THE BLOG

Heal Your DNA With Your T and A: Thyroid Care

05/18/2015 10:00 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

This second installment will allow you to understand how your DNA, the very code of life that allows you to thrive, can be healed and how your thyroid can help. The final issue will focus more on your adrenals and ways they can keep your genes working well.

We are still scratching the surface of understanding our genes. In fact, it was only a dozen years ago that the human genome was first fully sequenced. In the last few years, we have learned your genes can act in very different ways based on your diet, environment and emotions. Yes, your feelings can literally alter you DNA.

These radical ideas come to us from the newly emerging science of epigenetics. "Epi" means above or next to, and it refers to a group of proteins that surround the genes. Epigenetics are always changing to real time information about your health and can cause the same gene to act in thousands of different ways. On one hand, this new science has made gene therapies much less straightforward; on the other hand, it has made it clear that lifestyle interventions are more powerful than we ever thought.

Of all the factors that alter your epigenetics, studies are showing that your stress resiliency may be the biggest. [1] It is no secret we all face stress on a daily basis. Our resiliency is simply a function of how many things center us minus how many things are throwing us out of balance.

Some stressors are obvious (like the angry boss, the horrible traffic or the strained relationship), but did you know there is also a whole world of invisible stressors?

Invisible stressors are:

  • Changes in thyroid function
  • Processed sugar
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Noise pollution

These invisible stressors are not as obvious as the yelling, angry boss with a red face and throbbing veins, but they are just as real and chip away at your resilience.

Stress-reduction techniques like yoga and meditation are wonderful, but if your load of invisible stressors is high, trying to meditate to improve your well-being might be like trying hard to row a boat with an anchor stuck on the lake's bottom. How can you cut the rope? For processed sugar, lack of sunlight and noise pollution, the remedies are self-evident, but what is the remedy for thyroid function?

Your thyroid gland needs a few nutrients and is sensitive to a few toxins. The most important nutrients for your thyroid are iodine, selenium and Vitamin D. Iodine may be the most important, but it is also a double-edged sword. There is only one thing more dangerous to your thyroid than too little iodine, and that is too much iodine. How much do you need, and how can you be sure you're not getting too much or too little? People who are susceptible to thyroid disease do their best when they get between 100 to 300 µg daily. [2] Thankfully, most people get that much from their diets. Two groups who are at risk for being deficient are vegans and pregnant women. They are wise to use iodized salt and take a multivitamin that has 50 to 100 µg of iodine.

How can you make sure you're not getting too much? Avoid kelp supplements and be sure that all of your supplements combined do not contain more than 100 µg of iodine. Here is something to consider: If you are on thyroid medication currently, most have between 100 to 200 µg of iodine in them. In those cases, carefully avoiding iodine in supplements and extra amounts in salt can be helpful.

The next important nutrient for your thyroid is selenium. Although selenium can also be toxic when you get too much, this does not happen as easily as with iodine. The best strategy for selenium is to take 200 µg per day in your vitamins and eat one handful of Brazil nuts per week. Take a look at all of your vitamins together, and be sure you do not exceed 400 µg per day of selenium. [3]

The last of the top thyroid nutrients is vitamin D. Studies have shown the most common types of thyroid disease are more typical in those with low levels of vitamin D. [4] Unlike iodine and selenium, people will not respond to the same dose of vitamin D in the same way. It is best to base your vitamin D dose on blood test results. The vitamin D council recommends that adults have blood levels of vitamin D between 40-80 nmol/L.[5] Reaching this level of vitamin D usually takes supplementation, but people may need as little as 1000 IUs or as much as 15,000 IUs to get there. Even if you get frequent sun exposure, it is good to test your vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight has less of an effect upon vitamin D needs than we have been led to believe.

If many people in your family have had thyroid disease, or if you have persistent symptoms, like unexplained hair loss, fatigue, depression, easy weight gain, cold intolerance or muscle pain, it would be smart to be tested to see if you have thyroid disease. Unfortunately, most doctors do not test thoroughly enough, nor closely look at the results.

A thorough thyroid evaluation would include:

  • Thyroid ultrasound
  • TSH
  • Thyroid antibody panel
  • Free T3
  • Free T4
  • Reverse T3

In the cases of the above tests, the TSH takes the most understanding to read properly. Many people can have normal levels but still have early thyroid disease. This is because normal levels are defined as average levels in the population receiving these tests, the majority of whom have thyroid disease. Healthy populations rarely showed TSH scores above 2.0 mIU/L.

If your scores are above this, or other scores aren't normal, getting specific care for your thyroid will be a critical step in making your genes happy.

References:

1. Gudsnuk K1, Champagne FA. Epigenetic influence of stress and the social environment. ILAR J. 2012;53(3-4):279-88. doi: 10.1093/ilar.53.3-4.279.

2. Doğan M, Acikgoz E, Acikgoz M, Cesur Y, Ariyuca S, Bektas MS.
The frequency of Hashimoto thyroiditis in children and the relationship between urinary iodine level and Hashimoto thyroiditis. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2011;24(1-2):75-80.

3. Liu Y, Huang H, Zeng J, Sun C. Thyroid volume, goiter prevalence, and selenium levels in an iodine-sufficient area: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2013 Dec 10;13:1153.

4. Dong Yeob Shin, Kwang Joon Kim, Daham Kim, Sena Hwang et al. Low Serum Vitamin D Is Associated with Anti-Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody in Autoimmune Thyroiditis. Yonsei Med J. 2014 Mar 1; 55(2): 476-481. Published online 2014 Feb 10. doi: 10.3349/ymj.2014.55.2.476.

5. Plum LA and Deluca HF. The Functional Metabolism and Molecular Biology of Vitamin D Action. In Vitamin D: Physiology, Molecular Biology and Clinical Applications by Holick MF. Humana Press, 2010.