Tag Archives: thyroid

Thyroid Health is a BIG Deal!

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and change one (or more) major decisions in your life?  I try to live my life with no regrets and with an appreciation that God is in control of it all.  However, I had a health crisis with my thyroid several years ago –I wish that I had known then what I know now.  Though I can’t have a “do over,” I can offer my experience to you in hopes that it will change your life for the better.  In the end, that’s the essence having life experiences, right?

Here are some things that I wish I knew back then:

Your thyroid is critically involved in every aspect of your body’s functioning. RESPECT it.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t have a full understanding 8 years ago when I started having massive anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and heart palpitations.  A few months later, these symptoms were replaced with crushing fatigue, joint and back pain, hair falling out, cold all of the time (especially hands and feet), weight gain despite eating very little and exercising, brain fog and memory difficulties.  I felt like I had aged 4-5 decades overnight and I was very sick.  My sons would bring home the typical germs from school, and what should only have been a one or 2-day nuisance lasted weeks for me.  I was, at the very least, hypothyroid, but there was a lot more going on.

The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ in the front of your neck that wraps around your trachea, is intricately involved in many of your body’s functions:

Heart and Blood Pressure: when your thyroid is over or underactive, your blood pressure will either be too high (hyperthyroidism) or too low (hypothyroidism…my BP was once documented at 70/40).  This poses an increased risk for heart problems, including heart attacks.

Brain/Cognition:  Circulating thyroid hormones levels impact mental clarity, memory, concentration, and tendencies toward nervousness, anxiety, and depression.  The brain’s ability to signal and communicate with different systems in the body is impacted by the thyroid, and emerging research suggests that there is a correlation between thyroid dysfunction and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Digestion:  This is a HUGE problem area when the thyroid isn’t functioning properly.  Hypothyroidism causes low stomach acid and hampers the body’s ability to digest foods.  It’s common to have a host of issues including: GERD, bloating, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea (hyperthyroid), IBS, and food allergies and sensitivities.  There are thyroid hormone receptors in the digestive tract, among other locations in the body.  If digestion isn’t optimal, this means that thyroid hormones are also not getting to where they need to go!

Reproductive:  Hypothyroidism inhibits the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen and progesterone.  When these hormones are out of whack, there is a host of issues involving menstrual cycle difficulties, infertility, miscarriage, to name just a few.  Men can have fertility issues related to hypothyroidism as well, though thyroid disease in men is less common.

Metabolic:  The thyroid fuels your metabolic engine, regulating weight loss and gain.  When it’s “broken,” so is the metabolism.  The thyroid interacts with key hormones that affect our hunger and weight:  insulin, leptin, and ghrelin.  But metabolism includes more than weight management.  It commands energy production in cells, efficiency of detoxifying the body, maintaining and building muscle mass, breaking down and absorbing hormones and nutrients.

Stress/Immune:  Stress reactivity increases when the thyroid gland isn’t functioning properly.  In fact, the adrenal glands (responsible for handling stress) have to take over for a sluggish thyroid.  Between playing backup to the thyroid and managing our everyday stress, they can be taxed to the max.  Fatigued adrenal glands impact the body’s ability to handle stress, the immune system’s ability to protect the gut and lungs, and the conversion and absorption of thyroid hormones.  To translate, thyroid patients tend to be highly impacted by stress and get sick more often.  Additionally, they will experience insomnia, interrupted sleep, lack of restful sleep, or waking feeling exhausted despite a full night’s sleep.

Aggressive treatment advised? Pause, pray, and consider alternatives.  In terms of respecting the above, I wish I understood the gravity of my decision to have half of my thyroid removed when I was diagnosed with a precancerous mass on one lobe.  Some people aren’t as lucky; they’ve had their entire gland removed due to cancer or for other reasons.

One of THE most important questions to ask about your condition is, why?  I’ll warn you, this is a difficult question for most doctors to answer.  It requires a lot of digging.  I felt so miserable and just wanted a pill that would take away all of my symptoms.  The reality was that it took time for my body to get into that state and it would take some time (and patience, oh my) to get out of it.

If you are faced with a decision that requires aggressive treatment, take some time to fully consider it.  Seek counsel, second and third opinions, and educate yourself on alternatives.  Ask how your quality of life will change, both short and long-term with this decision.  Knowledge is power.  If you move toward a more aggressive path, at least you will have done so fully informed.

