5 Foods to Boost Thyroid Health + Common Symptoms, What Tests to Take, and Healthy Levels According to Functional Medicine Experts
Guest post by Janine Martin Horst, NTP and NTA Lead Instructor.
Thyroid health is nuanced and complex. If you suspect that you struggle from similar symptoms to mine, this post is for you. In this post I will uncover:
- What the thyroid gland is
- Thyroid symptoms in women specifically
- Healthy ranges for thyroid levels according to functional medicine experts
- 5 foods for thyroid health
- Lifestyle tips to support thyroid health
- What to look for in a practitioner
What is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located at the base of the neck. It is one of the primary players in the regulation of metabolism. Two thyroid hormones do most of this work: T4 (inactive) and T3 (active). T3 affects virtually every organ of the body by acting as a modulator of cell functions.
Although thyroid health is bio-individual, you may be able to see similarities with your own journey that will hopefully provide you with some answers or resources.
My Thyroid Health Journey
It began in the summer of 2003 when I broke out in hives. I assumed it was the stress of planning a wedding but the wedding came and went and the hives only worsened. I broke out in hives every day for the next 3 years. Prescription antihistamines brought some relief but didn’t fully suppress them. At the same time, I developed asthma. It intensified until I was on five asthma medications and still barely able to function. My body ached all the time and I gained weight despite exercising and eating what was a fairly healthy, whole food, vegetarian diet.
With the encouragement of a coworker with similar symptoms to mine, I began researching thyroid disorder. The fatigue, the weight gain, the hives or urticaria, and the fact that my body temperature had run cold my entire life were all common thyroid symptoms in women. In particular, they were associated with autoimmune hypothyroid disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
My nurse practitioner was reluctant to run an antibody panel as my Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels were normal. At this point, I was so damn sick of being told I was normal. It couldn’t be normal to feel this bad, could it? I wanted to have a baby. How could I do that when I was on so many prescription medications and felt so terrible all the time?
I was eventually able to get pregnant and gave birth to my first son in 2006 with the help of my allergist. My hives went away just as mysteriously as they began after giving birth. Although, everything else got worse. They told me my thyroid was normal and I didn’t have an obvious thyroid goiter so no one ever palpated to check for a swollen thyroid. Yet, how did normal feel so terrible?
Finally, after a scary trip to the urgent care, I stumbled across Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. Everything they said about nutrition seemed crazy and contrary to what I’d ever known. However, mainstream medicine and nutrition obviously weren’t working for me so I decided to give the crazy ladies a try. I started to eat meat and healthy fat regularly and focused on nutrient-density in my diet. I followed every rabbit trail that book took me on. Consequently, this winding trail led me to explore food allergies, the keto diet, and then the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet in January of 2009. GAPS was my miracle. Gut healing was the true key to resolving most of my symptoms.
Enrolling in the NTA’s certification program in fall of 2009 further deepened and refined my understanding of nutrition, digestion, and how to establish a strong foundation of health for both myself and my nutritional therapy clients. I was still curious about my thyroid though, and in 2010 I decided to order my own labs through Direct Laboratories. The first lab I ordered was a full thyroid hormone panel, including thyroid antibodies, and there it was: a positive TPO or Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody test. As a result, my naturopath confirmed that I did in fact have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or autoimmune hypothyroid just like I had suspected all those years.
Common Hypothyroid Symptoms in Women
My experience is way too common. Despite being told they are normal, individuals concerned about their thyroid health are often gaslighted by their physicians. Likewise, they are given no hope of improving their health once they have a diagnosis. This is why I decided to focus on thyroid health in my nutritional therapy practice. Here is some of the common and some less common symptoms one might encounter:
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Hair loss or thinning
- Loss of outer third of the eyebrows
- Slow Pulse
- Loss of Ambition
- Low body temperature
- Intolerance to cold
- Body aches and stiffness
- Dry skin
- Facial puffiness
- Hives or Urticaria
- Vestibular symptoms like vertigo
- Menstrual Irregularities
- Difficulty breastfeeding
As Isabelle Wentz writes in her book. Hashimoto’s Protocol,” when autoimmunity comes into play, individuals can also fluctuate between hypo and hyper thyroid symptoms and their symptoms may also “include weight loss, palpitations, anxiety, eye protrusion, tremors, irritability…heat intolerance, and increased appetite.” (Wentz, 2017).
