Have you been suffering from hypothyroidism and feeling worried about memory lapses or cognitive decline? Read this blog to discover how hypothyroidism can affect brain health and how functional medicine can help you improve cognitive functioning.
Maintaining normal brain function is essential for overall well-being and cognitive health. For individuals living with hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, cognitive challenges can be an additional concern. However, with the right strategies provided by a functional medicine practitioner, it is possible to manage cognitive functioning effectively.
All in all, maintaining a nourishing diet, ensuring ample restful sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and embracing stress-relieving practices contribute significantly to normal brain development over time. Moreover, staying mindful of potential cognitive symptoms related to hypothyroidism is crucial. These may include memory and concentration challenges, difficulty making decisions or problem-solving (brain fog), struggles in maintaining focus on tasks, feeling overwhelmed by information, and experiencing difficulties with multitasking.
By adopting a holistic approach to well-being and being aware of these symptoms — and by working with a functional medicine practitioner — you can take proactive steps to support your brain health and overall cognitive function.
Here, we’ll explore how hypothyroidism affects brain health and list five valuable tips that can help individuals with hypothyroidism enhance their brain health and cognitive function.
Why is Thyroid Function Related to Cognitive Health?
Thyroid hormones play a significant role in thyroid health and cognitive functioning. Correspondingly, the thyroid gland plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism, energy production, the growth and development of tissues, and immune system function. Thyroid hormones, primarily triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are essential for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. And as a result, thyroid disorders are closely linked to poor cognitive health.
A few ways in which the thyroid affects cognitive function include:
- Brain development: During early development, thyroid hormones are essential for the formation and maturation of the brain. These hormones influence the growth and differentiation of neurons and synapses — which are critical for cognitive processes such as learning and memory.
- Metabolism and energy supply: Our brains are highly dependent on a constant and efficient supply of energy. As such, thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism of glucose and other nutrients — ensuring the brain receives the energy it needs to function optimally.
- Neurotransmitter synthesis: Thyroid hormones play a role in the synthesis and release of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that allow communication between neurons. And adequate neurotransmitter levels are necessary for proper cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall brain health.
- Myelination: Thyroid hormones are involved in the myelination process, which is the formation of a protective sheath around nerve fibers. Myelin helps improve the speed and efficiency of nerve signal transmission — thereby enhancing cognitive processing.
- Mood regulation: Thyroid dysfunction, such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) or hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone levels), can lead to mood disturbances and cognitive impairments. Hypothyroidism, in particular, is associated with symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
- Neuroprotective effects: Thyroid hormones have neuroprotective effects — meaning they can help protect your brain cells from damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation.
We should also note that the pituitary gland is responsible for producing the thyroid-stimulating hormone TSH which triggers the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones T3 and T4. When the thyroid gland is not functioning properly and there is an imbalance in thyroid hormone levels, it can lead to cognitive issues, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and mood changes. Hypothyroidism, characterized by low thyroid hormone levels, is more commonly associated with cognitive impairment.
Additionally, it’s important to note that while thyroid function is related to cognitive health, a decline in cognitive functioning can be caused by various factors — and thyroid function is just one aspect of overall brain health. As such, if you or someone you know is experiencing cognitive issues, it is essential to seek medical evaluation from functional medicine practitioners to determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.
The Functional Medicine Approach: 5 Tips for Maintaining Brain Health
An underactive thyroid is nothing to take lightly. Untreated hypothyroidism can not only have a huge impact on your health, it can cause significant problems with your cognitive function — and potentially lead to advanced thyroid disease or other complications. This is because altered thyroid function can affect the entire body — from your gut to your brain.
It’s also important to note that hypothyroidism is not an autoimmune disease. Rather, it can be triggered by several autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s disease, Celiac disease, and other conditions that affect the thyroid gland.
- Prioritize Thyroid Hormone Function
In functional medicine, providers hone in on the root cause of any health issue. For those with hypothyroidism, addressing thyroid function optimization is paramount. As such, you’ll want to work with a functional medicine practitioner who can conduct comprehensive thyroid function tests (such as thyroid peroxidase testing) to assess thyroid hormone levels accurately. Based on the results, your functional medicine provider can devise a personalized treatment plan to support thyroid function and cognitive health, which may include natural thyroid hormone replacement or supplementation to help you produce thyroid hormone. And in some cases, patients may require additional supplementation with T3 or a combination of both T4 and T3 for optimal hormone replacement.
