A Naturopathic Guide to Balancing Thyroid Hormones
JULY 2023 | Dr. Ashley Southern
Thyroid hormones are imperative to the overall health and functionality of the human body. Every cell in the body contains a molecular “lock and key” receptor specifically for thyroid hormones, meaning that every cell is designed to respond to thyroid hormone signals. That thyroid hormones are present in all our cells indicates the impact thyroid hormones truly have, and why it’s so important to ensure thyroid hormone levels are properly balanced.
Despite being such a key player in the ways our bodies work, the thyroid is notoriously overlooked. Recent studies show that 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime. Of that 12%, approximately 60% will go undiagnosed (American Thyroid Association, n.d.). Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of imbalanced thyroid hormones and then working to address the root causes can help make a massive positive impact on your health. This article will look into some natural, simple, and effective ways you can work to rebalance your thyroid hormones so that you can start feeling like yourself again.
But First, What’s a Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small gland in your neck with a huge impact on your entire body. It produces two major hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These thyroid hormones play a huge role in a variety of vital everyday functions we need to survive, including:
- Controlling metabolism
- Controlling circulatory system
- Regulating heart rate
- Regulating body temperature
- Brain development and function
- Muscle control
- Skin health
- Bone health and density
How Does the Thyroid Work?
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, whose main purpose is to create, store, and release hormones out to the whole body. Your brain sends a signal to the thyroid via a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Once it’s received the TSH call, your thyroid takes iodine and uses it to create two key hormones: thyroxine (also known as T4, a storage hormone) and triiodothyronine (or T3, an active hormone). The 4 and 3 in these hormones’ names refer to the number of iodine molecularly attached. The main function of T4 is to become activated into T3. This occurs in a variety of different tissues like the liver and the gut, where an iodine is removed from the T4, converting it into T3. This T3 then becomes activated, sparking a series of changes that affects hormone levels, energy levels, metabolic processes, temperature regulation, and more.
Common Types of Thyroid Imbalances
Conditions Where Excessive Hormone Levels are Produced:
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that can occur when the thyroid produces too many hormones, and excessive levels build up in the body. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Weight loss
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sleep disturbances
- Rapid heart rate
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks healthy thyroid tissue. This causes the thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormones, and can result in hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Tremors in hands and fingers
- Heat sensitivity
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss
- Abnormal periods, or changes to menstrual cycle
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased libido
- Frequent bowel movements
- Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep disturbances
- Thick, red skin developing on shins and feet (Graves’ dermopathy)
Conditions Where Insufficient Hormone Levels are Produced:
Hypothyroidism is a condition that can occur when your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones to sustain your body. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Feeling cold and irregular body temperatures
- Water retention
- Weight gain
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakes healthy thyroid cells for viruses and attacks them. This can lead to inflammation, tissue damage and a decline in thyroid hormone production, which can result in hypothyroidism. Symptoms include:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Irregular or excessive periods
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Enlarged tongue
How to Regain Balance and Naturally Balance Your Thyroid:
If any of the above symptoms sound familiar, there are several naturopathic therapies that can help recalibrate your thyroid. At Nascent Health, we take a naturopathic approach and consider the entire patient, and will deep-dive into everything you may be going through in order to address the root causes of thyroid hormone imbalances and help you regain control of your own health.
There are also a number of things you can do yourself to help balance your hormones naturally.
1. Eat a Balanced, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The key to a hormonally-well balanced diet is to eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals, and to avoid those lacking in essential nutrients. Include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. Avoid heavily processed foods and those that are high in trans and saturated fats, and processed sugars, as these foods are well known to cause inflammation and worsen symptoms.
Iodine and selenium are nutrients that are crucial to proper thyroid function. Iodine is the most essential nutrient for thyroid hormone production, and is required in order to make T4 and T3. The body does not naturally produce iodine, so it’s important to get iodine sources in your diet. Include foods like seaweed, kelp, fish, shellfish, iodized table salt, enriched bread, chicken, beef liver, cheese, bananas, and dried prunes.
Selenium is essential for antioxidant function. It removes oxygen free radicals that are naturally generated during thyroid hormone production. Selenium also helps the body metabolize and absorb thyroid hormones. Sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, meat, poultry, breads, cereals, and grains.
It is important to get your iodine and selenium levels checked before taking supplementation, as increasing these nutrients if your body is not actually deficient may result in toxicity and worsen symptoms.
3. Manage Stress Levels
Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on thyroid function and hormone production. Constant, high levels of stress can significantly impact thyroid hormone production, and can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and other symptoms. While avoiding stress in our lives can be impossible, taking time for yourself each day to find ways to unwind and mitigate stress is a vital step to keeping your thyroid functioning.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Studies show that insufficient sleep can disrupt hormone production, and fatigue is known to significantly worsen thyroid dysfunction symptoms. Aiming for 8 hours of sleep each night can help to improve thyroid function. Establishing bedtime routines including meditation, yin or restorative yoga, herbal tea, listening to calming podcasts or audio books, and decreasing phone use and screen time can help prime your mind and body for sleep. Find a routine that works best for you.
5. Avoid Toxins
Toxins can disrupt thyroid production. To protect your thyroid and boost its functionality, it is important to avoid exposing yourself to toxins, including mercury, pesticides, BPAs, and solvents. Avoid skin care, cosmetic, cleaning, and household products that contain harmful chemicals. Help support your body’s natural detoxification processes by drinking lots of water, eating fiber-rich foods, and switching to natural products free of harmful toxins.
6. Move Your Body
Our bodies were made to move, and finding ways that you enjoy doing so will unlock so many pathways to your health. Regular exercise helps to improve circulation, reduce stress, decrease built-up tension in muscles and joints, and promote proper functioning of many of the body’s mechanisms. If the idea of exercising or going to a gym or fitness class is daunting, there are so many ways to get creative with how you move your body. Dancing in your living room, gardening, chair yoga, bowling, hiking, biking, swimming, and walking are all amazing ways to bring movement into your life.
American Thyroid Association. (n.d.). General Information/Press Room. Retrieved from American Thyroid Association: https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/