Do you feel tired most of the time? Are you gaining weight for no apparent reason? A sluggish thyroid may be to blame. Though just 3% of all Americans suffer from an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism (sometimes referred to as a sluggish thyroid), as many as 10% to 15% of Americans have a subclinical (mild) hypothyroid condition. Because hypothyroidism often underlies other health conditions, the number of people who have the disorder may be even higher, perhaps as high as one in three.
Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to serious medical problems, including reduced immunity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Recent finding: A study published in the July 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported that even mild changes in thyroid function are associated with an increased risk for mortality in patients with cardiac disease.
The good news is that a sluggish thyroid often can be corrected naturally.
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower front of the neck, produces hormones that help your body regulate your metabolism and keep your heart, brain, muscles and organs functioning normally. Hypothyroidism has several causes that can trigger a shortage in formation or utilization of thyroid hormones.
The risk for hypothyroidism increases with age, and being female puts you at even higher risk. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have the condition. The risk for hypothyroidism increases if you have a family history of thyroid disease or if you have an autoimmune disorder, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, weight gain, insomnia, intolerance to cold, constipation, dry skin, hair loss and/or chronic yeast infections.
For women, hypothyroid symptoms may include frequent and/or heavy menstrual periods. Also, symptoms commonly attributed to menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, can be signs of a sluggish thyroid.
If you regularly suffer from two or more hypothyroid symptoms over the course of several weeks or months, see your doctor. If your doctor suspects hypothyroidism, he/she will order a simple blood test that measures thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and "free" thyroxine (T4). An abnormally high level of TSH means the thyroid gland is asked to make more T4 because there isn't enough available. A "free" T4 index can effectively measure how much T4 is circulating in the blood and available for your body to use.
If your doctor doesn't discover a thyroid problem but you have many of the symptoms, visit a holistic practitioner who may have a better understanding of hidden thyroid issues.
Lifestyle changes can go a long way toward correcting a sluggish thyroid...
Consume natural sources of iodine. If you're low in iodine, it can lead to a thyroid deficiency. The best sources of iodine are iodized salt, sea vegetables, such as seaweed, as well as eggs and shellfish, including lobster, shrimp and crab. You will need 100 micrograms (mcg) to 120 mcg of iodine a day. A three-ounce serving of shrimp -- or one egg -- contains about 30 mcg.
Also, to ensure a healthy metabolism, eat a balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of protein (beef, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese), whole grains and plenty of vegetables. Whenever possible, opt for organic foods -- pesticides and herbicides have been linked to thyroid disorders.
Eat foods rich in vitamin E and selenium. Studies reported in Biofactors and European Journal of Endocrinology indicate that vitamin E and selenium can revitalize an underactive thyroid. Vitamin E is in various foods, including wheat germ, whole-grain cereals, nuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables and fish. Try to consume a total of 400 international units (IU) per day. One tablespoon of wheat germ oil has 30 IU... one ounce of almonds has 10 IU. Selenium is in seafood, liver, poultry, red meat and grains -- aim for 200 mcg a day. A four-ounce serving of most fish has 50 mcg to 75 mcg of selenium... four ounces of turkey breast has 33 mcg.
Exercise. The latest research on hypothyroidism suggests that thyroid dysfunction may be linked to stress. A study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Science found that exercise helps reestablish healthy thyroid function by decreasing the overall impact of stress. Aim for 30 minutes a day of any form of exercise.