The Thyroid Plays a Critical Role in Your Body
Such a tiny gland, yet what a dramatic impact it has on nearly every function within your body. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, found at the front of the neck under your voice box, that weighs just 20 – 60 grams.
This gland makes two main thyroid hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (thyroxine or T4). Your pituitary gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which helps control how much T3 and T4 the thyroid makes.
Your thyroid regulates your metabolism, or your body’s ability to break down food and convert it to energy. When you hear someone say they have a fast or slow metabolism, they’re referring to how well your metabolism “burns” food for fuel.
Thyroid hormones do lots of other things. They impact how fast your heart beats, your breathing, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and what most of us know too well: Whether you lose or gain weight easily.
“In fact, there’s not a single cell in the body that doesn’t depend on thyroid hormones in some way,” says Izabella Wentz, PharmD, in Hashimoto’s Protocol, “In other words: trouble here can lead to trouble just about everywhere.”
Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism
While other things can go wrong with your thyroid (including nodules, abnormal growth, and cancer), here we’ll focus on what happens when your thyroid overproduces or underproduces thyroid hormones:
- Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland becomes overactive and makes too many hormones.
- Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid becomes underactive and doesn’t produce enough hormones. Both imbalances can create numerous symptoms.
Most adult hypothyroidism – about 90 percent, in fact – stems from an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s or autoimmune thyroiditis. (For simplicity, we’ll call this Hashimoto’s disease throughout.)
More than 80 autoimmune disorders exist. Typically, more than one culprit triggers them, including genetics, environmental factors, and gut problems, like leaky gut.
Emerging research shows three factors must occur for an autoimmune disease to develop:
1. Specific genes that make you susceptible to developing an autoimmune disease
2. Triggers (such as environmental triggers) that turn on those genes
3. Leaky gut, which impairs immune system function
In other words, all three factors must occur for an autoimmune disease to develop. That last one highlights how crucial gut health becomes for thyroid function, and it makes sense considering about 70 percent of your immune system exists in your gut.
Hashimoto’s: When Your Body Thinks the Thyroid is the Enemy
With Hashimoto’s, your body mistakenly thinks the thyroid gland as a foreign invader and wages an immune attack with two antibodies that attack your thyroid.
“Many people with Hashimoto’s will have an elevation of one or both of these antibodies,” says Wentz, “and the higher the thyroid antibodies, the greater the likelihood of developing overt hypothyroidism and possibly additional autoimmune conditions.”
Hashimoto’s impacts women about 10 times more than men, typically between the ages of 30 – 50. This autoimmune disease can create numerous symptoms, including weight gain, depression, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain.
Some of these symptoms mirror those with hypothyroid; others are hyperthyroid symptoms. “In Hashimoto’s, individuals can fluctuate between hypothyroid and hyperthyroid symptoms, and even experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously,” says Wentz.
Among the wide-ranging effects of these symptoms, she says, include:
- Immune system overload
- Adrenal hormone abnormalities
- Gut dysbiosis
- Impaired digestion
- Impaired detoxification
“This cycle is self-sustaining and will continue to cause more symptoms until an external factor intervenes and breaks the cycle apart,” Wentz says.
Put another way: When your thyroid becomes out of whack, other systems, such as your adrenals and gut, also become out of whack.
That explains why individuals diagnosed with Hashimoto’s have a greater risk for other autoimmune diseases. When the immune system mistakenly attacks one organ – in this case, your thyroid – it can more easily mistakenly attack another.
While you might discover Hashimoto’s via self-examination – such as finding a new lump or vague discomfort in your neck – your doctor might also discover this condition during an exam for some other problem you experience.
If you suspect any form of thyroid imbalance, visit your healthcare professional. She or he will measure TSH levels since your body produces more TSH to increase production of thyroid hormones when levels are low. Your doctor may also test your T3 or T4.
Functional practitioners might opt for a complete thyroid test panel, which measures TSH, various forms of T3 and T4, and thyroid antibodies. With Hashimoto’s, most lab findings reveal elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and low thyroxine (T4) levels coupled with increased anti-thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies.
