Have you ever chuckled when someone blamed their weight problem on hormones? It turns out that in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise, hormones do play a significant role in regulating our weight (as well as many other functions in the body), particularly for women. And often, one of the first places to look is the thyroid.

What is the thyroid?

A small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck between your voice box and collarbone, your thyroid produces thyroid hormone, which travels through the blood to do the work of regulating your metabolism – the rate at which the various parts of your body work and how the body uses food for energy. Thyroid hormone is a very powerful chemical that works with almost every system of your body, impacting how mentally sharp you are, the regularity of your periods and bowel movements, how much energy you have, and even health of your skin, nails and hair.

Symptoms of thyroid dysregulation

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:

  • Unexplained weight gain, without a change to diet or exercise (and even with a decrease in appetite)
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Headaches (typically mild but continuous)
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling weak during a workout
  • Arthritis and muscle cramps
  • Feeling chilled when others are comfortable or warm
  • Constipation
  • Irregular periods

By contrast, hyperthyroidism can be easier to diagnose. The symptoms can include sudden weight loss, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, insomnia and feeling wired or shaky most of the time.

Testing for thyroid disorders

Conventionally, the most common test given to identify thyroid disorders is a blood test for TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). Many people who show symptoms of hypothyroidism have TSH blood levels that are considered normal.

There may be other factors that impact the body’s capacity to utilize thyroid hormone effectively. These may result from heavy metal toxicity or changes to adrenal gland function (either elevated or deficient levels of stress hormone cortisol).
For these reasons, your naturopath may suggest a more comprehensive assessment of the thyroid system including:

  • thyroid antibodies
  • free T4 (hormone released by the thyroid gland and converted to T3)
  • free T3 (thyroid hormone that is active in the body)
  • reverse T3 (inactive hormone, can be produced more readily during stress)
  • selenium (a mineral required for the conversion of T4 to T3)
  • adrenal function including a cortisol profile
  • heavy metal assessment including cadmium (competes with thyroid hormone reducing the body’s ability to use it effectively)

Natural treatments for hypothyroidism

There are several natural approaches for dealing with low thyroid function:

  • Increase iodine – A growing body of evidence suggests that iodine deficiency, which reduces production of T4 and T3, is a growing and significant problem in most people and likely the primary culprit in the sharp rise in thyroid disorders. Your health practitioner may suggest taking an iodine supplement. Iodine-rich foods include seafood and seaweed; however, these foods should only be consumed in moderation because of toxicity and sustainability concerns.
  • Boost selenium – A daily handful of Brazil nuts will provide a significant boost of selenium in your diet. Alternatively, consider a good quality selenium supplement.
  • Supplement with tyrosine – either in capsule form or in a raw vegan protein smoothie powder containing this amino acid – to support the production of thyroid hormones and help keep stress at bay.
  • Manage stress through lifestyle choices or techniques such as meditation, yoga or breathing (elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can reduce T3 levels).
  • Limit or eliminate exposure to toxic metals and environmental pollutants, including bromines (which impair the body’s ability to hold on to iodine) and chlorine.
  • Reduce alcohol intake.

Talk to your practitioner about other herbs and animal thyroid extracts that may help support thyroid function.

The NEX Wellness naturopaths in Burlington and IV Clinic Burlington offers thyroid assessment and provides naturopathic care for low thyroid function and hormone imbalances.