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Weight, Age and Metabolism

As we get older, our bodies tend to put on weight, and many of us try to fight against that natural change. But should we? How much extra weight is too much? And why does this happen?

The basic biological fact that our bodies put on weight later in life is due to the fact that our metabolism slows down as we age. Although people today stay more active and are no longer heading for rocking chairs and retirement during certain milestone years, health, mobility and pain issues can slow us down. When this happens, we’re not burning as many calories, which adds on pounds. Other factors can also lead to weight gain, including some prescription medications such as corticosteroids, antipsychotics and antidepressants.

But a little extra weight, particularly when you’re over 60, can be a good thing – it’s even considered protective against potential falls and illnesses that may cause weight loss. A number of studies have illustrated this same conclusion; one in particular, conducted by Yale University, showed that “moderately overweight senior adults” with a BMI (body mass index) of 27 actually enjoyed longer lives than seniors who had a higher or lower BMI. This study has been misconstrued by some people as giving them the green light to put on weight randomly – this couldn’t be further from the truth. Excessive weight gain or constant fluctuations in weight are still health risks that can lead to chronic conditions, whereas seniors who maintained a slightly above average BMI consistently had the longest life spans.

You don’t need to take drastic measures to achieve and maintain a healthy weight at an older age, and diet alone isn’t the answer. If you just cut calories, you’ll lose muscle mass, which is definitely undesirable. But there’s a three-pronged approach that can help you stay fit and healthy so you can enjoy the activities you love well into your golden years. These three beneficial elements are muscle-building /calorie burning exercise, proper protein intake and diet modification.

The risk of type 2 diabetes reduces considerably as you move toward your optimal body weight; an overweight person who loses even seven percent of their body weight lowers their risk by more than half. And as excess weight is lost, you’re more likely to become more active as it becomes easier to engage in muscle-building exercises on a regular basis.

When it comes to how you eat, fad diets and temporary caloric adjustments won’t work. Your shift to a healthier diet needs to be part of a permanent lifestyle change, otherwise the weight you’ve shed will return. A good step toward cutting calories, which has many other health benefits as well, is eliminating or greatly minimizing your intake of processed sugars, especially sugary drinks. Add muscle-building, calorie burning exercises and you have a winning combination.

One thing to be particularly aware of is to get proper amounts of protein every day. As we get older, protein becomes even more important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis; it’s estimated that about 0.6 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight is necessary. Including proper portions of healthy proteins (not protein bars) at each meal will accomplish this. And by rounding out your meals with a variety of fresh vegetables, you’ll be getting valuable vitamins like C, B12 and D, which are important for healthy muscles, bones, blood and nerve cells.

These are just a few simple, safe ways of achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight as we age, which can help us continue doing the things we enjoy for years to come.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Are There ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Your Food?

They’re in water- and stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foam, paints, cleaning products…and food. We’re talking about “forever chemicals”, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that don’t break down for millennia and pose many kinds of health risks. And because they’re so durable and used in so many things – including some nonstick cookware and food packaging – they stay in humans and animals, the air, plants, drinking water and in the ground for an extremely long time.

Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publicized leaked FDA information showing that the FDA had found PFAS in a number of foods, including greens, fruit, meats, dairy products and processed foods. Oddly, the highest amount – 17,600 parts per trillion, more than 250 times of that allowed by the federal government – was found in chocolate cake with chocolate icing that was sourced from several different supermarkets; the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) thinks those high levels may have come from the cakes’ packaging. That in itself highlights a problem, because companies that make food packaging are supposed to notify the FDA when they use these types of chemicals, and the EDF found no
evidence of any notification.

Because these “forever chemicals” last…well, essentially forever, they build up and remain in the body for long periods of time. So just because the FDA may say the PFAS load in ground turkey, for example, is safe for human consumption, they’re only considering a single source and single use. Add to that the PFAS you may be ingesting in other meats, fruits, vegetables, drinking water, milk, and so on, and your intake can easily exceed what the government considers “safe” levels. Although the FDA has halted manufacture in the US of some of the most toxic PFAS chemicals (these are still being produced in other countries, including in China), thousands of other PFAS are still being made here, and there’s no information as to their level of toxicity or the damage they can cause.

