When you first got your thyroid diagnosis from your doctor, you were probably full of questions and desperate to know how and why this happened to you! Your doctor probably reassured you that thyroid dysfunction is just something that happens to a lot of people, particularly women, and told you that the solution to your thyroid issues lies in a small daily pill that will be prescribed to you for the rest of your life, containing synthetic thyroid hormones.
Any symptoms that continued once you started taking your thyroid medication, such as depression, anxiety, sore/stiff joints, hair loss, dry skin, constipation (all symptoms of thyroid dysfunction!) are dealt with separately and not considered relevant to your thyroid diagnosis or medication.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are five facts about thyroids that many thyroid experts think are myths:
1. TSH is not a reliable test for thyroid function.
The standard test on the NHS for thyroid dysfunction is TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and Free T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone). TSH is actually a hormone released by the pituitary gland to instruct the thyroid to work, not a thyroid hormone!
This test doesn’t tell us much at all about how well your thyroid is working because TSH doesn’t measure the hormones released by your thyroid, and even Free T4, which is a thyroid hormone, doesn’t tell us anything about how much Free T4 is converting into the active and useable form called Free T3. TSH doesn’t tell us whether you have autoimmune thyroiditis – Hashimoto’s disease or Graves disease – because it doesn’t test for the thyroid antibodies. TSH also doesn’t tell us why you have thyroid dysfunction because it doesn’t test for any of the co-factors required for thyroid function such as vitamin D, iron, B12, inflammation….
You can try asking your doctor to run a full set of thyroid tests (read more about what you need to ask for here) but it will depend where you live as to whether your doctor will be willing to do those tests. It is much easier to take control and do the test yourself, then take the results to your GP if necessary. I would highly recommend Blue Horizon Medicals who offer relatively inexpensive pin prick tests that you can complete yourself, in the comfort of your own home – my current recommendation on their site is the Thyroid Check Plus Eleven, which includes a substantial amount of information compared to your doctors test. The results might be a bit confusing to you, in which case you’ll need to book an appointment with a BANT registered nutritional therapist, who can take you through the results and create an nutrition plan for you.
2. Your thyroid needs to be nourished with the food you eat.
Your thyroid needs to be fuelled just like a car. If you’re not taking in the right fuel in the form of nutrients, then you won’t get good performance from your thyroid. Essential nutrients in your diet include adequate levels of protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, tempeh etc), iodine (seaweed is the best source, closely followed by fish), selenium (great sources include eggs and brazil nuts), zinc (in abundance in nuts and seeds). More nutrition advice regarding diet and thyroid can be found here.
3. Stress could be the cause of your thyroid dysfunction.
When we are under periods of stress our bodies rely on cortisol being produced by the adrenal glands to give us the energy to survive and continue. But excessively high or excessively low cortisol levels caused by chronic stress (long work hours, busy lives, juggling our work/life balance etc.) are a sign of adrenal dysfunction/adrenal fatigue, and can prevent the conversion of inactive T4 to active T3, and subsequently affect the amount of T3 absorbed into your cells.
Managing your stress and accepting that you can’t do everything is the key to repairing your adrenal glands and rebalancing your cortisol levels. Learn to say “no” if you’re too busy already, and look for help if you can’t say “no” to everything.
4. Thyroid issues can affect your fertility and/or increase miscarriage risk.
Your thyroid regulates your menstrual cycle, and controls fertility. If you’ve been having any menstrual irregularities or difficulties conceiving, make sure you get your thyroid checked out and work with a BANT registered nutritional therapist to get it working optimally again BEFORE you try to get pregnant.
If you’re on thyroid medication and already pregnant, make sure you tell you doctor so that they can test your thyroid and adjust your medication accordingly – pregnancy requires up to 50% more thyroid medication!
5. Toxins in your everyday environment can affect your thyroid.
Iodide (that essential thyroid nutrient from point 2 above) competes in the body with other ions such as bromine, and chlorine. If you drink unfiltered tap water, eat non-organic foods that have been sprayed with pesticides, use fluoridated toothpaste, spend a lot of your day breathing in traffic fumes, or regularly swim in chlorinated public swimming pools, then there is a high chance the fluoride, bromine and chlorine that you’re consuming without realising is going to be displacing the iodine from all the fish and seaweed you’ve been eating. And without iodine, your thyroid can’t function.
Take a good look at your everyday environment, and start making changes today – perhaps a water filter jug at home, increasing the amount of organic produce you purchase, avoiding overly-polluted streets (e.g. traffic jams in city centres!). If you swim in a swimming pool, there are some theories that showering before entering the pool could prevent you absorbing as much chlorine as you would if you didn’t shower first.
Have a great week!