(I’d like to add that if you’ve already had aggressive treatment, there is still hope for you!)

Hypothyroid diagnosis?  Get evaluated for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid, and is one of the main causes of hypothyroidism (some professionals believe that it accounts for as many as 95% of hypothyroid cases).  I was never told that I had Hashimoto’s; I had to ask.  In fact, I found out that I had been walking around with documented Hashi’s (discovered when I had my lobe surgically removed) for 6 years and didn’t know it.  You might have to request the tests –we’ll cover these details in a moment.

Proper nutrition really has a place in healing your body. Many doctors that I’ve been able to have an honest conversation with have admitted that they had very little to no training in the area of nutrition in medical school.  When I asked my endocrinologist if it was possible to correct, or at least improve, my situation nutritionally, I was met with a blank stare.

Guess what?  A clean, healthy diet with no processed foods/sugars and an abundance of vegetables and spices can absolutely turn things around.  I’ve seen it in others.  I’ve experienced it in myself.  Never underestimate the power of nutrition, especially if you have an autoimmune disease.  Food allergies/sensitivities are often associated with autoimmune disease.  After I removed gluten and dairy, I was able to put my Hashimoto’s in “remission,” which means my body was no longer producing antibodies that were attacking my thyroid.  Everyone has different sensitivities, but gluten and dairy are major players in autoimmune disease (unfortunately!).

Just because a disease or condition is “common,” doesn’t mean you have to be ok with it.  In addition to Hashimoto’s, I was dealing with nodules on my thyroid gland’s remaining lobe.  I kept hearing how common they were, but I knew that I had a history of nodules-gone-awry (hence my surgery).  You see, nodules start as cysts, then progress to nodules.  Sometimes these nodules grow, change, and progress to precancerous and cancerous masses.  I wasn’t ok with passively letting this play out, for fear that the very same thing might happen to my remaining lobe.  I asked the question: why do I keep getting nodules and what I can I do to correct this?  Whatever your situation, condition, or disease, I challenge you to not be ok with “common.”  If you aren’t well and want to be, don’t give up.  This brings me to my next point…

Not feeling heard? Do whatever it takes to find a doctor who will listen.  Hey Doc, I’M NOT TIRED BECAUSE I’M DEPRESSED!  (If anything, I was depressed because I was profoundly exhausted.)  It was frustrating to tell my story for the hundredth time, only to be dismissed or told that I must have depression.  I’m a mental health professional; I knew what depression was and this wasn’t it.  I moved on and found an amazing doctor who listened and asked the ‘why’ questions.  Today, we are a pretty amazing team.

Are you feeling dismissed?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Choose a doctor who physically sits down and listens to you, not one who is walking out the door as you are talking.
  • Bedside manners and an open mind in a doctor are more beneficial than book smarts.
  • Consider seeing a functional medicine doctor.  They are equipped to be able to answer the “why” questions, uncovering the root cause of illness/disease.  This changed my life…I’d be bedridden today if I hadn’t gone this route.

Testing/Interventions to consider if you have thyroid issues/autoimmune thyroid disease.  It’s important to get the right tests in order to get on the path to healing.  Hopefully your doctor will automatically order these, but if they don’t, you as the patient have the right to request them.

Thyroid labs:

  • TSH – standard test, but can be in normal ranges even though the patient has symptoms
  • Free T4 – (thyroxine) – thyroid hormone available that must be converted to T3 to be utilized
  • Free T3 – (triiodothyronine) – active thyroid hormone responsible for optimal thyroid function (sometimes patients have trouble converting T4 to T3 which is why this test is good to have)
  • TPO and TG Antibodies – (thyroperoxidase & thyroglobulin) the presence of these antibodies means that the body is attacking the thyroid gland.
  • Vitamins/Minerals – many times, underlying deficiencies either cripple the thyroid, or mimic thyroid disease.  Some of the most important ones to consider: Vitamin D, B12, thiamine (B1), Magnesium, Selenium, Ferritin, and Iodine.

Chances are, either you or someone you love is affected by thyroid disease.  According to the American Thyroid Association, one in eight women will develop thyroid problems during their lifetime.  I am one of them, but I’m not powerless, and neither are you!  I truly hope that you’ve been inspired to advocate for your health today!  I’m excited to share that I’ve been working on an exercise program for individuals with thyroid issues as well as other hormone imbalances –stay tuned!

