Your thyroid is a master gland at the base of your neck which helps control your metabolism. If your thyroid function is sub-optimal (on the low side), you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty losing weight, depression, foggy thinking, hair loss, cold extremities, and feeling burned out. This could be the case even if your thyroid tests look “normal” by conventional standards.
If your thyroid hormones are truly out of the “normal ranges”, you will most likely be prescribed Synthroid or levothyroxine, which is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone, T4. However, this T4 needs to be converted into the active thyroid hormone, free T3. Many patients that I see have T4 levels that look fine or even on the high side of normal, but they still have symptoms. Giving them more T4 won’t help! We need to promote the proper conversion of T4 into T3, and some patients do better when we switch them from Synthroid to Desiccated Thyroid (which contains a little active T3 in it).
So, here are 5 ways to help improve that T4 to T3 conversion, in order to boost your metabolism!
1) Get enough sleep
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you aren’t giving your body a chance to produce enough Growth Hormone (produced in your slumber). Growth Hormone increases that T4 to T3 conversion. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you could also have a melatonin deficiency, a hormone which you produce when it is dark and which helps make you sleepy. Melatonin is also needed for proper T4 to T3 conversion.
2) Get adequate protein in your diet
Protein is essential as a building block for tissue repair and proper enzyme function in your body. The average person needs about 60-70 grams of protein per day. You can get this from lean protein sources such as fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, hemp hearts and other seeds, and legumes (however, if you have an autoimmune thyroid issue, some of these may not be recommended). Avoid soy protein sources, especially the non-fermented ones, as they can slow down thyroid function. Enough protein in the diet helps build muscle, decreases fat storage, improves satiety, decreases cravings for sweets, and helps burn more calories.
3) Balance your blood sugar
Foods high in sugar or refined carbohydrates (found in processed foods, white flour, fluffy breads, bagels, and most baked goods) spike up your blood sugar, which leads to insulin being released to help bring the sugar into your cells. Guess what insulin does… It decreases the conversion of T4 into T3, resulting in less active thyroid hormone! Eating a mostly plant-based, unprocessed diet, with adequate amounts of protein, helps to balance blood sugar levels, keeping them more steady and avoiding the big insulin-triggering spikes.
4) Decrease stress
Chronic stress leads to the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with proper metabolism in several different ways. First of all, it decreases the conversion of T4 into T3. It also shunts some of the T4 away from producing T3, and into producing reverse T3 instead. Reverse T3 functions as a brake on metabolism! Also, chronic stress decreases the ability of insulin to effectively bring sugar into the cells, leading to more insulin being needed for the same effect (insulin resistance)!
5) Optimize essential nutrients and vitamins (especially selenium, iodine, zinc, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D)
These essential nutrients are very important for producing enough thyroid hormone, and some are also useful if there is an autoimmune thyroid issue such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Work with a naturopathic doctor to ensure you have optimal levels of these, supplementing when necessary. It is possible to take too much of these too, so make sure you’re taking the right amounts for you!
Still feeling sluggish and having trouble losing weight? I can help!
Working with a naturopathic doctor can help you eliminate the guesswork, get some testing done, and approach your goal in an individualized and systematic way. There are so many factors as play regarding metabolism, many of which I did not mention here. Come on in for a visit, and we’ll get you started on a program tailored for you!
Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, Xie H, Rood J, Martin CK, Most M, Brock C, Mancuso S, Redman LM. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012 Jan 4;307(1):47-55.
Image from 123RF.com, Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_magone'>magone / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Scott, TD, Speidel, K. (2017). Essential Elements of Prescription Hormone Compounding. LP3 Network. Conference 2017 Apr 29-30.
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.