Thyroid problems are becoming increasingly common, and what’s even more worrying is that standard tests may be unreliable in diagnosing hypothyroid in many cases. Official statistics report that 1-2% of the population have an underactive thyroid, yet the actual figure may actually be closer to 20-50%.
The thyroid gland has two main roles; it controls growth in early life and metabolism - the rate at which all reactions take place in the body. When the thyroid gland is not working properly, all these reactions slow down, causing a variety of symptoms such as low energy, weight gain, sluggishness, poor memory, depression, cold hands and feet, and generally feeling the cold.
Symptoms of low thyroid function:
• Weight gain / difficulty losing weight
• Dry hair
• Poor skin
• Anxiety / panic attacks
• Decreased memory and concentration
• Hair loss
• Sensitivity to cold
• Muscle and joint pain
• Low libido
• Water retention
So what causes low thyroid?
Low thyroid function can be caused by a variety of factors. Stress is a major factor contributing to low thyroid and should be considered as a first port of call. Other factors such as heavy metal toxicity, immune imbalance and low levels of nutrients such as selenium and zinc can also contribute.
Why is it so difficult to diagnose?
Standard thyroid testing usually only looks at a couple of different markers (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and Thyroxine (T4)) of thyroid function which although valuable do not tell the whole picture. More comprehensive testing is available via Genova Diagnostics, who offer the Thyroid Plus blood test. This is a more comprehensive thyroid test, which assesses a wider range of markers. This test can often uncover problems that have been missed by standard tests.
Help! - I have symptoms but my GP says my thyroid is normal!
Many cases of hypothyroid go undiagnosed because standard tests do not identify problems in all cases. If you are concerned about your thyroid health here’s what you can do:
1. Speak to your GP and if necessary ask for a second opinion.
2. Find a BANT registered Nutritional Therapist who has experience with thyroid health & functional testing.
3. Thyroid Plus is a functional test provided by Genova Diagnostics which assesses a more comprehensive range of markers of thyroid health than conventional tests and can effectively identify subclinical cases of hypothyroid.
4. Diet & Supplementation - Your nutritional therapist can use the results of this test alongside an evaluation of your symptoms to recommend the best next steps.
5. Key nutrients needed to support the body’s production of thyroid hormones and for conversion of T4 – T3. These include:
• Iodine – An essential mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormones. Iodine is found in high amounts in sea vegetables such as kelp. Supplementation is only recommended when testing has identified a deficiency.
• Tyrosine – an amino acid essential for the production of thyroid hormones. Tyrosine is found in soy, chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocadoes, bananas, milk, cheese, yoghurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
• Magnesium, zinc, B vitamins & copper are essential nutrients needed for the body to make and convert thyroid hormones. Magnesium is generally low in a typical Western diet.
• Selenium is needed for the conversion of T4 (thyroxine) to the most active thyroid hormone T3 (triiodithyronine). Selenium is found in high amounts in meat, fish and nuts.
• Vitamin D – Our main source of vitamin D is not food but sunshine - the skin manufactures vitamin D on contact with the sun’s UVB rays. During the colder months however (October – April) production is almost non-existent in the UK and it’s usually necessary to supplement with at least 1,000 IU daily in the form of cholecalciferol (D3) to maintain optimal levels. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for thyroid health.
• Gum guggul is a resin exuded by the mukkul myrrh tree, which has been shown to support the conversion of thyroid hormones in the body.