Q: Can I tell if my thyroid is out of balance without getting labs?
“You want me to do something… tell me I can’t do it. – Maya Angelou
The other day in my clinic I had a client ask me if there was a way to tell if their thyroid was out of balance without having labs run.
This is a great question. I said sure!
There are other signals the body gives us outside of blood chemistry, which is just one narrow look at what’s happening. Another measure of thyroid imbalance is body temperature.
Testing your body temperature at very strategic times can reveal a lot about your body’s internal furnace and what your thyroid is up to. Taking your own temperature is inexpensive, and super easy. Any regular thermometer you can purchase at the drug store will do the trick.
First let’s talk about what you need to understand about your temperature. The average temperature of an adult with a healthy thyroid and a healthy metabolism is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.0 degrees Celsius at mid-afternoon, or approximately 6 to 7 hours after waking. I often ask my clients to take their afternoon temperature with an oral thermometer for one week and report the results to me. I also like to see a temperature from first thing in the morning, before even getting out of bed. This number will normally be a little lower—I like to see a first-thing-in-the-morning temperature of 97.8 to 98.2, ideally. Your temperature is lower at this time because you are still snuggled into your warm and toasty bed and you haven’t moved around much, so your body hasn’t had to warm you up yet.
I recently had a client who did this for me, every day for one week. She took her first-thing temperature, and her mid-afternoon temperature. Not once during the week did her numbers reach ideal levels. Not in the morning, and not in the afternoon. Not only that, but another super interesting thing was that her afternoon temperatures were actually lower than her morning temperatures! This is very unusual, and it made me wonder what the heck else was going on with her. How were her adrenals? I went on to explore that, but for now, let’s stick to the thyroid issue.
It takes a doctor to diagnose a thyroid issue, but we learned a lot about her body with this simple test and from a holistic perspective, my interpretation of her body’s message was that her internal furnace could use some TLC. This is where we started. Then we planned our strategy:
First, we looked over her diet diary to find places where she could begin to focus on selenium-rich foods. Selenium is a crucial mineral for a healthy thyroid. Good sources include wild-caught fish and organic produce. Because chemical exposure and metal can deplete the amount of selenium normally found in many foods, this may be a contributing factor to what health professionals are seeing as rampant thyroid imbalances. If you have thyroid issues, I suggest going as organic and wild-caught as possible when you choose your foods.
Good sources of selenium include:
• Brazil nuts
• Sunflower seeds
• Fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, flounder, salmon). Remember, only wild caught, and unfortunately I must suggest that you limit tuna and halibut because of their mercury content
• Shellfish (oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, scallops)
• Meat (beef, liver, lamb, pork)
• Poultry (chicken and turkey—organic only)
• Eggs (organic only)
• Mushrooms (button, crimini, shiitake)
• Grains (especially wheat germ, barley, brown rice, and oats–be careful if you need to be gluten free)
• Onions (all varieties)
2. Contrast therapy.
Our next strategy was to do things to intentionally lower and elevate body temperature. We call this contrast therapy and it is typically used in the case of physical injury, but I find that it can be particularly helpful in revitalizing the thyroid. The point is to cool and then warm your body. You can do this in the shower, alternating hot and cold water. If you have access to a hot tub, you can alternate between a hot tub and a cold shower. You could also use ice packs and hot towels (great over the back of the neck where our brown fat is), or be as creative as you like. However you can cool and heat and cool your body, you will make a difference.
I typically have my clients do three to six alternations between heating and cooling. The goal is not to shock the body but to begin to evoke a change. Begin to decrease the temp and increase the temp more drastically as you go. I recommend doing this every day for at least 28 days. (You all know how I love my 28 days!)
Here is a schedule of how to do a session of contrast therapy:
• 2 minutes of heating: comfortably hot
• 1 minute of cooling: cool, not cold until you get use to this treatment
• 2 minutes of heating: hotter!
• 1 minute of cooling: colder!
• 2 minutes of heating: hot as you can handle (but be safe and listen to your body, ouch is not good!)
• 1 minute of cooling: cold as you can handle (but I am not wanting you to get tougher, I am wanting you to get healthier so don’t grow new hair over this!)
If you are doing contrast therapy for injury I typically have you end with cold, but when working on the thyroid I am totally fine if you want to warm yourself up at the end.
Work out with heavy weights, low repetitions, at least 1 time per week. Another thyroid-friendly strategy is weight training. I like to see heavy weights with low repetitions because I believe that this can lead to the production of more natural T4, a thyroid hormone the gland produces, and more excitement of T3 receptor sites. T3 is another thyroid hormone that is created from breaking down T4.
It doesn’t matter which muscles you work to get this effect—just try to cover upper and lower body. For each muscle, do three sets of 8 to 10 reps. If you can do more than 10 reps in your third set of a particular weight lifting exercise and still curse my name, then you just aren’t lifting enough weight. You don’t have to be a gym rat to do this, but you do have to keep at it in order to evoke some change in the hormones.
We are going to be talking a lot more about the many ways our thyroid talks to us because it sure is a superhero in the world of the metabolism, so stay tuned for more!
In Good Health,