By Dr. Rachael Schindler
I teach my clients to work on speeding up their metabolisms and understanding the key hormones in terms of weight loss. Most people don’t believe that their metabolism is dynamic, not static, and can be modified, as well as some of their hormones, for better or for worse! In the previous article in this series (see “The Real Key to Weight Loss,” 5TJT October 12, page 38; also available at http://5tjt.com/?p=10377), we spelled out the role of insulin. Insulin’s most important function is to lower the concentration of glucose in the blood. The key to managing insulin in our bodies is understanding and knowing more about what not to eat. My advice: Certain foods such as processed grains or refined sugars should be avoided because they require increased insulin release, as there is no real fiber to slow the digestive process. Additionally, pairing a lean protein with very specific healthy carbohydrates allows the pancreas to work less hard when secreting insulin with the meal—giving the pancreas “a break.”
Now, let’s explore the thyroid hormone. Most people do not know that the function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine from food and incorporate it into the two primary thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). When the thyroid hormones are out of balance (they need to be in a specific ratio in relation to each other), chemical reactions all over the body are thrown off. In the case of thyroid deficiency (hypothyroidism), my clients complain of fatigue, depressed mood, “brain fog,” constipation, dry skin, cold intolerance, and other symptoms including weight gain. Additionally, the thyroid gland is itself under the control of the pituitary gland, the brain’s master control center. The pituitary gland secretes TSH, thyroid-stimulating hormone, which kick-starts your thyroid gland to make more thyroid hormone when levels get below normal. Your thyroid then takes up iodine from the blood and synthesizes thyroxine (T4) which is largely inactive until it is converted to T3, whereby it then acts as a primary brain feedback tool and is our natural “speed” enhancer that makes our bodies feel more energized and work more efficiently.
So what is an example of an imbalance in the thyroid hormone system? An extreme one is a person with anorexia nervosa. In individuals with the disease scientists have observed that there is a statistically important decrease in Free T4 and Free T3 levels as compared to normal individuals. The anorexic individuals have no symptomology of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), but the low caloric and salt intake lowers their thyroid functionality. I make it a point to review blood work from all of my clients initially to check Free T3 and Free T4 hormones. It is easy to tell if a metabolic or biochemical issue is at play with weight gain this way versus discussing willpower or cravings alone.
In contrast, hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, can have symptoms ranging from heart palpitations (racing or irregular heartbeats), heat intolerance, sweats, menstrual abnormalities, excess hunger, and yet unexplained weight loss. Here are some basic foods and health tips to help you manage your thyroid: Avoid excess goitrogens which cause thyroid enlargement, such as raw cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, millet, spinach, radishes, and strawberries. Before anyone goes into a panic, it is rare to induce thyroid disease through diet alone. It is important to keep these guidelines in mind, especially if you already have thyroid disease and/or you have a family history of goiters. Of interest, isothiocyanates (present in cruciferous veggies), and isoflavones (present in soy) both block the activity of thyroperoxidase (TPO), an enzyme in the thyroid gland that promotes the incorporation of iodine into thyroid hormones. When we cook vegetables containing isothiocyanates, it leads to the inactivation of two-thirds of these compounds—so cook your cabbage and broccoli. However, if you cook millet it has the reverse effect and the isothiocyanates increase! My advice: Cook your veggies with some salt.
In the next article I will outline more hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, and how they interplay with insulin and thyroid hormones. Hopefully your approach and perception of weight loss will be more balanced. Understanding this process and how to optimize it on an individual basis will lead to lasting success.
I would also like to thank all of my loyal customers who enjoy my gluten-free, no added sugar, cauliflower pizza and are making it a huge success! From all the testimonials and thanks I get from parents of kids, clients, even seniors, I feel great about making a healthy, vegetable based, convenient, and yummy food that the whole family can enjoy together! v
Rachael E. Schindler, Ph.D., is a psychologist; founder of the Litenlow.com and The Five Towns Diet gourmet meals delivery; certified pediatric and adult nutrition counselor; and certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and Pilates master for over 22 years, practicing in Cedarhurst, Lawrence, and Manhattan. She specializes in fitness, food, and behavioral issues for both children and adults. She can be reached to order, for an appointment, or for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-690-5097.