After years of feeling unwell despite being on medication for her thyroid, Dr. Emily Lipinski, ND was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, an autoimmune disorder. She found that by using natural therapies and making diet and lifestyle changes, she was able to dramatically improve her health. Dr. Emily is now a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in thyroid health with the goal of educating and helping women (and men) heal their thyroids.
We chatted with Dr. Emily about why your thyroid is important, what causes your thyroid to become imbalanced, and foods to eat that support your thyroid.
WEHL: Tell us a little about yourself and why you became interested in holistic wellness.
EL: My passion for using both science and nature to address medical conditions started from a young age. My father, a conventional dentist, helped to nurture my love for sciences and maths while my mother fed us green juices, brought us to naturopathic doctors and taught us about the importance of organic foods. After years of feeling unwell despite being on thyroid medication, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease, an autoimmune disorder. Using natural therapies and changes in diet and lifestyle I have been able to dramatically improve my health and effectively balanced my hormones.
WEHL: What is your philosophy on wellness?
EL: Choose your battles and keep it real. It is so easy to become overwhelmed these days with how much information is readily available on health and wellbeing. There are many aspects of health we can change, but some that we have no control over. Make a goal, stay focused and make sure you have balance – life should be enjoyed.
WEHL: Why did you decide to become a Naturopathic Doctor with an interest in thyroid health?
EL: As mentioned, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder in my late 20’s. After being in practice for a few years, I realized how common hypothyroidism is North America today. 1 in 8 woman will now have hypothyroidism at some point in their life. Interestingly enough, many of these woman have an autoimmune disorder as the root cause of the thyroid issue. The autoimmune aspect is currently not being fully addressed by conventional western medicine, however by working to balance the immune system through diet, lifestyle and natural therapeutic agents, the thyroid function can often be tremendously improved. I have a true passion for educating and helping woman (and men alike) heal their thyroids.
WEHL: Tell us about the thyroid gland and why is it so important?
EL: The Thyroid is a small (but powerful) butterfly shaped gland located in your neck. This little organ produces hormones that provide energy for each one of your cells in your body including the brain and heart. The thyroid also regulates your metabolism and therefore controls weight gain or weight loss. As the thyroid produces hormones that provides energy, abnormal thyroid function can impact everything from energy levels, mental functioning, mood, digestion and even the health of the skin and hair.
WEHL: What is the difference between hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism?
EL: Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is “hypo” active, or under active. In this situation the gland is not making enough thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland becomes “hyper” active and creates too much thyroid hormones. Both conditions can result from an underlying autoimmune disorder, although this isn’t always the case.
WEHL: What causes your thyroid to become imbalanced?
EL: There are many reasons for thyroid imbalance. Sometimes people are born with a congenital thyroid disorder and other people may have been exposed to radiation at some point in their life causing thyroid troubles. In my practice, I more commonly see people who have an autoimmune disorder causing thyroid issues. The cause of autoimmunity can be multifactorial and include: family history, chronic long term stress, exposure to environmental toxins and the use of certain medications.
WEHL: What are some symptoms of a thyroid imbalance?
- Difficulty losing weight or gaining weight
- Lack of energy
- Swelling in the neck
- “Puffiness” in the face
- Constantly feeling too hot or too cold
- Foggy thinking
- Anxiety and depression
- Difficulties sleeping
- Muscle and joint pain
WEHL: What tests can you do to check your thyroid?
EL: In clinical practice, abnormal thyroid function is identified by measuring the level of TSH in the blood. The problem is, in my experience, testing TSH alone does not provide a full picture of what is happening with the thyroid gland. TSH levels cannot only vary from day to day, but one’s brain may not respond with an adequate TSH level to account for what is happening with the thyroid gland’s hormone production.
Further, many individuals have an abnormal thyroid due to autoimmune disease. These people will develop markers in the blood known as antibodies (most commonly antibody TPO) that attack the thyroid. Again, sometimes the brain does not respond with an adequate TSH response to the change in thyroid even though these antibodies are present!
Countless individuals have symptoms of thyroid disease despite the TSH blood test being normal. I generally suggest testing for TSH, T3, T4 and thyroid antibodies.
WEHL: What vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper thyroid metabolism?
EL: The thyroid gland requires iodine, selenium and zinc for proper functioning and thyroid hormone production. However, if someone has an underlying autoimmune condition iodine may do more harm than good! Likewise, if someone is hyperthyroid, taking iodine can cause the thyroid gland to become even more hyperactive and be life threatening. It is always best to have you thyroid hormones tested first and work with a health care provider before taking supplementation.
WEHL: What should we eat to improve our thyroid health?
EL: This is a tricky question because it depends on what is at the root of the thyroid issue and diet may be different if someone is hypo or hyperthyroid. That said, eating a whole foods diet is key regardless (no refined sugar, packaged foods, fast foods etc).
If you do have diagnosed hashimoto’s thyroid disease, mounting evidence is showing that going gluten free may significantly lower antibodies and help to increase thyroid hormone production. Autoimmune disorders can benefit greatly from eating an anti-inflammatory diet and including foods to reduce inflammation in the body such as ginger, turmeric and omega 3 fatty acids. Additionally, if you are working with a health care provider, have been tested and are currently being monitored, adding iodine rich foods into the diet may be very beneficial.
WEHL: We’ve heard some conversation about kale and your thyroid – what do we need to know about that?
EL: Cruciferous vegetables, including kale, broccoli and cabbage have many health benefits and research shows that they are NOT seeming to be as problematic to the thyroid as some are claiming. That said, if you have hypothyroidism, it would be recommended to cook or lightly steam crucifers more often to ensure you are not being exposed to high levels of goitrogens. Additionally, if you love raw crucifers and often eat them uncooked, it would be a good idea to have your thyroid hormone levels checked via blood work to ensure that these vegetables are not interfering with your medication or affecting your thyroid health in any way.
WEHL: Do men commonly have issues with their thyroids or is it mostly women?
EL: Thyroid issues can definitely affect both men and woman, however they are more common in women. Currently over 12% of women in North America experience a thyroid disorder at some point in their life.
WEHL: Are there any exercises or breathing techniques that can help boost our thyroid?
EL: Great question!
Many of my patients have reported over the years that they are slogging it out in the gym, or running 5km multiple times a week and not seeing any weight loss results. They feel frustrated, exhausted and often end up giving up on their fitness routine. People with hypothyroidism frequently have an over or under-reactive response to stress due to hormonal changes in the adrenal glands (often known as adrenal fatigue). Therefore, if someone with hypothyroidism puts themselves through too much stress for too long, it can slow their metabolism down. Too much aerobic exercise has actually been shown to decrease the T3 hormone in the body, a key factor in metabolism! When we run long distances or push it really hard at the gym for long periods of time, our bodies still sees this as stress.
Choose an activity that you enjoy and gives you energy but doesn’t burn you out! Some of my favorites are walking, yoga and weight lifting at the gym. Don’t be surprised if at first it doesn’t feel like you are “doing enough”. If you are moving your body, it is still exercise. And remember – weight loss requires so much more than exercise, movement is just one piece of the puzzle.
Deep breathing is a wonderful way to relax and help manage stress, which can be a major part of healing the thyroid and improving autoimmunity. I suggest trying multiple kinds of deep breathing and choosing a practice that works for you. Just 3 minutes a day can make an impact – it is just important to stay consistent!
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