The Spine-Thyroid Connection
Your thyroid and spine are more connected than you might imagine. The inflammation and swelling in thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s can push one of the nearby vertebrae out of place, causing a subluxation in your cervical spine.
Long-term uncontrolled hypothyroidism can affect your spine in other ways. These thyroid imbalances can cause damage to your peripheral nerves, which carry information from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include pain, numbness, and tingling in the area affected by the nerve damage as well as muscle weakness or loss of muscle control.
Chiropractic care can address those issues as well as other problems related to Hashimoto’s including arthritis, generalized pain, and back pain.
One study among 7,094 patients with Hashimoto’s antibodies found a higher frequency of spinal degenerative disc disease among those with autoimmune thyroid disease. A newer study, this one among 7698 patients, also connected Hashimoto’s with spinal degenerative disc disease.
Thyroid imbalances like hypothyroidism and your spine are more intricately connected than you might imagine. A chiropractor can complement your primary healthcare professional’s approach, address other issues that might accompany Hashimoto’s including adrenal and gut issues, and develop a protocol for your specific condition.
The Right Diet to Support Thyroid Health
Making thyroid-supporting foods the foundation of your plan can help optimize thyroid function and minimize many symptoms associated with thyroid imbalances.
Copious research shows that oxidative stress and chronic inflammation both drive hypothyroid and thyroid imbalances. That means you want to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich plant foods (to fight oxidative stress) and anti-inflammatory foods.
Our Advanced Plan increases both antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods. It increases the intake of healthy fats, moderates intake of protein, and eliminates sugars, grains, and higher-sugar fruits that could contribute to or exacerbate thyroid imbalances.
The goal is to reduce the consumption of inflammatory foods, nourish the body on a cellular level, support regular hormone function, and promote the use of fat (instead of sugar) as the body’s primary source for energy.
These antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting foods include:
- Leafy greens. Rich in many thyroid-supporting nutrients including magnesium, a mineral many of us are deficient in.
- Nuts and seeds. A powerhouse of thyroid-supporting nutrients including magnesium and zinc as well as healthy fats.
- Wild-caught fish. An excellent source of iodine and selenium as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
- Healthy oils. These include extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
- Eggs, grass-fed beef, and other quality animal-based sources. Other excellent nutrient sources rich in anti-inflammatory fats.
- Fermented soy. Including miso, tempeh, and tamari.
- Whey protein. Rich in glutathione and other immune-supporting nutrients. Grass-fed whey makes a convenient way to get sufficient amounts of protein.
Even with the healthiest thyroid-supporting foods, you might not be getting optimal amounts of specific nutrients. That’s why a multivitamin (for men and women) can fill the nutrient gaps you might be missing from food.
Work with a healthcare professional and chiropractor to customize a food plan based on your condition, preferences, and needs.
Nutrients for Thyroid Health
Various vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients play key roles in thyroid metabolism and health. Deficiencies in these nutrients can create imbalances. A full range of nutrients to optimize thyroid health surpasses this article’s scope, but would include:
- This mineral helps make thyroid hormone. Although iodine deficiencies are the primary cause of hypothyroidism in developing countries, iodine can stimulate production of a Hashimoto’s antibody that can increase autoimmune flare-ups. In her book, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal, Datis Kharrazian, DC, says that, “supplementing with iodine is like throwing gasoline onto a fire.” In other words, balance is key here: You don’t want too little or too much of this mineral. Work with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional to ensure you’re getting the correct amount.
- “Selenium deficiency has widely been recognized as an environmental trigger for Hashimoto’s,” says Wentz. “Selenium plays a very important role in thyroid function, acting as catalyst to convert the inactive T4 to the biologically active T3, and protecting thyroid cells from oxidative damage that occurs during the production of thyroid hormones.”
- B complex. B vitamins play various roles in thyroid metabolism, managing hormones, and maintaining energy levels.