Normal ranges for thyroid levels
It is important to find a practitioner who will interpret your thyroid labs from a functional perspective. Meaning, the hormone levels that allow you to function optimally—and not just waiting until your labs show that your are in a diagnosable disease state. Here are the ranges most functional medicine experts agree are optimal for individuals with thyroid imbalances: (and where most thyroid patients report feeling best):
- Free T3: Upper half of the reference range (Wentz, 2017)
- Free T4: Upper half of the reference range (Wentz, 2017)
- TSH (produced by the pituitary): between 1 and 2 uIU (Wentz, 2017)
- TPO (Anti-Thyroid Peroxidase): negative antibody test or below 35 IU/mL if previously elevated (Wentz, 2017)
- TbAb (Anti-Thyroglobulin): negative antibody test (Wentz, 2017)
5 Foods for Thyroid Health:
Nutrition and lifestyle have a huge impact on thyroid health. That is to say, there are things you can do to support thyroid health and reduce your symptoms of hypo and autoimmune thyroid. There are many amazing foods that support the thyroid and lifestyle changes are instrumental as well. You can feel better!
- Nutrient-dense whole foods: eat minimally processed foods that look as much like their plant or animal of origin as possible. Cooked down cruciferous and goitrogenic foods: kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli. Consume: Sweet potatoes, asparagus, plantains, asparagus, carrots, beets, etc.
- Homemade broth: highly nutritious and healing to the gut (gut imbalances are a common trigger for thyroid disease)
- Seaweed: high in iodine an essential nutrient for thyroid hormone production
- Fermented foods: important for gut health
- Water: are you getting enough? Half your body weight in ounces per day should be your goal.
In addition, many people benefit from eliminating potential dietary allergens and autoimmune triggers on a temporary or permanent basis (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, grains, nightshades are a few common ones). A therapeutic diet such as the GAPS diet, The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, or the Wahls Protocol can help pinpoint your particular food triggers and support your healing process.
Other Lifestyle Tips:
- Reduce toxins in your environment: transition to non-toxic cosmetics, toiletries and household cleaning supplies. Reduce your electromagnetic frequency exposures by turning off wifi at night or eliminate wifi in your house by wiring all of your devices.
- Nature: frequent time in nature is calming and nourishing to soul and body
- Stress reduction: healthy thyroid function depends on a healthy HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. Stress reduction is essential to the health of this system.
- Sleep: healthy sleep is not optional. Work on creating a comfortable, cool, device and light free environment for optimal sleep.
- Meditation: calms the nervous system and helps your body spend more time in a parasympathetic state—our “rest and digest” mode where many essential function occur.
Find the Right Practitioner for You
When I think back on my journey, I applaud myself for walking away from practitioners that didn’t support me the way I needed. But, I wish I had known how to find a supportive practitioner earlier. Here are some tips for finding a thyroid practitioner:
- Will they look at your labs from a functional perspective? Will they order all the tests listed above and not just TSH?
- Are they married to one sort of thyroid medication or are they willing to help you find the one that works best for your bio-individual needs?
- Are the benefits of nutrition and lifestyle support acknowledged?
- Do they take into account your symptoms? Or do they just look at your lab report?
- Do they believe you can feel better or do they give you hope of improvement?
- Is there respect for you as the expert on your own body and are they willing to work with you collaboratively to develop a plan for healing?
- You may benefit from more than one practitioner supporting you. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) or Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC) can be a great compliment to your prescribing physician.
A few resources for finding a thyroid practitioner include:
More about the Author
Janine Martin Horst is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, a certified GAPS Practitioner, an AIP Certified Coach, and a Lead Instructor with the Nutritional Therapy Association. Through her private practice in Salem, Oregon, Taproot Wellness, she specializes in digestion, detoxification, and nutritional support for autoimmune disorders.
Janine is passionate about the transformative powers of good food and targeted nutrient therapy to address all manner of health challenges. She helps clients and students tap into the innate intelligence of the human body to address bio-individual health needs and goals. Janine strongly believes in NTA’s foundational approach to health, combining a solid understanding of ancestral nutrition, bio-individuality, and a whole-body approach to healing.
The NTA classroom is one of her favorite places to be, and witnessing the many “light bulb moments” that take place each year is one of the most fun and powerful experiences of her life. She is honored to be part of each student’s journey and to welcome them into the NTA’s healing community.
Fallon, S., Enig, M.G., (2001). Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington D.C.: New Trends Publishing, Inc.
Kharrazian, Datis (2010) Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal. Garden City, NY: Morgan James Publishing
Stop the Thyroid Madness (2005). Optimal lab values: How to interpret your results. Retrieved from: https://stopthethyroidmadness.com/lab-values/
Wentz, Isabella (2017) Hashimoto’s Protocol. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers
Wentz, Isabella (2013) Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause. Wentz, LLC
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