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Outsmarting a Sluggish Thyroid

In thyroid issues on May 13, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Since the autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease) runs in my family, I have been pretty good about getting my blood levels of thyroid hormone checked on a regular basis.   I already have been battling another autoimmune disease (Limited Systemic Scleroderma) since 2002, so it would not be a complete surprise for me to be diagnosed with another, as autoimmune diseases tend to cluster together in certain individuals.  Well, as fate would have it, I learned during a recent physical that my thyroid is starting to go kaputt 😦  The surprising fact is that I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (in the form of Hashimoto’s disease), rather than hyperthyroidism.   This did not make sense to me, as many of my weight-loss clients with hypothyroidism typically present with dramatic weight gain, depression, lack of energy, and lack of libido.  Yes, I’ve been more tired lately, which I attribute to the scleroderma and my hectic lifestyle, but I have not gained weight recently nor experienced the other “typical” symptoms of a sluggish thyroid.  As it turns out, I have learned that the early stages of thyroid disease seldom cause symptoms…

To check thyroid function, a physician will typically order a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, produced by the pituitary gland),  as well as free- T3 and T4 levels circulating in the blood, which are the two hormones produced directly by the thyroid.  An elevated TSH level (above 4.53 uU/mL) is a sign of an inadequate thyroid, as it is requiring additional stimulation to produce the T3 and T4 hormones vital for the regulation of metabolism.   Therefore, low T3  (below 2.5 pg/mL) and/or T4 levels (below 0.84 ng/dL) would be present as well.

My TSH level this past April was 7.78 uU/mL, more than double what it was this time last year, but not quite high enough to warrant replacement with thyroid hormone at this point in time.  My T3 level was low at 2.24 pg/mL.  I will have it checked again in 3 months to see if my levels deteriorate to the point of requiring medication (such as Synthroid, or levothyroid).  Even though I am annoyed by the fact that I have yet another health concern to deal with, I am grateful that the problem was caught early.  Long-term, untreated hypothyroidism can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease.  Fortunately, I have been given the chance to be proactive and do all I can to “outsmart” my lazy thyroid  before it gets the better of me 😉  I will share my personal insights and strategies with you here.

Thyroid disease typically strikes women more often than men, especially around the time of menopause and beyond, and its causes are many:  it can be an inherited trait; or an autoimmune process in which the body’s immune cells attack and destroy the thyroid gland; or due to taking medications used to treat bipolar disease; or from taking in too much or too little iodine from foods or supplements; or from developing postpartum thyroiditis, leading to the destruction of the thyroid gland. 

Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism by helping cells convert calories (from food) and oxygen to energy.   If your metabolism is high, you can get away with eating more because your body naturally burns more calories in this energy producing process.  (This is why folks with hyperthyroidism tend to drop weight very quickly.)  If you have a low metabolism, which is the situation with hypothyroidism, your body is slower at converting calories and oxygen to energy, so it is easy to gain weight if a balance is not achieved between food intake and energy expenditure through exercise and natural body processes.   

The best way to try to counteract a lowered metabolism is by doing all you can to raise your metabolism through diet and exercise.  It is also important to consider the essential nutrients that help your thyroid function at its best.   Here’s what you can do:

1.  Eat small, frequent meals at regular intervals—no meal skipping, especially breakfast.  If you don’t eat enough, your body goes into starvation mode, thereby lowering your metabolism even more.  You need to eat a minimum of 1200 calories per day to prevent taking another metabolic hit.  Eating often revs your metabolism not only by using additional energy during each digestion period, but your body also adapts to regular food intake by “burning” less efficiently, thereby foregoing the need to “conserve” and store calories as fat.  During the Great Depression, people conservatively used up and stretched every little scrap of food in order to extend their limited food supply—this is analagous to a “chronic dieter’s” conservative, low metabolism hanging on to every measly calorie of food you give it.  You MUST feed your body to allow it to be free to burn calories!!

2.  Increase muscle mass—muscle fiber is more metabolically active than fat tissue and requires more energy to maintain.  Increasing your muscle mass through strength training exercise can significantly raise your natural metabolic rate.  Focus on all muscle groups to get maximum benefit.

3.  Increase aerobic exercise—activities that raise your heart rate and breathing rate increase your working muscles need for energy to stay in motion.  The actual act of exercise burns calories, but your metabolism can remain elevated for up to 3-4 hours post workout as well.

4.  Drink enough water—water is an essential nutrient for proper metabolism—aim to get at least 64 oz. of water daily.  Not only will this keep your metabolism humming, but it will also help combat the fatigue that often accompanies hypothyroidism.  Other ways to help combat fatigue is to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night (not more, not less), daily exercise, and adequate iron intake (pre-menopausal women should take a women’s multi fortified with iron).

5.  Increase intake of iodine rich foods—iodine deficiency can be to blame for a sluggish thyroid, as iodine is necessary for the production of T3 and T4 hormones.  Seafood, iodized salt, fish oil, kelp, and seaweed are excellent sources of iodine.  You can also choose to take a natural supplement in the form of kelp or Bladderwrack (seaweed).  Taking a 225 mcg kelp tablet each day can help provide your thyroid with the iodine boost it needs.  (I am currently taking Standard Process brand “organically bound minerals”, one with each meal.)

6.  Consider Zinc and Selenium—two other minerals useful in the production of thyroid hormones.  Avocado, bananas, sunflower seeds, tuna, and Brazil nuts are excellent sources of these essential nutrients.

7.  AVOID soy products—especially in capsule and powder form.  Soy contains “goitrogens”—naturally occurring substances that inhibit thyroid function.  It is believed that cooking soy products destroys the goitrogens, so if you want to eat soy, cook it first.

I am implementing all the of the above strategies in the effort to prevent my thyroid from deteriorating any further than it already has, AND to prevent unwanted weight gain.  I hope these suggestions are useful to you as well.   Any questions?  Feel free to ask.

To your health 😉

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