It’s futile to drive a car without gas in the tank. Sure, you may last on fumes for a few miles, but in the end it will be very difficult to get to your destination. When it comes to weight loss, your thyroid is no different than that car. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, an estimated that 200 million people around the world have some form of thyroid disease, and 30 percent of Canadians — over 10 million people — may suffer from a thyroid condition of one type or another, with as many as 50 percent of them undiagnosed.
Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism and organ function. They directly affect body functions such as heart rate, cholesterol levels, body weight, energy, muscle contraction and relaxation, skin and hair texture, bowel function, fertility, menstrual regularity, memory and mood. Without enough thyroid hormones, every system in the body slows down. Those who suffer from hypothyroidism feel tired and tend to sleep a lot. Their digestion is slow and weight gain typically occurs. They can also experience extremely dry skin, hair loss, even slower mental processes. In fact, without enough thyroid hormones, attaining your perfect weight is almost impossible.
What’s really slowing your thyroid down?
In order to boost your thyroid, we need to understand what’s causing the problem in the first place. Hypothyroidism is a complex disorder that can stem from a number of different causes, including:
- The thyroid may fail to produce enough thyroid hormones as a result of an autoimmune response against the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or other problems with the function of the thyroid gland itself.
- Toxic levels of mercury, typically resulting from mercury fillings in the mouth or consuming large amounts of mercury-laden ocean fish, may inhibit thyroid gland function.
- High levels of estrogen, or a converse deficiency of progesterone, inhibits thyroid function. Many menopausal women using estrogen-replacement therapy may develop the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Menopausal women who are already taking medication for hypothyroidism may also need to increase their dosage if they choose to use hormone-replacement therapy (HRT).
- Excess consumption of soy-based foods and beverages may decrease the activity of thyroid hormones in the body.
- Nutritional deficiencies may prevent the proper manufacture or function of thyroid hormones in the body. For example, iodine and tyrosine are necessary for the formation of thyroid hormones, while selenium is necessary for the normal function of thyroid hormones. Many individuals with decreased thyroid-hormone levels also have a zinc deficiency.
What are the symptoms to watch out for?
The symptoms of underactive thyroid disease can vary, and not all individuals will show the same signs. However, you should consult your doctor for a blood test if you experience two or more of the following symptoms:
- Frequently feeling cold or having an intolerance of cold temperatures
- Dry skin, brittle hair and splitting nails
- Lack of or diminished ability to sweat during exercise
- Hair loss
- Irregular menses or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Poor memory
- Decreased libido
- Unexplained fatigue or lethargy
- Unexplained weight gain or an inability to lose weight
- Many individuals with hypothyroidism have associated iron-deficient anemia and/or high cholesterol
How is hypothyroidism diagnosed?
Four tests — thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), Free T3, Free T4 and thyroid antibodies — are required to accurately assess the function of the thyroid gland, our master gland of metabolism. An optimal TSH level should be less than 2.0, not the currently accepted 4.7 reported by most labs. T3 and T4 should be in the middle of your lab’s reference range, and your thyroid antibodies should be negative. It’s almost impossible to have a low body fat with an improperly diagnosed or managed case of hypothyroidism.
Natural options for thyroid support
If you are experiencing thyroid symptom even after your doctor has told you your thyroid is “normal,” there are natural ways you can support thyroid function — especially if your TSH is between 2.0 and 4.7. I also recommend consulting a naturopathic doctor with a specialty in hormonal concerns if your TSH is 4.0 or higher.
1. Ashwaganda: This supplement may increase both thyroxine (T4) and its more potent counterpart, active thyroid hormone (T3). Ashwaganda appears to boost thyroid function without influencing the release of the TSH, indicating that it works directly on the thyroid gland and other body tissues. This is good news, since thyroid problems most often occur within the thyroid gland itself, or in the conversion of T4 into T3 in tissues outside the thyroid gland. Take 750-1,000 mg twice a day. Ashwaganda is my favourite choice for supporting the thyroid when stress is also a concern.
2. L-Tyrosine: The amino acid tyrosine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone in the body. It takes four weeks to reach full effectiveness, so starting this at the beginning of a weight-loss program is a good idea. Seeing as tyrosine increases the production of both dopamine and thyroid hormone, it could give you just the boost you need to push past your plateau. The recommended dose is 1,000 mg on rising, before breakfast. Do not take this supplement if you have high blood pressure.
3. Coconut oil: Not all fats are created equal and by the same token, not all fats are unhealthy. One way to boost a sluggish thyroid is to consume non-hydrogenated coconut oil. This is a medium-chain saturated fat that promotes healthy weight loss and is thought to naturally stimulate the thyroid. Unlike olive oil, it has a high heat tolerance so you can actually use it to cook your food, or include a tablespoon in your morning smoothies for a summer-fresh taste.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.