Your thyroid gland is an endocrine organ that sits in the front of your neck, and makes hormones that regulate many things, including your body temperature and metabolism. These hormones also interact with other adrenal and sex hormones to keep those in balance, too.
In a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz called thyroid disease “the diagnosis doctors miss most.” I appeared on the show to help explain this condition, which affects millions of women.
Some signs that your thyroid isn't performing optimally:
- You feel fatigued. Even though you get a good night's sleep, you're tired all day. You might experience this as just not feeling like exercising, or needing a nap in the afternoon.
- You have unexplained weight gain. You’ve gained 5 to 10 pounds or a dress size and haven’t changed your eating or exercise routine.
- You feel cold all the time, especially in your hands, even though the room is warm and everyone else is comfortable.
- Your whole body feels sluggish. You have slow bowels (constipation), or slow thinking (brain fog or trouble concentrating).
To find out if your thyroid is sluggish, have your doctor measure your TSH level. It might be in the “gray zone” which is from 3 to 4.5, a level that is considered normal but can indicate a struggling gland.
If you find yourself in the gray zone with some of the symptoms above, the next question to ask is: Why? How did it get that way?
The good news is that the underlying causes of a sluggish thyroid can be treated—once you figure out what they are.
Here are the most common causes of a malfunctioning thyroid gland:
1. Damage from toxins like mercury from fish and silver fillings.
2. Damage from autoimmune disease, a condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. You can ask your doctor to do blood work for anti-thyroid antibodies to see if you have this.
3. Lack of nutrients that your thyroid needs: zinc, selenium, and iodine. You can ask your doctor to measure your zinc and selenium levels, although measuring iodine in the blood isn’t as helpful.
4. Stress: high cortisol interferes with thyroid hormones. You can ask your doctor to measure morning cortisol levels from a conventional lab, but the best way to evaluate your cortisol output is with a saliva test that you can do throughout the day, and this is a kit from a functional lab like Genova.
Here's what you can do to treat a malfunctioning thyroid gland:
1.To reduce mercury, first clean up your exposure by choosing low mercury seafood options. The Environmental Defense fund has a handy Seafood Selector that can help with up-to-date options. To remove mercury already accumulated in your thyroid, support your liver with a detox program.
2. Find out if you have Hashimoto's. If you do, you can reverse this condition by removing gluten from your diet, balancing your stress hormones, healing your gut by restoring healthy intestinal flora, and by supporting your liver with nutrients and supplements to reduce your toxic load. These are the four steps in my book, The Immune System Recovery Plan.
3. Take a multi-mineral with zinc, selenium, and iodine. You can also get these minerals through food. I recommend that you eat half tsp of sesame seeds or 1 Tbsp of sunflower seeds (zinc) and 1 to 2 brazil nuts (selenium) per day, and a pinch of iodized salt, to make sure you get the minerals you need for your thyroid to work properly. While you can measure your levels of these minerals, the blood levels don’t always reflect what’s in your thyroid gland, so it is always good to make sure these minerals are in your diet, no matter what your blood test shows.
4. Balance those stress hormones by learning mind-body skills such as meditation, biofeedback and guided imagery. I offer a free online Learn to Relax Program that offers support and guidance in a community setting. You'll receive a daily email from our health coach, letting you know what to expect each day, and an invitation to join our blog discussion group, where you can ask questions and dialogue with other participants. For more information click here.
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