My thyroid mistakes
....and how they could help someone you know.
Here’s how I got thyroid disease and made some big mistakes (before becoming a nutritionist!).
I think someone you know is going to find this story helpful - even if the thyroid seems a bit of a mystery to you right now. A few reasons:
Nearly 11% of Europeans and more than 12% of Americans have some kind of thyroid disorder. Potentially at least ten people of your acquaintance.
The thyroid gland, located in the front of your neck, is like the metronome of your whole body. Its hormones set the pace for how everything works. If the thyroid’s imbalanced, you might feel rushed into anxiety, or dragged down into fatigue.
Thyroid disorders are notoriously slow to be diagnosed.
Risks of untreated thyroid problems include cardiovascular disease, eye disease, and life-threatening thyroid storms.
Stress can trigger thyroid difficulties at any age.
Now, as a nutritionist, I love that when you work on specific nutrients and support the immune system, it may be possible to slow down the progression of thyroid problems. Some people can find their medications getting reduced, and some even go into remission.
But to get to this realisation, I had quite a journey. I hope my mistakes can provide a useful cautionary tale.
So, when you’re sitting comfortably, let’s begin.
Once upon a time, before my nutrition training, I couldn’t sleep properly for years and my energy fell off a cliff.
My doctor took some thyroid tests. I was told: your thyroid’s a little unbalanced, but that could be the effect of a passing virus. Come back later. Maybe take some anti-depressants and sleeping pills for the insomnia.
But instead of returning, I avoided the GP and worked with a nutritional therapist. And within a couple of months I was routinely sleeping through the night. No medications, no side effects. Great.
After my drug-free insomnia victory, the thought of ‘having a thyroid problem’, and being put on pills for life, was appalling. I wanted to avoid medical treatment!
Thus, my first big mistake.
Mistake 1: Avoiding treatment
Many people, like me, like to avoid pharmaceutical drugs where possible. And that is fine in certain circumstances.
But (as I learned the hard way) if you do have a diagnosed thyroid hormone imbalance, then you absolutely must take some kind of thyroid medication.
Why? Because when there is not enough thyroid hormone in the system, your body needs replacement hormones just to function properly. On the other hand, too much thyroid hormone drives the body too hard, and that can’t be left free-range either.
Either way, ignoring the problem risks exhausting the body, developing heart problems, and increasing systemic inflammation. Among many things.
In case you’re wondering if you or someone you know may have a thyroid issue, let me give you a table:
Two key thyroid imbalances, and some typical symptoms:
After ignoring my possible thyroid problem for a couple of years, I began to have digestive symptoms and also chronic fatigue. We had moved house by this time, and I had a new GP.
Mistake 2: General denial
This new GP looked at my thyroid tests and summoned me. My thyroid was definitely under-functioning.
Among the tests was one called Serum thyroid peroxidase antibody concentration, aka ‘TPO antibodies’. It came out very high. The report noted that TPO antibodies are ‘present in 80-95% of patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis’.
Nobody told me what ‘Hashimoto's’ actually was. But neither did I enquire! I was trying to brush the entire issue under the carpet.
Hashimoto's in my case simply meant autoimmune-driven hypothyroidism. I hoped I would be one of the lucky hypothyroid people who didn’t have whatever it was. Though perfectly obedient about the prescribed medicine, I was keen to come off it ASAP.
Hence my second classic thyroid mistake: I just hoped it would all go away.
I don’t know why, but this strange avoidance – lack of self-care, even – seems to be a frequent reaction amongst people with hypothyroid disorders.
We want to be well! We want to be strong, competent, and FINE, thanks very much! We don’t want to be ‘one of those people’ who get sick. We want to avoid any further focus on the thyroid. We want everything to get better by itself. That was my feeling, at any rate.
Meanwhile, we downplay that we’re frequently tired and can’t get as much done as we used to, or exercise as hard. We remind ourselves, we haven’t got all the typical hypothyroid symptoms.
