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Paying Attention to your Thyroid Health

Paying attention to your thyroid health is something overlooked by most, anyone who suffers from fatigue, which is everyone’s premier gripe, weight gain that is hard to shed, hair loss, cold hands and feet, dry skin, diminished mental capacity and sluggish bowel function has a thyroid which has shut down until proven otherwise. When the thyroid doesn’t work everything slows down. Your brain, your body, your bowels, the whole enchilada. You become debilitated and dull like the devitalised inertia of a stagnant pond.

There’s a laundry list of medical conditions that are linked to thyroid inactivity. Gallstones, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression and dementia all have their roots in a thyroid that is shooting blanks. This is because like the conductor who guides, cajoles, inspires and oversees the members of an orchestra your thyroid supervises your cellular symphony. Your cells function and energise you because your thyroid tells them to. Switch off the thyroid and they can no longer operate. This is when your functionality grinds to a halt. How can it be that an organ that is so essential fails to fire?

A balancing act

For starters, to manufacture thyroid hormones you need adequate amounts of iodine and the amino acid tyrosine. Iodine is found in seaweed, iodised salt and bread that has been fortified with this essential mineral but not gluten-free bread. Factor in the antagonistic effects of fluoride which health authorities in their unassailable wisdom have added to our water supply, add pesticides combined with heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium and it’s not hard to understand why so many of us are stalled in the starting blocks. For those of us who’ve miraculously managed to make thyroxine, one of the principal thyroid hormones, also known as T4, we then have to convert the T4 to triiodothyronine or T3, the other major thyroid hormone. It’s T3 that does most of the work of thyroid hormones — this is why if you have an diminishing thyroid health and your doctor treats you with thyroxine you still have to convert it to T3 in order to enjoy the benefits of this therapy. To make T3 from T4 you need sufficient supplies of zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin A and B vitamins. You also require the hormone cortisol, just enough but not too much, and the presence of vitamin D is equally essential. As many of us don’t often have enough of these vital participants, this would compound your thyroid health.

Once these obstacles have been overcome it’s still imperative for T4 and T3 to enter your cells so that they can ignite your engines. For this transition to happen you need energy, which is generated by minerals like calcium and magnesium as well as B vitamins. If you don’t have enough of these, this passage becomes less efficient and more arduous. You might have more than enough T4 and T3 but they’re just stuck in a holding pattern outside your cells waiting to get in and do their thing.

This is why when I talk about the “four pillars of health” in one of my books You have the Power, hormones are the final pillar, preceded by digestion, diet and essential nutrients. For hormones to work you need to take care of these other pillars first. Simply taking hormones, for example, to overcome fatigue without primarily attending to these is bound to fail.

There are a number of other conditions which push back against T4 and T3. Fasting or eating less is one of them. This is unfortunate because many of us do this to lose weight and to jettison fat, but here’s the wrinkle: when you fast your body erroneously deciphers this as a food shortage and your DNA, which is historically programmed to conserve your resources and your fat stores, tamps down your metabolic furnace. Thyroid hormones, which normally propel metabolism and promote fat burning, become frozen in mid-stride. Similarly, unrelenting stress, an illness that is ongoing and unresolved, and even medications like valium, which is dished out like smarties to manage anxiety, can set up a roadblock against the effective operation of T4 and T3.

Herein lies the fundamental problem. In all these scenarios, when you have all the symptoms listed at the beginning of this article and your body is screaming out that your thyroid hormones are not working, your doctor might do a blood test which measures what is called TSH; invariably this test is normal, but you sure aren’t. What do you do then? You find a practitioner who understands the nuances of thyroid hormone assessment who might be able to help you.

Ageing is a case in point. This is a time when your body puts the brake on thyroid hormone activity as you don’t want any hormones to overstimulate your cells with cancer lurking in the shadows. If this enervates you and you want to invigorate your thyroid hormones you need to be careful you don’t overdo things and pay attention to all the cancer preventing strategies laid out in The Wellness Guide to Preventing the Diseases of Ageing written by yours truly.

Dr Michael Elstein

Dr Michael Elstein

Dr Michael Elstein is a Sydney-based anti-ageing physician and writer. He is the author of three books including his latest, The Wellness Guide to Preventing the Diseases of Ageing. He has also designed the app The Diet Guide to Ageing Prevention.

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