Monday, August 18, 2008

Feeling tired and sluggish?

Our lives are so hectic these days that it really is difficult to find harmonious balance in our daily living. Commitments are many and varied and it seems more often than not, work and family get more of our time than we do. With not nearly enough time in the day to get everything done, we push ourselves to do a million and one things and in the mean time, rarely spare a thought for our own needs. It’s not hard to understand why imbalances occur and the thyroid gland is a main area that is often affected. Weight gain and lethargy are common symptoms of an underactive thyroid but this can just be the tip of the iceberg.

The thyroid gland is a major endocrine gland in the body and is located in the neck, around the same area as the Adams apple. It is a major regulatory gland and is responsible for metabolism, energy and heat production and also communicates with other major hormonal systems in the body. The thyroid, reproductive and nervous systems are closely linked and it is estimated that approximately 10% of the population have a thyroid imbalance diagnosed by abnormal blood test results[1].

Common symptoms seen with an underactive thyroid can include:

  • Stubborn weight gain
  • Slow metabolic rate
  • Continuous fatigue
  • Muscle cramps & tremble
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Depression
  • Mental slowness
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Infertility and miscarriage
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation

Medical causes of hypothyroidism include surgery and radioactive iodine treatment. The lesser known contributing factors of poor thyroid function are closely related to an overstimulated immune system (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), compromised adrenal function (which also features heavily with weight gain, insulin resistance and nutritional deficiencies) and the effects of stress within the body, called oxidative stress. This initiates the production of free radicals, which has the potential to damage thyroid tissue. As the thyroid tries to compensate for this damaged tissue, it can become inflamed and a goitre may develop. Post partum hypothyroidism is yet another contributing factor, which may be brought on by an immune disorder, traumatic birth or excessive blood loss during labour.

Nutritional deficiencies also contribute to poor thyroid function. Selenium, along with zinc, are necessary to activate thyroid hormone and also important to control oxidative stress. Due to poor farming practices, our soil has become selenium deficient, which affects the level of this mineral in our food[2]. Iodine is the central component of thyroid hormone and a deficiency of this mineral is one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism world wide[3]. Reasons for this are believed to be due to reduced use of iodised salt in food manufacture and from the replacement of iodine containing sanitisers for chlorine based chemicals in the dairy industry[4].

So what can be done to treat an underactive thyroid? A blood test for thyroid function may be necessary to identify the level of imbalance of TSH, T3 and T4 and if autoimmunity is present. This will show up as a positive thyroid antibody reading. Thyroid hormone replacement is a common first line of defence but often exacerbates stubborn weight gain regardless of the amount of exercise undertaken or how healthy one’s diet is. Weight will often increase from eating less and doing more! Even if your levels come back “within normal range” your thyroid may still need support.

Naturally, other factors to consider are:

  • Stress reduction: hit the gym, try some deep breathing exercises or join a yoga class. Not only will this support your thyroid, it will also help with weight loss, oxygenation and elimination of toxins
  • Reduce oxidative damage: stop smoking, moderate your alcohol intake, eliminate trans and saturated fats from your diet, include moderate exercise
  • Herbal treatment: herbs such as Withania, Bladderwrack, Bacopa and Coleus can all be effective in supporting thyroid function
  • Avoid yo-yo dieting: this will further slow your metabolism contributing to weight gain. Make sure you eat small but regular meals throughout the day, concentrating on good sources of protein
  • Limit goitrogens: these are foods that can interfere with thyroid hormone production and include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, brussel sprouts and soy products. Limit but DON’T eliminate
  • Antioxidants: include goji berries, dark skinned berries, fresh fruit and vegetables
    Warming herbs: such as ginger and chilli help the body burn energy for heat production and increases the metabolic rate. Add these to your cooking or grate fresh ginger and drink as a tea
  • Selenium: found in foods such as brazil nuts, vegetables, wholegrains, meat and seafood. Selenium is toxic in high doses so if using a supplement, do not exceed a daily dose above 100mcg
  • Iodine: good sources include sea salt and seaweed

With thyroid function having a strong link in many areas of general health and well-being, it is important that this area that receives sufficient support and nourishment.

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at

[1] Thyroid Disorders & Infertility Seminar notes, Metagenics 2008, pg 4
[3] Thyroid Disorders & Infertility Seminar notes, Metagenics 2008, pg 5
[4] Thyroid Disorders & Infertility Seminar notes, Metagenics 2008, pg 6