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Six ways to protect your thyroid and improve health

Your thyroid is the hormone control centre for the whole body. If you’re gaining weight, constipated or feeling exhausted, find out how a thyroid problem may be to blame.

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Balance your thyroid to unlock the key to the rest of your health

Balance your thyroid to unlock the key to the rest of your health (Photo iStock).

The thyroid is known as your metabolic master because it controls every single cell in the body. Without enough of the crucial thyroid hormone, every system in the body slows down, resulting in fatigue, weight gain, constipation, hair loss, dry skin and more. While there’s definitely a genetic component to thyroid disease, it doesn’t exclude the fact that certain lifestyle habits can slow your thyroid dose and in some cases even cause damage to this sensitive (and complicated) organ.

1. Steer clear of starvation diets
You have 10 days until your beach vacation. What do you do? Slash the calories, live on a liquid diet, up the exercise and hope for the best, right? After all, how much damage can that low-calorie diet do? Well, a classic study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism discovered that fasting resulted in a 53 percent reduction in serum T3 levels (your active thyroid hormone that increases metabolism) and a 58 percent increase in reverse T3 (RT3) levels, which block thyroid hormone.

On a given day your liver converts T4 (the less active thyroid hormone, thought of as a storage hormone) to RT3 as a way of getting rid of the excess. In a low calorie situation, where your body needs to conserve energy, the percentage may spike significantly, and (based on the study above) it’s common to find yourself converting 50 percent or more of your essential thyroid hormone into metabolic waste.

On a starvation diet you also experience a significant increase in cortisol. The acute stress activates this surge because your body is under the impression that there’s less food available.

Bottom line: Avoid starvation diets and be sure to throw in a weekly or bi-weekly cheat meal to keep your metabolism revving.

2. Say no to excessive endurance exercise
Long distance runs and spinning classes may be doing your thyroid a disservice. Similarly to starving yourself, excessive exercise sends your cortisol levels through the roof inhibiting the conversion of the less active thyroid hormone T4 to the metabolically-potent hormone T3. This also raises levels of RT3, which act as the defensive team blocking your thyroid hormone from getting into your cell. The end result? You boost belly fat, decrease metabolically active muscle, reduce thyroid hormone and spike cravings for comfort foods.

Bottom line: I recommend short, high intensity circuit training workouts (30-40 minutes), while keeping excess cardio to a minimum.

3. Protect yourself against X-rays
The thyroid gland is one of the organs most sensitive to the risk of radiation – whether it’s from a dental X-ray, mammogram, MRI or general background radiation. A study from National Cancer Institute compared the number of dental X-rays received by a group of thyroid cancer patients prior to their diagnosis with the number received by a group of similar individuals without thyroid cancer. Overall, those who had dental X-rays were twice as likely to develop thyroid cancer. The patients who received more than 10 X-rays had more than five times the risk of developing cancer than someone who had not had any dental X-rays.

Bottom line: To protect yourself I recommend requesting a thyroid shield (a lead apron that covers your neck area) whenever you have to undergo radiation, especially for children and young adults when the thyroid is still developing.

4. Stop smoking!
It’s well known that smoking is bad for your health, but for those with a predisposition for thyroid disease, it can put you at greater risk. Many components of smoke, ranging from thiocyanate to nicotine can lead to increased excretion of iodine and in turn, affect your thyroid’s performance. Scientists also suggest that smoking may influence thyroid hormone levels by affecting the enzyme which converts the active form of thyroid hormone to an inactive form.

One study also suggested that smoking may increase the risk of hypothyroidism in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a common autoimmune disease.

5. Keep an eye on bloodwork
Long before your thyroid can be diagnosed you may have a warning sign: thyroid antibodies, which are prevalent in Hashimoto’s. If you have a family history of thyroid disease it’s wise to test for these. Their presence predicts a propensity towards hypothyroidism, and should be monitored on a yearly basis. Nipping these antibodies early may preserve your thyroid function.

Bottom line: To get rid of these antibodies I recommend removing food allergies, reducing inflammation, and supplementing with selenium, which has been show to improve thyroid conversion and therefore reduce antibodies.

6. Detox to save your thyroid
There are thyroid disruptors all around us — in plastic water bottles, pop cans and even lurking in your shampoo bottles. A connection between common chemicals called phthalates and thyroid hormone levels was confirmed by the University of Michigan in a large-scale study.

Researchers at the University of California also linked canned soups to changes in thyroid hormone levels. They discovered that as BPA levels doubled, participants experienced a decrease in T4 levels, putting them on the path towards hypothyroidism.

Bottom line: Here are my recommendations on how to do a bathroom and kitchen detox – you may just boost your thyroid as a result.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.