Dr Libby Weaver author of Women’s Wellness Wisdom shares looks at how this gland could be affecting how you feel and function on a daily basis.
In some circles, fatigue is practically viewed as a badge of honour. Because if you’re not tired, perhaps you’re not working hard enough or making the most of your time, right?
But when we’re tired, everything in life is more difficult. And when fatigue takes hold of our body on a daily basis, it affects everything – how we speak to the people we love most in the world, the foods we choose, whether we get up and go for a walk or not, the jobs we would apply for, our self-talk, and whether we feel excited about – or secretly dread – our social engagements.
It’s easy to pass off feeling tired and put it down to a multitude of things in your life – your job, children, relationships… but there are myriad factors that might be draining you of energy. Thyroid dysfunction is a significant one, and it’s something I’ve seen thousands of women struggle with throughout my twenty years in clinical practice.
So if you regularly feel deeply fatigued or cold in your bones, your skin is dry and your hair has become more brittle, and coffee is something you feel you need to function at a basic level – to help clear the brain fog – it may be worth exploring if your thyroid is at the heart of this.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a little butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck. It is an endocrine (hormone-producing) gland that manufactures two thyroid hormones; triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling the basic activity of each cell in the body, and they play an enormous role in your metabolic rate as well as body temperature regulation. A well-functioning thyroid gland is, therefore, an essential component of outstanding health and vitality.
If thyroid hormone levels drop below normal levels (hypothyroidism), cellular metabolism slows down and energy levels drop. If thyroid hormone levels become too high (hyperthyroidism), metabolism and all body processes speed up. Women are much more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid).
Signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid
Aside from deep fatigue, poor thyroid function can also contribute to:
– Dry skin
– Dry, brittle hair, or hair loss
– Brain fog and poor memory
– Low mood
– Menstrual cycle problems and/or infertility
– Feeling cold in your bones
– Fluid retention
– “Unexplained” weight gain
Nutrients that support thyroid function
There are a number of nutrients that are crucial for optimal levels of thyroid hormones, with iodine being one example. Most soils are typically a poor source of iodine, which means that soil-grown food tends to be low in this important mineral too. Key food sources of iodine tend to be those from the sea and include seaweed, seafood and iodised salt, so it’s a good idea to check that the salt you buy contains iodine. Adding seaweeds such as kombu, wakame and nori to soups and casseroles will infuse a salty flavour, and with the lovely flavour you also get an infusion of iodine. Those with an overactive thyroid gland are best to avoid consuming large amounts of seaweed.
Selenium is another nutrient that is particularly important – it is a component of the enzyme that converts the inactive thyroid hormone to the active form in the body. There are very small amounts in seafood, however the easiest way to obtain your daily selenium requirement is to consume two to six Brazil nuts each day. Thyroid function can also be impacted by an iron deficiency, which is very common among women of menstruation age. See your GP to have your iron levels tested before starting an iron supplement, as too much iron is also problematic.
While iodine, selenium and iron are essential to thyroid function and overall health, it’s important to be aware that consuming higher amounts of these won’t be beneficial for all thyroid problems. For example, the thyroid gland is susceptible to autoimmune diseases, so increasing iodine intake will not necessarily be the answer to thyroid problems that are the result of an autoimmune process, rather than an iodine deficiency. The road in to your underactive thyroid will be the road you must take out, so if you suspect any thyroid issues, visit your doctor to discuss having your thyroid hormone (and perhaps also antibody) levels tested.
image via pinterest
Taking care of you (and your thyroid)
Taking care of your overall health is essential for supporting your thyroid. Stress is known to interfere with thyroid function, and poor thyroid function often occurs hand-in-hand with adrenal fatigue. Identify the sources of stress in your life and empower yourself to change your response to these where you can. Also incorporate restorative, breath-focused practices daily, such as diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, tai chi or restorative yoga. Becoming breath aware can be one of the most impactful steps you take in restoring your health and energy.
Watch Dr Libby talk about how your heritage could be playing a role in your diet below.