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The Importance of the Thyroid

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While most have heard of the thyroid, few understand what it does. This organ releases hormones that regulate and influence the body’s metabolism—for both the catabolic and anabolic systems. Catabolism takes place when chemical reactions break down parts of the body and anabolism occurs when chemical reactions help to build the body back to health. 

The body is constantly breaking down old tissue and replacing it with new tissue. The gut is new every two to seven days, red blood cells turn over every three months, while white blood cells take around six months. If the thyroid is not working correctly, metabolism slows, and turnover suffers. There could be a delay in the capacity to heal, and individuals may become more prone to injuries such as bruising easily and difficulty exercising.

A person with a decreased thyroid function or low thyroid (hypothyroidism), for example, may have problems with low energy, hair loss, dry skin, low libido complications, constipation problems, poor energy, lethargy, joint pain, muscle tightness, muscle stiffness, and incessant fatigue, even after rest.

These are common symptoms of a person with a low thyroid. Now, some people will gain weight, although this is not always the case. Hypothyroidism may oftentimes be the antithesis to the common medical thinking in that people with a hypothyroid will tend to gain weight. I have seen patients having other diseases associated with it in which they lose weight instead of gaining. It may not necessarily be a direct result of an inherent decreased thyroid function, but due to a problem with the gut in which food and nutrients needed for the thyroid to function correctly are not absorbed effectively. However, the thyroid hormones affect all organ systems. When low or decreased, this can also influence the gut, which in turn will lead to a further lowering of the thyroid gland’s function. 

So, what are some of the signs of hypothyroidism? If experiencing the following, it may be a good idea to pay a visit to the doctor or functional medicine practitioner:

• Hair loss, thin, brittle nails, and thin, dry skin

• Brain fog and trouble recalling words

• Weight gain, or in some cases, weight loss

• Lethargy

• Fatigue

• Muscle Pain.

If a doctor diagnoses hypothyroidism, it is important to understand whether it is an autoimmune issue like Hashimoto’s or if it is nutrition-based. The answer to this will determine a plan of action.

Autoimmune Triggers

If the body is experiencing hypothyroidism due to an autoimmune response, this means the body is producing antibodies that may be attacking the thyroid hormone, either by inhibiting the production of the hormone or the receptors to which the hormone attaches. Common triggers of this include bisphenols (specifically Bisphenol A), perchlorates, fluorides, bromides, chlorides, coffee and gluten.

Gluten has been a well-studied and known trigger for its potential affect and impact on the thyroid. Grains and different forms of gluten can trigger autoimmune responses in a process called “molecular mimicry” and in some cases, this creates antibodies against its own thyroid, against its own thyroid hormone or against its own thyroid hormone receptors.

There are many research studies suggesting whether gluten can impact or cause Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism. We now absolutely know gluten is a trigger. Gluten can be found in wheat, barley, and rye — but these are not the only three grains containing gluten.

There are many other kinds of gluten and they are found in all the different forms of grain and, in my experience, in helping patients recover their health, most of those people absolutely need to be on a grain-free diet, not a traditional gluten-free diet in which they’re only omitting wheat, barley and rye. If you’re eating corn, rice, sorghum, the pseudo-grains like amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, and you’re still struggling, start the 30-day protocol and the prescribed diet to see how much better you feel after 30 days.

Gluten is probably one of the most well-studied and known dietary factors that impact or affect the way your thyroid hormone works. Another one is sugar. When I say sugar, I’m not talking about natural sugars. I am talking about processed sugar, dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, treacle, invert sugar, all the different forms of processed sugar, even organic processed sugar. 

Many of the food manufacturers re-branded their products for people wanting to avoid sugar. They have come up with different ways to say it and to label the food packaging. For example, succinate, which is a form of organic sugar is still sugar. It’s still processed sugar, and it can still be a problem for many people.

Sugar is a big one. Grain is a big one. What is the other? What is another food that we know will impact thyroid function? The answer is “Soy”. Now, when I mention soy, I mean GMO, particularly GMO soy. Soy can be a goitrogen, which is a food that can hinder thyroid function, but particularly soybean or the soy products. For many people in the vegetarian market, soy can be used to take on the flavour for various foods. For example, if you cook soy with vegetables, the protein in the soy will take on the flavour of the vegetable, and that’s why soy is such a versatile option with which to cook.

Again, a person suffering with a thyroid condition who’s on a vegetarian diet and who is using a lot of soy substitution in that diet should reconsider his or her nutritional options. Soy is goitrogenic (foods that are goitrogenic affect thyroid function by inhibiting the synthesis of thyroid hormones), and will specially, genetically modified soy there is another added element of the food, which is pesticide, and which can also contribute to a malfunction in autoimmune process and a dysfunction of the thyroid. 

