Introduction to Thyroid Health
The small, butterfly-shaped thyroid gland can be thought of as the hormone control centre. Sitting just below the voicebox near the base of the neck, about 100 mcg of thyroid hormone is secreted daily, adding to the approximately 1000 mcg spread out in the body. This tiny amount of hormone is surprisingly responsible for so much that mammals can’t survive without it.
The metabolic rate, or the production and breakdown of biologically active substances, is determined by the amount of active thyroid hormone in circulation. The ability to lose weight, maintain a warm – not too cold or hot – body temperature, grow your hair and maintain balanced skin all depend on appropriate thyroid hormone levels.
The Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is released from the brain and travels by blood to the thyroid gland. This initiates thyroxine (T4) to be produced and secreted. 80% of thyroid hormone production is T4 and the other 20% is the active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine(also called liothyronine). Conversion of thyroid hormone from T4 into T3 involves an enzyme called deiodinase that removes one iodine molecule. This process requires nutrients such as selenium and zinc as cofactors.
Common thyroid disorders include hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease. Having too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism and Grave’s) or too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s) can cause a vast amount of symptoms that relate to an imbalanced rate of metabolism. Symptoms range from weight gain or loss, hair loss, fatigue or insomnia, mood changes, feeling cold or too warm and constipation or diarrhea.
The Connection Between Toxins and Thyroid Function
Environmental toxins affecting the thyroid
Heavy metals can accumulate in the body over periods of time with exposure. This may take place in industry, farming, smoking tobacco, renovating or consuming contaminated food and water. The main metals that impact thyroid health are arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. These metals might block production or conversion of thyroid hormone leading to hypothyroidism and may increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
Industrial compounds can be present in everyday items or chemicals such as pesticides. Main thyroid toxins include PCBs, flame retardants, phenols such as BPA and possibly parabens (more research is needed, but preliminary studies with parabens show in vitro antithyroid effects).
How toxins disrupt hormone balance
Thyroid toxins can act in a variety of ways to impact hormones and inflammation. Some cause lowered iodine uptake which lowers T4 production. This can be the case when chronic exposure occurs to high amounts of similar elements (such as chlorine and bromine). Other toxins can cause inflammation within the thyroid and this inhibits proper production and conversion, potentially displacing cofactors and nutrients.
Importance of detoxification for thyroid health
Exposure to toxins should be limited for the whole body, not just for thyroid health. Reducing the use of plastic for food storage is a great place to start. Glass containers and reusable wax-based food wrap are environmentally supportive and usually do not contain toxins. Reading ingredients in products to be used in homes, on the skin or with cooking and food may surprise you to see so many unpronounceable components. A general rule to follow is avoiding products that have ingredients that you can’t pronounce!
Testing for heavy metals and environmental toxins is possible. These tests are best performed by urine and sometimes by blood with a Naturopathic Physician. Many toxins cannot be cleared by diet alone and require specific agents to bind and remove them. These protocols can be complex and it is advised to be under the care of a professional that is certified in chelation therapy and has knowledge in environmental health.
Diet for Thyroid Detox and Cleanse
Cleanses and detox programs can help to kick-start good habits and remove dependencies such as sugar-rich diets. Individualized protocols are ideal and can be developed when working with a Naturopathic Physician. These types of approaches should always be short term and have a clear goal or end result. The healthiest cleanses are food based where the focus is on whole foods with healthy fats, lots of vegetables and clean protein.
Foods to include in a thyroid-friendly diet
Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, protein and healthy fats should make up the majority of your meal plate. Ideal proportions break down as 50% non-starchy vegetables with 25% allotted to both protein and carbs and a healthy drizzle of fats to finish. Avoid refined sugar and minimize added sugars even natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and agave to small amounts. Oceanwise seafood and fish are excellent options for protein and a natural source of iodine while a few Brazil nuts and a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds provide selenium and zinc.
Foods to avoid for thyroid health
It mostly comes down to avoiding unhealthy foods for the whole body and the thyroid. Artificial sweeteners, trans fats, processed meats and packaged food can contain toxins and have very low nutritional content. Cruciferous vegetables are good to eat for the thyroid! It is better to lightly steam and keep to moderate servings as overdoing any one particular food doesn’t allow for the variety needed for a balanced diet.
Importance of hydration and minerals
We all know that drinking enough water daily is good for the body and it is especially good for aiding the detoxification process. Cellular waste products are excreted into the fluid between the cells and then over to the lymphatic system before joining the bloodstream and eventually being removed by the kidneys or the liver. Water helps to flush the extracellular fluid and brings with it the byproducts of metabolism and detoxification. Drinking 1.5 to 2 L of water per day is a guideline as exercise intensity, body size and health conditions may require a need for more or less fluids. Minerals, such as electrolytes, will follow the path of water and can sometimes be a great addition to water if high levels of sweat or prolonged activity is achieved.
Supplements for Thyroid Support and Detoxification
While clean, healthy eating can be the most important supportive way to optimize thyroid hormones and lower inflammation, sometimes supplements are useful. Individualized protocols are always recommended as there is not a general nutrient list or detox plan that works for everyone. A Naturopathic Physician can assist with the most beneficial supplements, however some general principles can be initiated.
Essential vitamins and minerals
Thyroid hormones are synthesized, converted and transported using iodine, selenium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, Vitamin A, iron and B vitamins. Eating a well balanced diet that contains a variety of vegetables, legumes, protein and fruit will include these nutrients. Care should be taken with iodine supplementation and unless iodine levels have been tested and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has been ruled out with labs, iodine supplementation should be minimal. Food sources of iodine is a better approach and includes sea salt, seafood, fish and seaweed. Eating a few Brazil nuts per day will provide healthy amounts of selenium.
