hormones

Seven ways to care for your thyroid

When I was sixteen I was an avid runner who loved competing in long distance events. One day I collapsed at the finishing line, pale as a ghost, with my heart beating too slowly and not pushing enough blood around my body. I felt terrible and it was all rather dramatic.

Leading up to this day, I had been having funny turns at school. At the time, with the wisdom of a sixteen year old, I thought it was funny to be having these “drop –attacks”. They occurred while I was walking along and then bam! I’d find myself on the ground. Along with this I felt irritable, had gained weight and was feeling extremely tired. My teachers and family put this down to “raging hormones” or “growing pains”, shrugging it off as normal adolescent behaviour.  

Eventually I was diagnosed with thyroid disease due to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I started taking Thyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone and began to feel better. I was traveling along reasonably well until I woke one morning and found that half of my face was paralysed. Yep, paralysed. I wasn’t even able to fully close my eyelids on that side. 

Can you imagine how horrific it was to see only the right side of my face moving as I screamed out to my mum? 

This time I was diagnosed with yet another autoimmune disease called Bell’s palsy. This is a condition in which the facial nerve, supplying the muscles of my face, was attacked by my own immune system. After a course of strong steroids, I was one of the fortunate ones who fully recovered after 6 weeks. For others it can take months or even years to recover. 

Prior to this double whammy of “bad luck” I had been a fit and healthy girl. Being a farm girl, I was more active than most. However I loved eating fruit and tomatoes, and this habit took its toll on my teeth. Six months prior to falling ill, I needed to have several dental fillings and in those days it was mercury amalgam. Was it just a coincidence that I fell ill with two auto-immune conditions after getting several mercury fillings? Had I known then what I know now, I would have avoided mercury fillings (aka silver fillings) at all costs . I explain my reasons for this below. 

As an Integrative GP who has lived with thyroid disease and clearly remembers living with Bell’s palsy, I’ve been intrigued as to why I had this “bad luck”.   There is so much more to autoimmune thyroid disease than just treating it with Thyroxine and this is a quick summary of what I’ve learnt.

1. Never look at the thyroid in isolation

In my case it’s clear that my immune system was going ballistic. It didn’t know what was friend or foe, and it is a good idea to ask why.

2. Start with gut health

Over 85% of our immune system lives in the gastrointestinal tract and there is very exciting emerging evidence that links gut health to a range of conditions including auto-immune diseases. Don’t worry I’ll be sharing this with you soon!

My general approach is to start with diet and nutrition, and whilst I believe no one diet fits all, I generally recommend removing any food allergens, especially gluten. I know. I get it. I too had a carb addiction, and it took me four months to quit the habit. Yet, there is evidence that patients with thyroid autoimmune disease have autoimmunity suggestive of coeliac disease (gluten allergy) and type 1 diabetes. It is definitely best to avoid gluten to prevent further problems, and for a number of my patients I have seen their thyroid function improve as a result. 

Next is healing the gut, which is one of the most exciting and interesting areas of medicine. Call me crazy, but I feel everything from depression and autism to arthritis and asthma, relates to gut health. For some, healing the gut means incorporating bone broths (or glutamine/glucosamine/turmeric supplements), and herbs like slippery elm, omega 3, and probiotics into your routine. Often there are accompanying mineral deficiencies such as magnesium and zinc, which when corrected contribute to the healing process. 

I recommend seeing a dietician/nutritionist who has training in GAPS or paleo diet to really help you fine-tune your diet and treat the cause of autoimmunity.

3. Manage the adrenal gland

During medical school I learnt very little about the adrenal gland. I got the impression that they were somewhat insignificant glands that hung out above the kidneys, rarely causing trouble.  How wrong that was! 

When supporting the thyroid gland, we can’t ignore the adrenals. They are responsible for producing our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline), DHEA, sex hormones and mineralocorticoids (aldosterone; responsible for salt/water balance). Cortisol excess impairs thyroid function. As the gross majority of us live in a chronic state of stress, the constant fight or flight response, increases demand on our adrenal glands and in turn our thyroid gland. 

The adrenal gland is key to the mind/body connection and I will endeavour to explore the adrenal gland in future articles as a holistic approach for managing and supporting the adrenal gland is required. 

4. Remove the triggers!

There are a number of known factors that inhibit proper production of thyroid function. These are called “goitrogens” and include mercury, pesticides, lead, cadmium, halogens (fluoride etc.) and medications such as lithium. These are known “endocrine disruptors” and taking the steps to educate yourself about environmental pollutants so you can limit your exposure is so very important. If your thyroid is under strain, eating excessive amounts of certain foods such as isoflavone phytoestrogens from soy and thiocynates in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) can tip the balance, impairing thyroid function. Best not to consume too many kale smoothies if your thyroid is strained! 