- Vitamin D. Deficiencies in this fat-soluble vitamin can contribute to hypothyroidism. Look for a supplement that combines vitamin D with gut-supporting probiotics.
- Low levels of this mineral increase your risks for hypothyroidism. More than 300 enzymatic reactions rely on magnesium. Most of us don’t get therapeutic amounts from food, making a liquid supplement easy and convenient.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementing with fish oil can help manage various measures of autoimmune diseases, like Hashimoto’s, including inflammation and oxidative stress that also play a role in other thyroid imbalances.
A chiropractor can customize this protocol, discuss how to take, and add additional thyroid-supporting nutrients based on your specific condition.
Strategies to Optimize Thyroid Health
As you can see, thyroid imbalances can be complex and impact other systems. Managing Hashimoto’s and other thyroid problems oftentimes requires working with a healthcare professional who can address the adrenal, gut, and other issues that accompany these issues.
At the same time, you have plenty of additional control beyond your diets and nutrients to optimize thyroid health. These seven strategies create a foundation for optimal thyroid health.
1. Heal your gut. Since leaky gut often underlies autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, for many people fixing the gut could be the needle mover to minimize the impact of this condition. Our Advanced Plan eliminates many gut-damaging foods, including gluten and sugar, while incorporating plenty of gut-supporting foods like fermented and cultured foods. If you suspect leaky gut, work with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional for a customized elimination diet as well as additional nutrients and lifestyle modifications to heal.
2. Increase detoxification support. A high toxic load can interfere with your immune and endocrine systems. You’ll want to incorporate a formula that supports your liver’s ability to detoxify. A well-designed supplement can help reduce inflammation, enhance your antioxidant defense, and support a healthy immune system. Work with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional for additional detoxification support.
3. Manage stress levels. Among its damage, chronic stress can suppress pituitary function, inhibiting thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and contributing to thyroid imbalances. Stress can also increase inflammation, worsening Hashimoto’s and many of its potential symptoms including depression. How you minimize stress depends on what works for you. That might include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or having a tea date with your best friend.
4. Get great sleep. Getting the seven to nine hours of quality sleep you need nightly can feel like a challenge with hypothyroidism. Thyroid imbalances can make you feel tired during the day and wired at night, contributing to sleep disorders. Good sleep hygiene (including keeping a dark room and turning off electronics a few hours before bed) can help here. So can a supplement to support sleep and mood so you safely fall and stay asleep. If getting good sleep still feels like a struggle, work with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional for additional support.
5. Exercise consistently. Consistent exercise can benefit thyroid imbalances in many ways. It can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, decrease joint pain, relieve depression, improve energy levels, and strengthen muscle mass. Even a brisk walk can benefit thyroid and overall health. To increase intensity, our MaxT3 program incorporates high-intensity interval training for a full-body workout in just 12 minutes.
6. Customize your nutrient protocol. While the above nutrient recommendations provide a solid foundation for thyroid health, consider working with a chiropractor or other healthcare practitioner who can customize your protocol, provide optimal dosage, and recommend other nutrients that may benefit your specific condition.
7. Minimize toxicity. Detoxification is crucial for thyroid health, but you also want to minimize your overall toxic load. Environmental toxins including polychlorinated biphenols can reduce thyroid hormone levels, impair thyroid hormone action, and increase your risk for autoimmune thyroid disease. Buy organic produce and high-quality animal products (such as wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef) whenever possible. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides excellent guides for:
- The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
- Safety ratings for over 2,500 cleaning products
- Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database lets you search almost 70,000 beauty products
For such a tiny gland, you can see what a massive role your thyroid plays throughout your body. When your gland malfunctions – over- or under-secreting thyroid hormones, or both – other organs such as your adrenals and gut also suffer.
Thyroid imbalances oftentimes require working closely with a healthcare professional and sometimes several professionals. A chiropractor can help by discussing medication alternatives and other strategies to support thyroid health.
Please never modify your medications or any specific medical instructions without your healthcare professional’s consent.