increasingly nervous and anxious,
– Unintended weight loss
– Digestion might be an issue with frequent and loose bowel movements.
– Periods of hyperactivity and fatigue.
– Feeling very hot when those around are comfortable.
Underactive thyroid occurs more frequently than overactive, some experts suggest that 1-2% of the population (1-2 in 100 people) may develop an underactive thyroid gland. However it has been suggested this could be as high as 20-50% (20-50 in every 100 people). It is more common in women and occurs most frequently between the ages of 40 to 50.(1) With the menopause being linked to higher risk.
The majority of the hormone produced by the thyroid is called thyroxine (T4) this needs to be converted to a more active form called triiodithyroxine (T3) which is the form used by our cells. (2) This conversion may be hampered by various influences these include poor intake of nutrients and stress. When it is the conversion or uptake of T4 which is poor this may not show up with conventional blood testing.
It is always important to see your GP if you frequently have any of the symptoms listed above. However there are steps you can take to optimise thyroid function to help you sustain energy and maintain a healthy weight.
Certain nutrients are really important for optimal thyroid function these are the following:
– Zinc: found within nuts, whole wheat, oats, lamb chops, eggs and oysters.
– Selenium: Brazil nuts, meat and poultry. Eggs, seafood, seeds.
– Iodine: Salmon, sardines, sea vegetables such as kelp and dulse (not to be taken in excess) and in reduced amounts in eggs and milk.
– Vitamin A: Cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits including carrots, apricots, melon, papaya, nectarines, peaches and green leafy vegetables.
– Vitamin E: Nuts and seeds, almonds, olive oil, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
– Vitamin C: Peppers, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, water cress, cauliflower, strawberries, papaya, oranges, cabbage, lemon, romaine lettuce, kiwi, cantaloupe melon, tomatoes, asparagus.
– B vitamins: Whole grains, cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds, miso, liver, milk, eggs, fish and green leafy vegetables.
Also the amino acid tyrosine – Avocados, pumpkin and sesame seeds, cashew nuts, bananas and dairy products.
Other diet and lifestyle choices which may also influence thyroid function include:
– Extreme dieting may reduce function in an effort to preserve energy, possibly leading to a yoyo effect where weight is quickly gained after rapid loss.
– Moderate exercise stimulates the thyroid gland and increases tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormones.
– Some people react to gluten in wheat products by making antibodies these are believed to alter thyroid function. (3)
– When we are stressed, over exercise, are ill or get very hungry our body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Although needed for thyroid regulation when levels are persistently high or low thyroid function may reduce.(2)
It is therefore important to:
– Try to find time to relax and reduce your everyday stresses as much as possible.
– Do not exercise to excess.
– Eat at regular intervals.
– Try to moderate your intake of alcohol and if you smoke try to give up, as both of these have been shown to increase cortisol.
– Try to get a good night’s sleep, as disturbed or insufficient sleep can result in increased cortisol.
– Have a diet rich in the above nutrients, so a good intake of multi coloured vegetables, eggs, fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
– It may be worth avoiding gluten if you feel you may have an issue with it, or you have been diagnosed with elevated autoimmune thyroid antibodies. (3)
Note – It is believed a high intake of raw cruciferous vegetables which include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and kale may reduce thyroid hormone conversion. However lightly steaming these vegetables appears to solve this issue.
(2) Malik, R. Hodgson, H (2002) The relationship between the thyroid gland and the liver. QJM Pp559-569
(3) Pizzorno,L. Ferril, W. (2005) Clinical Approaches to Hormonal and Neuroendocrine Imbalances: A Functional Medicine Approach In: Jones,D.Quinn,S (eds) Textbook functional medicine. Gig Harbor. The Institute for Functional Medicine. Pp 644-650