By: Javier Manrique NMD, CCT
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the neck, right below the Adam’s apple. Hormones produced by the thyroid determine the rate of energy production in each one of our cells. Therefore, the thyroid can be thought of as the master control gland for our body’s metabolism. Proper levels of thyroid hormones are necessary for the health of every tissue and organ system in the human body.
When the thyroid is unhealthy, the effects on the rest of the body are profound. Below are the classic symptoms of low thyroid function, hypothyroidism, and of an overactive thyroid gland, hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
(Low thyroid function)
Myxedema (thickening of the skin)
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
(overactive thyroid gland)
Intolerance to heat
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction is shockingly common. According to data from the Colorado Thyroid Disease Prevalence Study, a large, well designed study with 25,862 participants, 11.7% of all study participants and 21% of women 74 years and older had some type of thyroid disease, as was defined by abnormal thyroid blood tests.
The actual incidence of thyroid disease is probably much higher than can be estimated with thyroid blood tests alone. It has been my experience that many patients suffering from hypothyroidism (as diagnosed by patient history and physical exam findings) actually have completely normal thyroid blood tests. Despite their seemingly normal test results, these patients suffer from the classic symptoms of hypothyroidism (fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, etc), they exhibit the objective physical signs of hypothyroidism: (myxedema, sluggish deep tendon reflexes, decreased basal body temperature, carotenemia), and they promptly recover when treated appropriately with thyroid hormones.
Other physicians have noticed this pattern as well and labeled it hypothyroidism type II, theorizing that these patients suffer from cellular receptor insensitivity to circulating thyroid hormones similar to the insulin resistance syndrome found in type II diabetics. Type II diabetics are commonly treated with insulin or oral medications that stimulate the pancreas to make more insulin, although their lab tests would show that they actually have normal to high levels of circulating insulin.
Ultimately, lab tests are just one of many diagnostic tools that should always be interpreted within the context of the “big picture”. I believe that lab tests alone are not capable of diagnosing or ruling out thyroid disease in every case. Since each person is unique, every diagnosis should ideally be based on all of the information available: presenting symptoms, family history, lifestyle, physical exam findings, and lab results.
Things you can do to optimize your thyroid health
Genetic predisposition, nutritional deficiencies, and exposure to environmental toxins all play a role in the development of thyroid disease. Here are some things that you can do to optimize your thyroid function.
1. Minimize your exposure to toxic halides. The halides are a family of elements that includes iodine, chlorine, bromine, and fluoride. Iodine is the only member of the halide family that is necessary for life. It is concentrated in the thyroid, breast, and prostate and is an essential component of thyroid hormones. All other halides are toxic. Since they are so similar in structure to iodine, they can displace it in the body, disrupting the synthesis of thyroid hormones. While iodine is relatively scarce in our diet and environment, toxic halides are ubiquitous. Chlorine occurs in tap water and cleaning products. Bromine is used as an anti-caking agent in all flour products (bread, crackers, etc) unless specifically marked “unbrominated” and it is absorbed through the skin from pool water. Fluoride is added to tap water and toothpaste.
2. Consume sea vegetables. Sea vegetables provide a rich source of essential trace elements including iodine and selenium, trace elements necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. While most people still think that the iodized salt that they sprinkle on their food provides all the iodine that they need to be healthy, exposure to toxic halides in the environment increases the body’s iodine requirements. Numerous research studies suggest that the Recommended Daily Allowances of iodine may not be sufficient for optimal health and thyroid function.
3. Eat 3 healthy, normal sized, meals per day. I see countless patients who are unable to lose weight despite the fact that they hardly eat. Excessive calorie restriction actually slows the body’s metabolism by preventing the conversion of thyroxine (T4) to the metabolically active triiodothyronine (T3). During calorie restriction T4 converts to the inactive thyroid hormone reverse-T3, a survival mechanism that allowed our ancestors to survive for long periods with little food.