The Thyroid -
Queen of Balance
It's been a while since I wrote an article. Many things happened (I became a mother for the third time) and life is very busy in general. All this busy busy busy energy inspired me to talk about the thyroid gland.
Yes, there is certainly a nutritional connection when it comes to thyroid issues. However, from what I have seen around me and even experienced myself I can tell you that the psychosomatic connection is much more powerful.
Many of us know that the thyroid (the butterfly shaped gland in our throat) is the conductor that orchestrates the balance of all hormones. The thyroid is the first place to notice when anything is out of balance. And this could be nutritionally, environmentally, mentally or emotionally - or a combination of these. When we develop any kind of thyroid issue our body is telling us that things are out of balance.
Let's look at the nutrition first.
When we talk about hormones vitamin D needs to be our first stop. What we call a fat soluble vitamin, is in fact a steroid hormone. If we understand that vitamin D is a steroid hormone, we understand that without its optimal levels all our body systems will be effected. Every single cell depends on it. When we have an acute infection that we cannot shake off or a long-term inflammatory condition, we tend to get a prescription for steroids or corticoids. What are these? These are a synthetic substance to mimic the function of our own steroids, namely cortisol. I won't be going into too much detail about cortisol now, but let's just say that too little cortisol will result in reduced immune response (in other words - having troubles to shake things off - acute or chronic), irritability, issues with sleep, lack of energy and drive in life and this would also be strongly linked to our thyroid function.
So whatever thyroid issue we are dealing with, increasing our vitamin (steroid hormone) D levels is absolutely essential. Most people living in the Northern Hemisphere are sunshine deficient. The best version to supplement with is D3 (it's the most bioavailable form) and taking 3,000-5,000 IU every day is a good start. Ideally, you should have a blood test to check your levels and then discuss with your nutritionist how much to supplement with. Many people need much higher doses to begin with than what is the general recommendation.
There are many crucial nutrients that our body needs and that play an important role in just about every function of every cell, including our precious thyroid. Again, I won't be going into too much detail about these here. But let's talk briefly about magnesium, zinc, B12, selenium and iodine.
Magnesium is a major mineral and is just as important as calcium - if not more. Many refined and readymade foods are fortified with calcium, calcium is added to drinking water and is also plentiful in dairy products. However, magnesium is still being largely overlooked. Calcium and magnesium need to be in a balanced ratio and most of us are lacking magnesium badly.
Because of poor soils and conventional agricultural practices, there is less and less magnesium available in our foods. With increased stress, pollution (also blue light pollution), lack of sleep and chemical overload in our society, our bodies require higher levels of magnesium than the previous generations needed. Some typical symptoms of magnesium deficiency are cramps (of any sort), tremors, irregular heartrate or palpitations, constipation, constant thirst or hunger, insomnia, anxiety, even sighing. Magnesium is responsible for over 350 functions every single day.
Zinc is another important mineral that is lacking in our diet (and especially in a vegetarian and vegan diet). It is crucial for proper DNA and protein synthesis, immune function, production of enzymes, wound healing, cell division and detoxification of certain pollutants. It affects skin health, fertility and digestion among other things. One of the symptoms of deficiency are white spots on the nails. Also slow wound healing and frequent colds can be a symptom, although these relate to D3 deficiency as well as a lowered thyroid function.
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that is created by our gut bacteria. That is the reason why it's mostly present in animal foods but also tempeh (fermented soya beans) and some other fermented plant-based foods. Nevertheless, this nutrient is absolutely crucial for our nervous system, brain and nerve function, energy and red blood cell production, and even for the health of our gut lining. Typical deficiency symptoms are tingling hands and/or feet, a sore or swollen tongue, muscular weakness and fatigue.
If foods we are eating are sprayed with antimicrobial agents or the animal products come from animals fed antibiotics, it goes without saying that we won't be getting much B12. Also people with leaky gut (where the gut lining is compromised) are missing B12 and may be unable to absorb enough of it through diet or supplements.
Selenium is a mineral that plays an important role in detoxifying heavy metals and pollutants, reducing oxidative stress, it affects metabolism and the immune function. Apparently, two brazil nuts a day contain our daily need for selenium. However, this depends on the soil where the brazils had grown and some people may require a much larger amount. Especially when dealing with an underactive thyroid, selenium is essential for the conversion of the passive T4 to the active T3 thyroid hormone. If we don't make enough T3 we are constantly tired and lacking energy. For example Dr Aviva Romm recommends taking 200mcg a day during pregnancy and for the first 9 months afterwards. Selenium can also reduce thyroid antibodies that our body produces once the thyroid condition becomes an autoimmune issue (Hashimoto's and Grave's are autoimmune conditions).
Last but not least, we need to talk about iodine. It is a mineral that our body needs to absorb from the diet in order to produce healthy levels of the thyroid hormones. Ideally, we all use sea salt, eat sea vegetables (seaweeds) and fish (or other sea creatures) on a regular basis. We need higher levels of iodine when pregnant, breastfeeding and dealing with toxicity (chemical or heavy metal). Lack of iodine seems to be the number one cause of all thyroid problems. Studies show that low iodine levels in pregnant mothers will lead to reduced intellect and learning difficulties in their children.
Many of these nutrients are either not available in our diet (or not in the amounts we need) and/or we are unable to absorb them from our foods. This is especially true for zinc, magnesium and B12. Our stomach acid needs to be powerfully acidic to be able to break foods down properly and release nutrients for absorption. I am mentioning this briefly in my article about candida - have a look here:
Candida - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Our thyroid likes to have things balanced. If we are lacking crucial nutrients we can hardly expect the thyroid to function well. Rather than looking at our thyroid condition as an illness I like to see it as a communication. Our body NEVER makes a mistake, it's just that we don't always understand the messages and signs.
