Welcome to our first Q & A post! Once a month I’ll be answering your questions here on the blog. Have a question of your own that you’d like me to answer? Just send me an email. I’d love to help.
Our very first question comes from Sarah. She writes…
Hi Melanie, I have a Q and need your A! ;) I just got blood work back and for the second year in a row, my thyroid is slightly low. It was normal in 2010, but I remember being told back in 2002 that it was low. I have an appt with my Naturopath on Friday to discuss my options. I tried a supplement last fall an didn’t notice any results. I have pretty much all the classic symptoms and really want to feel better, but I’m a little wary about taking a synthetic hormone. However, at this point, it may be the only option. Do you have any other ideas?
Thanks so much for this question, Sarah! So many people struggle with their thyroid levels and there are a lot of simple things you can do to encourage your thyroid to come back into balance. Here’s what I’d suggest:
1. Get clear about exactly which levels are low. Bloodwork measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and two thyroid hormones T3 and T4. You’re looking at a very different picture if your TSH is low than if your free T3 is low. Make sure that your doctor explains your results to you so that you know what you’re working with. (Based on the fact that Sarah’s considering taking supplemental thyroid hormone, I’m guessing that it’s her T3/T4 that are low.)
2. Optimize your exposure to daily & seasonal changes in light and temperature. Biorhythms really affect the thyroid. Many hormonal changes in your body are triggered by sunlight and seasonal changes in temperature. Get up early (sunrise is ideal, but a little later is ok, too) and get outside for a walk or just to drink your tea & eat breakfast in the morning light. The temperature changes and the sunlight can help to put your pineal/pituitary glands back on track—both of which are “upstream” from your thyroid. Hormonal harmony depends on a happy pituitary.
3. Make sure you’re not eating too many foods that can suppress the thyroid. These include really healthy things like soy, raw kale, cabbage, and broccoli. Keep soy to no more than 3 servings a week and be sure to cook your kale, cabbage, and other brassica family vegetables.
4. Be on the lookout for chemicals. Plastic water bottles, food packed in soft plastic, cleaning supplies, herbicides & pesticides in your food, or other sources of chemical exposure can have a depressive effect on the thyroid. Get your environment as green and chemical-free as possible. Filter your water—and put a filter on your shower. You breathe in a lot more chemicals than you’d think during a short shower.
5. Consider adding more seaweed to your life. Bladderwrack and kelp are good choices and may help to gently stimulate the thyroid. If you’re deficient in iodine (which is very rare) this step alone can be enough to get the thyroid working again. (If you’re eating a ton of seaweed, fish, and iodized salt, it’s possible that too much iodine is causing your troubles.)
6. Eat some Brazil nuts. Selenium is an important mineral that feeds the thyroid, and many of us are deficient. Brazil nuts are a good source.
7. Consider the herb Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera.) This is an adaptogenic herb, which means that it has a balancing effect on the body’s systems and helps you to adapt to stresses of all kinds. Ashwaghanda has a particular affinity for the thyroid and can boost a thyroid gland that’s lagging behind. It’s also specific for people who have autoimmune illnesses or a family history of them. Do NOT use Ashwaghanda if your TSH is low or if you have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism or Grave’s Disease.)
Good luck with your appointment, and remember that you’re more than just a collection of biochemical reactions! My approach is to treat the person, not the ‘illness’, so I’d be focusing on your symptoms and how you’re doing in your life rather than on the lab numbers themselves. I encourage you to find a program that allows you to feel energetic, warm, comfortable in your body, and able to live out your life to pursue your dreams. If synthetic hormones get you there, that’s ok. (Really, it is.) If you find natural therapies that help you feel great, wonderful! And if you feel better but the numbers are still a little low, pay attention to how you feel more than what the test results have to say.