The thyroid gland, located in the neck behind the trachea, is responsible for regulating metabolism, which affects mood, energy levels, and weight. Damage to the thyroid gland can cause thyroiditis (inflammation), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), and thyroid cancer.
Factors that can cause damage to the thyroid gland are:
-Radiation: The thyroid is sensitive to radiation, the most common form of which is medical diagnostic imaging, such as CT scans and X rays. The earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan in 2011 that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant caused a spike in thyroid cancers worldwide due to the release of radioactive materials.
-Iodine: The thyroid gland needs iodine in order to make thyroid hormone. If there is insufficient iodine in the diet, hypothyroidism can result, frequently manifesting as weight gain, low mood, and reduced energy levels and mental function, along with other symptoms. Too much iodine can lead to hyperthyroidism, which can manifest as a fast, irregular heart rate, weight loss, hyperactivity, and insomnia, along with other symptoms. Here in Southern Ontario, people often consume insufficient iodine and hypothyroidism is more common.
-Gluten: Gluten can trigger an autoimmune response in people who have a hypersensitivity to it. The molecular structure of gluten resembles that of thyroid tissue, so the hypersensitivity reaction can attack the thyroid gland, leading to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and progressing to hypothyroidism.
-Toxins: Toxic substances, such as pesticides, bromides, lead, mercury, cigarette smoke, and chloride can damage the thyroid gland. People who smoke are three to five times more likely to develop thyroid disease than nonsmokers.
-Stress: High levels of stress can cause both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism (less common).
-Soy: Soy is often touted as a health food, especially as a dairy replacement for people who are lactose intolerant and as a meat substitute. However, eating too much soy can raise estrogen levels and cause thyroid damage. Unless labeled otherwise, soy is usually GMO, which is likely the main reason why it is damaging to the thyroid, especially when consumed in excess. It is best to consume soy that is organic and fermented (in the form of miso, tamari, and tempeh) and limit consumption to one serving per day.
-Women who are pregnant and in menopause are also at increased risk of developing thyroid disease because of hormonal changes.
How can naturopathic medicine help?
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition and been told that you need to start taking thyroid hormone supplements, talk to a naturopath first. Besides assessing your diet to determine if the foods you’re eating could be damaging your thyroid gland, there are herbs and supplements you can take that help your body do a better job of making active thyroid hormone. Additional treatments may include hydrotherapy and acupuncture.
Would you like more information or help dealing with thyroid disease? Send me a message or request an appointment.