Additional Resources:

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause by Izabella Wentz, Pharm D (www.thyroidpharmacist.com)

Thyroid Healthy by Suzy Cohen (www.suzycohen.com)

*Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

What This Non-NBA Fan Learned During the Finals

I’m a college basketball fan, but I rarely watch the pros.  My 12-year old son, who is enamored with the game, begged me to watch the 2017 NBA playoffs between the Warriors and Cavaliers with him.  As a mom of a “tween,” I’m looking to seize any opportunity for mother-son quality time—so I enthusiastically said yes.  Once I got past the lackluster fundamentals in the NBA, I actually got into the playoffs.

I’m familiar with most of the big names out there, but could tell you very little about their stats or their stories.  My son, like many young boys, is a Stephen Curry fan –apparently you’re extra cool if you call him “Steph” for short.  After watching him play, I understood why.  He’s an incredible shooter (and rebounder…HELLO?!), and at 6’3’’- 190 pounds, often one of the smallest guys on the court.

I wanted to know more about this player that my son admires.  What’s his story?  Is he a good role model?

In my research, I stumbled across the following quote on Biography.com, and was struck by how it applies to many aspects of life beyond basketball:

“Make it work no matter what you have to work with – that’s something that stuck with me very early on as a point guard. Adjust. Get creative. Try a different angle, a different lane, a different move or a different shot – just make it work.” – Stephen Curry

This is my fitness journey.  And it might be yours, too.

We all have unique challenges and “cards” that we’ve been dealt, whether physical, medical, or psychological.  Perhaps we wish that we could do certain things…an intense 60 or 90-day workout program, a sprint triathlon, a Tough Mudder, or run a 10k.  Or maybe you are simply wanting to be consistent with exercise.

Whatever your goals, there might be times when you must adapt and adjust to your needs and limitations.  And that’s ok, because this is real life.  The greatest disservice we can do for ourselves is to choose to sit it out—because somehow doing nothing seems better than trying and failing.

Mindset can hold us back or propel us forward.

It’s easy to get stuck in the past.  Don’t let your used to’s haunt you.  I get it.  There are many things that I used to do, some I can still do, and some that require adjustments.

I’ve gotten creative with my own routines as my body’s needs changed (hello, thyroid disease).  I don’t do as much cardio as I used to and my sessions are shorter and smarter.  I lift weights strategically and focus more on recovery days/weeks than ever before.

My unique challenges taught me that I can still get results by trying a different angle, a different approach, and making it work with what I’ve got.  Thanks, Steph Curry, for making my point.

Do you need help making it work no matter what you have to work with?  Fill out a contact form…I’d be honored to train you!

“Odd” Habits – Part 2: Detoxing

I sometimes get anxious about all of the potential things in our environment that can cause us harm.  It’s overwhelming to weigh all of the advice: don’t eat that kind of seafood unless you love mercury…sunscreen can do more harm than good…sure, that food is healthy but did you know that the container it comes in causes cancer?  Good grief!  Is there really anything I can do about all of the things I’m exposed to every day?

When I was thyroid sick, I decided to learn the ins and outs of detoxing, pun intended.  I had no clue what it was, much less whether or not I should be doing anything about it.  Here is a simple run-down of detoxing:

WHAT: Detoxification is a multi-phase process that our bodies go through automatically and continuously.  Some of the primary players in detoxing are the: skin, lungs, lymphatic system, liver, kidneys, and large intestine.  We take in all sorts of toxins from our environment; it is amazing how our bodies were designed to get rid of the bad stuff!  Unfortunately, today we are inundated with toxins, and our built-in mechanisms are overburdened. Consider that Americans of all ages are carrying over 219 toxic chemicals in their bodies, according to the CDC’s 2009 report.  Many don’t realize that they also have genetic predispositions that inhibit their body’s detoxing capabilities.

WHY: I was surprised to learn that many of my symptoms that I shrugged off as “just the way I am,” could be the result of my body’s increased toxic burden.  This burden is described as the point when the level of toxins coming into the body exceeds the body’s ability to remove them.  Toxins can cause a wide variety of symptoms: fatigue, inflammation/joint pain, bad breath/coated tongue, digestive complaints/constipation/hemorrhoids, general nausea/lack of appetite, weight gain, acne, excessive body odor/belching/gas, headaches, brain fog, hot flashes, allergic reactions, sinus problems, and infertility.  Taking steps to support detoxification can improve or eliminate these symptoms, and optimize the body’s metabolism.

