What does your thyroid actually do?
Your thyroid is a small organ in your neck that produces an important hormone: thyroxine, also called T4. This hormone regulates all the processes in your body that we know as your ‘metabolism’‘. As a result, your thyroid is not only responsible for your overall health, but it also has a major influence on your energy and hormone balance.
Your thyroid ensures that your energy factories, your mitochondria, create energy for you. Energy to keep you alive firstly and secondly to do fun things with.
No matter how healthy you eat and live, if your thyroid is not working optimally, you can experience many physical, mental and emotional complaints.
Underactive thyroid is the most common
An underactive thyroid, hypothyroid, is by far the most common. This means that your metabolism has slowed down, including the renewal of all your cells. The list of annoying symptoms of a slow thyroid gland is therefore long. Physical complaints include fatigue, weight gain, joint complaints, brittle nails and thinner hair, dry skin, moisture retention, skin complaints, being cold, accelerated aging, regularly recurring inflammations, weak immune system, constipation and abdominal complaints. There are many more, these are the most common.
thyroid problems; mentally and emotionally
Mental and emotional complaints include lack of concentration, feeling anxious, depression, mood swings, feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, procrastinating and getting nowhere.
As you get older, these symptoms can become more serious. This is because a malfunctioning thyroid gland has a major influence on all other hormonal processes in your body. It is therefore important to identify the causes and tackle them. The problem, however, is that there are often multiple causes.
Thyroid problems require a broad approach in various areas
thyroid tests; symptoms but no diagnosis?
But first something else. Have you had your thyroid tested but not diagnosed with a ‘slow thyroid’? This is very common. The Americans even have a name for it: non-thyroidal illness syndrome (1) Many symptoms, but no diagnosis. How is this possible?
The diagnosis of hypothyroidism is only made when there is too much TSH, which is the thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by your pituitary gland that directs your thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone FT4. In most laboratories, the normal values for TSH are between 0.4 and 4 mU/l, while a TSH above 2 can be an indication that the thyroid function is slowing down and a person no longer feels optimal. This bandwidth is actually too large.
Laboratories use different normal values whose bandwidth is too large.
Another bandwidth that is too large
Furthermore, FT4 is usually also measured: the free thyroid hormone. A value lower than 10 pmol/l only gives the diagnosis ‘too little thyroid hormone’, normal is between 10 and 24 pmol/l. This bandwidth is also large.
The optimal amount of thyroid hormone varies from person to person. There are people who still feel fine at a value of 9 while others already get typical thyroid complaints at 17. According to the diagnosis, however, nothing would be wrong. It is therefore pointless to have blood drawn several times: the result will always be the same.
You really want to know your FT3! Insist.
If TSH and FT4 are within normal ranges, there may also be a problem with FT3, the free T3. The thyroid hormone T4 only becomes active in the body when it is converted by your liver (and in other cells) into the active hormone FT3. FT3 is the active hormone! So what should also be measured is FT3, and this is almost never the case.
Doctors often mistakenly assume that if TSH and FT4 are normal, sufficient FT3 will be produced. However, this does not have to be the case.
And also have your anti-TPO measured
Conversion problems from FT4 to FT3 are becoming more common and require a different approach. Therefore, ask your doctor to measure FT3 and also reverse T3. The latter especially if you have had a lot of stress in your life for a long time. Under the influence of stress, a lot of reverse T3 (rT3) is produced, but this hormone is not active (2).
Finally: also ask to have anti-TPO measured. Thyroid problems can also be the signal of an autoimmune disease, in which the body makes antibodies against its own tissue, in this case the substance anti-TPO. This autoimmune disease is called Hashimoto’s disease. This requires a different approach than when there are problems with the transposition.
Common Causes of Thyroid Symptoms
Prevention is better than cure. The reasons below are largely under your control. Remember that you can do a lot yourself, especially if there is a conversion problem from FT4 to FT3, but also with problems with the thyroid itself. If you use medication, keep a close eye on your values; the dose may need to be adjusted.
Cause 1. Stress
Stress is definitely one of the main causes of thyroid problems in women. When stressed, your body keeps producing the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the production of other hormones, especially progesterone.
Both progesterone and cortisol are made from the hormone pregnenolone. In times of stress, the body will always choose to use pregnenolone to make cortisol. Progesterone therefore draws the short straw while you just need this hormone for the conversion of T4 to the active T3.
As we age, especially after menopause, your body will produce less and less progesterone. So be careful with it. Stress also causes more of the inactive hormone reverse T3 to be produced.
What can you do?
It’s easier said than done, I know, but try to reduce stress in your life. Make healthy choices in all kinds of areas. Make sure you have enough fun and relaxation. Rest and regularity are also important: your biological clock, including your hormones, benefits from regularity. Eat, sleep, be active and relax as much as possible at set times. Get enough sleep. Enlist the help of a stress coach if you find stress reduction really difficult.
Cause 2. Estrogen Dominance
The production of less progesterone can lead to estrogen taking over in your body. Estrogen dominance is also an important cause (in about a quarter of the cases) of thyroid problems.
