by georgia hartmann
Women’s Health Expert
Do you struggle to lose weight? Do you have a ‘foggy mind’? Fatigue? Poor concentration? Dry skin? Dry, thinning hair? Constipation?
Do you experience cold hands and feet? Irregular menstrual cycles? Heavy periods? Brittle nails? Hot flushes? Elevated cholesterol?
Do you wake feeling tired, irrespective of how much sleep you get?
If so, your thyroid may be at play.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits near the base of the throat.
It manufactures thyroid hormone which is essential for all metabolic activity including healthy digestion, detoxification and ovulation.
When the thyroid is under-functioning, a state known as hypothyroidism (which is up to 9 times more common in women than in men), there is miscommunication between the brain and the thyroid─specifically, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland tell the thyroid to not make enough hormone. The result is a whole bunch of unwanted symptoms (as listed above).
The thing about the thyroid is that it is a very sensitive gland and can become underactive in the presence of chronic stress, inflammation, and specific nutrient deficiencies. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases the risk of hypothyroidism. Similarly, iodine deficiency can cause thyroid dysfunction; in fact, it is the most common cause of thyroid disorders worldwide (though, it’s important to remember that too much iodine can also cause thyroid dysfunction). [1-5]
The scientific evidence solidifies the frustration that poor habits have on our health, with research suggesting that poor daily habits are associated with weight gain, mood disorders, employment cessation, and suicide rates.[2-4]
So how can you start creating (and maintaining) a healthy habit? Here are a few easy steps: 
- Decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health.
- Choose a simple action that will get you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis.
- Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
- Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action.
- It will get easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it.
To determine the state of your thyroid, testing is useful.
The standard test for thyroid function is a blood test called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone, it signals your pituitary gland to make more TSH. Therefore, insufficient thyroid hormone causes a high TSH which is interpreted as an under-functioning thyroid or hypothyroidism.
It is important to know that when it comes to TSH testing, there is some controversy around what should be considered ‘high’. Research out of Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin USA suggests that although the normal range for TSH is generally 0.35 – 4.50 mIU/mL, it is likely that the “most normal” range is between 0.5 – 2.50 mIU/mL. Therefore, a TSH higher than 2.50 mIU/mL can be indicative of an underactive thyroid. 
Also note that there are additional tests to determine thyroid function, though it is always best to consult your healthcare practitioner to determine the specific tests required for your current situation.
Aside from testing, here are two ways you can start supporting your thyroid today
1. Prioritise sleep.
A study of 2224 individuals showed that sleep loss affects the function of the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid axis (i.e. the communication between the brain and the thyroid) and is associated with increased TSH levels. When the hypothalamus increases TSH release, the sympathetic nervous system is activated which can cause sleep disorders.
Another study concluded that both shorter (less than 7 hours) and longer (more than 8 hours) sleep durations were associated with an increase in the risk of thyroid dysfunction compared to the optimal sleep duration (7-8 hours per day).
2. Manage stress.
Apart from this genetic predisposition, the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis is malleable to environmental demands such as stress. Aside from knowing that chronic stress, such as that experienced in PTSD, can cause hypothyroidism, we also know that short-term stress affects thyroid function. A small study published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology reports that just 20 minutes of psychological stress increases TSH levels, highlighting the negative impact of constant, uncontrolled stress.
 Chiovato, L., et al. Hypothyroidism in Context: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going. Advances in Therapy, 2019. 36(Suppl 2). PMID: 31485975.
 Jung, S.J., et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder and incidence of thyroid dysfunction in women. Psychological Medicine, 2019. 49(15). PMID: 30488818.
 Mancini, A., et al. Thyroid Hormones, Oxidative Stress, and Inflammation. Mediators of Inflammation, 2016. PMID: 27051079.
 Rayman, M.P., et al. Multiple nutritional factors and thyroid disease, with particular reference to autoimmune thyroid disease. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2019. 78(1). PMID: 30208979.
 Talebi, S., et al. Trace Element Status and Hypothyroidism: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Biological Trace Element Research, 2020. 197(1). PMID: 31820354.
 Sheehan, M.T., et al. Biochemical Testing of the Thyroid: TSH is the Best and, Oftentimes, Only Test Needed – A Review for Primary Care. Clinical Medicine & Research, 2016. 14(2). PMID: 27231117.
 Song, L., et al. The Association Between Subclinical Hypothyroidism and Sleep Quality: A Population-Based Study. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 2019. PMID: 31908553.
 Kim, W., et al. Association between Sleep Duration and Subclinical Thyroid Dysfunction Based on Nationally Representative Data. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2019. 8(11). PMID: 31752113.
 Fischer, S., et al. Effects of acute psychosocial stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis in healthy women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2019. PMID: 31563038.
by georgia hartman
Women’s Health Expert