While it’s easy to understand how PFAS (there are 5,000 different types) are put into man-made things like food packaging and nonstick cookware, you might wonder how they’re being found in all types of foods from produce and dairy to meats and processed foods. It all comes down to contamination of both soil and water. Some of the highest PFAS levels are found in foods farmed near water sources contaminated with PFAS, including wells or streams, while others are from farms where contaminated sludge has been spread over fields. At least two US farms have been shut down due to contaminated cow’s milk.

So what’s the FDA doing about this threat to human health? Their statement (www.fda.gov), which was only issued after the leak was publicized, is: “…the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern, in other words a food safety risk in human food, at the levels found in this limited sampling.” Note the key words there – “limited” sampling.

With the FDA’s statement in mind, let’s take a look at what the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says about human exposure to PFAS. Sadly, the CDC reports that almost all Americans have detectable PFAS levels in their blood. While scientists are still studying the health effects of “mixtures of PFAS”, so far they have found:

  • increased cancer risk
  • increased cholesterol levels
  • interference with natural hormones
  • impact to immune system
  • children’s learning, growth and behavior affected
  • infertility
  • changes in hormone levels as well as liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function in lab animals

PFAS chemicals become concentrated in cows’ milk and human breast milk, so that when a mother breastfeeds her infant, her PFAS levels go down as she transfers those chemicals to her baby. Since PFAS chemicals are not sprayed on foods or fed to farm animals, they can be present in organic foods as well. Knowing from which farm your food is sourced can help you avoid buying from farms located near known or potential contamination areas.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

The Common Secret No One Talks About: Constipation

It’s a topic no one wants to discuss. It’s an extremely common health issue, yet it’s a gray area for many of the 63 million Americans who suffer with it—and that number is rising. It can cause pain and discomfort that can impact your quality of life and has more potential causes than most people think. We’re talking about chronic constipation, and we’re going to help you understand more about this seemingly hush-hush health problem.

Annually, over 6 million Americans visit hospital emergency rooms for constipation and more than 5 million prescriptions are written for it, so there’s no doubt this is a widespread problem. You’ll find plenty of misinformation online about what’s considered normal or acceptable when it comes bowel movement frequency. Some sites will tell you that whatever you’ve experienced throughout your life is what’s normal for you. Even if you’re used to going as infrequently as once a week for as long as you can remember, they say that’s okay because it’s your personal “normal”. Conventional medicine even says that as few as three times a week is acceptable. None of this could be further from the truth.

Regular bowel movements—at least once daily—are a necessary function of good health; this is one important way the body cleanses itself of toxins and waste materials. Without regular daily elimination, toxins can be reabsorbed into your body, and a host of health issues can arise.

As a solution to chronic constipation—defined as difficult, infrequent, pebble-like, or painful bowel movements over a few months’ time—many people turn to prescription or OTC medications and end up dependent on them for years. While this may produce the desired result in the moment, it is by no means a long-term solution, and it’s never a good idea to continually put medications of any kind into your body.

What makes this an even more dangerous “solution” is that the real reason for the constipation is not being uncovered or addressed. Like pain elsewhere in the body, constipation is a symptom that something is wrong, which can be as simple as dietary and lifestyle choices or something more serious, such as an underlying health condition. Rather than medicating the symptom, functional medicine looks deeper into the causation behind each individual’s constipation problem and finds a way to correct the root cause.

Constipation lies on both sides of the health equation—it can be caused by other health issues and, if left untreated, it can cause health problems. Let’s take a look at both.

