The thyroid gland is a 2-inch butterfly shaped organ located at the front of the neck. This is often times the gland a physician is checking during an exam when they are touching your neck. It is small in size compared to other organs, however it is a major command center in terms of hormone health and metabolic health. It affects nearly every organ in the body. It helps to regular fat and carbohydrate metabolism, breathing, body temperature, brain development, blood calcium levels, menstrual cycles, skin, integrity, cholesterol levels, and MORE.
The thyroid gland is often one of the big players wreaking havoc in my patients’ bodies as an underactive thyroid has a profound impact on the ability to lose weight. It is an important organ to pay attention to as those with underactive thyroids are at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. 27 million americans have one form or another of thyroid disease. The most common condition being hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. In the US this is most commonly caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease. Essentially, your body creates antibodies that target the thyroid and decrease thyroid function significantly. Other conditions include hyperthyroidism (overactive), goiters (not enough iodine intake), or thyroid cancers. Since hypothyroidism is the most common we will focus on lifestyle and nutrition factors that can help an individual with hypothyroidism.
How do I know if I have an underactive thyroid?
This requires blood testing and is a diagnosis your physician will provide for you. Often physicians will check TSH (thyroid stimulating horomone), T3 and T4 levels. I always recommend a patient ask their physician to also check for the thyroid antibodies such as TPO antibody, Anti thyroid globulin antibodies and thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin. Often times if the thyroid is underperforming, there is a link to adrenal function so checking DHEA-S and cortisol levels is helpful. If your physician is ordering labs, ask them to include these adrenal markers as well.
What symptoms accompany an underactive thyroid?
Potential causes of hypothyroidism
Inflammation that goes haywire causing an immune response that leads to an attack on your bodies own organ.
Leaky gut syndrome
Pregnancy (causes postpartum thyroiditis)
Certain medication interactions
High levels of stress (persistent)
Toxic burden (heavy metals)
What medications will a physician prescribe?
Typically the first line of treatment is with a synthetic drug called synthroid. This supplies only T4. Many, many people are on this drug and see some benefits in symptoms and ability to lose weight, increased energy levels, etc. There are more “natural” forms of medication, the most popular is called Armour, it is sourced from porcine (pig) thyroid glands. It contains both T4 and T3 in a ratio more similar to what a human produces. It is worth asking your physician why they prescribe one over the other. Most will not even consider Armour.
Lifestyle and diet are two of the biggest factors that contribute to healing your thyroid, and if healing it is no longer available, we can support it allowing the most optimal functioning.
Let’s consider lifestyle factors first.
SLEEP MORE, aim for at least 8 hours of sleep at night. I know this sounds like a lot, but your body needs it when your thyroid is underperforming. It will allow for optimal healing.
AVOID STIMULANTS, caffeine in any form is best to be avoided. If you can’t avoid it, I recommend choosing a green tea, so that you get the antioxidant benefits.
MOVE YOUR BODY, but not too much. Choose gentle exercise activities until your medication and stress levels are lowered. Try longer low impact walks or an activity like yoga.
Be patient with yourself and inform your family members what you are dealing with so they can be patient and understanding with you too.
Food and Nutrition
You can do a lot in terms of supporting your thyroid with the right food. Let’s get down to it.
AVOID EXCESS SUGAR. I am serious. Your body doesn’t need it, and your immune system most importantly, doesn’t need it. Cut out cakes, cookies, candy, soda, sugary coffee beverages, etc. A little maple syrup in the oatmeal is fine, but really, take this seriously. It’s the most important food choice to help you recover.
COOK CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES (goitrogenic foods). Your body needs iodine for optimal thyroid function, however these vegetables in the raw form have an incredible ability to block iodine from being absorbed. To combat that, cook these vegetables. Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Brusell sprouts, Bok Choy, Kohlrabi, Mustard and Mustard greens, Cabbage. If you are one to add greens to your smoothie, choose something other than Kale, like spinach or arugula.
ADD SEA VEGETABLES OR NATURAL SEA SALT. This will help increase your mineral and iodine intake.
CHOOSE ORGANIC PRODUCE WHEN POSSIBLE. These have higher levels of trace minerals and significantly lower levels of pesticides, which are known endocrine disruptors.
INCORPORATE FOODS RICH IN TRACE MINERALS AND VITAMINS YOUR THRYOID NEEDS TO CREATE THRYOID HORMONE AND CONVERT FROM T4 to T3.
