What do collard greens, your car upholstery, and Mountain Dew have in common? They could all be interfering with your thyroid function.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, below your Adam’s apple, on the front of your neck. It makes and secretes hormones that influence your calorie needs, heart rate and body temperature. After menopause, and especially after the age of 60, the risk of hypothyroidism (low thyroid) in women increases. It occurs in women more often than in men.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can creep up on you very slowly, over a period of years and can include:
-feeling cold, constipation, weight gain, fatigue, slow heart rate, hoarse voice, feeling sad or depressed, constipation, dry thinning hair, joint or muscle pain, high LDL (bad) cholesterol
Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be related to other health issues, too, so before convincing yourself that you have hypothyroidism, the best thing to do, is to discuss your symptoms with your primary care provider. If you have regular check ups, they are likely already screening your thyroid health by ordering a lab called TSH.
There are different types of hypothyroidism, with different causes. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is the most often diagnosed type in the U.S. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that there are antibodies in the blood that go haywire and attack and destroy, in this case, the thyroid gland. People with other immune disorders, like type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, are at higher risk for Hashimoto’s. If you have symptoms and your thyroid hormone levels are out of range, you would then be checked for antibodies.
The most common reason in underdeveloped countries for hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones. In western countries, iodine is added to salt, and so iodine deficiency is not typically problematic. There is a concern, however, that endocrine disrupters in the form of environmental substances and goitrogenic foods, can interfere with the thyroid’s ability to make hormones. And this is where the collards, your car upholstery, and Mountain Dew come in.
The car upholstery and Mountain Dew contain bromine. Bromine, chlorine, flourine, and iodine are substances called halogens and the first 3 can compete with iodine, and interfere with thyroid hormone production. Of the 3, bromine is considered to be the worst. So, where in your life would bromine be lurking?
-methyl bromide is a pesticide, used on produce, like strawberries
-the plastic cover on your computer could contain a flame retardant chemical called brominated flame retardant (BFR)
-potassium bromate is “dough conditioner” used in bakery products
-brominated vegetable oils (BVOs) are used as emulsifiers in many beverages
-fire retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used in fabrics, upholstery, carpet and mattresses (By the way, PBDEs are illegal in many countries)
Then there are the goitrogenic foods like the brassica vegetables: kale, collards, broccoli, and kohlrabi. The brassicas contain substances called isothiocyanates that can interfere with thyroid hormone production. Soy is another food, due to the isoflavones it contains, that causes the same problem. The good news is, if the food is fermented (for soy, think tempeh or miso) or cooked, it seems to alleviate the problem.
Some people advocate seaweed in the diet to ensure optimal iodine, as well as other minerals. Ryan Drum, Phd with degrees in chemical technology and botany, is considered an expert on thyroid and on seaweed. He cautions that some are very sensitive to iodine and can develop symptoms of hyperthyroidism, when supplementing their diet with seaweed. He has written extensively and you can check out his articles at ryandrum.com.
There are herbs (coleus, guggul) and supplements used for thyroid support. L-tyrosine is a nutrient necessary for thyroid hormone production, in addition to iodine and is often in thyroid support supplements. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) does not recommend supplementation, as there has not been enough clinical research done. In addition, the AACE standards of care on hypothyroidism state that many thyroid support supplements are adulterated with L-thyroxin or L-triiodothyronine (thyroid hormones). If a person needs to take these hormones, they should be carefully titrated in the amount they need.
There is controversy about optimal levels of thyroid hormones and when medication is indicated. In fact, in one recent study, a slightly slower underactive thyroid was actually correlated with longevity.
In spite of how complicated this all is, we are offering some recommendations:
-Keep up with your regular medical visits and labwork
-Let your primary care provider know if you have symptoms of hypothyroidism
-Take you thyroid medication if it’s prescribed. The dosage will be individualized.
-Keep your thyroid healthy by:
-Eating organic produce and washing your produce thoroughly
-Using ceramic and glass for food and beverages instead of plastic
-Reading labels on breads and other baked foods, avoiding those containing potassium bromate
-Airing your car out before driving
-Including selenium in your diet. Selenium is necessary for thyroid hormone production. It’s widely available in animal products and Brazil nuts are a good source for vegans.
-If you decide to supplement:
-Be careful with adding iodine or tyrosine–if you don’t need them, you can actually cause hypothyroidism
-Let your provider know what you are taking
-Consider Gaia Thyroid Support. The main ingredient is tyrosine and it has not been adulterated with L-thyroxin or L-triiodothyronine. Gaia is a company offering full transparency of the ingredients contained, in all of their products. They even produce their own capsules. Our winter garden is stocked with collards and kale, so eating these vegetables in a variety of ways, means including kale salads and smoothies. Therefore, I take Thyroid Support more often in winter months, to help balance the effects of eating raw kale.
Part of feeling great as we women get older, means keeping a well nourished and cared for thyroid!
In Great Health,