Your thyroid may be affected as a response to chronic stress.
By Delina Rahmate- Clinical Nutritionist
When we are under prolonged levels of stress we will begin to experience multiple system issues, one of these is a change in our metabolism and consequent weight gain particularly around our midsection. We may also begin to feel puffy and fatigued. Due to the complexity of the thyroid I have only looked at a snap shot on what may be happening to your thyroid as a result of chronic stress.
Essentially under the stress response, fight or flight, our thyroid hormone conversion is going to be down- regulated to peripheral tissues. This is a normal response to threat. It should only be short lived. When the stress response becomes chronic and we are experiencing high levels of stress daily we begin to experience more dysfunction in the body leading to various symptoms, inflammation, disorders, and disease.
Often this is when you may begin to expect something is wrong with your metabolism, you may be gaining weight and feeling tired without changing your diet. You may visit the Doctor and have blood tests done. In the earlier stages of dysfunction you may be symptomatic however your pathology does not reflect a thyroid issue, your blood test may show a normal TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and T4. This can leave you feeling confused about what is really going on with your body as the bloods appear to be normal. Testing TSH, however, does not represent the thyroid hormone status of all the peripheral cells, it represents T3 in the pituitary. In stress situations T3 is upregulated to pituitary and downregulated to peripheral cells.
Due to the lack of supporting evidence you may be told to eat less and exercise more as a way of controlling your symptoms. This may increase the stress response/Cell Danger Response (CDR). If the stressful state continues then a weight struggle persists, often for years, before the next phase happens and you start to develop an autoimmune attack on your thyroid. Regular blood tests do not detect thyroid antibodies so this can go undetected as bloods will still appear to be normal. You once again may be told the same thing- to eat less, exercise more and look at managing stress through referral, stress management techniques and possible medication.
Eventually if stress remains unresolved phase III kicks in. This is when the autoimmune / immune response creates so much damage to the thyroid that the gland can no longer make enough hormone to support the pituitary gland, TSH will rise and T4 will drop below lab range. Pathology tests will now show that there is a thyroid issue. Unfortunately it is now a chronic problem.
Due to the complexity of the chronic stress response and how it effects other body systems it is important that you seek good advice on managing your return to optimal health. As a Clinical Nutritionist I can work with you and your Doctor to find out the best approach that will work for you. Metabolism testing is also an excellent tool in helping understand what is going on with your body.
If you feel like some further very technical reading you can search “Cell Danger Response”, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23981537 and you will find an amazing paper that explains the CDR.
Nutrition to support the thyroid
To support the thyroid we should choose a diet rich in tyrosine, iodine, selenium, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin A and antioxidants.
The following is a list of healthy foods to base your diet around to support your thyroid.
- Grains and legumes: Always choose wholegrains: amaranth, brown rice, millet and quinoa. Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, lima beans
- Vegetables: Organic where possible (particularly when you eat the skin such as tomatoes), cooked cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. All seasonal and local vegetables.
- Fermented vegetables.
- Seaweed such as dulse, kelp and wakame
- Brightly coloured fruits such as berries, kiwi fruit, pineapple, papaya and other seasonal fruits
- Fats and oils: Cold pressed oils, coconut oil, ghee
- Pot set yoghurt and kefir
- Fish: Alaskan fish, pacific ocean fish, farmed oysters and mussels, oily fish such as mackerel
- Grass fed meat, bone broth and liver
- Free-range chicken
- Free-range eggs
- Salt such as Celtic or Himalayan
- Turmeric, onions and garlic
- FlaxseedBrazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Daily exercise stimulates thyroid hormone secretion and increases tissue sensitivity to thyroid hormone.
Recipe to support the thyroid
What is lovely about this dish is its simplicity and diversity. You can use a wide variety of veggies here — there is no right or wrong as long as the veggie can survive the roasting! You can easily use sweet potatoes, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, parsnips, radishes, onions, garlic cloves, leeks, peppers, zucchinis, fennel, carrots or eggplant. These Veggies can be prepared ahead of time and added to salads to boost the flavour and interest. A great recipe for your balancing your hormones.
Roasted Vegetables and Moroccan Spice by Magdalena Wszelaki
Prep time:15 mins | Cook time: 45 mins | Serves: 4-6
- Vegetables of your choice (see the list above). Pictured are: asparagus, parsnip, carrots and leeks
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, warm it if needed so it’s liquid
- sea salt
- Moroccan spice blend
- Preheat the oven to 220C.
- Toss the veggies with coconut oil, sea salt and the Moroccan blend.
- Lay them out on parchment paper so they don’t touch each other too much.
- Bake for 45 minutes.
- Serve with your favourite protein and a green leafy salad sprinkled with sunflower seeds.