ZINC: red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood
VIT E: liver, eggs, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes and avocados
B2, B3, B6: meat, seafood, green vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, almonds
Selenium: brazil nuts
Vit C: veggies and citrus
STICK TO WHOLE FOODS. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Choose fruits and vegetables as snacks throughout the day with a handful of nuts.
What about supplementation?
There are some antioxidants that research has shown improve thyroid function, they include vit C, vit E, turmeric(curcumin) and glutathione. There is a place for supplementation with thyroid issues. However, it’s important to seek the help of a qualified professional. For instance, if you have Hashimoto’s you do not want to supplement with iodine, it can increase the rate of thyroid destruction. This is not the condition to play around with, I would not consult the vitamin clerk at your local healthfood store, speak with a physician or dietitian to get evidence based, proven solutions.
If you suspect Hashimoto’s you most likely have leaky gut and would benefit from food sensitivity testing and an immunocalm diet. You would also consider as a first line of defense, decreasing gluten in your diet as it has been shown to affect hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Are you constantly tired but your doctor tells you nothing is wrong? You may suffer from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is something more widely acknowledged in functional medicine than in conventional western medicine. The western world will only embrace adrenal function when the adrenals don’t work anymore at all.
If you are constantly tired your adrenals may have been working overtime and now are very depleted. This deserves attention and treatment to avoid complete adrenal burnout. Preventative support is better than total system failure.
The Adrenals or an organ that sit on top of the kidneys and secrete cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline in response to signals from the pituitary gland(which is in the brain). These secretions: cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline help us adapt to stress both internal and external. When stress becomes chronic (meaning, it doesn’t go away) the adrenals become impaired in their ability to keep up with the stress.
This stress may be due to physical injury or infection, environmental (poor diet, toxin exposure) or even psychosocial (family issues, divorce, etc). Your adrenal glands respond to stress in the same way no matter the origin. Adrenal fatigue can be sudden, as in a terrible accident. It can also take it’s toll gradually with smaller stresses that accumulate or come so close to one another so that your body has no time to recover. I’m sure we can all imagine a time where a root canal, major job stress, family member major illness, and a month of binging on holiday candy and egg nog, all happened at the same time.
The hormones that the adrenal glands secrete are very important. Cortisol causes conversion of protein for energy, it makes the liver use protein stores to convert to sugar, it suppresses the immune system, and helps maintain blood pressure. DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen, it improves resistance to viruses, bacteria, parasites, can lower osteoporosis, lowers total and LDL cholesterol. Adrenaline is the major fight hormone. When the adrenal gland can not produce these hormones, it can have an effect on many different body systems from bone health, to hormone and endocrine health, heart health, and immune health. You can also have an impaired ability to manage blood sugars when the adrenal gland slows.
A short list of symptoms:
-Continuing fatigue not relieved by sleep
-Increased effort to do everyday tasks
-Craving for salty foods
-Increased time to recover from illness, injury or trauma
-Skipping a meal causes worse fatigue and irritability
Conditions associated with adrenal fatigue:
-Use of corticosteroids
-Chronic fatigue syndrome
Eating habits are very important in treating adrenal fatigue. Some tips:
-Eat at frequent intervals. The adrenal hormone cortisol is partially responsible for keeping our blood sugar at normal levels. You need to eat to keep your blood sugar up because your body is having more difficulty doing this function as well on it’s own.
-Avoid caffeine(or at least decrease intake of caffeine), it depletes the adrenals too, making matters worse not better - this can be a hard one when you are tired all the time, however it is an important step in the healing process.
-Eat breakfast early in the day (within an hour or two of waking)
-Snack between lunch and dinner and snack before bed(choose healthy fats and whole grains instead of sugar filled foods).
-Eat good quality whole foods.
-Decrease intake of high sugar foods.
-Stay hydrated – aim for half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
-Go ahead and eat salt. You need it.
Food sensitivities can also play a key role as the offending foods cause histamine and other inflammatory substances to be released. It takes cortisol to reduce that inflammation. That’s taxing on the already drained adrenals.
If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue you should get assessed by a functional doctor or nutritionist and get a personalized plan. Click on this website for more resources and information.
I'm hoping this is my most read blog of the year. Come on, it's a sexy topic, most nutrition professionals wouldn't talk about, or perhaps even research.
Hormone imbalances, low thyroid function and autoimmune conditions provide daily reminders of illness and fatigue. These conditions can influence all aspects of our life both work and play, fun and LOVIN’. Many are too embarrassed to talk about certain life matters like poop and sex. I am not. And today I’d like to talk about hormones, libido and some foods you can incorporate into every day to boost the health of your sexual organs.
