What I Did For An Underachieving Thyroid
When I went in for a physical last spring, my doctor ran all the basic blood work. Getting my results back as a bit of a shock: I was told that I had low production of my thyroid hormones. My doctor explained to me that this was a sign of hypothyroidism, and I could choose to medicate if I felt like the symptoms were interfering with my life.
Hypothyroidism? I hadn’t really given a second thought to the butterfly-shaped gland in my neck. In contrast, I had always assumed I had an extremely well-behaved thyroid being that I am extremely active. Yet, as I thought back to previous months, it all started to make more sense. All those unbearably tired days when I moved like molasses could have been a sign. While I had always attributed any sluggishness with my training schedule, the culprit of my fatigue was probably just a burnt-out thyroid.
As one to take a more holistic approach to medicine, I decided that I’d like to try to see what I could do on my own, nutritionally. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against anyone who takes thyroid medication. But for me, looking into dietary reasons as to why my thyroid was acting up before introducing synthetic hormones felt more conducive towards my lifestyle. After all, I had nothing to lose. I also loved learning about food as medicine.
As I started to investigate, I was blown away. I discovered that there are so many key essential nutrients that work towards having a happy, healthy thyroid that were completely lacking in my diet.
While I’m no doctor, nutritionist, or properly educated on medical advice, I am an athlete who has put several hundreds of hours and plenty of energy into staying as resilient as I can. Here are the top nutrients I started making sure to get enough of, as well as some things to avoid.
Things to Include
Thanks to pesticide-laden soils that are stripped of this vitamin, a ton of people have low levels of B-12. It’s important to get enough of it because it lifts overall mood, as well as carries iron throughout the body. As a former evangelical vegan, I wasn’t adamant about supplementing, so I’m sure I got depleted. Luckily I flooded my system with it using a sublingual spray and began including eggs, liver, sardines, and salmon to my intake.
I’ve lived in New York City for that past decade, which means I’m not soaking up a ton of vitamin D, especially in the winter. My blood work not-so-surprisingly also revealed my D levels were in the extremely low range. Vitamin D is crucial for regulating hormone levels and that includes the thyroid. So, I took a supplement as well as amping up 15-20 minutes of sunlight a day in the warmer months. Some vitamin D rich foods include mushrooms, fish, and eggs.
While too much iodine isn’t good, you do need some for your thyroid to do it’s job. I think I must have gone several years without very much iodine in my diet, since I wasn’t eating a lot of sea vegetables like kelp, nori, or dulse, which are the most concentrated forms of it found in nature. Now I sprinkle an iodine-rich sea salt with kelp flakes (not to be confused with the highly processed iodized salt) to my savory dinners.
There are a lot of trace minerals that get lost in our diets, and selenium is a big one in thyroid health. It helps turn energy into protein, the building blocks from which our bodies are made. One of the highest bio-available forms is in brazil nuts. Eating a few of those every couple days was easy enough to cover my bases.
Things to Avoid
I had been known to have several cups of coffee a day, about 6-7 cups, maybe more. I am a Brooklynite, after all. Unfortunately, my adrenals and cortisol were through the roof with this habit, especially combined with rigorous exercise. My deductive reasoning concluded that this was causing a few things to happen in relation to my thyroid: First, too much caffeine taxes the adrenals by raising cortisol and stress in the body. Next, it interferes with the circadian rhythm, preventing quality REM sleep, the time for rebuilding and restoration. Then, the body goes into a constant state of crisis and the thyroid throws its hands up, in protest.
I cut back on coffee, limiting myself to only one refill.
Instead of cutting out sugar in the way most people do, I replaced a lot of it with fat. As much as the specific nutrients are important, an all-encompassing approach to lowering inflammation in my body with a keto-esque (high fat) diet helped get my stress levels down. Getting my macros in check made incorporating the thyroid-friendly nutrients effortless.
After just a few weeks of religiously incorporating these foods and minerals into my diet, I was practically levitating – running fast with lasting energy throughout the day followed by deep sleep at night. I learned so much about how integral the thyroid is with the other systems of the body, and am glad I went the route that I did in managing it. All my thyroid research confirmed my belief that health is something we have more control over than we think, we just have to learn how to work with our bodies and not against them.