More Than a Pinch of Salt
If you are a woman with thyroid problems that don’t seem to stay in control, look for a major suspect in your kitchen cupboard: iodinated table salt. Once thought to prevent thyroid problems, little attention has been paid to the impact of constant iodine in our diets, especially for women.
Women have blamed salt for puffy ankles, eyes and those mood changes Al Bundy swore stood for “Pummeling Men’s Scrotums” – PMS. Women in menopause, and especially postmenopausal women, can develop “subclinical hypothyroidism” detected by the presence of anti-bodies to the thyroid gland. Nearly 70% of women age 70 have subclinical hypothyroidism which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. In a study of healthy middle- aged women, 26% were found to have unsuspected subclinical hypothyroidism identified by the presence of antibodies and higher thyroid stimulating hormone levels than women without antibodies. To make matters worse, laboratories in the United States are using outdated standards, resulting in a large percentage of undiagnosed cases. Yet treatment of this problem with thyroid is controversial and fraught with problems just from the medication alone.
Cortisol is necessary to convert T4 into T3 by your thyroid. Women with subclinical hypothyroidism have elevated TSH levels (defined as greater than 2.0) and coincidentally, elevated blood insulin levels or insulin resistance. Remember that insulin will cause you to retain fluid by increasing your sensitivity to salt. Iodine was added to America’s salt to prevent mental retardation from thyroid disease caused by iodine-deficient soil in areas such as the Ohio River Valley. However, iodine can cause significant changes in someone who has subclinical hypothyroidism, even in small doses. In Japan seaweed wraps, which come from kelp that is high in iodine, caused marked hypothyroidism among those who ate it daily. So using salt with iodine may be tipping the balance in your thyroid function causing you to puff up like a water balloon.
But in reality, we need salt to balance our adrenal function. Our bodies are very complex, with the adrenals handling our steroid and salt/water balance. When you become low in salt, your blood pressure drops and you feel lightheaded. Salt attracts water into our plasma in an effort to compensate for changes in our sympathetic nervous system. While salt sensitivity is an inherited trait in African Americans, it has not been found in other races. When healthy Chinese were given increasing boluses of salt over a week, up to 4250 millimoles a day (that’s about 8 tablespoons), there was no change in their blood pressure response. A low salt diet can actually increase your blood glucose and insulin levels, especially if you have any form of hypertension. Elevated insulin levels, not sodium intake, will cause you to retain water.
If you taste table salt, it has a bitter flavor due to the chemicals that are added along with the iodine. In comparison, sea salt has a sweet taste. Try switching your salt to a natural sea salt that has not been treated with additional iodine and is rich in trace minerals important to your health. I bet you will find it takes very little to bring a new flavor balance to your food and your weight. Avoid canned products unless they specifically state they are seasoned with “natural sea salt” or you’ll be bigger than a puffer fish in a whistling contest in no time.