In high states of inflammation adrenal glands release more cortisol (the stress hormone) in an attempt to reduce this inflammation. Adrenals also play a major role in synthesis of DHEA, aldosterone, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. All of these hormones depend on a common precursor, pregnenolone. The problem is when cortisol is increased, pregnenolone decreases. This results in a hormonal shift that has a cascade of results. For women, high cortisol production can lower progesterone production. Low progesterone causes an estrogen dominance. This cascade continues, high estrogen can lead to decreased amounts of thyroid hormone. This can cause fatigue, aches and pains, lower mental acuity and low libido.
It sounds so dismal right? With high inflammation, high stress, hormone dysfunction, low energy, then a low sex drive. You might even call it a vicious cycle. It’s actually quite incredible. If you have high inflammation or stress levels that are chronic, maybe it isn’t a great time to get pregnant. This is just your bodies natural way to defend you from a situation which will be taxing to an already compromised body system.
What to do? Try to lower stress and feed your adrenals.
How to lower stress? Sleep more, go for a walk, breathe, sweat, take some yoga, start saying "no" rather than going to every party and friend outing, PRAY.
How to feed the adrenals? Adequate vitamin c, B vitamins, and magnesium daily. Vitamin c is often easy to get with some oranges or tomatoes. Magnesium isn’t too rich in our western diet and may require supplementation. A quality B complex also may be necessary to assist your body and help energy levels.
Food first is a major part of my nutrition philosophy. It takes a level of determination to feed your body for optimal health. Isn't it worth it? When we are talking hormone balance, libido, and sex organs it is crucial that your body has good circulation, so nutrients can make it to these cells and organs. It is also important for long term health to have a healthy amount of antioxidants in the diet to fight exposure to free radicals and help prevent oxidative stress and cancer in these organs. Many of the foods that help with circulation listed below help support healthy blood supply to the sex organs, but some have also been shown to support optimal hormone balance and even increase sexual desire. So let's get down to it....
Foods To Help Circulation, Nutrient Distribution, Hormone Balance, And Libido
Pumpkin Seeds- Zinc is essential for hormone production for men and women. Zinc intake is associated with higher sex drive in both men and women. It is also helpful in quality and quantity of sperm production (if you are working on fertility factors). Pumpkin seeds are a great natural source of zinc. I like to grind them and add to oatmeal, smoothies or homemade granola.
Maca- This is a root found in South America. It is difficult to source in America as a food, however it is easy to find in supplemental form. It is known for enhancing sexual desire in both males and females. It has been known to improve sperm motility, improve erectile dysfunction and balance hormones. It is a supplement to start small with and work up to 2-3 grams per day. If you are interested in this supplement shoot me an email I am happy to share where I recommend sourcing it from.
Dark Chocolate – Bioflavonoids that are found in dark chocolate help keep blood vessels healthy and allow for optimal blood flow to your sexual organs. This blood flow is essential for arousal, lubrication, and achieving orgasm. Dark chocolate (more than 70% cacao) also boosts dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain found in pathways of motivation and pleasure.
Garlic – I know this one doesn’t seem intuitive or synonymous with romance, but an active compound found in garlic, allicin, has been shown to improve circulation by thinning the blood. This aids in tissue receiving nutrients and can increase physical sensation. Perhaps both partners will have to agree on a garlic filled meal, we wouldn’t want intake of garlic for these purposes to be counter-productive.
Celery- This vegetable contains a compound called androsterone that helps your body produce pheromones. You know what those do.
Pineapple- This delicious fruit contains bromelain which is an important enzyme for men increasing testosterone and libido. It also has the added benefit of decreasing inflammation in the body.
Ginger – This herb boosts circulation and thus, sexual sensation. Add some ginger to that cocktail this weekend.
Lentils and Nuts – All contain arginine, which can help boost female libido through the dilation of blood vessels near female organs.
Spinach – High in folate, which helps produce histamine, a compound released from mast cells during sexual arousal.
There is much that may also play a role in low sexual drive that may not have to do with hormones,eating or your physical health. Emotional health and relationship issues and even trauma can play a role in these symptoms. Remember to be patient and understanding with your partner and if you feel this is a persistent problem seek help from a qualified family counselor.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
218 W. Carmen Lane, Suite 108
Santa Maria, California 93458
Hours: Mon-Fri 9-5 PST