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Are you getting enough iodine?

Australia is one of the most iodine deficient nations in the developed world. A combination of intensive farming which strips the natural iodine from the soil and a low intake of iodine containing foods has caused widespread deficiency.

Iodine is an important mineral that your body cannot do without. It is essential for the production of your thyroid hormones – T3 and T4. When iodine is depleted, your body cannot make enough thyroid hormones and as a result your thyroid can become underactive (hypothyroidism). The thyroid gland regulates nearly every body process, so when it is underactive it leads to multiple problems. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss and foggy headedness. Because the thyroid regulates body temperature, you can also feel the cold more when your thyroid function is low.

Outside of the thyroid, iodine is important for brain development and has been linked with intelligence levels. In particular, children of mothers who are iodine deficient during pregnancy and children who are deficient in their early years have been found to have a lower IQ than those with adequate iodine levels. Iodine is therefore essential to be included in the diet or supplemented in pregnant women and young children.

Iodine also has a role in breast health. Studies have found that lower intakes of iodine have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Other organs that have a high need for iodine are your skin, sweat glands (an inability to sweat can be due to iodine deficiency), thymus, pancreas and stomach.

Which foods contain iodine?

Iodine is normally present in trace amounts in many foods, however as touched on above the depletion of Australian soil of iodine means that we are not getting much from the everyday foods that we eat.

The richest sources of iodine come from the sea – seaweeds, fish, squid and shellfish. All of these sources contain good amounts of iodine, however seaweed is the standout source as it contains high levels of iodine with a host of other beneficial minerals. It is important to only source seaweed that is certified organic though, as seaweed draws in toxins from the environment and if it is collected from polluted waters then you may be getting a hefty dose of pollutants as well.

Seaweed is a rich source of iodine, but ensure you buy organic to avoid toxins.

To get adequate iodine through your diet, it is recommended you eat 3 serves of iodine rich foods a week – seaweed, fish, squid or shellfish. Smaller oily fish such as sardines are a better choice, as they will contain lower levels of contaminants like mercury. You can also get small amounts of naturally occurring iodine from Himalayan salt, which is a much better choice than iodised salt which can cause other health issues.

When should you supplement iodine?

There are times when it may be necessary to supplement iodine. If you’re allergic to seafood and don’t eat any seaweed, it is likely you’ll need to top up your iodine with a supplement. Pregnant women should see a naturopath or nutritionist to see if they require extra iodine. If you have a hypothyroid condition, iodine may be of use but check in with a naturopath before taking it, as it can be harmful if you take too much iodine in isolation when you have certain thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s.

If you’re concerned about iodine deficiency, make an appointment with one of our naturopaths or nutritionists who can assess your diet and order you a urinary iodine test if needed.

Do you have hypothyroidism?

Are you tired or moody? Do you have difficulty losing weight, constipation or dry skin? Is your memory failing you? These are all common symptoms of hypothyroidism, or an under active thyroid gland. Up to 15% of the people have an under active thyroid gland, with many people going undiagnosed.

However it’s not always black and white, different people will present with different symptoms.

If you have hypothyroidism you may have some of the following symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue or low energy
  • Depression or feeling melancholy and/or anxiety
  • Constipation or harder stools
  • Puffy face and eyelids
  • Memory loss, confusion, brain fog
  • Weight gain that is difficult to lose
  • Dry coarse skin
  • Intolerance to temperatures, hot or cold
  • Menstrual issues
  • Infertility/ recurrent miscarriage
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Tinnitus
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loos of libido
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced sweating

So what exactly is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly shaped gland that sits just over your wind pipe in the middle of the throat. The thyroid gland has the job of regulating every tissue and organ in the body. Your thyroid controls your metabolism, moods, digestion, hormone balance, energy levels and much, much more.

How do I know if I have a thyroid problem?

As well as evaluating your symptom picture, there are several tests that may be useful to determine if your thyroid is under functioning.

TSH

TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, is secreted by the body to stimulate the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones. The higher the TSH, the more the body is trying to encourage the thyroid to work harder. A high TSH indicates a lowered thyroid function.

TSH is a poor indicator of thyroid function, as it doesn’t really take into account the whole picture. Unfortunately this is the gold standard that doctors use to check thyroid function, and if you are ‘in range’ then you are dismissed as being normal.

T4 and T3

T4 and T3 are your actual thyroid hormones. T4, the inactive form, coverts into T3, which is the hormone used to regulate tissues in the body. You need to have adequate levels of both T4 and T3 in order for your thyroid to function optimally. By testing T4 and T3, we can assess if there is a problem with hormone production or the conversion of T4 to T3. There are different nutrients involved at each stage, so we are able to gain insight into nutrient deficiencies and know what to prescribe based on these results.

Reverse T3

Reverse T3 occurs when T3 ‘flips’ into a reverse form. Reverse T3 attaches to receptors and prevents T3 from binding to them. Checking for reverse T3 is important as your T3 could be normal, however if you have high reverse T3 then you will still have an underactive thyroid. Reverse T3 is not recognized by most doctors as being important, however we find it an essential part of the picture when evaluating someone with hypothyroidism.

Thyroid autoantibodies

Thyroid autoantibodies can show if there is are immune factors that could be causing an autoimmune thyroiditis called Hashimoto’s disease. In Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to dysfunction. Autoimmune thyroid problems require different treatment to standard hypothyroidism, so it is important that this is ruled out.

Cholesterol

Unknown to many, often the cause of high cholesterol levels is hypothyroidism. In fact, high cholesterol was previously used by doctors as an indicator of hypothyroidism. This was before the introduction of statin drugs, which it seems are the only thing that are looked at when a cholesterol issue arises. The problem with this is that you could end up on cholesterol lowering drugs, while the underlying cause is not rectified.

Nutritional testing

There are many nutrients involved in thyroid function. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause hypothyroidism to occur.

  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Tyrosine (an amino acid)

Urinary Iodine

Iodine is needed to make your thyroid hormones – T4 and T3. Iodine deficiency is a major cause of hypothyroism. Iodine is best tested through the urine, this test can be ordered through the clinic.

Hair mineral analysis

A hair mineral analysis can assess mineral levels in the body, as well as how your body is functioning. There are also many heavy metals that can inhibit thyroid function, so it is worthwhile ruling out this.

What treatment options are available?

Thankfully, there are many herbs and nutrients that have been clinically proven to improve thyroid function. If you have a suspected thyroid problem, seeing one of our naturopaths is a good first step. First we’ll make sure you have all of the right testing done, and then we’ll develop a treatment plan based on your individual symptom picture. Our naturopaths have helped hundreds of patients to overcome hypothyroidism so that they can get their mojo back.

Acupuncture is also a good option for those with thyroid problems, from a TCM perspective. Treatment can include a combination of acupuncture, herbs and nutrition in those with severe or chronic thyroid problems.

To make an appointment or to discuss treatment options with out team, call us on 07 3367 0337 and we’ll be happy to help.

thyroid gland