Underlying Health Issues That Can Cause Constipation

  • lack of physical activity
  • diet high in processed foods, unhealthy fats and/or sugar
  • low fiber/low greens diet
  • certain medications
  • not enough daily water intake
  • ignoring the urge to go
  • excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption
  • neurological disorders
  • medical conditions including hypothyroidism, diverticulitis, diabetes and more

Conditions Caused By Chronic Constipation

  • hemorrhoids
  • fissures
  • blockage caused by impacted (stuck) fecal matter
  • potential for colon cancer
  • possible cause of diverticulitis
  • urological disorders
  • bowel incontinence
  • rectal prolapse

New connections between causes and resulting conditions are continually being discovered; it’s even been reported that regular use of enemas or constipation medications can eventually become causes in and of themselves.

When is it time to seek medical advice?

An occasional bout of constipation happens to everyone, especially under certain circumstances like during times of extreme stress, when traveling, or if your diet changes for the worse for a period of time. This can cause temporary, or “acute”, constipation that goes away after things return to normal. However, you should see your doctor if you notice lasting changes in your stool consistency or overall bowel habits. In addition, if you experience pain, feel as though you’re not eliminating completely, or are having difficulty moving your bowels on a regular basis for several weeks, it’s time to get help.

Increasing your fiber intake is not only important to avoiding constipation, it’s also important for your overall health—and lettuce and tomato on your burger is not the same as having a side salad! But not all fiber is created equal—we’ll talk about breakfast cereals as well as the types of fiber you should include in your diet and why in our next blog post.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Learning to Love Your Metabolism

Are you familiar with this scenario? You get on the scale and see that you’re five pounds heavier than you were at this time last year. And yet you’ve been really careful about your eating and kept up your exercise plan. Why is this happening?

A recent study published in the journal Obesity followed fourteen contestants from the reality show The Biggest Loser who lost huge amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time through diet and exercise.

But six years later, thirteen of the fourteen people regained a significant amount of weight; four of them were even heavier than when they started on the show. Even worse, measurements showed that their metabolisms had slowed down, with their bodies burning an average of 500 calories less per day than would be expected, given their weight.

Research indicates that slowing metabolism is the body’s evolutionary way of defending itself against weight loss. Your body fights much more strongly to keep weight from dropping than it does to keep weight from increasing. This is not good news for most of us who struggle with dieting.

Why Metabolism Matters

Is it possible to outsmart your metabolism? Yes, but what works is a sustainable approach to lifestyle, diet, and exercise and an understanding of root causes.

The key is to resolve to eat smart for life, not just to diet for your cousin’s wedding and then go back to old habits. Metabolism varies a lot between people for reasons that aren’t fully understood. Women’s metabolism tends to be a bit slower than men’s. And as we age, our metabolism gets slower.

This means that even if you have the same amount of fat and muscle tissue at age sixty as you did at age twenty, you’ll likely be burning fewer calories at rest in your sixth decade than you did in your second. Combined with the fact that dieting can slow down your metabolism (remember the people from The Biggest Loser?), this means an uphill battle for most of us.

Taking Another Route

So how do we break out of such a negative cycle? One way is to acknowledge the power of our slowing metabolism and not beat ourselves up when it gets the upper hand and our weight goes up.

Another way is to confront the very persuasive myths about weight loss and dieting that have burrowed their way into our culture. Losing weight is NOT simply a matter of:

  • eating less
  • cutting out fats
  • eating in moderation
  • following a quick-loss diet

These basic tenets are wrong. There IS no quick fix. Fats are not the enemy. No fad diet will help you make a lasting change in your weight.

Instead, you need to understand some basic concepts about metabolism.

Basic Concepts about Metabolism

First, it happens at the cellular level. Metabolism refers to a series of chemical processes in each cell that turn the calories you eat into fuel to keep you alive. “Basal” or resting metabolism measures how many calories you burn when you’re doing nothing, i.e., resting. The work of changing your metabolism and achieving weight loss mostly has to do with resting metabolism.

Second, poor metabolism can be the result of hypothyroidism or blood sugar dysregulation or both. When your thyroid is underperforming and/or you’ve developed insulin resistance, your metabolism is going to be severely affected.

Third, one of the variables that affects your resting metabolic rate is the amount of lean muscle in your body. No matter what your weight, the more muscle you have and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate will be. That’s because muscle uses up way more energy than fat while you’re at rest.

