If you have a thyroid condition like hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease or suspect you have one, you are not alone. Recent studies indicate that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition of one type or another. Of those, as many as 50% are undiagnosed!
Thyroid conditions are also most common in women and people over 50 and sometimes get mischaracterized as “just menopause” because they are often associated with symptoms like fatigue and memory impairment, weight gain and muscle and joint pain and weakness. We have actually had client’s menopausal symptoms completely clear up simply by improving their thyroid hormone levels.
We write about the thyroid a lot because of the countless women we’ve helped to lose weight, gain energy and clear their brain fog, many were told by their doctor there was either nothing wrong in the first place, or that they would have to be on medication for the rest of their lives.
Whether you suspect you have a thyroid condition, have been recently diagnosed with one or simply want to know what more you can do about it, here are five things you can do:
I know we’ve discussed this at length before but it’s something we feel very strongly about and it’s worth repeating. TSH alone is not a reliable indicator of your thyroid health. It continues to be the only thing many doctors use to determine if you have a thyroid condition or not. At a minimum, it’s important to see your TSH, T4, T3 and TPO (used to identify if you have an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s). By the way, we can run this test for you if you like.
Part of the problem with relying on testing TSH with your doctor is that in Canada at least, there is too wide of an ‘acceptable’ range for TSH levels (sometimes up to 4) . In reality though, a result of 1 to 2.5 is considered to be more optimal and where you won’t experience symptoms. Because of that, you could be experiencing symptoms of low thyroid but not getting flagged by your doctor because you are technically within the normal range.
TSH alone also doesn’t tell us if your body can convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active T3 and doesn’t tell us how well your cells are using thyroid hormones. This is likely one of the reasons why it’s estimated that about one third of women taking Synthroid or Levothyroxine still experience hypothyroid symptoms.
Those with hypothyroidism often experience heartburn, bloating, constipation and indigestion. Leaky gut and dysbiosis can cause inflammation throughout the body and not only does inflammation make your thyroid condition worse, but they are thought to be linked to the development of autoimmune conditions.
Interestingly, studies have found that Hashimoto’s patients exhibit gut dysbiosis, meaning their gut bacterial composition is significantly different from the controls.
Even if you don’t have the typical digestive symptoms, if you feel puffy, inflamed, tired and foggy brained, or have an autoimmune condition, it is worth supporting your gut health.
We will always work with our clients to identify and address the root cause of their gut issues, but one of the things that implement right away is to improve your “digestive juices”, like stomach acid, enzymes and bile. These help you break down the food you eat to reduce bloating, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea and ensure that there is less undigested food for the “bad” bacteria to eat.
To do this, start with a glass of lemon water (½ lemon, juiced in 1 cup water) or apple cider vinegar (1-2 oz diluted in water) about 15 minutes before your meals. If you find this isn’t strong enough you can also try digestive bitters. We really like St. Francis Herb Farm Canadian Bitters. Some people benefit from digestive enzymes, supplemental stomach acid (HCl) and bile, which your nutritionist can recommend if needed.
In general, an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and minimal processed foods and sugar goes a long way with hypothyroidism. There are certain foods however, that studies have found to have a significant impact on hypothyroidism. One of those foods is gluten!
Gluten activates a protein called zonulin, which can lead to leaky gut. Leaky gut, as we outlined above, leads to inflammation and chronic inflammation can make your thyroid condition worse and put you at risk of developing an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s. The other concern with gluten is that the protein structure of gluten closely resembles the protein structure of the thyroid tissue, so studies suggest that continuing to eat gluten can actually lead your body to mistakenly attack the cells of the thyroid, making symptoms of Hashimoto’s much worse.
The rates of Celiac disease are estimated to be 4x higher in those with Hashimoto's.
A 6 month study on 34 women with Hashimoto's found that a gluten-free diet reduced thyroid autoimmunity & improved thyroid hormone levels.
We happen to be experts at going gluten-free. If you’d like additional support with this for meal planning or recipe guidance, click here.
Thyroid function has been shown to slow down with stress. Stress also negatively impacts the conversion of T4 to T3 which impacts your thyroid function.
It’s safe to say that when we look at body systems, your thyroid works in tandem with your adrenals. In fact, it’s estimated that 80% of people with adrenal dysfunction have thyroid dysfunction and vice versa! To support your thyroid you have to address adrenal imbalances (if they exist) because this alone can often improve your thyroid hormone levels.
While there are a number of ways to calm down, one impressive herb that we often use to support the adrenals, balance stress hormone levels and support the thyroid, is ashwagandha, or withania somnifera. There have been several human and animal trials that have shown that ashwagandha can improve stress and thyroid hormone levels. One small but really impressive study in particular found that ashwagandha improved T4, T3 and TSH after both 4 and 8 week periods. Like all herbs and nutrients, ashwagandha should only be included under the guidance of your practitioner, but we’ve definitely found it to be effective with clients.
If you have Hashimoto’s or another autoimmune condition, or simply feel frustrated and fed up that nothing you’ve tried is working, the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) is an impressive protocol that might be right for you. The AIP diet is a short-term diet and lifestyle plan that aims to calm inflammation in the body, helping to relieve your symptoms and give your body a chance to heal.
In a 2019 study, 17 women with Hashimoto’s were placed on AIP by transitioning gradually over 6 weeks, followed by a 4-week maintenance phase. Patients experienced a statistically significant improvement in health-related quality of life scores & significant reductions in inflammatory markers.
If we ever have a client do AIP, we make sure to give them detailed recipes and meal plans so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. What we love about AIP though is the incredible results it produces.
Thyroid symptoms are not something you have to live with. There is a lot you can do to heal naturally and get back to feeling like yourself. Just remember that there is no one size fits all when it comes to your health. Working with a nutritionist at HEAL will ensure you are identifying and addressing the root cause of your thyroid condition in order to make a lasting difference in how you feel.