In this article you will learn:
The areas of focus when healing your thyroid
What are some of the main causes of a dysfunctional thyroid
What interventions and tests are important
What I will share with you in this article is very valuable, based on research and experience and will cover most of the journey of how to heal your thyroid, but know that balancing your thyroid can be a complicated dance involving many factors and everyone’s case is different.
In general, prevention is the best medicine. Even if you have a current thyroid problem, work at it with the goal of getting into preventive self-care. This means developing the habits and knowledge to deal with fluctuations, and also arming yourself with the proper nutritional and therapeutic tools to handle your specific situation. There are times when a doctor may be necessary, but remember that going to a doctor doesn’t guarantee you results either.
Today more than ever, you have access to information and tools to make a difference in your health, but if it’s too much to handle on your own then make sure you find a great functional medicine doctor with an expertise in thyroid care.
To learn to dance, you’ve got to learn how to move. Understanding the many factors that can throw your thyroid off in the first place, and what to do about them, is where we start, and there are a total of 7. To heal your thyroid and work preventively means you have somewhat of a handle on all of these areas, so get acquainted with them as well as possible and relate them to your own present life and circumstances.
1. Digestive Health
Everything is related to everything, and if your gut is leaky or you have an imbalanced gut microbiome it will affect the performance of your thyroid. Leaky gut means inflammatory triggers are getting into your blood and aggravating your immune system, and up to 20% of the thyroid hormone conversion process is done in the
gut.(1) This means that if you have a skewed ratio of bad actors to good actors down there, your thyroid performance will suffer eventually for one reason or another.
Although this list is not organized in any order of priorities, you should make your digestive health your first priority when healing your thyroid. Also, as you intervene on the other areas in this list, always keep digestive health on the first pedestal. Hormones will fluctuate, you may lose sleep or feel exhausted despite 10 hours of rest. Don’t binge eat or eat garbage, don’t eat late at night and so on.
In fact, this should be your first place to look prior to intervening in any other.
2. Cortisol Balance
Stress is the ultimate killer, and when you mismanage your stress over long periods of time it will fuck your life up. Unfortunately, even high levels of stress aren’t totally unavoidable, but you can arm yourself with good principles and learn to minimize its effects. This article I wrote goes into depth on how to recover from burnout.
The stress hormone, cortisol, impacts every aspect of your metabolism and health because it is a “catabolic” (breaking things down) hormone. This isn’t a bad thing because you need cortisol. But just like with every other hormone, balance is the key. In terms of the thyroid, chronically high cortisol impairs conversion of thyroid hormones and will lead to higher Reverse T3 and less of the good stuff to go around. Chronically high cortisol also drains progesterone from your body, which in turn will lead to an imbalance of estrogen.
You’ve got to manage your stress in as many ways as possible and fortify your body with
good nutrition, eating, mindset and spirituality principles. You have to have a mindful Practice of life, as well as understanding your body, so that you can truly master your Alignment. When any area of your life is misaligned, it creates stress of some kind. The places this stress shows up most often will be your digestive system, your adrenals and your thyroid. Work on developing the habits to avoid going overboard, recover efficiently and control how much stress comes into your life and you will be doing your Body, Mind and Soul a huge favor.
Another important note about cortisol and thyroid function is that a healthy thyroid helps maintain normal cortisol levels. If you are hypo or hyperthyroid, cortisol will become an issue, guaranteed. For most people who are hypothyroid, it’s often the case that they have low cortisol. This is one reason why hypothyroidism is associated with fatigue.
Interestingly, you can also have high cortisol and a low functioning thyroid (this happened to me). This is also a problem, because a low thyroid will make it harder for your body to remove cortisol and make recovery slower. If you are hyperthyroid, it will also raise your cortisol.
Cortisol affects your performance during the day, whether you sleep at night, your
metabolism, your sex hormones and many other things, so you can see why using the
appropriate tools to manage its levels is so important. Unfortunately, a thyroid problem
tends to spiral out of control because of the mechanisms we’ve just described, as well as a few others I’ll describe next. This is why discipline is so important. You have a lot less wiggle room when the thyroid goes out of balance, and it can be an uphill climb to get everything working again properly, but I can tell you from experience that it’s possible with the principles discussed here and a little patience.
3. Estrogen & Testosterone Balance
Today we are surrounded by xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen) everywhere in our environment. They are also present in our food and personal care products, and they impact our delicate hormonal balance with chronic exposure. Along with other factors like being overweight or mismanaging stress, they can lead to a condition called “estrogen dominance.”
It’s pretty self-explanatory, and what excess estrogen does to your thyroid is basically slow it down. Estrogen impairs the conversion of T4 to T3, and it also increases the
amount of thyroid carrier protein, TBG (thyroxine binding globulin), leading to more of this protein than needed. This in turn leads to more and more binding of your active thyroid hormone, and in a similar way, to what happens with Reverse T3 and high cortisol - you basically have less of the good stuff to go around.
As a result of this imbalance, you will feel hypothyroid even though your hormone levels
seem normal. Examining your TBG levels and Free T3/T4 levels, along with your symptoms, will help you determine the extent that excess estrogen is affecting your thyroid. If you have a slow thyroid already, like Hashimoto’s, and then develop an estrogen imbalance, it is even more dangerous. A slow thyroid makes the liver slow down, and as a result, estrogen becomes harder to breakdown and eliminate from the body.
Fat cells also store and lead to more estrogen creation. If you have Hashimoto’s, your metabolism is slowed down which will usually lead to gaining weight. All of this together means that your body goes on a downward spiral towards more and more estrogen imbalance and accumulation if left unchecked.
This is why having a solid Practice around your eating and digestive health is so crucial. It is the bottleneck where everything comes to. If you eat very healthfully, with mindfulness and make sure your center is as aligned as possible, it will minimize the rapid decline that happens in these cases, and also buy you the valuable time to start pushing back the other way instead of getting swallowed by the estrogen wave.
Healing from estrogen imbalance is not something that happens overnight, just like healing from cortisol imbalance, but it can be done with discipline and Awareness. Remove estrogenic compounds from your life in the personal care products you use; watch out for chemicals that stimulate estrogen production, and do your research to find out which ones are in your home or that you’re exposed to regularly through the products you use; heal your digestive center according to what you’ve learned; build a mindfulness Practice to reduce stress since increased cortisol also leads to estrogen imbalances; and most of all, have Faith.
Remember: your body wants to be healthy. Estrogen imbalance didn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away overnight either, but you and your body are on the same team. Approach this frustrating journey with love and compassion and I promise you will get there.
There is also another thing to do to manage estrogen imbalance, but there is some scientific debate in this area. Certain plant compounds may mimic estrogen (like soy) and removing them may help your body regulate itself again. There is some contention about this, especially in extreme outcomes of estrogen imbalance like breast cancer. These plant compounds, called phytoestrogens, are in many healthy foods and some of them are known antioxidants like resveratrol and quercetin.
One reason why data is inconsistent on these compounds is that some of them block estrogen while others mimic it, albeit to a weaker extent than our actual hormones.
For example, there is some research that found 16mg of soy phytoestrogens pushed
subclinical hypothyroid people into hypothyroidism,(2) but it also reduced their inflammatory markers and insulin resistance. In some animal studies, high phytoestrogens impaired male fertility,(3) but there is also lots of research that has found no impact of phytoestrogens on sperm amount, motility or testosterone levels i