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How a Canary Can Help You Lose Weight

Posted Sep 17 2008 12:53am

There's no doubt that thyroid disease is on the rise: In my 20 years of practice, I've seen an increasing number of patients who have it. Why?

Remember how miners used to detect toxic methane gas and carbon monoxide? They sent bright yellow canaries into the mines. Canaries are highly sensitive to these gasses-so much so that they die when exposed to them. Their deaths served as a warning system that the mine contained poisonous air.

From the research I've reviewed and the patients I've seen, it's clear to me that the thyroid gland is your body's own yellow canary. It's sensitive to many different influences-your diet, your lifestyle, and the world around you. And all of these influences can affect how well your thyroid functions.

So it's not surprising that as we eat more toxic foods and are increasingly exposed to pollution, petrochemical and industrial wastes, and heavy metals, thyroid problems have also skyrocketed. In fact, more than 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men have low thyroid dysfunction-and half of them don't even know it!

But exactly how does your environment affect your thyroid? I'll explain.

We now have enough good research to show that environmental chemicals have a direct impact on the thyroid gland. It's clear that PCBs and other industrial petrochemical toxins can lower thyroid function. And other pollutants such as chlorine, fluoride, and bromide also have negative effects on the thyroid.

Because the thyroid produces hormones that run your metabolism, anything that affects your thyroid ends up affecting your metabolism. In fact, there's evidence that toxins boost the excretion of thyroid hormones, leaving you with less of this hormone to control your metabolism-and a decreased ability to burn fat.

The truth is, your thyroid plays a huge role in weight control, and in determining your metabolic rate. I often wonder how much of our obesity epidemic might be linked to the harmful effects of environmental toxins on metabolism. I've seen so many patients struggle with their weight, only to have the pounds melt off when we addressed their thyroid problems.  

True, not everyone's weight problems are caused by thyroid dysfunction-but if you're overweight, you should consider the connection. That's why I always check my patients' thyroid function and consider all the possible causes of subtle thyroid imbalance, including toxins, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and stress.

I've shown you how environmental toxins can wreak havoc on your thyroid. Now let's talk about some of those other factors.

For example, food allergies, like sensitivities to gluten and other foods, also negatively affect thyroid function-and are frequently undiagnosed.  Likewise, deficiencies in nutrients important to good thyroid function-like selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids. and iodine and tyrosine-can trigger thyroid problems.

With all of these factors that can affect your thyroid, it's clear that we need a new approach to the diagnosis and treatment thyroid disease.  Many doctors can miss the subtle signs of thyroid problems, and conventional medicine often treats low thyroid with inadequate, one-size-fits-all drugs like Synthroid.

I believe that thyroid dysfunction requires a more personalized, integrative approach-one that you can help control by becoming an active partner in your care. First, keep an eye out for the symptoms of a low thyroid, including:

- fatigue
- sluggishness
- trouble getting up in the morning
- depression
- dry skin
- dry hair
- constipation
- fluid retention
- menstrual problems and PMS
- hair loss
- cracked or chipping fingernails
- low sex drive
- weight gain
- muscle aches
- cramps

Yes, a lot of those symptoms are pretty common and vague-one reason why thyroid dysfunction often goes undetected. But if you notice any of these signs, bring them to your doctor's attention, and ask him or her to test your thyroid function.

If you are diagnosed with low thyroid function, I recommend the following steps (for more information, see my book Ultrametabolism):

1.  Eliminate the causes of thyroid problems, like toxins, food allergies, and nutritional deficiencies.
2.  Exercise and take saunas.
3.  Eat foods that provide nutritional support to your thyroid-and avoid those that don't.
4.  Use supplements that protect your thyroid, such as vitamins A and D, selenium, zinc and fish oil.
5.  Work with your doctor to choose the right thyroid replacement for you. It should combine both the inactive and T4 hormone found in Synthroid and the active hormone T3, found in other medications. 

Remember, thyroid hormone is the master metabolism hormone. If your thyroid is out of balance, your metabolism is out of balance, too.

Know that the problem can be fixed. By following the program here, you can get your thyroid working properly, keep your weight under control-and start feeling better today.

Let me know -- Do you have a dysfunctional thyroid?  Have you received treatment and found that it helped you regain your health and lose weight?

Mark Hyman, M.D.

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