Is it your Thyroid?
Mar 29, 2015 01:15AM
By Fred Harvey, M.D.
Someone once said, “I keep trying to lose weight…but it keeps finding me!”
If you have been trying to lose weight, you may feel like this adage is speaking directly to you. Many people have tried every diet that has been promoted for the last 20 years, such as the cabbage soup or the ultra-low calorie HCG diet. You may have joined Weight Watchers, tried delivered meal services, used diet pills, and read diet books about veganism or protein-powered Paleo living, conscientiously following their recommendations only to find that you are gaining – not losing – those pounds that others seem to shed like sweat in their power Yogalates class!
It could be that you have never had a problem with weight in your life, and you experienced a flu with fever, aches and fatigue. Or, the sore throat that you feel is unusual, but it resolves in several weeks. Then, a few years later, you begin to gain weight unexpectedly without any changes in your diet or activity level.
Maybe you are a new mother, and you are irritable, anxious, and experience weight loss or palpitations. You feel better in six to eight weeks, and then you have dry skin, hair loss and constipation. Soon, you just don’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning to breast-feed that precious little one.
Often, these symptoms prompt a visit to your doctor, and many of these early symptoms could be dismissed as emotional. Antidepressants may be prescribed because of a depressed mood, anxiety and fatigue. If those symptoms are not present, your doctor may offer one of the many pharmaceutical diet pills with some calorie restriction advice. After childbirth, the milder symptoms can be mistaken for stress of motherhood. In a senior population, it is often dismissed as part of normal aging.
All of these scenarios can indicate a presentation of thyroid disease. Twenty-seven million Americans have thyroid disease, but only half are recognized. Fourteen million Americans are affected by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Eight out of 10 patients with thyroid disease are women.
It is estimated that 25 percent of American women could develop permanent hypothyroidism. I say “could develop” because I believe that we can prevent this epidemic.
I will tell you how, but first, you need to understand why people lose thyroid function.
The simplest reason is the lack of a thyroid gland – that butterfly gland in your neck under the Adam’s apple – which has either been surgically removed or irradiated due to disease or cancer. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Postpartum thyroiditis is uncommon but significant. Nutritional insufficiencies or excesses can interfere with thyroid function, and many people are deficient in the vitamin and mineral intake. Medications and toxins play a role in thyroid disease. Stress also can imbalance the endocrine system. So many things seem to work against the thyroid that one of my teachers has described the thyroid as the sentinel gland for the environment.
Since thyroiditis is the most common cause, I think it is the target for prevention. Autoimmune phenomenon is related to excess oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is chemical stress on the structure and metabolism of the cell and is caused by a dirty metabolism. Think of a car burning oil. It leaves a lot of stinky smoke behind. If your body is polluted with deep-fry Trans fats, aspartame or high fructose corn syrup, your cells are making stinky smoke.
Pretty grim, huh?
Here is where nutrition comes to the rescue. Selenium plays an essential role in thyroid hormone synthesis because two enzymes involved are selenium-dependent: deiodinases that make the hormone and glutathione peroxidase that protects the gland from the oxidative stress of manufacturing hormone. Levels of thyroid peroxidase antibody, the mediator of thyroiditis, are lower with higher blood levels of selenium.
So, it seems that selenium protects the thyroid from autoimmune disease. Chronic infection can decrease selenium levels. Florida’s water is notoriously deficient in selenium. Zinc deficiency can lower thyroid hormone levels by 30 percent. Taking oral zinc supplements for 12 months normalizes thyroid hormone levels. Iron deficiency is more common in women with subclinical hypothyroidism. Iron deficiency impairs thyroid peroxidase which protects the thyroid from the ravages of oxidative stress caused by thyroid hormone production.
Any discussion of thyroid must mention iodine which is a critical component of thyroid hormone itself. Between 1971 and 2001, Americans became significantly iodine deficient. Sea salt consumption significantly reduces iodine intake unless we use iodized sea salt.
However, iodine is a double-edged sword. Diets both low and high in iodine are associated with hypothyroidism. High intake of iodine increases the risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, whereas selenium reduces it. In one study, 25 percent of vegetarians and 80 percent of vegans suffer from iodine deficiency compared to 9 percent of persons on an omnivorous diet. Vegans may suffer from lack of tyrosine – the other component of thyroid hormone – if they don’t consume enough high biologic value protein, like that in animal flesh, which contains ample tyrosine.
Vitamin A enables the thyroid hormone to communicate with the nucleus of your cells. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with significantly higher incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease, nearly doubling the incidence.
To simplify this large amount of information, I will recommend the following approach to thyroid disease prevention:
1. Reduce toxin intake (clean food, water, cosmetics and household products; avoid chlorine and fluorine).
2. Eat a plant-based diet (80% plant and 20% animal).
3. Use iodized sea salt.
4. Use daily supplementation as follows:
Selenium: 200 to 400 µg
Zinc: 15 to 30 mg
Vitamin D: 2000 IU
Vitamin A: 2000 IU
Iodine: 150 µg
Iron: 15 to 20 mg (for menstruating woman)
Dr. Fred Harvey is Medical Director of the Harvey Center for Integrative Medicine, 3982 Bee Ridge Road, Suite J, Sarasota. He is Board-Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Internal Medicine/Geriatrics and American Board of Holistic Medicine; and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association, American College for Advancement of Medicine, Institute of Functional Medicine and Sarasota County Medical Society. Connect at 941-929-9355 or visit HarveyCenter.com.