Do you have a low-functioning thyroid? Even if you don’t know it, it’s possible that this gland isn’t functioning properly.
A healthy thyroid means a healthy, more energetic you.
This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about your thyroid—an essential part of your wellbeing and health.
What Is The Thyroid?
The thyroid gland, located in your neck, plays a leading role in your health.
It produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism, which is the rate at which food is converted into energy.
Thyroid hormones also affect your heart rate, body temperature, hair, skin, nails, digestion, sleep, and energy level.
Symptoms Of A Low-Functioning Thyroid
A low-functioning thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism) can cause the following symptoms:
- Feeling more tired than normal
- Low moods
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Joint pain
- Cold hands and feet
How To Test For A Low-Functioning Thyroid
If you’re experiencing many of the above symptoms, this may be a cause for concern. There are two main ways to find out if your thyroid is low-functioning.
1. Blood testing
Blood testing for the thyroid hormones, named T3 and T4 (tested as free T3 and free T4), can tell you whether there is a decreased amount of these hormones.
It is also standard to test for the amount of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) made by the pituitary gland in the brain.
TSH increases as thyroid function decreases. Keep in mind, however, that in many cases these hormone levels could be in the reference range even if your thyroid is slightly low-functioning.
2. Body temperature
Another useful way to assess for thyroid function is with body temperature.
If you have a healthy thyroid, your oral temperature will be 98.6 F.
To determine your body temperature, check your oral temperature three times per day (three hours a part, starting three hours after you wake up).
Add the three temperatures together and divide by three to get the average temperature for the day. Repeat this for five days to determine your average temperature. If less then 98.6 F, your thyroid function may be less then optimal.
A note for women: don’t test during the week prior to your period, when your temperature is likely higher.
What Causes Low Thyroid Function?
Low thyroid function is quite common, because the thyroid is affected by stress, elevated cortisol (stress hormone), nutrient deficiencies (such as iron, selenium, and iodine deficiency), as well as the immune system.
In fact, 90% of hypothyroidism is caused by autoimmunity, where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to decreased function.
Autoimmunity that affects the thyroid (Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease) is known to be caused by gluten and leaky gut (read more about gluten and leaky gut here).
It is much more rare, but also possible, to have low thyroid function due to medications or surgery.
8 Steps To Improve Your Thyroid Function
Whatever the underlying cause, addressing your low-functioning thyroid with natural approaches may help you to reclaim wellness.
Here are eight steps to a healthy thyroid.
1. Eat foods containing goitrogens in moderation
The first thing to know is whether you are eating anything that could be slowing your thyroid function.
Goitrogenic foods include soybeans and soy products, raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips) – goitrogenic substances are partially destroyed by cooking – as well as peanuts, flaxseeds, strawberries, pine nuts, pears, peaches, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Foods containing goitrogens (because they could lead to enlargement of the thyroid gland, referred to as a goiter) contain substances that can slow thyroid function by interfering with iodine.
It is important to keep in mind that if you have healthy thyroid function, these foods will not cause an issue, and if you do have a thyroid issue, they could only make your thyroid situation worse if you eat a lot of these foods.
Note: Don’t avoid cruciferous vegetables, strawberries, flaxseeds, and sweet potatoes entirely (unless you have an allergy), as they have many health benefits. It is only if you eat too much of these foods (such as if you eat them three times a day every day) that it could inhibit your thyroid hormone production.
2. Eat foods containing gluten in moderation
Gluten interferes with thyroid function by causing leaky gut and triggering the production of autoimmune antibodies that attack the thyroid and slow thyroid function.
The best way to know if thyroid antibodies are an issue is to do a blood test for them. You can find out if gluten and leaky gut are an issue by working with a practitioner who can run specialized tests (contact me if you’d like help with this issue).
If you find that you want or need to avoid gluten and heal leaky gut, you might want to consider following The Hamptons CleanseTM, which is a gluten free – as well as dairy, soy, egg and sugar free – program to help you get your foods working for you, instead of against you.
I’ve seen patients who got their thyroid back to optimal function simply by changing what they eat.
3. Eat foods that will aid your thyroid
You may also want to focus on foods to choose to improve thyroid function because they contain nutrients needed for thyroid hormone production.
These foods include seaweed, which is high in iodine, as well as foods that are high in zinc (pumpkin seeds, cashews, chicken) and selenium (brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, chicken). Coconut oil is also thought to support thyroid function.
