The thyroid gland makes hormones that help to control many of the body’s metabolic processes such as metabolic rate, basal temperature, blood pressure and weight. It is a very important little gland and if it is not working well, a person can feel somewhat deflated and unwell.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF THYROID DISEASE
There are a few different things that can go wrong with the thyroid. Frank nutrient deficiencies such as a lack of iodine in the diet can lead to the thyroid not having the building blocks it needs to produce the thyroid hormone, leading to the body having an inadequate supply. Other nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, iron, tyrosine, selenium, vitamins E, B2, B3, B6, C and D can also have a detrimental effect on thyroid production, the conversion from inactive to active thyroid hormone and the protection of the thyroid gland from an autoimmune attack.
Lifestyle factors such as high stress levels, lack of or too much exercise, trauma, low calorie diets, toxin and heavy metal exposure, pregnancy, ageing, medications and genetics can also affect how well the thyroid works and what the body does with the thyroid hormone after it has been produced.
When the thyroid isn’t working well you can become either hypothyroid (not enough thyroid hormone in the body) or hyperthyroid (too much thyroid hormone in the body). When you don’t have enough thyroid hormone, everything slows down. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Fatigue (all of the time)
- Lack of motivation to cook, exercise, work etc.
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling of joints
- Heavy, irregular menstrual periods
- Slower heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Enlarged thyroid gland ( a swelling at the front of the neck known as a goiter)
SIGNS OF HYPERTHYROIDISM
When you have too much thyroid hormone in your blood everything speeds up. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism includes:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Rapid, irregular heartbeat and palpitations
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor in hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- More frequent bowel movements and diarrhoea
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
- Bulging, dry, red or swollen eyes
The thyroid is also prone to an autoimmune attack. Autoimmunity means that the body’s immune system gets confused and starts attacking body parts. Autoimmune conditions are quite common and can be driven by gut disorders, food allergies and intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, genetics, stress etc. The 2 autoimmune conditions that affect the thyroid are Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Grave’s disease is caused by an immune system attack on the thyroid leading to the excess production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland and can lead to the hyperthyroid symptoms listed above (sometimes closely followed by the hypothyroid symptoms as the thyroid is destroyed). Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is caused by an immune system attack on the thyroid that eventually damages and destroys the thyroid and leads to its inability to produce enough thyroid to fully support the body’s processes. Symptoms are consistent with the hypothyroid list as above. From a medical point of view, the thyroid will be monitored and replacement hormone provided to offset the loss of the natural hormone when levels get below a certain baseline. From a nutritional medicine point of view, there are many diet and lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce and even eradicate thyroid antibodies, and support the thyroid back to full health.
If I suspect a client has a struggling thyroid, I will ask their GP to run a full thyroid profile blood test which will provide a measure of all of the factors that may affect the thyroid including antibodies. I will also check for nutrient deficiencies, but most important of all, check for symptoms. If a person has normal bloods they may also have sub-clinical hypothyroidism whereby it is not showing up in bloods (which is a one point measure), but they have all the symptoms. Usually providing all of the important thyroid nutrients at this stage will lead to improvements in health.