What can you do?
Fortunately, you can also do a lot about this yourself. Read all about Estrogen Dominance in this article: Estrogen Dominance; you cannot escape it when you walk around this globe.
Cause 3. Insulin Resistance
A third leading cause of thyroid problems is insulin resistance. This means that your cells have become ‘deaf’ to the hormone insulin and can therefore absorb little or no glucose. Your cells normally convert this glucose into energy.
Are you generally tired quite often and do you have trouble losing or maintaining weight? Then there is a very good chance that you are insulin resistant.
What can you do?
Here too you have a lot in hand. Cut out sweets and processed foods. Eat and drink significantly fewer carbohydrates, especially fast carbohydrates. Eat healthy carbohydrates (vegetables, legumes, tubers) at the same time as healthy fats and/or proteins. Read more about insulin resistance and what you can do about it in this article: Insulin resistance; key to more energy and less excess weight.
Cause 4. Deficiency of iodine and cofactors
The thyroid hormone T4 is made in your thyroid gland from the protein thyroglobulin and iodine. A possible cause of low T4 could therefore be a lack of iodine. Iodine is a trace element that many people lack.
The soil in the Netherlands hardly contains iodine; that is why many people in the Netherlands suffer from an iodine deficiency. Iodine is mainly found in fatty sea fish, seaweed and plants that grow near the sea such as kelp, samphire and sea lavender. It is a bit in organic eggs and healthy fats such as butter, avocado, olive oil, nuts, cheese and yogurt.
In addition to iodine, iron and zinc are also needed to make T4 and selenium for the conversion of T4 to T3. In addition, vitamins A, B (including B12) and magnesium are needed.
What can you do?
If you recognize some of the symptoms of a slow thyroid, have your iodine level tested. If you want to become pregnant, if you are pregnant or if you are breast-feeding, iodine becomes even more important and supplementation is certainly necessary.
Always use iodine together with selenium. Eat in accordance with the guidelines you will find in my book The Energetic Women’s Nutrition Compass and regularly eat fish or plants (seaweed) from salt water. Use a good multivitamin that also contains minerals and, if necessary, have yourself tested for other nutritional deficiencies by a natural or orthomolecular doctor.
Cause 5. Toxic substances and heavy metals
Our thyroid is very sensitive to toxic substances and heavy metals. These can block the absorption of minerals and trace elements such as iodine and thus maintain or cause thyroid complaints.
Even with enough iodine in the body, iodine may not be absorbed by your cells because heavy metals, especially fluoride, chloride and bromide, occupy the receptor site of iodine.
If you have the iodine content measured, also have the amount of heavy metals in your body measured.
What can you do?
Avoid processed foods as much as possible and eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Do not eat canned food (because of the hormone-disrupting BPA). Filter your drinking water with a system that also removes drug residues. Do not eat farmed fish or larger fatty fish (tuna) because of mercury.
Use 100% natural cosmetics and care products. Avoid chlorine. Have your amalgam fillings removed (mercury). Avoid fluoride in your toothpaste. Go to the sauna regularly to get rid of toxins, but replenish your sweated minerals with a supplement.
Cause 6. Liver overload
Your liver is essential when it comes to converting T4 into the active T3 and it plays a major role in breaking down and removing used hormones and toxic substances.
What can you do?
Support your liver by limiting eating too much sweets, unhealthy fats and drinking coffee and alcohol. Eat bitter foods: Bitter in the mouth makes the liver healthy. Think of all cruciferous vegetables, but also dandelion leaves, citrus peel, unsweetened cranberries, green tea and raw cocoa.
Broccoli sprouts are great for your liver, as are ginger and turmeric.
Chlorella helps the liver get rid of heavy metals. Make tea from milk thistle, dandelion or boldo or mix them together.
Cause 7. Hidden, low-grade inflammation
Hidden inflammation disrupts so much in the body that they often lead to thyroid problems.
Women over 50 are especially prone to hidden, low-grade inflammation in the body.
Hidden inflammations play a role in various common complaints and diseases such as joint complaints, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, migraine, chronic fatigue, depression and dementia, to name just a few.
Hidden inflammations consume a lot of selenium, which makes it more difficult to convert T4 into the active T3.
What can you do?
Many eating and lifestyle patterns exacerbate hidden inflammation and thus the risk of thyroid problems. Many of these I have already mentioned above. Adjust your diet and eat in accordance with the guidelines of the Energetic Women’s Nutrition Compass. More valuable information can be found on the website of the Thyroid Organization Netherlands.
Eat plenty of antioxidants and cut out pork, peanuts, and peanut oil. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, but soak them in water for several hours to remove the phytic acid. A few Brazil nuts a day is sufficient, eat them as fresh as possible. Reduce stress and move more. Avoid antacids and pain relievers. Also be aware of hidden food intolerances (you can get this tested) and dental problems (implants can release heavy metals).
Finally, consider intermittent fasting. This can really boost your overall health.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid gland. You also have a major influence on this condition with your diet.