4. Get moving
It is well documented that exercise is associated with a healthy thyroid, but it’s important you don’t overdo it.
If you feel very tired, you may need to do other things to get yourself feeling better before you are able to do much exercise.
You might consider yoga and/or bodywork therapies as a gentler place to start. Even singing and breathing exercises have been shown to get your thyroid working better.
5. Take nutrients and other supplements
From the start—or if you don’t see enough positive change within six to eight weeks of starting steps one and two—it would be a good idea to request blood tests for the following nutrients, which are important for thyroid hormone production and address any deficiencies:
- ferritin (iron stores)
If any of these tests indicate that you are deficient in any of these elements, then talk to your doctor to determine how the deficiency might have developed.
For example, leaky gut syndrome, can lead to nutrient deficiencies, even without any digestive symptoms.
In general, it is good to start by taking a multivitamin that contains the most bio-available forms of B vitamins (including B2, B12), minerals, iodine, and a probiotic.
6. Try herbs
If you are still not feeling your best after taking the prior steps, then you might consider adding herbs to your routine.
There are many herbs that support thyroid function, including ashwagandha, guggul, nettle leaf, bladderwrack, and blue iris root.
There are formulas available that contain the nutrients that are important for thyroid function as well as the herbs that support it.
This approach gives your thyroid what it needs to work better by itself, rather than simply replacing your thyroid function as you would if you simply take thyroid hormone (see steps nine and 10 below).
7. Try homeopathy
In addition to nutrients and herbs, or for those people who are sensitive to other approaches, homeopathic remedies can be a gentle support.
These are remedies that support thyroid function using minute doses of herbs or other substances in pill or liquid form.
A practitioner with training in homeopathy (like me!) can help you determine the right remedy for you.
8. Adrenal gland optimization
Right through this process, from beginning to end, it is important to assess adrenal function and to determine whether optimization is needed.
The thyroid and adrenal glands are so interdependent that under-functioning in one can cause lower function in the other.
It is only when we ensure that both are working well that you can optimize your energy, mood, weight, hair, and more.
This may involve checking your cortisol levels (the hormone made by the adrenal glands) and taking herbs and/or nutrients to support adrenal function.
9. Glandular hormones
Glandular thyroid (or natural thyroid hormone) is a treatment that replaces both thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).
This can be a very helpful approach if/when you find that your thyroid is simply doing all that it can.
In essence, the medication will make up for your reduced thyroid function by boosting the amount of thyroid hormone available in your system.
Unfortunately, there is no test that can tell us exactly how much additional hormone you need; the only way to know is to try it, notice the effects and adjust the dose until your thyroid function—based on blood tests, as well as your body temperature and the way you feel—indicates that your thyroid function is closer to optimal.
There is a prescription form of glandular thyroid (called Armour), as well as over the counter forms, and these have varying degrees of effectiveness.
Some, like Armour, are made from thyroid glands taken from pigs, while others come from cows.
Different people will respond differently to these glandular thyroid replacements, especially because many of them contain other ingredients (such as lactose) that may trigger a negative response. The only way to know which is going to work best for your body is to try them out.
Note: If you have thyroid antibodies, it is possible that your immune system could react to the glandular thyroid and make you feel worse. The best thing to do is work with a practitioner who can help fine tune the dose for you.
9. Taking medication (synthetic thyroid hormone)
Many of you may have started at step eight. Others may never reach step eight at all.
Those who have not found adequate resolution by applying steps one through seven may find that synthetic thyroid hormone is the best solution for them, perhaps in addition to diet changes, exercise, nutrients, herbs, and adrenal optimization.
The most common prescription form of thyroid hormone replacement is levothyroxine, or Synthroid.
It contains T4, so your body still needs to convert it to T3 in order to benefit from it. If you have a nutrient deficiency, it is still important to take the nutrients in order to get the most out of the T4.
Although many people live most of their lives with a less than healthy thyroid, it is possible to make a difference in the way you feel by becoming aware of what your body needs and making food choices that support (not inhibit) thyroid hormone production.
My hope is that this article helps you to know more about your thyroid function and the steps you can choose to optimize it.
Dr. Donielle (Doni) Wilson, a nationally celebrated naturopathic doctor, teaches women, men, and children how to make life-changing differences to improve their health using natural approaches. In her new book, “The Stress Remedy,” she discusses how and why we experience stress and its impact on health and wellbeing, in addition to providing expert guidance on how to reduce stress and reclaim optimal health.
Photo by @boetter