Suzy Cohen, Guest
It seems like everyone’s talking about it these days – from Shape Magazine to the New York Times, you’re little thyroid is a small gland with a big function. Located at the base of your throat, your thyroid produces hormones that control your metabolism (as in fat-burning ability) and regulates the rhythm of your heart and your body temperature. That explains why you eat like a bird and gain weight, while your husband eats a horse and stays thin. People like that either have a healthy thyroid and good metabolism or they have intestinal parasites!
Well, anyway, point is, one glitch in your thyroid and dangerous consequences can ensue, ranging from encephalopathy to heartbeat irregularities. Most people think hypothyroidism is strictly about fatigue, cold sensitivity and weight gain but news flash, it causes misery head to toe. The opposite of hypothyroidism is hyperthyroidism, where excessive thyroid hormone is produced causing weight loss, rapid heartbeat, and heat intolerance (and 100 more symptoms). Hyperthyroidism is often referred to as Graves’ disease and auto-immune condition where the body attacks it’s own thyroid gland. A goiter in the neck can occur. Whether you have hypo or hyperthyroidism, selenium, is one trace mineral that may help. There are others which I’ve written about in the past including magnesium, iodine, iron and zinc.
Selenium has been shown in clinical trials to either slow the progression of, or reduce symptoms of thyroid conditions, meaning it can help any imbalance (hyper or hypo). It’s seems to have an intelligence all it’s own. Selenium is directly tied to the health of your thyroid gland so as you read this, take notes, and discuss this mineral with your doctor. It is sold over-the-counter, however, I am not advising it for everyone since I couldn’t possibly know what’s right for you. I can tell you this though– your precious stash of selenium may be mugged by… wait for it… your medication! Surprised? Well, unfortunately it’s true, your medicine might be crashing your thyroid over time, and this was covered in the selenium chapter in my book, Drug Muggers. Hundreds of medications have the potential to rob your body of selenium. Here are some common muggers of selenium:
- Acid reducing medications
- Hormone-replacement therapy
- Birth control pills
- Breast cancer drugs
If you take any of the medications listed above, selenium supplementation is critical for you. And just FYI, it’s not just medicine, certain medical conditions such as Celiac, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and IBS can affect nutrient status. Gastric bypass can as well. So can certain beverages like sugar-laden sodas, red wine, and alcohol consumption. The study of drug nutrient depletion is my specialty so if want to know what foods and drugs are slowly stealing the life out of you (and cheap ways to restore those nutrients), snag a copy of my best-selling book Drug Muggers.
Thyroid cancer is the 9th most common cancer in the United States, and the scariest part is that the incidence has been increasing sharply since the mid-1990s. I recall years ago, that even my childhood friend developed this in her mid 20‘s, and it just came out of nowhere. She went through radiation and chemo and she’s okay now. The fact that it’s on the rise must mean something, either our environment is assaulting us, or our immune system is over-run. The POPs (persistent organic pollutants) are rampant in our industrialized nation, and I’m convinced that these, and heavy metals have something to do with it.
I also wonder how much of a role pathogens play, and gluten. Oh yeah, gluten, big time. It attacks the thyroid. It’s a stretch for me to imply that it has anything to do with cancer because it does not (at least not that we can prove), but gluten absolutely affects the thyroid gland in a bad way, especially if you are sensitive. Just FYI, proteins in coffee look just like gluten so if you are Celiac, you would do yourself a favor avoiding coffee too, even decaf.
In March 2013, scientists discovered a certain gene is linked to the development of thyroid cancer. This gene usually STOPS tumor growth, and when lifestyle choices (that you have total control over like smoking) turn the gene off in your body, thyroid tumors are more apt to grow. So we know this gene usually functions to stop tumors from growing but, in thyroid cancers, can be accidentally turned off. In some people the gene has been deleted altogether, making them extra susceptible to thyroid cancer without even knowing it! That’s why I can’t stress proper diet and supplementation enough.
One of my favorite thyroid supplements is ashwagandha. Yeah, I hear ya, it has a funny name, one that is hard to pronounce unless you get into multi-syllabic scientific jargon like this nerd extraordinnaire. But if you can get past the name, and consider that Withania somnifera (it’s genus/species) supports thyroid AND adrenal health, you’ll keep this one close to your heart. In fact, I often suggest it as an option for people who can’t tolerate the T4 drugs such as levothyroxine (one brand is Synthroid). You see, ashwagandha (a.k.a. withania somnifera) has the ability to help hyper and hypo thyroid. In hypothyroid people, it helps you make more thyroid hormone. It supports hormone health, it is an adaptogen so it nourishes those poor, tired adrenals that you’ve burnt out from taking care of a loved one, or from watching Big Brother After Dark, instead of sleeping. So, ashwagandha and selenium are two rock stars when it comes to improving the health of your thyroid gland, and protecting it from DNA damage (which leads to cancer sometimes). Selenium and ashwagandha both have anti-tumorigenic effects.
Speaking of genes, there are genetic factors that contribute to hypothyroidism, and you can find out if you’re at higher risk by taking a saliva test, offered by 23andme. Researchers have identified these genes, which again, you can test for, and found that if you have them you have a higher risk for hypothyroidism. The genetic snps are “rs965513” and “rs2476601.” These two genes have already been reported in studies of thyroid malfunction and disease. Then there are two other genes that you can test for which give you higher odds of hypothyroidism and dysregulation of your immune system. Makes me think these genes are tied to autoimmune forms of hypothyroidism. The snps are “the C version of rs4915077 in the VAV3 gene” and the other is the “T version of rs3184504 in the SH2B3 gene.” I know this sounds complicated, but all I’m saying is this: Basically… a ‘spit’ test will tell you if have a higher risk of thyroid illness. The test I’m referring to requires a small saliva sample, and it’s a gene test offered by 23andMe and can tell you if you have those. The test is $199 offered, if you click that link above.
Selenium has a beneficial effect on thyroid disease, whether or not you have these genes. Many minerals and enzymes do, but that is the subject of a book! Today I am focusing on selenium. If your selenium levels are low, be sure to add some selenium-rich foods into your diet or take a selenium supplement. Selenium taken preventively as selenium citrate or selenium picolinate should be taken at 100 mcg once daily. If your levels are low, however, I recommend shooting for 100-200 mcg daily. In rare cases, excess selenium can cause spots on your nails, nausea, vomiting, and nerve damage, so I always suggest talking to your doctor before beginning a new supplement. One more thing, selenium-rich foods include walnuts, tuna (not too much, mercury!), shrimp, eggs, cheese, turkey, beef and oatmeal. I like Brazil nuts because eating four per day gives you about 200 micrograms of selenium. Do not make home-made Brazil nut milk like I did, you will overload!
About the Author
Suzy Cohen, RPh, has been a licensed pharmacist for 24 years and a Functional Medicine practitioner for 15 years. In particular, she loves Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet and thinks our planet Earth provides every “drug” we need. Does she ever advocate the use of pharmaceuticals? Absolutely, medications can be a blessing at certain times. Her mission is to teach about natural options that work as well, or better than medications. At 49 years old, she totally ‘gets’ that vibrant health is our most important blessing and feels like we’re in this together. Because she has intense training in human biochemistry and metabolic pathways, she knows exactly how natural herbs and drugs affect your body. The Functional Medicine perspective, married with her pharmacy background and combined with 20 years as a caregiver gives her incredible perspective on ways to get YOU better! Additionally, she has personal experience with thyroid issues and discusses it in her newest book, Thyroid Healthy. Best-selling author, Suzy Cohen, RPh, is also a syndicated columnist. Follow her at SuzyCohen.com!