The thyroid system plays a critical role in your metabolism. Along with insulin and cortisol, your thyroid hormone is one of the big three hormones that control your metabolism and weight.
The key is the right testing to confirm that a sluggish thyroid is contributing to a stalled metabolism and other problems. Once you know this for sure, there are many ways to help correct thyroid problems.
There are so many reasons for low thyroid function, yet I see many patients whose doctors have ignored this problem. One young female patient had more than 30 percent body fat and was unable to change her body, no matter how hard she worked. She ate perfectly and exercised with a trainer every day, yet her body wouldn’t budge. She also had a slightly depressed mood and other vague symptoms.
I treated her with a low dose of a natural thyroid replacement. What happened?
Well, she lost 20 pounds and improved her body composition and mood. And all of her other symptoms went away.
How did I know she and other patients had low thyroid function? I asked about symptoms, performed a physical exam and considered potential causes of thyroid problems. Then I do the right tests.
Most doctors just check something called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which doesn’t give a full picture of the thyroid. In fact, even the interpretation of this test is incorrect most of the time.
Correcting these problems requires an integrative approach. It involves more than simply taking a thyroid pill. As you’ll see, it involves nutritional support, exercise, stress reduction, supplements, reducing inflammation, and sometimes eliminating certain foods and detoxification from heavy metals (such as mercury and lead) and petrochemical toxins (such as pesticides and PCBs).
To integrate all of these elements and create a successful set of techniques to cope with your thyroid problems, I recommend these six strategies.
Strategy 1: Eliminate the causes of thyroid problems
Carefully consider things that may interfere with your thyroid function and eliminate them. As you will see, there are a good many things that can impede optimal thyroid function.
Diet is a good place to begin. Certain foods have developed a reputation for playing a role in thyroid dysfunction, but this reputation isn’t necessarily connected to the latest scientific evidence.
Strategy 2: Regular exercise and saunas
Exercise stimulates thyroid gland secretion and increases tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormones throughout the body. Ideally, you will want to sweat and the exercise should be vigorous.
Besides being an excellent way to relax your muscles and your mind, saunas or steam baths are a good way to flush your system of pesticides that could be contributing to your thyroid problem.
Strategy 3: Eat foods that provide nutritional support for your thyroid and avoid those that don’t
Every step on your road to healing and weight loss depends on proper nutrition and using food to communicate the right information to your genes. Treating your thyroid is no exception.
Choose foods that offer nutritional support for your thyroid. The production of thyroid hormones requires iodine and omega-3 fatty acids; converting the inactive T4 to the active T3 requires selenium; and both the binding of T3 to the receptor on the nucleus and switching it on require vitamins A and D, as well as zinc. You will find these nutrients in a whole-food, clean, organic diet.
Thyroid-boosting foods include seaweed and sea vegetables, which contain iodine. Fish (especially sardines and salmon) contains iodine, omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Dandelion, mustard and other dark leafy greens contain vitamin A. Smelt, herring, scallops and Brazil nuts contain selenium.
Strategy 4: Use supplements that support your thyroid
Key nutrients for healthy thyroid function are included in my basic supplement recommendations, including a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains selenium, iodine, zinc, vitamins A and D, and omega 3 fats (fish oil).
One warning is that if your adrenal glands are burned out from long-term stress, treating the thyroid without supporting the adrenal glands through relaxation and adaptogenic herbs (such as ginseng, rhodiola, or Siberian ginseng) can actually make you feel worse.
I also recommend working with an experienced practitioner who can address individual nutrient needs for your thyroid and, if necessary, also your adrenal glands.
Strategy 5: Have your thyroid tested
There is no one perfect way, no one symptom nor test result, that will properly diagnose low thyroid function or hypothyroidism. The key is to look at the whole picture – your symptoms and your blood tests – and then decide.
Doctors typically diagnose thyroid problems by testing your TSH levels and sometimes your free T4 level. But some doctors and clinicians have brought the “normal” levels of those tests into question.
To get a complete picture, I recommend looking at a wider range of functions:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the ideal range is between 1 and 2 m IU/ ml
- Free T4 and free T3 (the inactive and the active hormone)
- Thyroid antibodies (TPO), looking for an autoimmune reaction that commonly goes undiagnosed if the other tests are normal, as doctors don’t routinely check this
- Thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation test
- A 24-hour urine test for free T3, which can be helpful in hard-to-diagnose cases
A physician experienced in ordering these tests and interpreting the results can provide a more comprehensive picture of how your thyroid is functioning.
If you think you have an undiagnosed thyroid problem, insist that your doctor perform these tests or find a doctor who will. They are essential to fill in the pieces of the puzzle standard tests don’t provide.
Strategy 6: Choose the Right Thyroid Hormone Replacement
Ultimately, to properly balance a thyroid that is severely out of balance, you will need to go on some type of thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
Altering your diet and your lifestyle will certainly help tremendously, but if your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, you may need to take some additional thyroid hormones to supplement its output. Knowing what’s available and what to ask about can empower you to make better decisions about your health.
Sometimes the only way to find out if you have a thyroid problem is a short trial of something like a thyroid medication for three months. If you feel better, your symptoms disappear and you lose weight, it’s the right choice. Once started, you needn’t take it for life.
Sometimes, once all the factors that disturbed your thyroid function have been corrected, you may be able to reduce or discontinue the dose. As with any treatment, always work with a physician experienced in using medications to treat your thyroid.
The bottom line is that you should never lose hope. Taking a proactive approach and working with a trained practitioner can correct many thyroid issues.