Fourth, corrupt practices of the food industry and Big Pharma have gotten most of us hooked on food additives and synthetic drugs. Do you know how much sugar there is in your food? How many chemical preservatives are added? It’s a lot! And we start our children out early in life on many of these substances. No wonder kids crave desserts and snacks, and rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed.

Where to Start to Understand Your Metabolic Level

Obviously, regulating one’s metabolism is a complicated chemical process that involves monitoring thyroid, hormonal, and blood sugar levels and identifying the possible toxic effects of our environment. Start by asking for a complete metabolic work-up. Find out your health biomarkers and, with guidance, start to work on changing them.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

The Headache-Migraine-Gut Connection

If you’re one of the 38 million Americans who suffer from migraines, you know how the severe pain, stomach upset and light sensitivity can stop you from living your life for hours—or even days. Migraines are known to affect the gut, causing diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, but new studies have shown that the reverse is also true: poor gut health can increase the risk of neurological disorders, including migraines.

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) journal Frontiers in Neurology reports that possible root causes of GI diseases and migraines “could be increased by gut permeability and inflammation.” Separate studies indicate that the same pro-inflammatory immune responses responsible for such gut issues as celiac disease, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disorder (IBD) may also be responsible for causing migraines. The NIH also reports that the cause of migraines may be more about environmental factors, including gut microbiota, than genetics, since in only 20 percent of identical twins does one or both suffer from migraines.

Poor gut health doesn’t just cause migraines—Norway’s Nord-Trøndelag Health Survey showed that people with ordinary headaches as well as migraines also complained regularly of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms as opposed to people who had no GI complaints or headaches. And in the US, approximately 45 million people (about 1 in 6 people) are known to experience common headaches; about 8 million of those visit a doctor specifically for headache complaints. A number of statistics bear out the gut health-headache-migraine connection:

  • more than half of migraine patients have IBS (American Academy of Neurology)
  • approximately one-third of headache sufferers have IBS (American Academy of Neurology)
  • a study of patients with IBD and celiac disease showed migraines were “more prevalent” in these patients than in control subjects (American Headache Society)
  • patients with IBD are more than two times more likely to suffer migraines (American Headache Society)
  • inflammation is at the root of IBD, IBS and leaky gut, and the nerve associated with migraines is also triggered by inflammation (Annals of Neurosciences)

The gut and brain have a strong connection through three pathways—endocrine, immune and neural—which communicate in both directions: brain to gut and gut to brain. Because of this connection, the gut is referred to as the “second brain”; in addition, it produces the majority of our body’s serotonin, which is referred to as the “happiness hormone”.  It’s no coincidence that patients with migraines are found to have low serotonin levels, further underscoring the relationship between the gut and brain.

Gut permeability, otherwise known as leaky gut, is a condition in which the gut wall becomes perforated, allowing toxic waste, undigested foods, and bacteria to pass into the blood system rather than being properly processed and eliminated. These inflammatory molecules can lead to IBD, IBS, and celiac disease; they also stimulate pain receptors in the fifth and largest cranial nerve (the trigeminal nerve), resulting in migraines.

It’s no secret that we’re living more inflammation-prone lives due to higher stress levels, gluten consumption, poor dietary choices that include processed and fast foods, environmental chemicals, and so on. The lower quality of non-organic food also plays a role because there are now far fewer nutrients in plant-based foods due to the use of pesticides, genetic modification, mechanized farming, and chemical fertilizers. All of these factors negatively alter the gut microbiome and, in turn, the gut-brain pathway.

The road to ending migraines begins by finding out what triggers your attacks—everyone’s body is different; some may have allergies or sensitivities to cleaning products, gluten, or certain foods while other people may have leaky gut or another immune disorder. Your functional medicine doctor can help you determine the root cause of your body’s inflammation and the best way to help heal any issues so you can get back to living your life more fully.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Is it Healthy to Go Vegan?