Dairy, a lot of times, the reason you do not see gluten-free, casein-free diets is because the protein casein can mimic gluten. For those with gluten sensitivity issues, a lot of times dairy is the holdup. It is the thing that is keeping their thyroid from improving because the casein in the dairy is mimicking the gluten and it is creating the autoimmune response against the thyroid. Dairy is another big, trigger. 

There’s dairy and then there’s conventional dairy. Conventional dairy would be your typical cows that are loaded up with antibiotics, that are force-fed grains and are milked incessantly, and this milk with then contain a recombinant bovine growth hormone, which has been banned in the European Union, Canada and other countries. Also, the grains cows are being fed are GMO grains, so there’s glyphosate and there are other hormone and other pesticide traces in the milk.

In some cases, a lot of the dairy in and of itself is being produced from genetically modified cows, so the protein in the dairy itself is somewhat foreign to human bodies and has that high potential for allergenicity triggering. You should be careful with dairy. Now, some of you say, “Well I buy organic dairy.” Well, it can be organic dairy, but if it’s organic and the cow is fed organic grain (and that’s typically the case), it still means that that milk in and of itself could be coming from the wrong kind of cow. It means that the high level of omega 6 concentration of the dairy can become a problem for a lot of people in terms of inflammation. Remember, autoimmune thyroiditis is an inflammatory disorder, and we are trying to calm down inflammation, we are not trying to increase it.

Eating foods that are very rich in omega 6 fats can increase your body’s inflammatory response, and you don’t want to do that even with organic dairy if the cows are being primarily grain fed. Remember, cows are grazing animals, they need exercise, they need sunshine. They need socialisation in their communities, and if we peg them up, put them in cases and force-feed them food, even organic food, that still does not make that dairy healthy. Remember, you are only as healthy as what you eat eats. I love animals. I’m not a vegetarian and I’m not scared to eat animals, but I love animals and I want the animals that are being sacrificed for our food to be well taken care of during their life and well fed, because besides it being important from a humane perspective, it’s also highly important from a health perspective.

So far, I have written mainly about Hashimoto’s as an autoimmune condition where there’s low thyroid. I have been asked about Graves’ as an autoimmune condition where there’s high thyroid. The good news is the same triggers that trigger low autoimmune thyroid disease are the same that trigger Graves’ disease. 

We don’t separate the two disorders just because one is manifesting as hyper and one is manifesting as hypo. All autoimmune diseases have the same fundamental origin. What we are talking about today applies to both conditions and I want you to understand this. There are some nuances that we will get into here shortly as well as the differences. Another big topic out there on foods that can be triggers for hypothyroidism or for thyroid disease are the goitrogens. These are foods like the cruciferous vegetables. Soy is a goitrogen but the cruciferous such as broccoli. Cauliflower or Brussels sprouts contain what are goitrogen-based products, which can suppress thyroid function.

In my experience, if people who are ingesting broccoli or cauliflower or Brussels sprouts or cabbage may experience problems if this produce is eaten as a chief dietary supplement or eaten in excess. In essence, if you’re doing a lot of juicing and you have half a kilogram of cabbage in your juice and it’s uncooked, you will ingest a great deal of that goitrogenic activity, which can suppress the thyroid. If you’re eating cruciferous vegetables, my advice is, if you have a thyroid condition, don’t stop eating cruciferous vegetables, just cook them well before you eat them and don’t make them the primary staple foods of your diet.  You need to have a variety of foods as part of your diet in order to prevent a food type that has a suppressing effect from the goitrogen on the thyroid function. 

These are probably the biggest or I should write the most common food-based triggers for thyroid hormone disruption. Let us talk about a missing food element that’s going to be helpful for the thyroid to function. Now those of you who have ever followed me, I have a pretty comprehensive video and article that I did on my white board for thyroid hormone function and the chemistry and the vitamins and the minerals that play a role in that.  View it if you haven’t already. 

Ask your doctor to evaluate your thyroid. Most of the time, the doctor will run a, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test. If that number is high, he or she may say, “You have hypothyroidism.” If that number is too low, sometimes they come back and say, “You have hyperthyroidism.” That is the mainstay of what medical doctors in this country at least and probably in most developing countries will order. Now, TSH is a regulatory hormone produced by your pituitary gland. It starts in your brain. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone is the hormone produced by your brain, and it travels to your thyroid gland from your brain and tells your thyroid gland to make T4. T4 is thyroid hormone.

