Whether it is an Ayurvedic perspective or a modern medical perspective, we can agree that Thyroid health is imperative for our overall health & wellness.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that sits just below your Adam’s apple at the base of your neck.
The thyroid gland makes very important hormones that contribute to the normal functioning of every cell in our body.
Thyroid hormone and vitamin D receptors are found on every cell in the body – these are the only hormones that have receptor sites on each and every cell, thus you can see the importance of these hormones in our overall health & wellbeing.
A healthy well functioning thyroid produces hormones that ignite the energy-producing units in our cells, the mitochondria, to give us sustained energy & healthy metabolic functioning. The thyroid hormones govern our metabolism, temperature, cellular energy & help us stay alert with a clear mind.
Unfortunately, these days due to our high-stress lifestyle, environmental toxins & a diet lacking in essential vitamin & minerals, poor thyroid function is not uncommon & with this, unwanted symptoms can occur.
Signs & Symptoms of poor thyroid health:
In hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) symptoms may present as:
2. Unexplained weight gain
4. Brain fog & difficulty concentrating
5. Menstrual cycle disruption
6. Hair loss or thinning
7. Dry skin
8. Aching joints/cold bones
9. Hoarse voice
10. Fluid retention
11. Loss of eyebrow hair (outer edge)
In hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) the following symptoms may be present:
1. Unexplained weight loss
2. Overheating, high temperature
3. Loose stools
4. Increased heart rate/ racing heart
5. Heart palpitations
6. Feelings of anxiety and nervousness
7. Bulging eyes
From an Ayurveda perspective Hypothyroidism is a Kapha disorder, however, the thyroid gland itself is seen as a pitta influencing organ due to its role in generating Agni / metabolism. The Vata dosha also has a role to play in thyroid disorders as it can initiate the disease process, therefore Hypothyroidism is a tridoshic disease manifestation.
However, generally speaking, Hypothyroidism is a Kapha imbalance with the interplay of the heavy & slow guna’s influencing the symptoms of excess meda tissue (fat tissue) & weight gain, slowing of energy production and metabolism, manda Agni (slow digestion), coldness, heaviness and low mood.
Studies suggest that Hypothyroidism affects around 6-10% of Women. Many women suffer from the symptoms of an underactive thyroid but do not recognise them as such and do not investigate the thyroid further. Therefore the percentage of women suffering from an underactive thyroid may be more prevalent than this statistic reflects.
Hashimoto thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition which involves hypothyroidism where thyroid antibodies are present in the pathology.
You can have hypothyroidism or thyroid deficiency without antibodies present, In this case, the underactive thyroid is not functioning at its optimal level and as such, it is either not producing a sufficient amount of hormones for you as an individual & so you may experience associated symptoms. Your body may also not be converting the thyroid hormone T4 to T3 (more on this later) effectively which is impacting a chain of events & hormonal imbalances.
Thyroid hormones are made by iodine molecules attaching to tyrosine. Tyrosine is an amino acid found in high protein foods, mainly meat but can also be found in high protein plant-based foods too.
The main thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland are T4 & T3.
The thyroid makes a lot more T4 than it does T3.
The body does make a small amount of T3 on its own, but about 80% of this active thyroid hormone needs to be converted from T4 to T3.
T4 is known as an inactive thyroid hormone – doesn’t have receptors.
T3 is known as the active thyroid hormone which supports cellular metabolism and body temperature.
Only 10% of the total thyroid hormone in the blood is T3, the other 90% is T4 & rT3
T3 plays a major role in regulating the body’s metabolism, heart function, digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance.
In other words, T3 helps your body stay slender, prevents brain fog, and keeps you feeling happy.
T3 has about four times the hormone “strength” as T4.
What can impact Thyroid hormones:
1. Stress: If you undergo chronic stress the increased cortisol levels tell the body to convert T4 to reverse T3 (rT3) to try and conserve energy for healing. The problem is that rT3 is inactive, yet it binds to the T3 receptors in the body leaving very limited receptors left for the active form of T3.
2. Dieting with low calories, low-fat diet. The thyroid needs essential fatty acids to nourish the thyroid gland and produce hormones.
3. Excessive fasting – causes increases cortisol & stress
4. low iron stores – Iron is needed for thyroid hormone synthesis
5. leptin & insulin resistance impacts thyroid function & hormone secretion
6. Nutritional deficiencies: Iodine & selenium are needed to convert T4 to T3. Iodine deficiency is a common cause of hypothyroidism. Zinc & iron are also important nutrients for proper thyroid function, as well as magnesium, vitamin A, D & B12. Most of us are not getting the correct amount of vitamins and minerals through nutrition that is required to support our thyroid gland and its hormones.
7. High oestrogen levels impact the production of thyroid hormones
8. Infections & autoimmune responses
Ayurvedic Treatment & Management of Hypothyroidism:
The ayurvedic treatment starts by defining the root cause of the dis-ease manifestation. Ayurveda understands that all individuals are unique and so is their disease pathway.