The debate over whether a vegan diet is healthier than a diet that includes animal products has been going on for decades. Both sides have presented opposing information, which is confusing for anyone trying to decide which side of the argument makes more sense. However, the truth is muddied when either side exaggerates or misrepresents facts to bolster their beliefs.

In my practice, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of young vegans who are experiencing a range of health problems, from hormonal imbalances caused by incredibly low cholesterol to anxiety stemming from poor blood sugar management. I don’t challenge their choice to be vegan – most do it for completely understandable reasons, whether religious or over animal welfare, environmental or health concerns – and I work with them to restore their health within their chosen dietary parameters.

If you’re trying to decide whether to go vegan like approximately two million other Americans have, there’s more to consider than how to get enough protein through non-meat sources. First, let me state that I’m not advocating for or against following a vegan lifestyle, but it’s important to understand the known health concerns associated with any dietary shift before embarking on it.

Vegan is different from vegetarian in that a vegan diet not only eliminates all meats and fish, it also excludes any and all products from meat or fish sources, such as dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.), eggs, gelatin, and so on. While plant-based diets are generally associated with lower cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and the like, these health benefits are achieved only through “appropriately planned diets”, as stated by the American Dietetic Association.

One of the pitfalls people can fall into on a vegan diet is not getting enough of the important nutrients that are provided by animal products. Protein, of course, is one of the primary deficiencies vegans can face if they don’t have a complete understanding of the difference between plant and animal proteins as well as their body’s protein requirements. Because plant proteins are different from animal proteins, vegans may need to take in more grams of plant protein than would be required from animal proteins. Also, it’s important to get plant proteins from a variety of sources, such as nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, lentils, and more.

Because the heme iron in animal products is better absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron in plant sources, a sufficient amount of vitamin C needs to be included in the vegan diet, which increases absorption of non-heme iron. On the other hand, consideration should be given to the fact that phytic acid in the same plant protein sources – lentils, whole grains, nuts, beans – can inhibit non-heme iron absorption.

Another important nutrient found mainly in animal and dairy products is vitamin B12, which helps to regulate the nervous system. Deficiencies in this vital vitamin can cause health problems that range from fatigue and immune system disorders to pernicious anemia and neurological issues. Vegans need to make sure they choose foods fortified with vitamin B12 and/or take B12 supplements (always check with your functional medicine doctor to make sure any supplements you take are pure and that you take the right amount for you personally).

Omega-3 fatty acids, derived mainly from fish and eggs, is an important nutrient in many ways, including controlling blood pressure and contributing to heart health. If your diet is missing or low in Omega-3s, you may experience symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, dryness of hair, nails, eyes and skin, sleep problems, moodiness, irritability, joint discomfort, lower energy, and others. A high-quality Omega-3 supplement as well as including flaxseed and walnuts in your diet is important to avoid these issues as well as other long-range health problems.

One final note: Sometimes people following what they consider to be a healthy diet forget that they also need to be vigilant about the amount of added refined sugars they ingest. Vegan snacks and desserts, especially if they’re processed, may fit within the scope of a vegan diet, but if consumed too frequently, they can still cause health problems. Similarly, soda may be vegan, but it’s an unhealthy beverage choice for anyone and should be avoided.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Stress, Hormones, and Poor Gut Function

A majority of Americans eat a diet which consists largely of high sugars and refined grains. This means that most Americans today suffer from instability in their blood sugar levels. The problem with this type of diet is that these foods are very rapidly converted into glucose and contribute to overeating, constant cravings, and poor nutrition. Contrary to popular belief, the worst possible breakfast to start your day with is a bowl of cereal, skim milk, and a banana. It is important to understand what is going to happen to your body if this is the food you choose to eat.

Hormonally, a few things happen. First, insulin drives blood sugar levels too low, creating a reactive hypoglycemic state. This may create feelings of irritability, moodiness, and an inability to focus. The body, and especially the brain, needs adequate levels of glucose to thrive. In addition to the negative effects low blood sugar has on the brain, it also stresses theadrenal glands. The adrenal glands regulate the stress response within the body. The adrenals release a hormone called cortisol, which is used to elevate blood sugar. You will therefore be trapped in a vicious cycle that sets you up for failure.

Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal gland in response to events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and experiencing acute stress. Its far-reaching, systemic effects play many roles in the body’s effort to carry out its processes and maintain homeostasis. Cortisol therefore informs on cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, immune function, weight management, proper digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as other health matters.

Whether or not a particular individual’s stress levels will result in high cortisol levels and leaky gut is not readily predictable. The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress can vary among individuals, and some people are inherently more reactive to stressful events. For example, women who secrete high levels of cortisol when they are under stress tend to eat more at those times than women who secrete less cortisol. Additionally, women with higher cortisol levels tend to store their excess fat in their abdominal area, and these women report having more lifestyle stress than women whose fat gets stored on their hips.

We do not necessarily know every time our body comes under attack. Also, sometimes we rationalize that certain foods are not really harmful for us but rather less than ideal, when in fact we know they are actually bad for us. However, eating foods that are rife with toxins and antigens or that consist of “empty calories” will damage your body. Insidious sources of strain on the body that cause widespread inflammation include refined sugar, anemia, stress, lack of sleep, cancer-causing free radicals, low-grade infections, and a “leaky gut” that lets food, waste, and pathogens freely enter our bodies.

Everything you eat either harms you or heals you, so it is vital to consume foods that enable the body to perform its vital functions and avoid foods that inhibit its performance.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Thyroid Hormones Part 2: Misunderstood and Mismanaged

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the thyroid as the primary driver of metabolic function. Metabolism is your body’s ability to produce energy efficiently using the wide array of nutrients and enzymes available, and it also eliminates wastes. People who suffer with thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroid, suffer a great number of debilitating side effects. Some of these are visible (hair loss, thinning eyebrows), others affect physical and mental stamina (low energy, brain fog), and still others are more insidious as the body simply fails to perform essential tasks (eliminate wastes and toxic byproducts).

Because the standard of care for anyone with low thyroid is to take replacement hormones, discussions about thyroid routinely focus on how well the drug is affecting TSH. Or how well the T4s are converting to T3s, or whether the Reverse T3 is actually a better tool for measuring thyroid function, and so on. It’s as if the whole problem of low thyroid is a mathematical formula! What is lost in the process and is the reason why thyroid is completely misunderstood and mismanaged is this: Hypothyroid, including Hashimoto’s, are secondary “downstream” health problems; also, thyroid function cannot be resolved in isolation or apart from an environmental context.

The thyroid gland itself is primarily a fatty tissue that, like breast, heart, or pancreatic organs, becomes a good storage site for toxic waste. Whether it’s mercury toxicity or another type of toxic exposure (radiation, pesticide, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and so on) the thyroid is a particularly vulnerable gland for storing and removing toxins from the bloodstream. One theory about the alarming rise in autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s in this case, is that the thyroid has become so toxic that the body turns against it and attacks the thyroid itself. A simple antibody test will rule this out.

Another upstream cause for poor thyroid function is oxidative stress. The terms oxidative stress and free radicals have become familiar in recent years. Think of oxidative stress as the total burden placed on the thyroid by the constant production of free radicals. To halt this process, the thyroid will slow down to preserve itself and thereby protect its own mitochondria and cell membranes. Remember, every single cell in your body is a self-contained living organism that wants to thrive. When you eat a diet loaded with antioxidants, you are preventing further oxidative stress by cleaning up free radicals.

Lastly, the effects of brain chemistry on thyroid function should not be overlooked. In fact, a doctor cannot properly evaluate thyroid function without considering the brain, which is saturated with thyroid hormone receptor sites. Is it any wonder that low thyroid function causes mental fogginess, low productivity, and forgetfulness? People are discovering the therapeutic power of amino acids, herbs, and nutrients that support the brain’s neurotransmitters. We’re increasingly understanding how the factors that lead to poor thyroid health—bad diet, unstable blood sugar control, adrenal stress, and gut infections—also lead to poor brain health, including brain tissue inflammation and degeneration as well as a deficiency in serotonin and dopamine.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.