Sports Advisory: Athletes and Hypothyroidism

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Sports Advisory: Athletes and Hypothyroidism

In the late 70s I attended a health and wellness symposium in Vancouver featuring a local physician. I was so impressed by his message and understanding of preventive medicine that I immediately made an appointment.

During my first visit he taught me how to perform a home thyroid test. He believed that much of what ails us is associated with an underactive or dysfunctional thyroid, so he recommended the test as a standard procedure to each one of his patients.

Known as a thyroid temperature test (TTT), you simply measure your own body temperature and compare it to the norm. Upon rising and without stirring, place a basal thermometer under your armpit for 10-15 minutes. Calculate the average temperature over three consecutive days, and suspect a thyroid problem if your temperature is more than a degree below 98.6 F. (Women should refrain from performing this test during the first few days of menstruation, or the middle day of the cycle, as body temperature usually fluctuates during this time.)

Multiple Symptoms

Hypothyroidism is characterized by symptoms such as low body temperature, slow heart rate, sensitivity to cold, dry hair and skin, muscular weakness, lethargy and easy weight gain. Other noted symptoms include constipation, clumsiness, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, depression, reduced resistance to infection, poor memory, elevated cholesterol, muscle and joint aches, decreased libido and water retention.

Athletes with this condition can easily experience reduced exercise tolerance, or suffer with impaired cardiac function and problems with blood flow. Hypothyroidism studies demonstrate up to 50 per cent less free fatty acid plasma concentration, resulting in a diminished use of fat for muscle energy during aerobic exercise. This causes more reliance on muscle glycogen for fuel, which increases lactate formation and consequently, less endurance and stamina.

The thyroid gland is located just below the voice box. It consists of two lobes attached to the left and right side of the trachea. Tiny specialized cells manufacture thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which collectively are referred to as the thyroid hormones. T3 is the more active of the two forms and most of the T4 is converted to T3 by the removal of one atom of iodine.

Many experts in environmental medicine are now convinced that chemical pollutants, such as PCBs and pesticides, can mimic the natural thyroid and estrogen hormones and block receptors on cell membranes. This means you must watch what you're eating: avoid plastic, artificially hardened oil, canned and packaged foods and processed dairy goods.

Iodine deficiency, although less common today because of iodized salt, is still a thyroid factor. Iodine is highly concentrated in the thyroid (1,000 times more than muscle). Health and Welfare Canada recommends a daily iodine intake of 160 mcg for men and women age 13 and over. Few Canadians feast on deep-water fish, clams, oysters, seaweed (kelp), spinach or chard, which are all high in iodine and which also provide dozens of important antioxidants and cofactors.

Thyroid function is also dependent on an enzyme called selenoenzyme iodothyronine deiodinase. Inadequate selenium intake affects the quantity of this enzyme. In many cases, thyroid activity and immunity to viral infection returns to normal when 100-200mcg is added daily by consuming brewer's yeast, organ meats, whole grains, molasses, garlic and a dietary supplement.

Food and Supplements

The thioglucosides (see my October 1997 column) are found in the Brassica family of vegetables, which includes cabbage, turnips, kale, rutabaga and watercress. These foods and other goitrogens such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, soybeans, peanuts and millet can inhibit the deiodinase enzyme which converts T4 to T3. They may also prevent the utilization of iodine. Cooking these foods destroys these thyroid offenders.

Tyrosine is another thyroid factor. This amino acid is greatly depleted through both physical and mental stress, causing fatigue, depression and eating disorders. I use two grams before training to stimulate my dopaminergic pathways and to reinforce the production of adrenaline (epinephrine).

Dr Joseph Pizzorno, ND, one of the co-authors of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, recommends additional amounts of zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, B-complex and vitamin C.

I talked to Udo Erasmus about fatty acids and hypothyroidism. He feels there is a connection between omega-3 deficiency and eicosanoid hormones which regulate thyroid function. In Fats that Heal Fats that Kill, he warns against drinking commercial fruit drinks, as they commonly contain brominated oils which can damage the thyroid, heart, kidneys and testicles.

Beware of using prescribed thyroid pills. Excess serum levels are known to reduce libido and rob people of their passion for life. They can also destroy muscle or force the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. For more info on the thyroid, read alive's new Encyclopedia of Natural Healing.

Recommended Reading: Encyclopedia of Natural Healing alive Research 1472pp (hc) $69.95

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.

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By Cory Holly

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