What exactly is the thyroid?
“The thyroid is a small gland but it has far-reaching effects. Keeping it balanced is imperative for overall health. Think of your thyroid as your body’s engine – it controls all your metabolic processes. Located in your neck, your thyroid produces two main hormones, known as T3 and T4. These hormones travel throughout the body controlling the speed at which everything works – otherwise known as your metabolism. Both T3 and T4 are incredibly powerful and can affect digestion, energy levels, heartbeat, body temperature and emotions. Our brains monitor how much thyroid there is in the blood, and if it’s low, they instruct the pituitary gland to release more TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which in turn tells the thyroid gland to secrete more hormones into the body. If the gland is already producing too much, the brain reduces the amount of TSH to the thyroid. It’s a delicate balancing act.” – Pippa Campbell, nutritionist & nutrigenomics practitioner
What happens when the thyroid falls out of balance?
“The thyroid can either become underactive or overactive. Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid – means things becoming slow and sluggish. The most common signs are low energy, brain fog, headaches, weight gain, depression, constipation, cold hands and feet, low blood pressure, low libido, infertility and dry skin. The opposite is true of hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. Common signs that things are running quicker than they should include an inability to relax, palpitations and breathlessness, insomnia, anxiety, weight loss, feeling overly warm, even on cool days, excessive sweating
, and brittle bones.” – Jenny McGuckian, nutritional therapist
What are the signs your thyroid needs support?
“When the thyroid is overactive, or in a state of hyperthyroidism, you may experience symptoms like a fast heart rate, increased appetite, weight loss, loose stools, trembling hands, and difficulty sleeping. You might also find yourself feeling more wired, anxious, irritable, or having mood swings. These symptoms occur because your body is flooded with an excessive number of thyroid hormones, causing your metabolism to speed up too fast. On the flip side, if your thyroid is underactive or you're experiencing hypothyroidism, the symptoms can be quite different. You may feel fatigued, have difficulty concentrating, or experience weight gain even without changes to your diet or exercise routine. Other signs include feeling the cold, dry skin, a sluggish bowel, and thinning hair or hair loss. These symptoms are a result of a slowed metabolism due to a shortage of thyroid hormones.” – Lucinda Miller, naturopath & functional medicine practitioner
How common are thyroid issues?
“Research shows hypothyroidism is more common than an overactive thyroid. Unfortunately, over half of these cases aren’t diagnosed. Hypothyroidism is fast becoming one of the most misdiagnosed conditions, yet its incidence is increasingly widespread. It’s not unusual for patients to be offered anti-depressants when they complain of tiredness, weight gain and feeling low, when in fact the problem stems from the thyroid.” – Pippa
What lifestyle habits affect the thyroid?
“Many different factors can affect the thyroid and how well it performs, including:
Diet: A well-balanced diet is crucial for overall health, including thyroid function. Consuming sufficient selenium, zinc and iodine is important as these minerals support thyroid hormone production.
Stress: Chronic stress can negatively affect your thyroid by disrupting the communication between the key glands that drive thyroid hormones, resulting in hormonal imbalances. Implementing stress reduction techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help support thyroid health.
Sleep: Poor sleep habits can interfere with hormone regulation, including thyroid hormones. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night to maintain optimal hormone balance.
Exercise: Regular physical activity helps regulate metabolism, supports overall hormone balance, and can improve thyroid function. However, excessive exercise can be counterproductive, leading to thyroid imbalances and additional stress on the body.
Environmental toxins: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as plastics, pesticides and heavy metals can adversely affect thyroid function. Limiting exposure to these toxins and choosing organic food when possible can help reduce this effect.
Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains harmful substances that can interfere with thyroid function and contribute to thyroid disorders.” – Lucinda
Tell us more about how diet can help look after your thyroid…
“Food is an amazing medicine and addressing your nutritional intake can be a powerful tool to restore thyroid function and minimise negative symptoms…
Consume Selenium-Rich Foods: Selenium plays a critical role in converting thyroid hormones and regulating thyroid antibodies. Brazil nuts, fish, eggs and sunflower seeds are excellent sources. Selenium is low in the British population across the board, so make this your priority.
Increase Zinc: Zinc is involved in thyroid hormone production – eat more zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds and lentils.
Don’t Forget About Iodine: Iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid – seafood, dairy products and seaweed are all good sources. Be careful with iodine supplements, as an excessive intake can negatively affect thyroid function.
Reduce Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, berries, oily fish and nuts.
Maintain Gut Health: A healthy gut can support proper absorption of nutrients essential for thyroid health. Consume a diverse range of high-fibre foods and fermented foods, and consider a probiotic supplement to promote a healthy gut microbiome.” – Lucinda
What about exercise?
“There’s a powerful connection between exercise and weight gain, as studies show excessive cardio can switch off production of the thyroid hormone T3. Too much cardio – especially steady-state cardio – can cause women to move themselves into a state of hypothyroidism, which can lead to weight gain. The high energy consumption required during cardio training sends out danger signals to the body, which in turn switches it into ‘survival mode’, with the metabolism then lowered to save energy. Instead of burning body fat, that fat is stored to ‘protect’ the body. The belief that excessive cardio training is the solution to a well-shaped body is a myth – weight training, combined with HIIT, is a much more effective way to work out when it comes to thyroid health.” – Pippa
What tests are best at diagnosing thyroid dysfunction?
“If you suspect your thyroid is out of balance, the best thing you can do is get tested. Your GP will offer a blood test, although they will only test for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), even though the most common markers are actually TSH, T4 and T3. The TSH test is often the first test performed when evaluating thyroid function. TSH is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones. An elevated TSH level may indicate an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), while a low TSH level could suggest an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Ask your GP for a full thyroid panel that encompasses all the thyroid hormones, as well as your thyroid antibodies, which can show if there is a wider immune issue at play.” – Lucinda
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.