by Dr. Will Cole
Your thyroid hormones influence the function of every single cell of your body: How your hair grows, what mood you are in, how well your immune system works, what your energy levels are, how efficiently you digest your food, how hot your metabolism runs, and how much of a sex drive you have, all hinge on the delicate balance of your thyroid hormones. This is why you can have such a diverse array of symptoms when your thyroid isn’t working correctly since there are many underlying reasons for thyroid problems such as with autoimmune thyroid problems like Hashimoto’s or Graves disease (when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland), or with low T3 syndrome, when your body isn’t converting inactive T4 hormone to the active, usable T3 form.
Fortunately, the thyroid responds well to lifestyle changes, so nip these 14 causes of thyroid dysfunction in the bud and feel better fast. Eliminating these troublemakers will have a positive cascading effect on your health:
Stress can mess with you in all kinds of ways, and one of the biggest is impairing thyroid function. Your main stress hormone, cortisol, can block conversion of T4 to the active T3, and can also increase the unusable reverse T3 (rT3), further confusing the delicate balance of thyroid hormones that are so essential for good health. Many of my patients discover that their thyroid problems started after a stressful time in their lives. Research validates this stress-thyroid-connection – two studies found that autoimmune thyroid patients had a higher rate of stressful life events before their diagnosis when compared to control groups.
What to do: Be consistent with stress-busting practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga. These activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which will make you feel more zen, while also boosting healthy thyroid function.
2. Low vitamin A
Low vitamin A can spell trouble for your thyroid because this fat-soluble vitamin has been shown to boost T3 levels and normalize TSH.
What to do: True vitamin A, called retinol, is only found in animal products like fish, shellfish, fermented cod liver oil, liver, and butterfat from grass-fed cows. Plant carotenes, a precursor to vitamin A, are found in sweet potatoes and carrots, but the conversion rate to the usable retinol is very weak. In fact, research suggests that just 3 percent of beta-carotene gets converted in a healthy adult. So eat up those animal fats!
3. Low selenium
What to do: Eat a variety of nuts and seeds, especially Brazil nuts, as well as oysters, another good source of selenium.
4. Viral infections
Low-grade reactivations of viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) have been linked to autoimmune thyroid problems such as Hashimoto’s.
What to do: Treat the root cause with a natural antiviral supporter such as astragalus, olive leaf, larrea tridentata, bee propolis, Melissa officinalis, L-lysine, zinc, and vitamin C.
5. Too much iodine
I see patients all the time who are taking iodine to treat their thyroid naturally, but are actually triggering an autoimmune thyroid storm because they are taking too much. While iodine is needed for thyroid hormone production, several studies have found that increased iodine intake is associated with flareups of Hashimoto’s disease. This goes to show that even with natural medicines, what supports the health of one person can aggravate the health of another. It also suggests that iodine may be preventive, but not a cure when disease is already in process.
What to do: You still need iodine to make healthy thyroid hormones, but I suggest getting it in from food medicines. Sea vegetables like dulse, nori, kombu, and arame are all rich in iodine. Getting your iodine levels tested is a good idea to know where your starting point is.
6. Low iron
Iron is needed for the production of thyroid peroxidase, the enzyme used to make your thyroid hormones.
What to do: If you have low iron, the most important thing to discover first is the underlying problem that’s causing the iron deficiency. Healing your gut is essential for healthy nutrient absorption, especially iron. Once the gut is healed, iron-rich foods like grass-fed beef, liver, and spinach can be effective – as can cooking with cast-iron cookware.
7. Low copper
Healthy copper levels were found to increase total T4 and T3 levels.
What to do: The best way to get bioavailable copper is by eating grass-fed liver and oysters. Sesame seeds are a good plant source as well.
8. Hormone imbalances
Your hormones are all connected, and the ripple effect from dysfunction in one endocrine gland outputting any hormone can negatively affect your thyroid. Low estrogen, insulin resistance, and low testosterone were all found to inhibit thyroid function.
What to do: Depending on your individual hormone problems, solutions will vary. Take a look at my hormone guide to find out what may be best for you.
9. Artificial sweeteners
Sweeteners like saccharine (Sweet’ N Low), sucralose (Splenda), or aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) are in many sugar-free, diet, or zero-calorie drinks and foods. One small-scale study showed a reversal of Hashimoto’s just by eliminating these unhealthy sweeteners. Why are they bad for you? Researchers are pointing to their negative impact on our microbiome.
What to do: Avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague. Opt for raw honey or pure maple syrup in moderation, if you must add sweetener.
Toxins such as pesticides, plastics, antibacterial products, and heavy metals are just some of the culprits behind dysfunctional thyroid activity. They are also suspected triggers for autoimmune disease and flare-ups.
What to do: Make your life a detox. You are organic, so your food and beauty and cleaning products should be too. Make the switch to cleaner foods and products and green-up your environment stat.
Being in chronic pain ahs been shown to suppress deiodinase, the liver enzyme that converts 80 percent of your T4 into your active T3.
What to do: There is no simple answer for this. No one chooses to be in chronic pain, but there are many therapies that may help. I have seen some success with liposomal turmeric, which has great bioavailability compared to the standard version of this anti-inflammatory natural product.
12. Microbiome problems
Gut problems like leaky gut syndrome, candida overgrowth, and SIBO are all associated with autoimmune thyroid problems. In fact, 20 percent of your T4 is converted to T3 in the gut, and an imbalanced, unhealthy microbiome can inhibit this process.
What to do: Healing your gut takes time. The first step to start the gut-healing journey is an elimination diet, to discover the foods that are triggering symptoms and negatively impacting your microbiome. Check out my video class for a step-by-step guide for how to do this.
A proverbial expletive in the health world, this protein – found in wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt – is an issue for many people with thyroid problems. The inflammatory effects of gluten were shown to last up to six months after you eat it, each and every time. Even worse, mainstream doctors typically don’t run comprehensive labs to see if this is a real trigger for individual patients. Instead, they typically do one test and if it is negative, they don’t look any further, when in reality there are multiple aspects of gluten your body could be reacting to.
What to do: When cooking and baking, opt for the gluten and grain-free flour options such as coconut, almond, cassava, or hazelnut flour. We live in a time when products using these grain-free options are more common than ever (Starbucks even has coconut-flour treats!) Otherwise, simply avoid all foods and rinks made with gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley, rye, and spelt.
Obviously, smoking isn’t healthy for anyone, but in people genetically susceptible to thyroid issues, it can be downright disastrous. Multiple studies have looked at the effects of smoking on people with autoimmune thyroid disorders, and one study observed an increase in autoimmune hypothyroidism in women, while another study showed an increase in Graves disease in smokers.
What to do: This one is a no-brainer: stop smoking! But in addition, studies have shown that a decrease in thyroid function could be reversed by taking n-acetylcysteine (NAC), and by increasing the super-antioxidant glutathione.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.