By Jasmine Sufi, Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Did you know that the thyroid gland weighs only 20 grams and is responsible in regulating the body’s metabolism, energetic system and when healthy can improve fertility while when in dysfunction can cause recurrent miscarriage? It is responsible for regulating the function of every tissue in our bodies! This small gland maintains and modulates metabolism and growth rates of every cell by secreting thyroid hormones. An important role for such a small gland. Thyroid disease is on the rise and is seen in the female population more than in the male population. There are two primary concerns with the thyroid, 1) hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid secreting less than normal thyroid hormones) and 2) hyperthyroidism (producing more than normal thyroid hormones. Symptoms that may indicate that there may be a concern with the thyroid are listed below.
- weak slow heart beat
- muscular weakness and constant fatigue
- sensitivity to cold
- thick puffy skin and/or dry skin
- slowed mental processes and poor memory
- goitre (increased size of the thyroid)
- rapid forceful heartbeat
- muscular weakness
- weight loss in spite of increased appetite
- restlessness, anxiety and sleeplessness
- profuse sweating and heat intolerance
- eye changes
- goitre (increased size of the thyroid)
If you are experiencing multiple symptoms listed above please seek the advice of your Family Physician and seek a referral to an Endocrinologist. First steps to determining thyroid disease is a simple blood test, testing the amount of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) being secreted by your thyroid as well as the amount of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) that is secreted by the brain. Many factors affect the thyroid and multiple blood tests may be needed to ensure that the imbalance is not temporary and is a systemic concern that needs to be addressed.
The thyroid gland is an important mechanism to ensure you feel energetic, manage weight, aids in sleep patterns and can result in anxiety and depression. The thyroid is stimulated by the pituitary gland in the brain producing Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), this is what stimulates the thyroid to produce its own hormones T3 and T4, these are the hormones that modulate metabolism within our cells. Low levels of T3 and T4 will cause TSH production to rise.
My experience dealing with infertility over the years has given me the foresight to look at the thyroid as one of the first steps in identifying it as a cause for infertility or miscarriage. Here is why:
There are varying blood test standards that have changed over the last few years. General rule of thumb by most physicians is to ensure that the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH released by the pituitary gland in the brain) is under 5mU/L. Whereas, if you are trying to conceive the Fertility Specialist will look to get your thyroid between the levels of 1-2mU/L. Once within this range, thyroid medication is modulated based on symptoms and how the individual feels, each persons “normal” thyroid function is unique and levels will be a large range within these “standard” levels. But because there is a larger difference in practice within the medical field, I take a look at the levels to ensure that the standards of practice being adhered to by Fertility Doctors are being applied to all patients coming in to my office for fertility. I look at thyroid dysfunction as a possible source of infertility and I do my best to rule the thyroid out, otherwise advise patients to go back to their physicians for more blood work, confirming changes in TSH, T3 and T4 levels.
The thyroid is the centre of hormonal balance! When it is functioning well, you feel well, cycles are normal, ability to conceive is optimal and more importantly the ability to maintain a pregnancy is achieved. Chinese medicine can play a role in ensuring thyroid health in cases that are mild or just beyond “standard” levels, or for individuals that are experiencing symptoms despite having normal levels. The best route is through Chinese herbal medicine. We use herbs that will ensure better energetic flow through the neck area, strengthening the passageways while ensuring better health of the thyroid by directly regulating the thyroid itself. Chinese herbs are prescribed based on each individual’s specific set of signs and symptoms and a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor would be able to do an appropriate diagnosis to apply the best herbal prescription for each individual.
In addition to Chinese herbs here are some foods that are high in Iodine, an essential mineral for your thyroid that is easy to incorporate into your weekly diet.
Seaweed: a healthy anti-oxidant rich food with high levels of iodine and natural sea salts and minerals. You can have it in you sushi, roasted seaweed snack and chips are readily available now too.
Salt with iodine: Iodine is used by the thyroid to make hormones. Ensuring your diet contains iodine will help the thyroid function optimally.
Large amounts of iodine can be dangerous is large amounts, seek the advice of a professional if iodine supplements are being used.
Eat less of these foods if thyroid function is abnormal, as they can block the production of thyroid hormones:
- Cauliflower (Any vegetable that falls into the broccoli family is a goitrogen and shouldn’t be eaten more than twice a week if you have hypothyroidism.)
- Brussels sprouts
- Pine nuts
- Soy (Isoflavones block iodine)
- Canola oil
The thyroid is a complex gland that like all of our other part of our body needs care. Eating the right foods and ensuring you have sufficient iodine will help the health of your thyroid. This article is meant to be informative so that it equips you with the right questions to ask your doctor. If you are trying to conceive pay special attention to your levels and ask your physician if they are at adequate levels to ensure fertility. Always ask for the numbers and don’t be afraid of asking if they are appropriate for you.