It starts out innocently enough: You’re feeling fatigued, but you chalk it up to being busier at work. Feeling a little down? You tell yourself that we can all get down when we’re tired.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a spare tire around your middle. And you’re losing hair. Your doctor explains that both are “just part of getting older.” But taken together, this cluster of symptoms can mean that your thyroid is under-functioning (hypothyroidism).
The nice thing (if there is a nice thing about hypothyroidism) is that these symptoms no longer need to be viewed as silos needing separate treatment. Manage the hypothyroidism, and you can likely see improvement across the board.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck and it’s the boss of our endocrine (hormonal) system. It’s nicknamed “the master gland of metabolism” and I like to call it the spoon that stirs our hormonal soup.
The thyroid’s job is to absorb iodine and combine it with the amino acid tyrosine. It then converts this combination into T3 and T4, the two most important thyroid hormones, with T3 being the most biologically active.
Every cell has receptors for these hormones. They’re not only responsible for metabolism and energy, but also directly affect the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive and cardiovascular systems and influence bone metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, gallbladder and liver function, steroid hormone production, glucose metabolism, and body temperature regulation.
Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction
There are a few common signs that something’s going on with your thyroid, including:
- Weight gain/weight loss resistance
- Hair loss, including outer third of eyebrows
- Dry skin
- Dry, wiry hair (“thyroid hair”)
- Difficulty thermo-regulating (feeling cold)
- Brain fog
- Poor reflexes
Some lesser known (but no less annoying) symptoms include:
- Pronounced morning fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Edema/fluid retention (mostly around eyes/face)
- Frequent infections
- Other hormonal imbalances (primarily adrenal and reproductive)
- Low libido
- Being stiff and achy upon waking
- Dry mouth
- Gravely voice
- Premature greying
- Infertility, including miscarriages
- Severe PMS
- High cholesterol
What Causes Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism in the form of Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism) is not only the most common form of thyroid dysfunction (representing an estimated 90% of hypothyroid cases), but Hashimoto’s is also the most common autoimmune disorder. It’s estimated that 30 million women alone have Hashimoto’s.
Many doctors claim that hypothyroidism is caused by iodine deficiency, but this tells a small part of the story. Other causes of hypothyroidism as well as the autoimmune component include exposure to environmental toxins (including heavy metals and pesticides), unrelenting stress, adrenal dysfunction, systemic inflammation, and nutritional deficiencies.
Nutrition for the Thyroid
Whether you’re on thyroid hormone replacement or not, addressing your diet is critical for managing hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. Eating minimally processed foods with naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients is one of the best ways to support the thyroid – and immune system.
The standard American diet (SAD) that consists of refined sugars, genetically modified foods, artificial additives and sweeteners, toxic oils, and antibiotic and hormone-laden foods cause oxidative stress, which affects how our cells communicate. When you consider that every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone, it’s easy to understand how a nutrient-deficient diet can interrupt this cellular communication.
So, I spent many weeks going cross-eyed, geeking out on the most thyroid- and immune-supportive nutrition and then identifying foods high in those nutrients. This rigorous research and sophisticated ranking system became the “nutritional springboard” for my upcoming cookbook, The Essential Thyroid Cookbook.
This first-of-its-kind resource will leave no doubt in your mind that our recipes are uniquely beneficial to your thyroid and immune system. Our research is presented in the educational component, but you don’t have to geek out with us. You’re welcome to jump right to our delicious, mouthwatering recipes! They’ll support you for a lifetime of peak thyroid function no matter where you are on your wellness journey.
Jill Grunewald, HNC, is an integrative nutrition and hormone coach and best selling author of The Essential Thyroid Cookbook.