The American Thyroid Association estimates that 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction or thyroid disease, with up to 60% going undiagnosed. Today we will explore the key signs and symptoms of thyroid disorder, the root cause of thyroid disorder, and a step-by-step plan to detox your thyroid and reclaim your health.
How Do You Know If You Have Thyroid Problems?
The thyroid is a large gland in the neck that secretes hormones regulating growth and development, and it impacts a wide array of functions relating to your metabolism, nervous system function, brain development and maintenance, heart and circulatory system, and weight management.
Common signs of thyroid problems include:
- Lack of energy
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold
- Brain fog
- Insatiable appetite
- Thinning hair
- Racing heartbeat or palpitations
- Fluid retention
- Dry skin
- Very light or very heavy menstrual flow
- Joint aches and pains
Where Does Thyroid Dysfunction Come From?
Current treatments for thyroid conditions do little to nothing to cure the disease. Allopathic and alternative healthcare practitioners alike are treating the symptoms instead of addressing the root cause.
Thyroid conditions can usually be traced to three main causes:
- An inability to convert T4 hormone to T3.
- Blunted thyroid receptors in the cell membranes are unable to take up T3.
- An autoimmune disorder leading to Hashimoto’s disease.
The T3 hormone is the metabolically active version of the thyroid hormone. T4 must be converted into T3, which binds to special thyroid receptors in our cells. When T4 isn’t properly converting to T3, stress is almost always the main cause. But remember, the body makes no distinction between types of stress. Physical, emotional, or mental, the physiological reaction to stress is the same. Chronic stress impacts the complex relationship between the glands of the endocrine system and can also trigger the production of reverse T3 (rT3). rT3 is not usable in the same way that T3 is and can block normal T3 hormones from binding to the cell membranes. This is a survival mode response in the body, designed to conserve energy. The problem comes when stress is chronic, leading to this survival mechanism constantly being triggered. As a result, the body will continually interfere with its production and use of the T3 hormone.
The second main cause of thyroid dysfunction is an inability of the thyroid receptors in the cell membranes to bind to T3. In this case, the body can convert T4 to T3, but the receptors cannot use it. This can occur due to rT3 in the bloodstream, as previously described, inflammation of the cell membranes, or toxins in the system. Toxins can blunt thyroid receptors, rendering them unable to function properly. Certain halogenated compounds (called trihalomethanes) like bromine, chlorine, and fluorine are notorious for binding to these cell receptors and disrupting the intake of T3. Studies have shown a marked decrease in thyroid function from long-term exposure to these compounds.
Both causes are nearly impossible to detect with the usual thyroid function panel, which tests for blood TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Prescription medications will drive down TSH and raise T4 levels, yield test results that look normal while you still feel unwell. Of note also is that levothyroxine, the standard drug used to treat thyroid disease, is a synthetic version of T4. If your body cannot convert it, or if stress is causing the conversion to shut down another path (rT3), the meds will be ineffective.
The third main cause of thyroid disease is an autoimmune disorder, leading to Hashimoto’s disease. Autoimmunity is when your body’s immune system attacks specific cells or tissues in the body. Science names these diseases based on what your immune system is attacking. Hashimoto’s disease is the thyroid being attacked by the body’s immune system and is far and away the leading cause of thyroid conditions today. The insidiousness of autoimmunity is that it can exist for years in the body before it shows up on a blood test. It’s common to the point of epidemic levels but often goes undetected until it finally manifests as a chronic disease like Hashimoto’s.
Detox Your Thyroid: A Step-By-Step Plan
Let’s demystify the solution to a healthy thyroid with a simple step-by-step plan. First, you’ll remove the toxins, start a natural detox diet cleanse, and finally address the hormone dysregulation.
Step 1: Remove Toxins
Before embarking on a detox plan, you want to ensure you’ve removed the source of toxicity. You cannot heal until you’ve removed the source! Watch out for environmental toxins that target thyroid hormone receptors in particular or can negatively impact the body’s ability to use iodine, a necessary element for thyroid health.
The top 5 toxic actors for thyroid dysregulation are:
- Silver Amalgam Fillings (mercury toxicity)
- Heavy Metals
These toxins easily bind to thyroid receptors in the cell membranes, interfering with proper thyroid function. Steer clear of them! Some things that you can do to reduce your exposure include:
- Consider a house or shower filter to remove chlorine and fluoride from your shower water. Studies show that steam inhalation causes the highest exposure to chlorine (in the form of trihalomethanes) than any other typical exposure. The filtration systems that I use and recommend can be found here.
- Limit or eliminate hot tub and pool use. Both can have high levels of bromine and chlorine.
- Avoid brominated flour and beverages (usually citrus-flavored ones are the biggest culprits). Many processed foods also contain bromine; ALWAYS check the ingredient labels before you buy.
- Many pesticides also contain bromine (yet another reason to buy organic.)
Step 2: Start a Natural Detox Diet Cleanse
Addressing your diet will profoundly impact your body’s ability to get rid of the built-up toxins that are currently interfering with your thyroid health. The main tenets of a natural detox cleanse include the following:
- Removing refined sugars and high glycemic foods;
- Eliminating any foods triggering an allergic reaction (especially gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, and soy).
Antioxidants and Thyroid Detox
Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation, a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals and trigger a chain reaction that may damage cells in the body. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods gives your body the nutrients necessary to carry out cellular rebuilding and protection against damage.
Antioxidant-rich foods include:
- Dark chocolate (preferably with no refined sugars)
- Goji berries
- Dark leafy greens
Nutrients and Thyroid Detox
Two key nutrients often deficient when thyroid disorder is present are selenium and iodine. Both are available as supplements and can be taken to promote the body’s innate ability to detoxify. You’ll want to start with a very small dose and increase slowly for iodine.
Step 3: Address Hormone Dysregulation
Examining symptoms alone rarely gives the whole picture regarding hormone imbalances. To effectively fix hormone dysregulation, getting your hormones properly tested is imperative. Unfortunately, many doctors only try something called thyroid-stimulating hormone, which fails to give a full understanding of thyroid health. Moreover, most doctors interpret these already incomplete labs improperly, only considering results over 5 or 10 worth treating. The latest guidelines of the American College of Endocrinology consider anyone with a TSH over 3.0 as hypothyroid.
Apart from TSH, other essential tests required to measure thyroid health include:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Thyroid antibodies
A full workup of lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies should also address the following:
- Food allergies (especially gluten intolerance)
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Vitamin D levels
- Selenium levels
- Vitamin A levels
- Zinc levels
- Omega-3 levels
Learn more on how to measure and manage your hormones here properly.
- Thyroid dysfunction is a widespread, largely undiagnosed problem affecting millions.
- The dysfunction comes from three main sources and requires proper testing to diagnose.
- A natural detox diet plan removes any refined sugars, high glycemic foods, and common allergens (like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs).
- You can help your body detoxify the thyroid by increasing the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods and supplementing with selenium and iodine.