We minimise the little rests we have to take, the sluggish digestion, the brain fog, or feeling the cold. You don’t need all of the clinical signs to have a thyroid that needs attention, or an already-treated thyroid that still needs help.
But me – I still didn’t want to admit it.
Let me pause at this point, and quickly recap:
How not to repeat my mistakes if you suspect a thyroid disorder
1. Don’t avoid your GP. Get a diagnosis if you can. If you have thyroid symptoms despite ‘normal’ blood results, you could ask to see an endocrinologist. Here’s a useful guide on getting a diagnosis.
If you can’t get a diagnosis, or you still feel unwell despite being told your tests are normal – I’m always up for a chat about how to navigate forward. I’m trained to parse thyroid tests, and can recommend private options if need be.
2. Don’t ignore your thyroid. Supporting good health alongside a thyroid disorder will require your time and attention.
And here is one final point:
Nutrition is especially important in thyroid disorders
If you have a thyroid disorder, you may benefit from nutrition support as well as prescriptions, since this may impact the progression of thyroid illness.
Also, working on the immune system may support and even radically alter thyroid health. These functional medicine approaches are typical of what I have trained in as a nutritionist.
So next time, I’ll talk more about the immune and nutrition aspects of thyroid health, and how they might help you or someone you know.
And perhaps my other pre-nutrition mistakes will also help navigate you, or someone you know, to happier thyroid health.
To your very good thyroid function,
Clare Backhouse, dipION
Registered Nutritionist MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC
References and resources
American Thyroid Association, 2020. General Information/Press Room/Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disease https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/
Ates, I., Altay, M., Yilmaz, F.M., Topcuoglu, C., Yilmaz, N., Berker, D., Guler, S., 2016. The impact of levothyroxine sodium treatment on oxidative stress in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Eur. J. Endocrinol. 174, 727–734. https://doi.org/10.1530/EJE-15-1061
Biondi, B., Cappola, A.R., Cooper, D.S., 2019. Subclinical Hypothyroidism: A Review. JAMA 322, 153–160. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.9052
British Thyroid Association, 2020. Information for Professionals and Patients https://www.british-thyroid-association.org/information-for-professionals-and-patients#patientinformation
British Thyroid Foundation, 2019. Your thyroid gland https://www.btf-thyroid.org/what-is-thyroid-disorder
Garmendia Madariaga, A., Santos Palacios, S., Guillén-Grima, F., Galofré, J.C., 2014. The Incidence and Prevalence of Thyroid Dysfunction in Europe: A Meta-Analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 99, 923–931.
Liu, J., Chen, Z., Liu, M., Jia, Y., Yao, Z., Wang, G., 2019. Levothyroxine Replacement Alleviates Thyroid Destruction in Hypothyroid Patients With Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Evidence From a Thyroid MRI Study. Front. Endocrinol. 10.
Mancini, A., Di Segni, C., Raimondo, S., Olivieri, G., Silvestrini, A., Meucci, E., Currò, D., 2016. Thyroid Hormones, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation Mediators of Inflammation. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6757154
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2020. Thyroid disease: assessment and management https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng145/chapter/Context
NHS UK, 2019. Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/overactive-thyroid-hyperthyroidism/
NHS UK, 2018. Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/underactive-thyroid-hypothyroidism/complications/
Saranac, L., Zivanovic, S., Bjelakovic, B., Stamenkovic, H., Novak, M., Kamenov, B., 2011. Why is the thyroid so prone to autoimmune disease? Horm Res Paediatr 75, 157–165.
Staii, A., Mirocha, S., Todorova-Koteva, K., Glinberg, S., Jaume, J.C., 2010. Hashimoto thyroiditis is more frequent than expected when diagnosed by cytology which uncovers a pre-clinical state. Thyroid Research 3, 11.
Thyroid UK, 2019. Getting A Diagnosis https://thyroiduk.org/getting-a-diagnosis/getting-a-diagnosis-info/