Recently I had the privilege of serving as keynote speaker at the Warrior Moms’ Pajama Party, an annual event held in honor of moms of special needs children by the Healing Complex Kids organization. The idea for this weekend retreat was both to give these caregivers some much needed time for themselves, and to stress the need for self care when you’re caring for others. The event included fun social events, pampering spa treatments, educational presentations and ever-elusive free time — all well-deserved! As a specialist in women’s hormone issues, I know that self care is important to all caregivers, because if we’re not our best, we can’t give our best to others. With that in mind, I’ve adapted my presentation for a wider audience and will present it in four parts. – Dr. Tenesha Wards
Self Care: Caring for Yourself First Makes it Possible to Care for Others Better – by Dr. Tenesha Wards
There is a reason that aircraft emergency procedures call for adults traveling with small children to place the oxygen mask first over their own face and then over that of the child in the event of the loss of cabin pressure. If you pass out, you cannot be of use to those who need you. Although it seems counterintuitive, it’s important that in everyday life caregivers first take care of themselves in order to be able to give all that we want to give.
Known for being multi-taskers, most women balance a variety of spinning plates at any given time — duties of wife, mother, housekeeper, financial/activity planner, and, often, career professional. Aside from tending to these normal tasks, whatever normal means, many women are also caring for special needs children or aging parents. It rarely surprises us that we frequently feel overly fatigued, angry or anxious, and have trouble remembering things or falling asleep. Who doesn’t?
It’s when we feel many of these things all at once, chronically, and often along with other symptoms like hot flashes, and a sense of being overwhelmed or emotionally spent, that our bodies may be trying to tell us something. We need to listen because there are several things it could be saying.
Four specific culprits could be to blame for this myriad of symptoms: improper thyroid function, adrenal fatigue, an imbalance of sex hormones, and excessive inflammation. For the purposes of this issue, we will discuss the thyroid.
The Thyroid Gland
Your thyroid gland is vitally important to overall body function. As the largest gland in the endocrine system, it plays a major role in controlling metabolism, growth and body development, and sleep/wake cycles. It also helps regulate many other body functions through the constant and steady release of the hormones T3 and T4 into the bloodstream. It’s the release of these hormones that determines how quickly the body uses energy, makes protein, and reacts to other hormones produced in the body, because production can increase based on need, such as when the body requires more energy, is cold, growing or during pregnancy. Proper function of the thyroid is imperative for optimal health.
There are three main ailments associated with improper function of the thyroid gland: Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease.
Hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid ailment and occurs when an overactive thyroid produces too much TSH. This results in abnormal weight gain with no change in diet, excessive fatigue, hair loss and bradycardia (regularly slowed heart rate.)
The less common Hyperthyroidism, or Graves Disease, has the opposite effect. An under active thyroid produces too little TSH causing symptoms such as abnormal weight loss, heart palpitations, as well as protruding eyes and thyroid goiter.
Hashimoto’s Disease falls under the autoimmune umbrella. This disorder involves the unsteady production of TSH. The varying high and low release of TSH causes the body to mount an immune system response during which it attempts to attack and destroy the thyroid gland itself. A variety of things can trigger this disorder, including a gluten sensitivity, PCOS, estrogen dominance, a vitamin D deficiency, environmental toxins, chronic infections and genetics.
These are three very different conditions obviously requiring different approaches to remedy them.
The good news for anyone who suspects their thyroid may be impeding their overall wellness is that there are several thyroid specific tests to determine if yours is functioning properly and a variety of natural remedies to try if it’s not — most of them dietary. Through a monitored nutrition plan that incorporates certain things into your diet, and eliminates others, proper thyroid function can often be achieved naturally, without the use of drugs.
In general, thyroid patients should increase:
- Antioxidants in the diet, particularly vitamins A, C, and D and the minerals Zinc and Iodine. Fruits like apples, berries and plums are great choices, as are legumes. Nuts and seeds also make excellent additions.
- Lean protein, such as chicken, seafood, beef and eggs. Eggs in particular will make a huge and rapid difference because they offer a beneficial form of cholesterol that feeds the endocrine system and supports hormone balance.
- Unless you have Hashimoto’s, adding iodine to your diet can improve thyroid function as it is needed for the creation of hormones T3 and T4.
- Herbal and glandular supplements. Often, the thyroid gland just needs a little boost to perform at optimal levels. Your functional medicine practitioner can help determine which supplements will offer you the most support for your particular thyroid issue.
Things to avoid:
- Soy is an estrogen producer, and in excess, estrogen binds the thyroid transport proteins so that thyroid hormones cannot get to the cells to do their jobs, causing hypothyroid symptoms. This is a primary reason that thyroid issues often pop up after pregnancy or when using birth control.
- A strong connection exists between Autoimmune Thyroid Disease and gluten intolerance because the protein portion of gluten closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. The immune system in people with sensitivities to gluten often can’t tell the difference between this protein and the thyroid gland, causing it to attack both.
- Refined sugars and caffeine. Sugar causes inflammation that in certain individuals can trigger an autoimmune response. If inflammation becomes excessive, the immune system can get confused in much the same way it does with gluten, leading to an internal attack on the thyroid. Caffeine is a stimulant that stresses the thyroid, affects metabolism and can interfere with the production of hormones. Moderate consumption in otherwise healthy individuals is usually not a problem, but excessive caffeine consumption is counterproductive for a person with thyroid issues.
While natural solutions are available, determining those that are right for you takes a medical practitioner experienced in functional nutrition and nervous system balancing. At Infinity Wellness Center, we can identify your exact issue and create a personalized plan designed with your body chemistry in mind.