Does something feel amiss with your body? Maybe you are experiencing symptoms of unexplained fatigue, weight gain, low body temperature, constipation and skin changes? Perhaps you have suspected thyroid issues yet you have had a blood test and your doctor has told you that your thyroid levels are normal and nothing is wrong. However, what you might be experiencing is a condition referred to as subclinical hypothyroidism.
What is Subclinical Hypothyroidism?
It is a condition that is more prevalent among women and is characterised by elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) with normal levels of T3 and T4. TSH typically increases in response to a sluggish thyroid, indicating the possible future development of overt hypothyroidism. The thyroid is a butterfly shaped endocrine organ located in the front of the neck and it has at least some effect on every organ in the body. It is responsible for modulating metabolic processes throughout the body and affects body weight, digestion, skin integrity and the immune system. It is unsurprising then that an abnormal functioning thyroid causes a host of life disturbing symptoms, even at a subclinical level.
There is much debate among health professionals as to whether subclinical hypothyroidism should be treated with thyroid hormones. But the good news is there are still many options available other than hormonal therapy to safely support your thyroid function and reduce the risk of developing overt hypothyroidism.
The thyroid needs certain hormonal precursors and cofactors to function properly – iodine, tyrosine, selenium and zinc. A deficiency in these nutrients can result in an increase of TSH and the manifestation of subclinical hypothyroidism. Increasing your dietary intake of these nutrients will help to support your thyroid. Here are some great sources of these important nutrients
- Iodine – foods rich in iodine include seaweed, eggs and seafood. Eating foods with added iodine is another option, such as iodised bread. However, food with already naturally occurring iodine is a safer option, as fortified foods pose the risk of excess iodine intake.
- Selenium – brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium. Consuming just two brazil nuts per day for three months is enough to raise serum selenium by 60% in people with low selenium.
- Zinc – this mineral is an important cofactor in T3 and T4 synthesis. Sources of zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, cashew nuts and quinoa.
- Tyrosine – protein sources such as beef, lamb, seafood and chicken are great sources of this essential amino acid. Seeds and nuts such as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds are also excellent vegan sources of tyrosine.
Excessive stress appears to play a major role in the dysregulation of the thyroid and development of subclinical hypothyroidism. Stress triggers the release of the hormones noradrenaline and cortisol which have an inhibitory effect on TSH secretion, causing suppression of the thyroid. Both thyroid hormones and stress hormones require tyrosine for their production in the body. Therefore, periods of prolonged stress can deplete the body’s tyrosine stores, leaving little left for the thyroid.
It is therefore important to nourish the nervous system and remove any unnecessary stressors in our lives to help support thyroid function.
If you are experiencing subclinical hypothyroidism try to steer clear of interfering substances.
Goitrogens are can suppress thyroid function by interfering with absorption and utilisation of iodine by the thyroid. Limit your intake of the following goitrogenic foods:
- raw vegetables from the Brassica family such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower.
- catechins found predominantly in green tea
If you suspect you are suffering from subclinical hypothyroidism, speak with your naturopath about tests that can be done and treatment options.
Wardle, J & Sarris, J 2014, Clinical naturopathy, 2nd edn, Elsevier Australia, Chatswood, N.S.W.
Wahlqvist, M 2002, Food and Nutrition Food and Health Systems in Australia and New Zealand, 3rd edn, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.