As January's Thyroid Awareness Month winds down, now is the time to practice all we've learned about the care and feeding of our master of metabolism. In Part I of our last blog post, we zeroed in on the enemies of a healthy thyroid. In Part II, we will help you fend them off to protect the health of your thyroid gland with the following key action steps.
Reverse Estrogen Dominance - An imbalance of high estrogen / low progesterone can suppress activation of thyroid hormones that drive metabolism.
Your best defense: If testing detects a problem, consider supplementing with natural (bioidentical) progesterone to re-balance estrogens and keep them in check. Avoid xenoestrogens, the environmental toxins found in everything from soup cans to shampoos that increase the body's estrogen burden. Take it easy on soy products that raise estrogens.
Boost Androgen (Testosterone & DHEA) Levels - Deficiencies of these anabolic hormones that build bone and muscle can implode the metabolic rate to slow calorie burning and cause weight gain.
Your best defense: Exercise, particularly strength training, increases lean muscle mass to boost androgens. Supplementing DHEA in physiologic amounts (e.g. levels naturally produced in the body), or androgen therapy with physician guidance, can lift low levels.
Stress Busting - High cortisols run interference on that all-important conversion of T4 to T3, the active thyroid hormone.
Your best defense: Turn down the volume. Are you over-worked, over-booked, over-caffeinated? Non-stop stressors keep cortisol levels elevated and thyroid deflated. Obviously we can't avoid all stress, but we can develop strategies to limit the damage. Think meditation. Yoga. Walking. Creative pursuits. Junk the junk food. Cut back on caffeine. Don't take your iPhone to bed. Any or all of these actions can reduce stress overload and rev up your thyroid.
Rule Out Iodine Deficiency - The enzymes that make conversion of thyroid hormone happen depend on adequate essential materials. Iodine in particular is a key component of T3 and T4, so when it's too low the thyroid gland cannot make enough hormone to direct the metabolic process.
Your best defense: If testing shows a deficiency, consider thyroid hormone and / or iodine therapy. Dietary shifts away from iodine-rich foods and vegan diets have led to lower iodine consumption over time. Good food sources are sea vegetables (e.g. kelp, kombu), organic yogurt, cranberries, strawberries, navy beans, potato (with skin) and Himalayan gray salt.
Rule Out Selenium Deficiency - Though found in minute amounts in the body, a deficiency of this essential mineral (due to denatured soil, poor absorption, and heavy metal exposure), disrupts thyroid hormone synthesis and action.
Your best defense: If testing reveals a deficiency, consider supplementing adequate selenium (200-400 mcg) for improved thyroid synthesis. Good food sources of selenium are brazil nuts, beef, cod, turkey and whole wheat bread.
Essential Vitamins - Deficiencies of C, D, A, E, and B12 vitamins are generally lower in individuals suffering from thyroid disorders.
Your best defense: Take your vitamins and eat a diet well balanced in proteins, fiber, fruits and vegetables. Optimal nutrition goes a long way towards improving an impaired thyroid.
Remove Heavy Metal Toxicity - The elements, arsenic and mercury in particular, when present at high levels severely deplete iodine and selenium levels.
Your best defense: Test arsenic and mercury levels for exposure. Supplemental selenium (200-400 mcg) can reduce heavy metal damage by binding tightly to mercury - thus removing it from circulation. As an anti-oxidant selenium counteracts the bad effects of prolonged heavy metal exposure. If you have dental amalgams which are strongly associated with mercury toxicity, consider having them removed. If you drink well water, have it tested for contamination.
Avoid Xenoestrogens - These environmental toxins disrupt hormone operating systems and stimulate accumulation of estrogens that block thyroid.
Your best defense: Look for "hormone-free" food products. Switch to glass or ceramic versus plastic for heating / storing food. Use stainless steel or BPA-free water / baby bottles. Go for "green" household, garden, and personal care products. Eat cruciferous* vegetables (cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale) or supplement with the active extract DIM, to rid the body of toxic xeno buildup.
*Moderate intake of crucifers (especially cooked forms) is not known to compromise thyroid function.