When you hear the term thyroid hormone or thyroxine, that is what we are talking about, it’s T4. Let us review our understanding of T4. TSH must be made first. What is TSH made from? What does your body need as raw ingredients? Think of your body, think of the different hormones and the different tissues in your body, thyroid tissues, different organs such as your heart, your lungs, your spleen, your kidneys, your liver, your bones. They all need ingredients to be made. It is like building a brick house: you need ingredients. You need wood, you need brick, you need mortar, you need nails, you need screws. You also need people who are going to use the hammers to screw or to hammer in the nails and people with the screwdrivers. You need people, but you also need raw ingredients, and your thyroid is no different.

To produce the thyroid hormone from top to bottom, you need raw ingredients. Your body needs certain raw ingredients. It does not just magically produce thyroid hormone. It needs the raw ingredients to do that. What are the raw ingredients that go into producing the TSH, the stuff that your brain makes to stimulate your thyroid gland? Well, the number one raw ingredient is protein. That’s right, protein. Where I see a lot of women, especially with thyroid problems and regulatory problems, they are usually on low protein, high carb diets. The ketogenic diet can be helpful if it is the right diet for you. The best is to be tested and not to do the guesswork. 

BPA & Hypothyroidism

When buying plastic products, there’s often a sign that says, “BPA Free” and, while this may seem like comfort, don’t be too quick to purchase them.  BPA and other bisphenol chemicals are often found in plastics because of their ability to create elasticity. The problem, however, is that these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and can greatly impact the way iodine is taken up into the thyroid, which is vital to produce the thyroid hormones.

In addition to drinking from plastic bottles, eating with plastic utensils, and cooking or storing food in plastic, the harmful chemicals can be exposed to the foods. It is also found in cosmetics, which could be why women tend to be more impacted by hypothyroidism than men. 

Perchlorates

Another common endocrine disruptor is perchlorates. These can be found in things like jet fuel and fertilizer, but more common exposure comes from everyday pollution. To help with these, take steps to filter the air at home and in the workplace, and consider investing in a reverse osmosis water filter rather than ineffective carbon filters.

Chlorine, Fluoride, and Bromine 

Hypothyroidism

Other chemicals that often fight the uptake of iodine into the thyroid are what is known as Halides on the periodic table. These consist of chlorine, fluoride, and bromine. These can be found in:

• Sucralose, or more commonly known as Splenda  

• Pesticides

• Drinking water (mostly in America)

• Toothpaste and mouthwash

• Green, black, and white teas

Another major contributor to hypothyroidism is gluten. It is known to contribute directly to Hashimoto’s and low thyroid, but it can also indirectly cause these through malnutrition. 

This occurs because gluten sensitivity can damage the intestinal lining and block the absorption of key nutrients for this organ. The top two deficiencies include iron and B12, which are both necessary for this organ to function properly.

Coffee

Though not necessarily dangerous for everyone dealing with these issues, coffee can reduce the impact and effectiveness of the hypothyroid medication. Furthermore, the proteins in coffee can mimic gluten, which again, is a known contributor to this disease. 

Nutritional Causes

If not dealing with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, then it is likely this organ is not functioning due to nutritional causes. To understand why nutrition can have such an impact, it’s important to understand how the thyroid works:

The brain houses the pituitary gland, which makes the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This is sent to the thyroid with a message to produce T4, which is inactive. T4 is then activated when converted to T3.

T3 communicates to DNA within the cell through a receptor on the cell nucleus and helps to regulate metabolism.

While this may seem straightforward, there are several minerals and nutrients that are required for this all to take place. These include:

• B12 and Magnesium are both required to regulate the production of TSH. The body will not sustain normal function without these.

• Tyrosine and Iodine, which are obtained through food, specifically protein-based foods, are necessary to make T4 and T3.

• Vitamin C and B are needed to connect tyrosine to iodine.

• Selenium and Iron are required to take away iodine and convert T4 to T3.

• Vitamins D and A are necessary for the thyroid hormone to communicate with the brain to speed up metabolism.

• Omega-three fatty acids are essential for DNA to drive up metabolism.  

 

When you visit the doctor:

 If you suspect you have an issue with your thyroid, do not wait to have it checked out. Your physician will likely measure TSH and if it is high, he or she will let you know that you have hypothyroidism. If numbers are low, this could indicate hyperthyroidism. 

While this may have been what you suspected, do not leave it at that. Be sure to ask questions and fully understand the condition before blindly accepting and taking medication. Knowing how to adjust your diet and lifestyle could have more of an impact than any prescription. Ask more questions about supplementation to assist the condition instead of medicating with prescription drugs.

 

Written by: Dr Anette du Toit

Edited by: Claudio Milo

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