Herbal supplements for thyroid health
Depending on the type of thyroid disorder, herbs can sometimes be used to support other protocols and healthy diets. Guggul, or Commiphora wightii, is a plant from India that has been shown to increase iodine uptake, help convert T4 into T3, and stabilize TSH. Caution should be used if adding guggul to routines that already have prescription thyroid medications as there is a possibility of becoming over medicated.
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, can be used as an adjunct to treat hyperthyroidism. This herb has an antithyroid effect which can help to lower T4 levels. Lemon balm can be combined with the extract rosmarinic acid from the herb rosemary which slows down TSH stimulation in the case of Grave’s disease.
All herbs, just like medications, have limitations, potential interactions and side effects. It is advised to consult with a herbalist or Naturopathic Physician prior to starting any new herb.
Benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are helpful in almost all scenarios related to thyroid and every other aspect of health. A healthy gut flora will lead to less inflammation and better health. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh are wonderful additions from a food-based perspective. If small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is present, probiotics may lead to worsening of digestive symptoms and should be stopped until SIBO is resolved.
Lifestyle Changes for Thyroid Balance
Paying attention to stress, sleep and exercise is helpful for improvement to all health conditions and the thyroid is no different. Hormones constantly interact with each other and can either help support balance or be the cause of imbalance. Cortisol and sex hormones are interrelated to thyroid hormones.
Stress management and relaxation techniques
Stress increases the production of cortisol. This important hormone is vital for life, yet too much or too little can cause major symptoms. High cortisol levels interfere with T4 conversion into T3 and can lead to hypothyroid symptoms. Understanding your stressors, the way that it impacts your body and the best ways that your body responds to relaxation techniques can improve thyroid health. Some people find it helpful to wear a device such as a watch or ring that provides body statistics such as heart rate, breathing rate, sleep quality, heart rate variability and readiness scores. Learning your patterns to how your body responds to stress, diet, lack of sleep and other lifestyle factors will lead to improvements and help to balance cortisol levels.
Importance of sleep for hormone balance
Quality sleep, with a focus on uninterrupted and deep healing sleep can work to support all hormones including thyroid. Lower levels of cortisol are being produced at night and support better conversion into active T3. As is commonly known, the body heals and repairs in sleep and this can be extended to healthy amounts of hormone production.
Regular exercise and thyroid function
Studies have shown that moderate to intense exercise will increase blood levels of T4 and aerobic exercise can lower TSH and increase both T3 and T4. Ensuring regular exercise will improve thyroid health and provide more energy in general. Sometimes, individuals with hypothyroidism can be too tired to exercise which makes it challenging to maintain regularity. Using diet, nutrition, supplementation and thyroid prescriptions if warranted should be initiated to improve thyroid hormones before starting an intense exercise routine.
Natural Thyroid Detox Protocols
A detoxification program should be individualized in order to get the most benefit. A protocol can simply mean cleaning up the diet, adding in exercise and focusing on sleep hygiene. That is a detox! Nutritional challenges such as the popular Whole 30 can be a fantastic reset for the body and help to reduce sugar cravings, promote energy, healthy moods and create new patterns of healthy eating. The premise of these types of short-term diet-focused programs is to remove refined sugars, processed foods and promote high amounts of vegetables at most meals. This can work to improve hormones just as much as it can help to lose weight and improve energy. An important takeaway is to not use these popular cleanses and detoxes as a lifestyle, think of them as a short-term body reset.
Monitoring Your Thyroid Health
Improvement of energy is an excellent sign of an improved thyroid function. Warmer body temperature, new growth of hair, less dry skin, weight loss, healthy menstrual cycles and improved mood are also ways to assess if thyroid hormone levels have increased. Ideally correlating this with regular lab work will help to track progress and to make adjustments to protocols and medication.
Starting out with baseline laboratory work is the ideal way to begin the process. From there, an individualized diet, supplement and possible medication plan can be created just for you. If you are concerned about your thyroid health and would like to learn more, please contact us or use our online booking system to arrange for your next or first consultation.
Thyroid Detox and Cleanse FAQs
What are the symptoms of a thyroid imbalance?
Depending on if there is an overproduction or an underproduction of thyroid hormone, symptoms can be very different. In the case of hyperthyroidism, symptoms can include heat, sweating, insomnia, heart palpitations, anxiety, shaking, headaches, hair loss, weight loss and fatigue. Those with hypothyroidism may experience feeling cold, gaining weight, feeling depressed, constipation, fatigue and hair loss.
What foods should I avoid for thyroid health?
Processed foods, high sugar diets and trans fats make the top of the list for foods to avoid, for everyone with or without a thyroid condition. Specifically for the thyroid, diets high in gluten can be of concern when Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has been identified. Iodine-rich foods are good for the thyroid in moderation and cruciferous vegetables are also healthy in moderation.
How do toxins impact thyroid function?
Different environmental toxins can mimic T4 and T3 which interfere with transportation and binding of these hormones. This can lead to hypothyroidism in chronic exposure. Some toxins prevent optimal iodine uptake which would also lower hormone production.
What supplements are best for supporting the thyroid?
Depending on the type of thyroid condition, several nutrients may be useful. Selenium, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin A, B Vitamins and inositol may improve thyroid hormone production, conversion and lower thyroid inflammation. Consultation with a professional prior to supplementation is advised.
How does stress affect thyroid health?
Hormones produced as part of the stress response can lower conversion to active thyroid hormone (T3). This may cause hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, depression, acne, menstrual irregularities and hair loss.