5. Support the thyroid – give it the fuel it needs.

The thyroid gland needs iodine for production of thyroid hormone. The majority of the Australian population are iodine deficient and will require supplementation or review of dietary intake. Unfortunately, an excess of iodine can also interfere with thyroid production, so getting your levels right is essential. It is best to do this under the care of trained integrative medical doctor or naturopath, who may choose to check levels (known as a corrected urinary iodine level). Iron and vitamin D are critical for proper production of thyroid hormones, and levels need to be optimised in management, alongside a number of other essential nutrients including vitamin E, B, and C. 

6. Gotta love zinc and selenium!

When it comes to thyroid health, zinc and selenium are the top two minerals that I prescribe. The production of thyroid hormone and the homeostatic feedback loop takes a bit of patience and perseverance to fully understand. A key point is that the thyroid releases T4, a mostly inactive hormone, which requires conversion to the active form T3. Zinc and selenium are essential in this conversion, with zinc also improving the responsiveness of cells to the thyroid hormone. If you are zinc and selenium deficient this pathway won’t be running at full steam, and I know I felt much better after optimising my own zinc and selenium levels. 

The thyroid contains the highest concentration of selenium, an essential trace element and powerful antioxidant, in the body. Studies have proven that selenium deficiency worsens autoimmune disease. Other research suggests that selenium is protective in prevention of disease also, especially against the harmful effect of mercury.

NB. I encourage you do to your own research on mercury (a good resource to start is http://thegooddoctors.com.au/health-podcast/dental-mercury-amalgam-an-environmental-and-health-issue/doctors) and if you elect to have it removed, do so with a dentist trained in safe removal. In a future article I will share my experience of getting mercury safely removed.

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7. Never forget the mind body spirit connection

is a risk factor for autoimmune thyroid disease. There is clearly a link between our stress hormones and thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormone has the same precursor, tyrosine, as our stress hormones including noradrenaline and adrenaline. When under stress, Tyrosine is preferentially used for production of stress hormones, impacting normal thyroid function. High cortisol (seen in stress) and low cortisol levels (seen in adrenal fatigue resulting from prolonged stress) have a negative impact on thyroid production and how the tissues respond to the thyroid hormone. 

A holistic approach to autoimmune thyroid disease includes addressing the impact that stress has on our body, especially our gut health, as this is where the majority of our immune system lies. Meditation, exercise, living a soul driven life and having fun is all very important in stress prevention and ensuringa healthy body, including a healthy thyroid gland. 

Om Namo Narayani,

Dr. Fiona

The hidden toxins in your bathroom cabinet and how to avoid them

Part two 'on'

Following on from part one of this blog series, in part two we tackle the hidden toxins we use ON our body. These toxins are dressed up and put in products that ‘help’ you achieve particular results. The problem is, what we put on our skin affects us in ways you not may realise. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; one of its roles is to protect us from the many toxins in our environment. However, it is also permeable, meaning it absorbs everything it comes into contact with, which ends up in our blood stream(1). An average woman's 'getting ready' routine exposes her body to 515 different synthetic chemicals every single day(2). Think about it, do you really know what you wash your hair and face with? Do you know what's in your moisturiser, make-up or perfume? Read on to learn about some toxins you may be lathering, spraying and brushing on yourself.

1. Parabens are used in many cosmetic products including moisturisers and lotions, and are commonly used in the armpit and breast area. Paraben containing products have been known to cause allergic responses. They are also a significant source of hormone disrupting chemicals, which may be linked to breast cancer in women(3). One study even detected parabens in breast tumours(4). This nasty effect on hormones not only affects the adult, but if pregnant, could impact foetus development(3).

2. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is used in thousands of cosmetic products, as well as in industrial cleaners (yikes!). SLS is in hair shampoos, treatments and colours, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundation, liquid hand soaps, laundry detergents and bath oils and salts. SLES and ALS are related and should also be avoided(5). High level exposure to SLS is toxic to our organs, development and reproductive and nervous systems. It also negatively affects our hormones and is possibly linked to some cancers(6). Cosmetic use may cause dermatitis and irritation to the skin and eyes(7). The real concern is that there is a lack of long-term studies on ALL of the chemicals in these products, so we don't really know what the long-term effects are(8).

3. The ethanolamine chemical group can be listed on the product label as DEA, TEA and MEA(9,10). DEA can cause skin and eye irritation and high exposure has been linked to liver cancers and precancerous changes in the skin and thyroid. The European Union classifies DEA as harmful due to the danger of serious damage to health from prolonged exposure. DEA can also react with other cosmetic chemicals which changes it to a cancer causing agent(11)

4. Triclosan is used in personal care products such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap. New studies have linked it to heart disease, heart failure(12) and thyroid hormone disruption(13,14). When Triclosan was first registered in 1969 it was registered as a pesticide! In fact, today it is still registered as a pesticide and it is also widely used for industrial uses(15).

