Are you aware that 80% of the population will experience thyroid problems “Hypothyroidism” over their lifetime? Women are particularly at risk due to their higher oestrogen levels. Common signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid function include increased weight, feeling cold in your extremities (especially hands and feet), low mood, poor memory, stiffness in joints, muscle cramps, bumping into things, irregular periods, heavy menses, wanting to sleep more than usual and feeling tired and fatigued. If you have three or more of these symptoms you may have a thyroid problem.

The most common causes of thyroid dysfunction:Hypothyroidism

  • Nutritional deficiencies, including iodine and selenium deficiencies
  • Antibodies, auto-immune problems
  • Heavy metal toxicity including mercury and cadmium poisoning
  • Surgery, some drugs and radiation

There are many other contributing factors to low levels of thyroid hormone:

  • Thyroid hormone synthesis can be inhibited by high cortisol levels
  • High oestrogen levels inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis
  • Hyperinsulinemia affects the levels of free thyroid hormone
  • Peripheral conversion of T4 to T3 requires adequate hepatic, renal and mitochondrial function: environmental factors such as PCBs in plastic, growth hormones in foods, xenoestrogens in cosmetics and personal care products and halides including chlorine, bromide, fluoride can therefore contribute to thyroid problems

Testing for Hypothyroidism

Doctors will routinely order T4 and TSH hormone tests. These tests determine what is circulating around the system and can be affected by many things, time in a women’s menstrual cycle, stress levels and time of the day.

Improving your thyroid health

There are many things we can do ourselves to improve our thyroid health, as the thyroid gland is very responsive to stress. We need to manage our stress levels. Making some active lifestyle changes can be very beneficial. If high stress levels are pushing up cortisol levels and adversely affecting thyroid function then exercise, relaxation, meditation and correcting work-life balance are desirable. It is important we get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night, if possible. If we struggle with this try some herbal teas, for example passionflower or valerian. I suggest gentle exercise such as yoga or walking if energy levels are low.

Whilst iodine is the key nutrient for the thyroid, it is essential to provide other nutrients for thyroid health. Many people need to increase their protein intake and ensure 3-4 serves of dietary protein each day. This provides the amino acid tyrosine, which helps with peripheral conversion of thyroid hormone. Good sources include meat, fish, seafood, legumes, tofu, lentils and other legumes and dairy products.

If you are suffering from an underactive thyroid gland it is important to limit or remove unfermented soya foods (milk, tofu) and raw cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cress, kale and bok choy) in your diet. These interfere with the formation of thyroid hormone. Fermented soya products such as miso and tempeh are beneficial for the thyroid and properly cooked cruciferous vegetables are also ok.

By Tina Gale


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