If you’re a woman and have experienced slow metabolism or unexplained weight gain (or loss), general fatigue, dry or brittle hair and/or nails, thinning hair, infertility, feeling cold all of the time, brain fog or just generally feeling of “out of sorts,” your thyroid may be to blame. Thyroid disease is generally autoimmune in nature, meaning that the immune system acts against itself and attacks the body’s own tissues. It affects approximately 20 million Americans, with women five to eight times more likely than men to have a thyroid disorder.
This hormone-producing gland is located in the middle of the lower part of the neck. It is responsible for regulating metabolism and essential body functions, including heart rate and heart health, fertility, sexual function, bone health, mood, sleep, body temperature and cognitive function. Thyroid dysfunction and thyroid disease prevention top the list of chief complaints in women who come to see me.
Do You Have Issues?
So how do you know if your thyroid is wonky? First, don’t self-diagnose. Schedule an appointment with your doctor, and provide a detailed description of your symptoms. As a naturopathic doctor, I am always looking for the cause of the disease or dysfunction. With thyroid problems, the causes are largely unknown, which makes identifying and treating the cause more problematic.
Thus when I screen for thyroid antibodies and they come up positive, I address the autoimmune aspect and look at how we can support the overall health of the person through immune-supportive, anti-inflammatory lifestyle modifications. Then, depending on whether the thyroid is under- (hypo) or over- (hyper) active, I treat accordingly using natural therapeutics.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s hypothyroid is the nation’s most common cause of hypothyroidism and is an autoimmune disease. With Hashimoto’s, I most often recommend a gluten-free diet. Studies have shown a large percentage of individuals with autoimmune disorders may have a gluten sensitivity.
In individuals with hypothyroid, I tend to recommend avoiding eating raw cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts—which contain goitrogens that (in large amounts) can compromise thyroid function. Lightly steaming or cooking these crucifers usually takes care of this issue. Pine nuts, strawberries, pears, spinach and peaches are also on the list of goitrogen-containing foods, so I tend to have susceptible individuals limit them. On a positive note, turmeric may benefit individuals with autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much hormone. Symptoms may include rapid heart rate, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, increased appetite and/or shakiness. Graves’ disease, which is a hyperthyroid autoimmune disorder, affects about 1 percent of the population.
I also recommend a gluten-free diet in individuals with Graves’ disease, along with working to support their overall health and immunity with natural supplements. Bugleweed is one of the most common herbal therapies to treat hyperthyroid, but I recommend using it only under the guidance of an experienced health care practitioner.
If you suspect that something in your body doesn’t feel right, I encourage you to schedule a thorough checkup with a doctor. You deserve to feel awesome.
Dr. Debra Rouse is a licensed naturopathic doctor and member of the Institute for Functional Medicine. drdebrarouse.com