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.
There are over 300 enzyme reactions in the body that magnesium takes part in. It is an electrolyte helping to keep proper pH balance, it helps regulate protein synthesis, takes part in blood-glucose control and blood pressure, insulin regulation, bone health, cleansing and detoxifying processes and vitamin D metabolism. It is a major player in both sleep and digestive function.
If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be magnesium deficient: muscle cramps or twitching, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, constipation, headaches, kidney stones, and reflux. Research has also linked low levels of magnesium in people with the following conditions indicating it either plays a role in the development of these conditions or with the disease process, magnesium becomes scarce: Diabetes, Obesity, IBS, ADHD, Autism, Anxiety/Depression.
The typical Western (read as American) diet contains very little magnesium. We eat very highly processed, refined foods, white flour, meat and processed dairy. These foods do not contain magnesium. To add insult to injury, alcohol, salt, coffee, chronic stress, chronic diarrhea, diuretics and antibiotics can all lower magnesium levels. It’s no surprise we need more of it in our diets.
Foods high in magnesium include:
If you think you may be deficient, because you don’t eat enough of these foods and you experience some of the symptoms of deficiency – please keep reading.
HOW CAN MAGNESIUM HELP YOU:
Sleep – Studies show Magnesium helps people both fall asleep AND stay asleep. As we know sleep is so important for health and weight loss. Supplementing with magnesium before bed is a great way to relax into a sleep-filled night.
Reflux – Magnesium relaxes the sphincter between the stomach and small intestine. That means it will help your stomach empty so food can keep moving in your digestive tract, decreasing the amount of time in the stomach or the bulk in the stomach to “reflux”.
Say Goodbye to Constipation – Magnesium draws water into the intestine, helping stool from getting too hard and difficult to pass (softer poop). It also helps to relax muscles in the GI tract which can make it easier to go to the bathroom.
More Energy – The energy molecule in our body is called ATP. Without magnesium, you can not convert calories to ATP. Magnesium is essential for the process, so supplying magnesium helps unlock the door to using the energy molecules in the body, taking magnesium can help by increasing your energy levels.
Calming/Soothing – Listen up if you have anxiety, insomnia, or ADHD. Magnesium calms and relaxes the body by slowing the nerve signals from the body to the brain. This will not impair you, it will simply help you to feel calm and relaxed.
There are two types of magnesium I often recommend to patients. If you would like to take a product that will provide help with the above listed items ESPECIALLY constipation, then you should choose a magnesium citrate or oxide. If your bowels are in good working order then I suggest magnesium glycinate, this is a better choice as it has lower incidence of changing stool texture and frequency.
Here are my two favorite supplements for magnesium supplements. Both of which you can find at Wellevate where you will receive 10% off every order!
Hormones fluctuate dramatically throughout our lifetimes, and for women especially, they fluctuate dramatically just monthly. Hormones going hay-wire can contribute to weight gain, mood swings, and depression. There are actions within our own individual control that have significant effects on hormone production and metabolism. You guessed it: Diet and Exercise (and perhaps one you didn't guess or often overlook!) SLEEP. Today I will focus mostly on diet. We will keep it pretty simple too, eat more of these... and less of these... got it? Let's go.
Cruciferous vegetables (1-2 servings per day)
- cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussel's sprouts
Leafy greens (1-2 servings per day)
- spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens
Berries, melon and citrus (1 serving per day)
Raw nuts and seeds (1-2 servings per day) - consider soaking
Ground flax seed (1 Tbsp daily)
Beans (at least 1 serving per day)
Whole grains (2 servings per day)
Fish (2 servings per week)
Healthy fats: avocados, olives, olive oil, and those mentioned above.
Artificial sweeteners (diet soda, etc)
Trans fats and saturated fats
Sleep at least 7 hours per night
Get out in the fresh air and breathe
Get into full spectrum sunlight as quickly as you can upon waking
Maintain a healthy weight
Consider supplements that may help (ask a qualified health practitioner)
Take time to relax
Okay, maybe it has everything to do with diet, but perhaps not quite so directly. People always want to know that quick fix to losing weight and especially belly fat. I can tell you, a quick fix doesn't exist that will keep weight off. Sometimes people will ask me, "what's the number one thing you would have me do to lose weight?". When I respond, "sleep more", I often think people want to slug me or at the least they think I'm crazy. Admittedly, I am no sleep expert. However, I do know how poor sleep slows down weight loss.
The average American adult does not sleep enough. Most studies show that an individual needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, which by and large, we are not getting. In 2013 the average American adult got 6.8 hours of sleep per night, in 1942 7.9 hours per night. So what?! You may be thinking. What could that have to do with weight loss, metabolism, or weight maintenance? SOOOO MUCH!
If you have sleep problems, you really have 24 hour problems. Your cognitive ability from storing and accessing memories is compromised. Your ability to be creative is impacted. It can affect your physical safety, social interactions, mental health, and for the purposes of this post: YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH. People with sleep difficulties are more likely to be obese, they have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and higher levels of inflammation.
I know you are saying, come on, why is this the 1st thing you will recommend? Let's talk hormones. You have a hormone called 'Leptin', this is secreted to say "I'm full, I'm satisfied, You don't need any more food". It's your satiety hormone. And in sleep deprivation, you have LESS OF IT. That means your body has a decreased ability to know when you have eaten enough. You also have a hormone called 'Ghrelin'. I like to remember it as 'yellin ghrelin'. It's your hunger or "hanger'' hormone. It is secreted when your body is telling you, I need MORE food. This hormone is increased with sleep debt. That means you have more of it telling you eat, EAT, EAT! You also have an increase in the hormone cortisol. This is a stress hormone, and your body secretes more of it when you are stressed, or when you are sleep deprived. It tells your body to STORE BELLY FAT!
So poor sleep = hormones telling you YOU HAVEN"T EATEN ENOUGH, YOU NEED TO EAT MORE, AND STORE BELLY FAT. No wonder this is the first thing I will recommend to someone.
Simply by adding 30-40 minutes of sleep per night will affect a cascade of hormones that help you decide when and how much to eat. Aside from hormones, motivation to exercise is shown to decrease with lack of sleep, and poorer performance with less sleep. One study showed sleep deprived people eat an average of 263 calories (for men) and 329 calories (for women) more per day than their less sleep deprived selves. At the end of a week that could be the difference of an additional pound gained.
That 30-40 minutes of extra sleep may pay more dividends in terms of weight goals than 30-40 minutes at the gym. What! Yes, you read that right, if I had to choose between gym time or sleep, Sleep would win every time. You will be rewarded with better hormone balances, better food choices, and being more effective with tasks at hand.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep hygiene.
1)limit light at night, set your phone to limit blue light or take it out of the room altogether
2) take time to wind down, do relaxing activities before bed, and limit conversations about stressful things in your life, avoid task oriented activities
3) set up an ideal bedroom (cool, dark, quiet, clean, no clock, good mattress, no pets)
4) When you wake up, try to get in full spectrum light for 30 minutes first thing in the morning like 1-2 hours of waking up (get outside in the sun)
Sleep and stress management is a HUGE part of weight management. If you have any more questions about sleep or weight loss, please consider my weight loss coaching program. We will train your metabolism to chug along at the fastest pace possible.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
110 N McClelland Street
Santa Maria, California 93454
Hours: Tues and Thurs 10-5 PST