SOURCES of TOXINS

Food – It might seem obvious that processed foods, food additives/preservatives, artificial sweeteners/colors, sugar, alcohol, and pesticides are toxins.  Would you believe that excessive amounts of certain foods are also toxic?  Brazil nuts, tuna, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, etc.), and certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).

{I personally overdosed on cruciferous vegetables several years ago.  I ate a lot of raw kale and spinach (approx. 7 cups/day) and gave myself a serious iodine deficiency, which was crippling my thyroid.  Our bodies need iodine and I was repeatedly depleting my body of it because those vegetables in raw form steal iodine!  I still eat those foods, but I cook them and balance them with other non-cruciferous vegetables. This was a valuable lesson in the realm of “more isn’t necessarily better.”}

The point is that if certain healthy, natural foods can be toxic in massive quantities, how much more-so are processed, fake foods.

Environment – heavy metals, medications, beauty and self-care products, plastics, air, water (even tap water), and cleaning products.  These toxins can disrupt hormones and cause disease, including cancer.  Good grief. Do you feel like you want to live in an organic, BPA-free-non-plastic, bubble yet?

The Body – Before you start googling alternative living arrangements, you must know that your body is also a toxin source.  Chronic stress alters the body’s metabolic processes, hormonal balance, and immune system functioning.  It can also increase inflammation and the overgrowth of bad bacteria, hampering the body’s natural detoxification processes.  This bad bacteria can produce endotoxins that accumulate in the body’s fat stores and bloodstream, making us sick.

HOW:  So what can we do?  First, detoxification in the liver (our primary detox organ) occurs in two phases, and then the toxins exit through the bladder via the kidneys, or the bowels via the bile/gallbladder.  You may have seen “cleanse” or “detox” products on the market – many of them are merely colon cleanses, and do nothing to help with the first 2 detox phases.

Before you turn to products on the market, here are some things you can do on your own:

DAILY Detoxing 

Decrease the burdens on your body: try natural personal care and cleaning products; drink the cleanest water you can; use glass instead of plastic; choose organic whole foods; eliminate processed foods, sugar, and reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption (which impacts the liver’s ability to detox).

Manage your stress effectively by building in regular activities (daily/weekly) that relax and recharge you: walking (not speed walking), restorative yoga, tai chi, meditation, quiet time, unplugging from media, naps (can I get an amen?), face to face social connections, Epsom salt baths, sauna and spa time.

Nutritionally support body’s detox mechanisms: drink plenty of water; eat plenty of vegetables –especially leafy greens (deeper color is best), beets, carrots, and celery; fruits –especially berries and granny smith apples; and use spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cayenne, cumin, and curry. Fiber and probiotics are crucial. If your liver is good at detoxing, but everything gets backed up in the colon, you’ll make matters worse.  Toxins need an effective exit strategy!

SEMI-ANNUAL Detoxing

Every 6 months, especially in the spring, you can do a focused detox for 1-3 weeks:

  1. EAT more veggies (7-10 cups/day) and little or no animal protein or dairy (which increases the burden on the liver). Whole grains should be high quality: quinoa, aramanth, millet, or buckwheat. If you like protein shakes, opt for plant proteins powders (my favorite “affordable” powder is Naturade Vegan Smart). Focus on soups, salads, fruits, and healthy fats in food form (i.e., avocados, coconuts, olives, flaxseeds).
  2. DRINK tons of water, no alcohol or caffeine. Herbal teas (especially milk thistle and dandelion root teas). Some experts say green tea is ok, even though it does contain caffeine. I know, coffee lovers, this one kills me too.  It’s just a week or two, right?
  3. ADD fermented foods – cultured vegetables, kombucha (GT’s Organic multi-green flavor has a double benefit due to green ingredients and probiotics), and apple cider vinegar in water. Here is a drink that I make every day. I must give credit to Dr. Axe for the main recipe, and I’ve tweaked it a bit:
  • 12-16 ounces of hot or cold water
  • 1 T – Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 T – lemon juice or one drop of lemon or grapefruit oil
  • 1 tsp – wild raw honey
  • 1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. REDUCE stress – deliberately address your stress daily during your detox week(s) using tips from the list in the previous section.
  2. SWEAT, but don’t overdo the exercise – this isn’t the time to engage in intense exercise, but sweating is an excellent natural detoxifier. Spend some time outside in the warmer months, walk, do yoga, go kayaking, go to a sauna. If you are an avid exerciser, this is a great time to do a recovery week or two.
  3. THINK progress, not perfection. These brief detox periods can be a great way to gradually integrate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. You may not hit all 5 of the strategies at first and that’s ok!  Strive for improvement each time you do it.  As a special note to women, it’s best not to attempt a detox week during the time of the month when you are ravenous and could eat anything not nailed down.  Believe me, it sets you up for failure!