Perhaps excess stress was the root cause which caused a Vata disturbance leading to excess production of thyroid hormones (overactive), which then lead to the pituitary gland decreasing its production of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which signals to the thyroid to reduce the number of thyroid hormones it creates in order to conserve energy, from this point in time hypothyroidism kicks in and Kapha dosha becomes imbalanced. If this is the case we would need to treat both vata & kapha dosha. This is only one example of how the disease manifestation could have started. We each live unique lives with unique contributing factors. This needs to be investigated on an individual basis to make real change.
Other root causes could include nutritional deficiency as discussed, low iron stores, oestrogen dominance & other hormonal imbalances. There are a number of reasons that could have started the chain of events leading to poor thyroid health.
1. An ayurvedic lifestyle overhaul and a balanced diet will be the starting point for treatment protocol. Ayurvedic herbs and bodywork may be prescribed as well as panchakarma or an ayurvedic cleanse to help increase Agni and cleanse the liver. However, the most basic yet life-changing effects start with your daily routine (dinacharya), lifestyle & nutrition.
2. Ayurveda looks favourably on good gut health as poor gut health is a precursor to disease. The GI tract is home to the enteric nervous system, containing more than 100 million nerve cells. The gut also plays a role in hormone metabolism.
20% of T4 to T3 conversion happens in the gut, most of the other conversion of T4 to T3 happens in the liver, hence gut & liver health is important in maintaining good thyroid function.
Replenishing gut flora and building a healthy immune system is important for a proper functioning thyroid. Where there are autoimmune antibodies associated with thyroid pathology (Hashimoto’s), gluten should be avoided as the molecules in gluten resemble thyroid tissue and it can initiate an immune response in the body.
3. A diet rich in whole foods that are nutritionally dense & balanced. Foods that are high in zinc, iodine, selenium, magnesium, iron and vitamin B help support thyroid health. Eat lean protein, dhal, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and ghee.
4. Eat regular meals at the same (or similar) times each day. Avoid constant snaking, manage blood sugar dysregulation and leptin resistance.
5. Stress management and reduction – high cortisol prevents the conversion of T4 to T3
6. Low impact exercise. High-intensity exercise is not advised until thyroid health is optimal due to the high-stress response and cortisol release.
7. Liver health is important for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that the liver (along with the gut) metabolises hormones including oestrogen. T4 to T3 conversion also takes place in the liver. When liver health is not optimal it will not convert t4 to t3 effectively or metabolise oestrogen and instead, it will transfer oestrogen back into the bloodstream creating oestrogen dominance.
Regulation of a female’s menstrual cycle is dependent on good thyroid function; however, oestrogen dominance can lead to poor thyroid function & thyroid hormone production.
According to Ayurveda overheating of the liver can also cause an autoimmune response. So, from the Ayurvedic perspective cleansing and supporting the liver will benefit thyroid function.
8. Balance the hormones – regulate sex & stress hormones. The endocrine hormonal system works like a symphony. When one instrument is out of tune it can often impact the whole symphony. Look at your hormonal balance, your production of both sex & stress hormones and work on bringing them back into a balanced state
9. Herbal supplements that support the endocrine system and thyroid health
Ayurvedic Herbal supplements: Herbs are medicine, the wrong medicine can be detrimental to your health. Please note that before you take any herbs you should consult with your health care practitioner.
· Ashwagandha – supports the endocrine system by calming stress (Can be contraindicated in Hashimoto’s)
· Shilajit – It can function as an antioxidant to improve your body’s immunity and memory, an anti-inflammatory, an energy booster, and a diuretic to remove excess fluid from your body.
· Black walnut – contains essential minerals that support thyroid health like iodine & magnesium.
· Tulsi- Helps your body adapt better to stress. It is an adaptogenic herb
· Flaxseed – High in omega 3 essential fatty acid
· Maca powder – Helps to regulate hormones
· Licorice tea- assists the thyroid gland from oxidative stress
· Nettle – often considered the holy grail of thyroid herbs, because it’s effective for both underactive and overactive thyroid issues. It is a good source of Vitamin A, B6, calcium, iron, magnesium & selenium
· Bacopa Monnieri – Research in mice has shown that Bacopa monnieri increased levels of T4
Lab test that may be beneficial for assessing the thyroid function:
Pathology – TSH, T4, T3 rT3, antibodies
Urine – iodine studies.
A final note:
If you can relate to any of the symptoms in this article and feel that your thyroid health is not optimal, it is not too late, the good news is that through proper nutrition and an Ayurvedic lifestyle you can help support your thyroid health and get back on track, emitting the unwanted symptoms associated with poor thyroid health.
If you suffer from a lot of the associated symptoms, or if any of the symptoms are extreme or persistent you should discuss them with your medical doctor as further investigation may be required to rule out more sinister thyroid diseases such as a thyroid tumour, Hashimoto’s or graves disease.
If you or anyone you know suffers from poor thyroid health, I would love to help you get back on track with your health and wellness through an Ayurveda & integrative Health approach.
I offer 1:1 Consultations, at my clinic or online. I also offer Ayurvedic Mindbody reset cleanses, hormone & gut rebalancing programs and online education.
If you would like to learn more about Ayurveda, book in for a consultation or participate in one of my online courses please head over to my website www.HarmonyInspiredHealth.com.au
Namaste x x