Getting the right food and nutrients is just the start of your thyroid challenge. Environmental scientists are pointing to a growing body of research that suggests the chemicals in our air, water and food supply may be confusing and taxing our immune systems. According to Paul Connett, professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., the fluoride we ingest through tap water, processed foods, toothpaste and mouthwash suppresses thyroid function.
“In the 1950s, doctors in Europe treated patients with hyperthyroidism with sodium fluoride tablets,” he explains. “The doses they were using are within the range of what we get in people living in fluoridated communities.” Connett suggests that fluoride may cause problems for those with hypothyroid disorders because it mimics the action of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), the hormone that catalyzes the release of hormones from the thyroid, and desensitizes the protein receptors that receive TSH.
Connett and others believe that people concerned about their thyroid health should not only filter their tap water or drink bottled water, but also avoid fluoridated toothpastes and mouthwashes, as well as processed foods (which may be made with fluoridated water) and fluoride-rich foods such as sardines and cooked spinach. (Connett is among a group of scientists and alternative practitioners who reject the notion that fluoride has dental health benefits; most conventional dentists disagree and continue to support fluoridation.)
Easy on Stress
While the idea of chemical stressors is daunting, emotional and mental stress may be an even bigger concern. Some doctors believe that serious physical or mental stress can trigger the immune system to attack the thyroid, especially if you have a family history of low thyroid, diabetes, or other rheumatic or autoimmune illnesses. But even if you don’t have a family history of autoimmune diseases, it’s still important to make sure that your stress levels aren’t weakening your thyroid or getting in the way of your body’s healing processes.
“There is a tremendous amount of frustration built into our everyday lives,” says Shames, “all of which has a negative impact on our biochemistry. Plus our rapid pace of life leaves little time for immune-restoring activities such as exercise and a solid night’s sleep.”
“When you are going through a difficult time or a chronically stressful situation,” advises Shames, “utilize every good stress-reduction technique available to you. If you don’t know any, get some training and try a few out. You could choose meditation, self-hypnosis, or specific relaxation exercises from biofeedback or yoga.”
Shames also advises his thyroid patients to exercise, to stay connected with friends and, if they need it, to seek out professional counseling. But the basic message is simple: When your body starts breaking down or getting overwhelmed, it’s a clear sign you need to take better care of yourself. Go easy, advises Shames. Back off from overly ambitious plans. “If you’ve been working without a break for months on end, schedule a vacation. Get out of your body’s way and let it heal.”