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Everything You Need to Know About the Thyroid

June is Thyroid Awareness Month, and before you start asking yourself “What is the Thyroid?” and “Why do I need to be aware of it?” I’d love it if you just took a moment to close your eyes, feel your body, feel your aliveness, your heartbeat, your blood pumping, the potential you have for movement, your digestive system working, your bones and muscles holding you upright.

Your thyroid plays a role in supporting you with all of these things, along with fertility, skin and hair health, weight and metabolism, energy levels, and mood.

The thyroid carries a big load, and many Canadian’s thyroid glands are actually functioning sub- optimally.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate and bring awareness to the thyroid, and take a dive into everything you need to know.

So, What Exactly is the Thyroid and What is it Really Responsible For?

The thyroid is a small, yet powerful, butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck. It’s a part of your endocrine system, otherwise known as your “hormone system.”

Hormones released by the thyroid gland play a role in regulating the body’s metabolic rate, which includes heart rate, digestive function, muscle and bone development, and even brain health.

Improper or sub-optimal thyroid function has the potential to impact many body functions, and it’s important to keep it functioning well.

How Can I Tell if My Thyroid isn’t Functioning Properly?

Improper thyroid function is classed into two categories: over-functioning or ‘hyper’ thyroid, and under-functioning or ‘hypo’ thyroid.

Signs of Hyperthyroid

Signs of an over-functioning thyroid may include a fast heart rate, anxiety and nervousness, weight loss, tremors, sleep problems, heat sensitivity, muscle weakness, and infrequent periods.

Signs of Hypothyroid

An under-functioning thyroid could manifest into fatigue, dry skin and hair, thinning hair, brittle nails, weight gain, slower than normal heart rate, intolerance to cold, heavy periods, depression and/or anxiety, and ‘brain fog.’

What Traditional Medicine Sometimes Misses

It is estimated that 1 in 5 people have a suboptimal thyroid not detected through proper evaluation and testing.

This is because traditional medicine only checks for extreme imbalances that fall outside of a testing range categorized as ‘normal’ and also fails to test for a full thyroid hormone panel if a test falls within the normal range.

That seemingly small distinction can mean the world of difference in a patient’s feelings of wellbeing. Think of an under or over-inflated tire. Does it work? Sure, but your car could be driving a lot better, and more problems could manifest later on down the road that could be prevented.

How Can I Find Out if My Thyroid is Functioning Sub optimally?

There are three hormones that are important for proper thyroid function:

  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)- which is released by the pituitary gland to signal the thyroid into action.
  • T4 (thyroxine)- is produced in abundance by the thyroid, and then also converted to T3 by the liver and kidneys.
  • T3 (triiodothyronine)- the more biologically active thyroid hormone.
  • While T4 is found in the largest quantities in our bodies, it’s really T3 that does the heavy lifting when it comes to metabolic rate.

    In mainstream testing, TSH and T4 are checked, which only provides part of the picture and could be missing a huge gap in our hormone health.

    When doing a thorough workup on the thyroid, Naturopathic Physicians run the following tests:

  • TSH
  • Free T3 and Free T4
  • Anti-TPO (This tests for an autoimmune disorder that could impact thyroid function)
  • Anti-thyroglobulin
  • Getting the Thyroid on Track

    Once you determine if thyroid function could be an issue with your health with your medical practitioner, there are some key supplements that may help you restore your thyroid to optimal function.

    For managing an overactive thyroid, the most supportive supplements are:

    ** A Note on Hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid is a lot more rare and complex than hypo or underactive thyroid. Because of this, conventional treatments are almost always needed. The supplements listed below are intended to be an additional support that you discuss and implement under the care of your primary healthcare provider.

    1. Vitamin B12

    There’s a good chance you are deficient in B12 if you are experiencing an overactive thyroid, and supplementing with B-12 or a B-complex vitamin can help reduce symptoms.

    2. Bugleweed

    Preliminary research is indicating that Bugleweed may be a thyro suppressant and reduce thyroid function in cases of hyperthyroidism.

    3. Lemon Balm

    This tasty leaf is thought to reduce an overactive thyroid. Best enjoyed as a tea.

    It is also key for those with an overactive thyroid to minimize or avoid iodine, as that boosts thyroid function further. Watch iodized salt, seafood, and seaweed as some main food sources.

    Some key nutrients that can help boost an underactive thyroid include:

    ** As always, consult with your primary care provider before implementing any supplements, especially for issues as delicate as thyroid balance.

    1. Iodine and Tyrosine

    Thyroid hormones are made from iodine and the amino acid tyrosine. Include food sources from the diet such as seaweeds (kelp, dulse), eggs, nuts and seeds, turkey, chicken and fish.

    2. Selenium (in the form of selenomethionine)

    A deficiency in selenium reduces the conversion of T4 into active T3. Selenium also helps the body recycle its stores of iodine. Shiitake mushrooms, salmon, Brazil nuts and garlic are all good sources of selenium.

    3. Ashwagandha

    Ashwagandha is an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It serves as an adaptogen, helping the adrenal glands combat stress but also supports healthy thyroid function by supporting the synthesis of thyroid hormones.

    Eating a low sugar diet also helps support thyroid function, as inflammation from high sugar, carbohydrate, or alcohol intake can impact the thyroid.

    I hope you learned a bit about the powerful thyroid. Happy Thyroid Awareness Month!