Ongoing Fatigue, Brain Fog, Depression; Could It Be Your Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front of your neck just below the Adam’s apple. It is a powerful gland, it effects every cell in your body.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid vary from person to person. Common symptoms of a sluggish thyroid can include ongoing fatigue, depression, hair loss, a feeling of puffiness in the face, voice changes, constipation, heart palpitations, intolerance to cold, menstrual problems, high cholesterol, low sex drive, infertility and constipation. Symptoms of an over functioning thyroid can overlap with some of underactive symptoms but also commonly include anxiety, weight loss, inability to sleep, excessive sweating, and a rapid heartbeat. Often this is diagnosed at Graves Disease.
Thyroid issues are much more common in woman than men, in the U.K. it is estimated that at least one in eight woman will develop a thyroid disorder. In the States it is estimated that 40% of the population may experience thyroid disorders in their lifetime. An underactive thyroid is much more common than an overactive thyroid so for the purpose of this article I will focus mainly on nutritional hypothyroid advice.
So what causes the thyroid gland to go out of balance and what can you do?
Inflammation. When the thyroid gland becomes inflamed it is usually because the immune system has produced antibodies to attack the thyroid gland. This condition is autoimmune and is called Hashimoto’s. There are many things that can cause the inflammation such as viruses, heavy metals, food sensitivities or inflammation that has begun elsewhere such as in the gut.
Some powerful anti-inflammatory foods include berries, turmeric, flaxseed, ginger, wild caught salmon, walnuts, pineapple, coconut oil, chia seeds, and green leafy vegetables to name a few.
On the topic of food sensitivities (cover your ears bread lovers) gluten is one of the first things I would remove from the diet in anyone with an underactive thyroid or hashimoto’s. There is a well-established link between gluten and poor thyroid function. Many people quickly see brain fog and fatigue alleviate when gluten is removed from the diet.
Soy is okay but not everyday and not in large quantities. Be sure it is organic and is best in the form of tofu or tempeh. This can be a particularly good source of phytoestrogens for perimenopausal woman and a source of protein for vegans.
Refined sugar is a major hormone disruptor and can impact thyroid function. It is best to get your ‘sugar’ source from fruits. Many people present with hypoglycaemia symptoms in the early stages of hashimoto’s. A recent study has also shown that people with blood sugar disorders are three times more likely to develop a thyroid disorder. Refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (think cakes, pastries, white bread, pasta…mainly white or beige foods) raise cortisol levels which interfere with the conversion of T4 to its active form, T3.
Lacking key nutrients in the diet. For thyroid function, selenium, iron and iodine are in the spotlight. These three nutrients play a vital role in thyroid function and are often lacking in our diets due to poor food choices but also because they now lack in the soil we grow our food in. It is important to have these nutrients tested by a Nutritional Therapist or other healthcare professional before you supplement. The best sources of selenium are fish (especially cod, tuna, and salmon), brazil nuts, eggs, beans and mushrooms. Iodine is mainly found in seafoods such as kelp and cod, but also found in tuna, eggs and iodized salt.
Vitamin A, zinc, tyrosine, vitamin D, and B12 play key roles too. If you are vegan or vegetarian you are more likely to be low in B12, iron and vitamin D so it is important to get these nutrient levels checked. It can be helpful to take a quality multimineral supplement, I like life drink by Terranova and multivitamin formulas from Innate Response.
Stress is a major driver of many diseases and thyroid is no exception. Graves’ disease commonly develops after a significantly stressful period. Chronic emotional stress can result in ongoing raised levels of cortisol, this can disrupt the production of thyroid hormones. I recommend tai chi, yoga, meditation (headspace and calm are excellent app’s), deep breathing, getting out in nature, what option is best for you is unique. Ashwaghanda is an excellent herb for particularly stressful times, it can help lower cortisol. It helps the body cope with stress without stimulating you. 500-1000mg in divided doses is best.
Goitrogen foods. Readers who have had their share of thyroid problems may be familiar with this term. Goitrogens are foods such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and collard greens. They effect thyroid hormone production, but if you cook or steam them they don’t have the same negative effects on thyroid function as when eaten raw. You can eat them raw but in smaller quantities.
Consider putting a filter on your tap and avoid toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride has a similar chemical structure to iodine and so can block iodine receptors interfering with thyroid hormones production.
Pregnancy. Pregnant woman have an increase in thyroid hormone production but sometimes after giving birth a dramatic decline can occur and last anywhere from 12-18 months. Sometimes these symptoms can be similar to postpartum depression. The cause of the sudden dip in thyroid hormones is unknown.
A final word on our butterfly shaped gland. The trigger and drivers for thyroid imbalances are varied from person to person and therefore so are the treatments. If you suspect a thyroid issue it is important to first see your GP and then a Nutritional Therapist.
Some GP’s will test for TSH and T4 whilst others may also test for antibodies and free T3. It is crucial to have all of these tested to understand where the malfunction is occurring, and thus how to tailor a plan to support healing. You can have these tests done privately.
There is not a ‘cure’ for hypothyroidism or hashimoto’s. However, through decreasing inflammation, addressing possible triggers, balancing hormones, and providing your body with the vital nutrients it requires to produce thyroid hormones you can greatly help alleviate symptoms by boosting thyroid function.