By: Dr. Christal Blanchard ND
Understanding Hypothyroidism and the Lab Tests that get Overlooked
D I D Y O U K N O W
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is thought to affects almost 5% of the Canadian population and is 4-7 times more common in women according to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada.
Thyroid disorders can have very troubling effects on an individual’s life, as it is the master gland tied to physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The thyroid gland is responsible for metabolism, and regulating hormones that carry out vital functions such as digestion, body temperature, brain development, and reproduction. This is important because how well your thyroid is functioning is interconnected to every system in the body! Let’s take a look at the symptoms, healing modalities, lab testing and food support that can greater assist this hormone and the balance of your overall health!
What are the Common Signs and Symptoms?
Sluggishness Depression + Anxiety Weight Gain
Thinning hair and/or hair loss
Digestive Issues (Leaky Gut and Constipation) Circulation Problems (Cold hands and Feet) Swollen Neck
Body Temperature below 98.5 – upon waking (You can test this at home!)
What Testing is Available for Thyroid Health?
There is no harm in checking thyroid function with a health care practitioner even with 1-2 symptoms that are listed above!
A Medical Physician can test for abnormal enlargements, order Ultrasound/X-ray, and a blood panel of specific hormones. This is important because most thyroid issues go unseen with conventional laboratory testing.
The Importance of Testing free T3 and free T4.
The thyroid hormone is regulated between the hypothalamus, pituitary and thyroid gland. TSH (made by the pituitary gland) stimulates and releases T4 from the thyroid gland. When there is enough T4, there is a balance between the pituitary gland and the thyroid gland. When this balance is achieved, it sends a negative feedback loop to the pituitary telling it that the level of TSH is adequate. Therefore, a high serum level of TSH indicates that there is not enough T4 which can prompt your practitioner into further testing to rule out hypothyroidism. There is just one problem: if your TSH levels are “normal”, does that rule out hypothyroidism?
The short answer: absolutely not.
T4 is the inactive form of thyroid hormone and needs to be converted into its active form, T3. This action is responsible for the metabolic functions discussed above. This conversion is the most important step and is dependent on many factors such as adequate levels of iodine, selenium, vitamin D, iron, tyrosine, just to name a few.
It is also influenced by other organs such as your liver, adrenal glands and their effects on cortisol levels. Too little or too much cortisol can severely compromise the conversion of T4 to T3 at the tissue level.
It gets even more complicated when you consider that T4, if not able to convert to enough T3, will convert the rest to reverse T3. This looks like T3 but certainly does not act like T3!
Simply put, it is important to test all of the thyroid markers so that you can get a complete picture of your thyroid function. There are additional specific tests that you can request as well to rule out Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease) which is actually the most common form of hypothyroidism and is usually missed because of incomplete testing of antibodies.
Be cautious that some nutrients like iodine and vitamin D should not be supplemented without prior testing as these can cause overdosing. For these reasons, I often like to test these in my practice, particularly with a urine iodine test. This iodine test provides me with baseline levels of iodine and selenium. In this test, we also look for competitors of these nutrients such as bromine and cadmium because these too, can also completely block thyroid function.
Health Tips to Support Thyroid Healing:
Reduce or Eliminate Sugar/Gluten/Dairy: Eliminating wheat, rye, barley, spelt can assist because these can lower the immune system. Dairy is mucous forming and can create excess inflammation, bloating, and limits the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. It also promotes growth of bacteria, yeast and fungi, thus slowing down the thyroid.
Health Tip: For sugar substitutes, Stevia, Yacon syrup, and Maple syrup can be used in moderation!
Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine: For a period of time, it may be necessary to limit caffeine consumption. The adrenal system and the thyroid are connected and a prolonged period of “flight or flight” of the nervous system can add extra stress to both of these systems.
Health Tip: Try Dandelion Herbal Coffee. Dandelion is a stimulant, a diuretic and helps the production of bile. This is supportive for the digestive system and liver. Adding dandelion, chicory root and maca together, will give you a closest flavour of coffee!
Include Healthy Fats: Cholesterol is the precursor to thyroid hormone. It also aids in blood sugar balance, helping anxiety/depression that can sometimes accompany an underactive thyroid.
Health Tip: Include fats like olive oil, ghee, avocados, flax seeds, and nut butters to your diet daily.
Selenium Foods: Adding brazil nuts, spinach, sardines, beef liver, turkey to your eating regime will greatly support Thyroid Function.
Protein: Is required in the diet, as it transports thyroid hormone to the tissues.
Health Tip: Include nuts/butters, grass fed meats, eggs and fish, as these are great protein sources!
Relaxation is Key for Thyroid and Overall Hormonal Balance
For a balanced thyroid and nervous system, it is important to develop relaxation and presence. When we are in prolonged periods of emotional distress, anxious, or overworked, there are hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that become elevated. When this happens, it can suppress the immune system, overload and potentially damage adrenal and thyroid glands over time due to repetitive strain.
Health Tip #1: Getting adequate sleep and aim to be in bed between 9- 10 PM. This is best for circadian rhythm and our body’s natural sleep cycle.
Health Tip #2: Integrating healing modalities like massage, breathing techniques, yoga and acupuncture! This can help with stress, energy movement and tension in the body system.
Reducing Stress with Adaptogens
Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. They have been shown to assist in adapting and balancing emotional stress. In recent studies, adaptogens were found to significantly help patients suffering from mild to moderate depression.
Underactive thyroid and symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and sluggishness can all be supported with supplements and herbs. This is also beneficial for thyroid function because of their neuroprotective, anti-depressant and cortisol lowering properties.
Adaptogens have a wide range of health benefits, however; one herb may work best for one individual, and not for another. The best option is to consult with your practitioner to zone in on an individualized treatment plan and the selection of herbs that would be most suitable for you.
Abbott, R., Sadowski, A. and Alt, A. (2019). Efficacy of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet as Part of a Multi-disciplinary, Supported Lifestyle Intervention for
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Cureus. Accessed 9 July. 2019).
Dr. Axe. (2019). Ashwagandha Benefits, Uses, Dosage and Side Effects – Dr. Axe. [online] Available at: https://draxe.com/ashwagandha-benefits/ [Accessed 18
Oliveira, K., Chiamolera, M., Giannocco, G., Pazos-Moura, C. and Ortiga-Carvalho, T. (2019). Thyroid Function Disruptors: From Nature to Chemicals. Journal of Molecular Endocrinology, pp.R1-R19.