5. Talc (magnesium trisilicate) is found in thousands of toiletries ranging from make-up cosmetics to antiperspirants and deodorants. Using talc as little as once a week raises a woman's risk of ovarian cancer. This risk is increased when used daily(16), and even more so when used regularly on external genital areas(17,18). Serious lung damage and cancer have been reported amongst talc manufacturing workers, and for this reason you should not use talc on babies. It can cause serious breathing complications, convulsions and even death(19). You can read about just one lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson here.

6. Mineral oil is made from petroleum, the same stuff you put in your car's engine. Many products use mineral oil, as it allows lotions to be spread easily across your skin. This is despite the fact that it's a known cancer causing agent! Mineral oil also blocks your pores to cause blackheads and pimples. This is because it creates a film on your skin that stops your skin's natural breathing process(20,21). Studies have found that mineral oil affects more than just your skin, samples of fat and breast milk were found to be contaminated with mineral oil. This result is likely from a build up over time from repeated exposure from cosmetics(22)

7. “Fragrance” or “parfum” actually represents a secret cocktail recipe potentially made up of hundreds of synthetic chemicals(23). These chemicals are selected from a pool of 5,000 ingredients(24), none of which have to be disclosed or tested for safety(25). Fragrances are in everything, the list is endless from the obvious deodorants and perfumes to moisturisers, hair products and anti-wrinkle creams (26). “Fragrance” contains hormone disruptors called phthalates(27), which was discussed in part one.  Fragrances commonly cause allergic reactions which can cause skin sensitivity, dermatitis, asthma attacks and migraines(28).

8. Formaldehyde is used in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap and wash and colour cosmetics(29). It is a known human cancer causing agent, with high exposure linked to some types of cancers(30,31). It can also cause allergic skin reactions and rashes(29)

Tips to clean up your bathroom cabinet

  • Read the label and know what you are talking about. Be savvy with what you are being sold. For example, if you want to buy pure rose hip oil and you turn the label over to see 10 ingredients listed = RED FLAG.
  • Ditch the perfume! A better alternative is using certified organic essential (not mineral) oil. You could even try applying no scent at all.
  • Make your way over to mineral make-up. Once again, the word natural in marketing doesn't mean a great deal, so read the label. 
  • Use certified organic products and not just organic products. There is a big difference!
  • Reduce the number of cosmetics in your daily routine. Do you really need 25 products to make-up your face when you plan to go do the groceries?
  • Have make up free days when possible and let your skin breath!

Next week we will be giving you our favourite toxin free, absolute must-have beauty products!

The perks of pregnancy; what you can do to help your morning sickness

There's nothing like a personal experience to help give some perspective on what my patient's might be going through. I'm not going to lie, my first four months pregnancy has been tough! Fatigue and all day nausea and vomiting is exhausting, not to mention unpleasant. I went through all sorts of feelings during this time, while being absolutely over the moon to be growing a baby, it was difficult to stay positive while having to stay so close to a bucket and carry a sick bag everywhere I went! I felt the guilt that I wasn't supplying my growing bub with adequate nutrition. All I wanted to eat was fruit, something I generally try to limit to one serve per day, and even supplements were difficult to keep down. 

Pregnancy Diet

My advice:

1. Don't be too hard on yourself. A few months of a less than ideal diet isn't going to undo all the good nutrition you put in prior. So far in my pregnancy, I ate a lot more fruit than I would usually, but it's better than nothing! And now that the nausea is over (thank goodness) I am weaning myself off slowly and increasing my intake of nutrient dense foods like eggs, meats and butter (things I went off completely for a few months). 

2. Eat little and often. I wasn't great with this one and would often forget or get too busy to eat. Preparation is key here, have ready to eat snacks on hand - nuts, fruit, vege sticks or rice crackers with hummus/pesto work well.

3. Try healthy foods in different forms. I usually don't eat too many raw vege's in winter but veggie sticks with hummus was the only way I could get my veg in. 

4. Preconception care. If you can, aim to spend 3-6 months preparing your body for pregnancy. This should include personalised advice from a qualified practitioner, a super nutrient dense diet for both mum and dad and prenatal vitamins and minerals.

5. Correcting nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin B6 and zinc. This is easier to do prior to pregnancy to potentially prevent morning sickness and should be part of your preconception care.

From one mum-to-be to another, good luck!
 

Abi Walker

BHSC Naturopathy, PGDIP Dietetics, BSC Human Nutrition