Think about it this way. If we are very nutritionally deficient and our body cannot manage all those functions and processes efficiently, it is very exhausting and stressful to try and keep going at full blast. If we are under constant stress (nutritional in this case) our body is firing huge amounts of cortisol. If this goes on for some time our body doesn't have a different choice than to downregulate. Downregulate means to reduce its functions, alertness, demands for certain nutrients etc. As the thyroid is the queen that senses any imbalance in the body, she will be the one to reduce her function first. This is called hypothyroidism - low thyroid function.
Instead of thriving we are surviving. This is a protective mechanism. I heard somewhere that all of those women who survived the great potato famine in Ireland had a form of hypothyroidism. If all their body systems were fully working and constantly demanding their nutrients, these women would have starved. But because their thyroid downregulated they survived. However, when we are surviving we are just ticking over - barely living. The things that we don't need much for surviving are fertility, physical beauty (hair, skin, nails but also ideal body weight), digestion (digestion takes a LOT of energy) and a relaxed mind. Instead, we are pumping blood into the limbs (that's the fight/flight mechanism), have a racing mind (on high alert all the time) and are generally very tired because we don't make much of the active thyroid hormone.
Can a thyroid condition be genetic?
Yes, to a certain degree. If your mother had a low thyroid function in pregnancy, there is a chance you will have a predisposition. If she was lacking iodine, again, this would have affected you.
However, I believe that what we call genetic in the convectional medicine, is actually psychosomatic. I guess this bit will resonate more with women - and let's be honest - there are 10 women with thyroid issues to 1 man.
Why? I think we can call it the 'perfectionist syndrome'. Let me explain.
From an early age we observe our family, especially a little girl watches her mother. Does she see her mother relaxing, laughing and enjoying her life in general, or just work, work, working to the point of collapsing - so the house is tidy and clean, so the children's clothes are tidy and clean, so all the jobs are done... Of course, most mothers also go to work - so in fact they have two jobs to juggle. Even when the mother can sit down with a cup of tea or dance and laugh to a wild song with the kids, she tends to fuss and clean and tidy the shoes/clothes/sofa/towels/dishes... you name it. Did your mother take time off when it was the time of the month? Mine never did. In fact, she carried on as usual - baking, cooking, cleaning, occasionally clenching her teeth or grimacing with pain. But honestly, I had no idea she was in any kind of discomfort until my own monthly cycle.
Witnessing our mother, our first role model, running herself ragged throughout our early childhood creates our first B.S. (belief system - pun intended!). This BS doesn't become our conscious mental pattern - it engraves deeply onto our subconscious mind when we are at that impressionable age (up to the age of 7 or so). This becomes our autopilot, our subconscious pattern that guides our thinking, believing, feeling and also acting.
Unless we consciously dive deep into our psyche, recognise and heal these deeply embedded patterns, we cannot fully thrive in life.
Most of the women I know have a perfectionist syndrome. And most of them have a form of underactive thyroid. (I was one of them!) Why? Because the constant pressure to perform and be perfect in every way creates a chronic stress in the body. This is when the emotions and beliefs are so out of balance that they are harming the body.
So if your mother, aunt and grandmother all had issues with their thyroid gland, is it genetic? You may have a predisposition, yes. But the main reason (or the final trigger if you like) will be your conditioning - the internal BS that you learnt in childhood. The same principle can be applied to any disease that seemingly 'runs in the family'. It can be diabetes, 'women's problems' or cancer - the pattern is the same.
I warmly recommend that you look at Bruce Lipton's work on epigenetics and Joe Dispenza's work on mind-body medicine.
Truth to be told, these thinking patterns are much harder to fix than improve our diet and take some supplements, of course.
The question we need to ask is this: Do I want a quick fix - a little plaster/pill so I don't have to deal with this any more? And if I go down that road, what if the quick fix doesn't work or the issue keeps coming back?
Or, Do I want to resolve this for good?
And if I want to go down that rabbit hole and search deep within me (why my body is telling me certain things or certain things are happening to me/in my family etc.), am I willing to give up my inner perfectionist?
I can honestly say that it's a journey. I have resolved most of my issues I used to struggle with for years. But I can't say that now I am 100% healed and done. Our self-work is never fully done. We are like an onion - just peeling off the layers. When we have dealt with a few layers we can allow ourselves a little celebration, a short break - until the next layer comes up. The more personal growth work we have done, the easier it becomes to uncover the patterns and triggers within us.
So how do we look after ourselves, a.k.a. practise selfcare, from the psychosomatic perspective?
We want to:
give ourselves permission to rest, to relax
allow things around us to be imperfect
allow ourselves time off when tired, unwell or dealing with difficult or demanding situations in life
accept that we cannot be there for everyone else all the time
accept our full responsibility for our own wellbeing (if I am tired and not resting, my body will suffer)
listen to our lovely and wise thyroid, the queen of balance - she will tell us when we are not in harmony and when we need to slow down
If we want to stay balanced and well in the long-term we need to learn to practise selfcare. Nobody ever taught us how to do so - not in our families, not at school, not at our place of work, either. And that is why it's a journey that will take time. Let's be patient and appreciative of ourselves. We can start right here, right now, with baby steps. We may have a few breakthroughs along the path, then slip a few times, then do brilliant again. It's all good, as long as we hold the intention to slow down and tune inwards. What are the main themes we want to learn?
Accept, allow, listen.