- Adopt a Balanced Diet and Sleep Schedule
Diet plays a crucial role in brain health, and it becomes even more important for those with hypothyroidism. Incorporate nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your diet. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins like B12 and D have been associated with improved brain health and cognitive function. Aim to eat a balanced diet that includes all the essential nutrients you need, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Additionally, you’ll also want to ensure that you’re getting appropriate rest at night. Sleep is crucial for brain health and for the body’s digestive process — so it’s important to get enough sleep every night if you have hypothyroidism. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night, and create a consistent evening routine that can help you get a better night’s rest. As such, unplug from electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime, establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine for yourself, and keep your bedroom dark and cool to maximize the quality of your sleep.
- Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Regular exercise not only benefits physical health but also has a positive impact on brain function. Engaging in aerobic exercises, like walking, swimming, or cycling, can enhance blood flow to the brain and support cognitive abilities. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Additionally, studies have found that exercise activities such as yoga or tai chi may help to reduce stress levels and can improve concentration and focus. Physical activity can also stimulate the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus — an area associated with memory formation. So don’t forget to incorporate some form of physical activity into your daily routine!
- Manage Stress Effectively
Chronic stress can exacerbate cognitive difficulties, so managing stress is crucial for brain health. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, prayer or meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation can also help alleviate stress and improve cognitive functioning. If stress is not managed effectively, it can lead to a downward spiral of poor physical and mental health.
You’ll also want to be mindful of the sources of stress in your life, i.e., your triggers. Identifying and addressing major sources of stress can help reduce its negative effects on the brain. And developing healthy coping strategies is important to managing stress effectively. This may include talking with friends or family, a counselor, or even your functional medicine practitioner. Learning how to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed and the early warning signs of stress will help you take proactive steps to manage it before it gets out of control.
- Focus on Gut Health
The gut-brain connection is well-established, and gut health can significantly influence cognitive function. Individuals with hypothyroidism often experience gut imbalances, such as dysbiosis or leaky gut. Addressing gut health through probiotics, prebiotics, and gut-healing foods can improve cognitive health by enhancing nutrient absorption and reducing inflammation.
Additionally, the microbiome can influence how hormones are metabolized and affect brain health. For example, it has been demonstrated that chronic inflammation causes a decrease in the production of serotonin from gut bacteria, which can lead to depression and other forms of cognitive decline. As such, optimizing gut health is an important part of managing cognitive health.
Optimize Thyroid and Cognitive Function with Tri-Cities Functional Medicine
We all respond to treatment differently. As such, what improves cognitive function for one person might have little effect on someone else. And while some patients may notice cognitive improvement with small changes in diet or lifestyle, others may not have the same experience. That’s why at Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, we craft a customized treatment plan for you.
With your specific needs in mind, Dr. Radawi will develop a plan to get you started. Then, depending on your progress, we can make changes as needed. Remember, we’re here for you along every step of your journey as you take better control of your health, your thyroid condition, and your cognitive function.
At Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, we help people with chronic diseases who need more assistance than traditional medicine offers. Dr. Joseph Radawi, our Medical Director, worked in traditional medicine as an ER doctor for over ten years before moving into functional medicine — where he continues to help people regain their health and well-being.
Today, Dr. Radawi works with his team of health coaches and staff at Tri-Cities Functional Medicine to provide a better alternative for people with health problems like reduced cognitive function. As always, at Tri-Cities, we want you to live a happy life full of good health.
Want to learn more about how functional medicine could help you control your hypothyroidism and improve your cognitive function? Take the first step:
- Watch our free webinar to learn about our approach to the brain health concerns you are facing.
- Schedule a Free Discovery Call to discuss your health concerns and goals to see if our practice is a good fit for you.
- After your discovery call – if we are a good fit, you’ll schedule a consultation with our doctor to dive deeper and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.