There are more advanced steps that one can take to support the detox process (i.e., genetic testing for mutations that predispose one to impaired detoxification, supplementation, etc.)  Since I am not a doctor, it is beyond my scope to discuss these things.  I have tackled these issues in my own life with the guidance of an integrative/functional medicine doctor, and highly recommend this avenue for those who have tried all of the above and are still struggling.

Setbacks Can Reset Your Priorities

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a setback? It might have been with your health, career, finances, or relationships. While I will focus on fitness setbacks here, the takeaways can be applied to just about any situation.

Some people are fortunate enough to emerge from a health condition or injury unscathed, but most of us retain physical and/or psychological scars from the experience.  Are you scarred?  You’re in good company.

It stinks to have setbacks.  I’ve had my share of them…injuries, surgeries, disease, crushing fatigue, broken metabolism, surgeries.  Oh, and did I mention surgeries?

When I first got in shape and became a trainer, I had a plan in mind about how my “fit life” would progress…the workouts I would be able to do…the races I would be able to run…the body I would achieve.  Then, life happened…

In the thick of my struggle, it was hard to see the big picture.  I wondered if my situation would improve or if I would have to say goodbye forever to my definition of a fit lifestyle.

There were physical scars that taunted me: will this inflammation go away or will I always have a belly like this? I can play connect-the-dots with the incision scars on my abdomen. My neck looks like the laces of a football.  I’m too exhausted and in too much pain to exercise. 

The psychological scars were really tough, too: What will it mean for me if I can’t exercise like I used to? What if I have to go up a jeans size (or two) for good? I may not ever have the body that I hoped for.

These scars can be dream-killers. But what happens when we tuck them into our stories and press on to more meaningful goals?

Perhaps the lessons I have learned will resonate with you:

  • We have plans for our lives, but they may not be God’s plans for us. If anyone is guilty of over-planning and “control-freaking,” it’s me. I have to continually remind myself of this teaching…

James 4:13-15 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.

Perhaps if I ran all of my goals by God first, allowing him to edit them as needed, I wouldn’t have been so devastated by life’s setbacks.

  • My goals – vs – living a full life: do these concepts complement or compete? When you are forced to re-examine your goals during a setback, it could be a gift of perspective. My goals of achieving a certain size or look were limiting my potential and had little to do with living a full life. I was given this gift of perspective during an 18-month ordeal:

Thyroid-related fatigue, my nemesis, threw a giant wrench in my goals several years ago. It was crushing and incapacitating. I could barely care for my family, my memory and decision-making skills suffered, my body ached constantly and exercise was extremely difficult. Despite sleeping 14 hours a day, I never felt rested. I was living half of a life, barely keeping my head above water.

During that season, I yearned for the energy to be a fully engaged mother, wife, friend, and trainer. My goals of achieving a flat stomach and toned legs suddenly paled in comparison. Ironically, certain exercises were making my condition worse, and in order to get well, my fitness goals HAD to change.

I adopted a new perspective. What can I do fitness-wise to improve my health in a way that will help me to live a full life? I wanted to be “fit to serve” those around me: my family, friends, clients, church family, and even strangers.

Investing in relationships, intentionally loving others, living in the moment, and being God’s hands and feet—this perspective suddenly became more important than having less cellulite and being able to do unassisted pull-ups. I’m not saying that you should never have these goals…just don’t stop there!

  • Having eternal impact. Our lives are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14). Every once in a while we get a reminder that life is fleeting, that there is a bigger picture. We have such a short time on this planet and time’s a wastin’. What enduring legacy do you want to leave? How can your goals maximize eternal impact?

The physical and emotional pain from setbacks is real. Acknowledge it. Give it a voice. Tuck it into your story, but don’t let it define you. When you are ready, take your next step with renewed purpose.