nutrition for thyroid health
A blog about effective, inexpensive, non-pharmaceutical support for your thyroid.
Most people take at least five to ten years to get thyroid problems diagnosed and supported.
They needlessly endure fatigue, gut problems, hormone imbalances, mood weirdness, insomnia and all sorts of odd symptoms.
I was one of those people, and I would love you not to be.
This follows on from the previous post I wrote on my top thyroid mistakes and how to avoid them yourself. (See that post for a basic intro to the thyroid.)
In that piece, we established the importance of getting a GP’s thyroid diagnosis if possible, not being afraid of replacement hormones, and not simply hoping that thyroid problems will go away.
But even if you are diagnosed, and even if you are obediently taking the correct replacement medication, thyroid problems can still arise.
Why? Because the majority of hypo- and hyper-thyroid problems are auto-immune-driven.
And auto-immunity is a whole other kettle of fish.
As you know, immunity is largely located in the gut, so this involves gut health. And gut health will relate to stress, to liver health, to environmental toxins, to diet. There is a lot to consider.
But let’s make it simple.
Let’s start with the basics (or you can jump down to ‘Nutrition Support’ below).
A quick re-cap of thyroid symptoms:
- An under-functioning thyroid may trigger dry skin, fatigue, weight gain in 50% of cases, feeling the cold, brain fog, constipation, and more. If your thyroid is under-functioning, it’s 90% likely to be auto-immune.
- An over-functioning thyroid may trigger feeling hot, fatigue from loss of nutrients, anxious, losing weight without meaning to, diarrhoea, heart palpitations, insomnia and more. If your thyroid is over-functioning, it’s 75% likely to be auto-immune.
How does auto-immunity cause thyroid problems?
Auto-immunity means that your own immune system attacks your healthy body cells.
With an under-active thyroid, white blood cells attack the thyroid gland, destroying its cells or ‘thyrocytes’. This causes the TPO enzymes that help produce thyroid hormones to be exposed to the immune system.
The immune system does not expect to encounter these TPO enzymes and thus makes antibodies against them, creating ‘TPO antibodies’.
TPO antibodies can be measured in blood tests, to show how severely the thyroid gland is being attacked. (However, please note: some people have an immune attack that doesn’t show up in blood tests. They have to have a thyroid ultrasound instead.)
When the body attacks its own thyroid gland, this is described as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which means:
1. Inflammation from the attack
2. Too few thyroid hormones due to cell damage, causing symptoms of an under active thyroid
With an overactive thyroid, a different kind of attack happens, called Graves' Disease.
In Graves', the body produces an antibody called ‘thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin’ which encourages the thyroid to produce far too much thyroid hormone. Again, the problem here is both:
1. Inflammation from the attack
2. Too much thyroid hormone triggered, causing symptoms
Now: in the cases of both Hashimoto's and Graves' the following will be true:
* thyroid auto-immunity is what perpetuates the thyroid problem
* auto-immune antibody tests offer an early-warning system for thyroid disease
* auto-immune inflammation becomes its own separate problem causing other troubles.
This is why I always test for thyroid antibodies as well as thyroid hormones.
This means testing for TPO and Tg antibodies as well as the doctor’s standard T4 and TSH hormone test. I also test for the active T3 hormones and some important thyroid nutrient markers.
So again: in the early stages of thyroid disorder, antibodies can reveal that there is a problem, long before the thyroid hormones show it.
This is why:
1. The basic medical markers of only TSH and T4 are not sufficient, AND
2. If we reduce auto-immune attack, we may reduce the severity of the thyroid problem
But how do we reduce auto-immune attacks? Well, here are a few ideas.
Nutrition support for the thyroid
Here follows a brief and non-exhaustive list of ways to support thyroid health, by means of supporting healthy immunity:
This is the least popular, but most crucial foundation.
Gluten proteins can cause the body to attack its thyroid gland more viciously.
This is best avoided for three reasons:
A. because we want the thyroid gland to produce the correct thyroid hormones undisturbed
B. because auto-immunity can itself impedes absorption of thyroid hormones by body cells
C. because auto-immunity can ‘spread’ to other organs and tissues.
It’s important to realise that your GP is unlikely to inform you of this critical piece of information about gluten.
This is not maliciousness on their part.
It is simply because GPs are trained in pharmaceutical medicines, not food.
(Thus practitioners like me offer ‘complementary’ medicine: effective, science-based nutrition that complements, or adds on to, the effectiveness of mainstream healthcare.)
2. Vitamin D
Most Hashimoto’s and Graves' Disease patients will have low vitamin D levels. This may be to do with a genetic variation which makes it difficult to use vitamin D and also predisposes to thyroid autoimmunity. But most agree that normalising vitamin D levels is important in all thyroid dysfunction, and it is known to modulate inflammation.
Selenium has been found to reduce TPO antibodies in Hashimoto’s sufferers, as well as to improve the ‘basic’ thyroid hormone T4’s conversion into the ‘active’ hormone, T3. It has also been found to support reduction in symptoms for Graves' Disease sufferers. I will often ask Hashimoto’s clients to supplement with selenium, but in specific forms and doses according to need.
4. Gut health / parasites
We now know that the majority of our immunity is located in our gut.
So the health of our gut is going to affect how ‘jumpy’ our immune system is, how likely it is to fight thyroid cells.
Three crucial things about gut health & thyroid health:
A. Parasites – Helicobacter Pylori and Blastocystis Hominis live peaceably in some people’s guts, but trigger problems in others. Eradication may reduce thyroid auto-immunity.
If I suspect my client of having a parasite they’re reacting to, I’ll ask them to take an at-home stool test and then, if necessary, take some effective natural remedies to kill off the bugs.
B. Food sensitivities – if certain foods give you a sore gut, bloating, or tiredness, they may be causing inflammation and an increased tendency towards immune malfunction. For this, I tend not to use lab tests but instead work with personal observations. Often, removing a food for a short time will be worthwhile.
C. Microbiome – if you’ve had some courses of antibiotics, a high-sugar diet, some prolonged stress, your microbiome is likely to be unbalanced, which may predispose you towards inflammation and intestinal permeability. Thankfully, this can be corrected in a whole variety of straightforward, food-based ways.
5. Environmental toxins, especially mould
This isn't strictly nutrition, but we tend to forget that what we breathe in, enters the body and has to be processed. If it’s toxic, that burdens the liver and may also interfere with the sensitive linings of the lung or the gut.
If we breathe in household mould, for example, this can damage the gut, and it can also drive up antibodies to the thyroid. Some people are genetically less sensitive to mould than others. But for those who are sensitive, it can create significant impact.
Mould removal can often be straightforward, but if you have a thyroid problem you do NOT want to remove it yourself, for risk of worse exposure. Talk to me first!
This is a far from exhaustive list – but I hope you can see that there are concrete things to be done to reduce the mechanisms that drive under- or over-active thyroid function.
If you have dutifully taken your thyroid symptoms to the GP and been told your hormone results are fine, or been told to ‘come back and re-check in a few months’ time’, let me suggest that you dive in and rule out auto-immunity right away. Chronic inflammation is well worth avoiding.
Yes, I am quite keen on this subject because I’ve lived through it myself. But I also know that everyone needs to find their own path.
So, if you book a call with me to talk thyroids, you’ll:
1. have the space to tell YOUR story and
2. get an honest appraisal from me as to whether I could help.
I’ll always refer you elsewhere if I think it could be more effective for you.
To your very best of thyroid health,
Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC
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