Graduate Story

We chat to Claire Doherty, Nutritional Therapist and ION graduate, about how discovering nutritional therapy helped her to manage her thyroid and adrenal problems, and inspired a career helping others to do the same

What was your life like before you discovered nutritional therapy?

“Before I discovered nutritional therapy my life was very different. I worked as a physiotherapist and trained up to 15 hours per week as an Ironman athlete, physically and mentally pushing myself to my limits. Each day was a constant struggle to stay awake. I would arrive at work and by 10am I was yearning to go back to bed, and yet I couldn’t sleep either; I would lie awake at night willing myself to fall into a slumber, but sleep evaded me despite the exhaustion.

“I felt numb, depressed and isolated within a fog that prevented me from enjoying life like I used to. I was monitoring my temperature daily and suspected both adrenal and thyroid issues.”

When did you eventually get a diagnosis?

“I consulted a friend who is a functional medicine Doctor. She ran a DUTCH test on me which suggested thyroid issues and a salivary cortisol panel which reflected a disordered cortisol pattern.”

What’s going on in the body, specifically with hormones, when someone has thyroid or adrenal issues?

“The thyroid secretes hormones that affect almost all cells within the body, helping to support metabolic rate, temperature regulation, digestion, bone health, muscle function and brain development.

“The two hormones secreted are thyroxine (T4) which contains four atoms of iodine and triiodothyronine (T3), which contains three atoms of iodine. Only T3 is biologically active. Small amounts of this are secreted by the thyroid gland but the majority is converted from inactive T4 within the tissues and cells. These hormones regulate the speed at which the cells do their work.

“If the thyroid secretes too much hormone the cells work faster and hyperthyroidism can result. This can lead to symptoms such as diarrhoea, racing heart and weight loss. If too few hormones are secreted the cells slow down and hypothyroidism develops.

“In situations such as mine, where the body is chronically stressed, the release of the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands can interfere with the uptake of thyroid hormones into the cells. This is reflected by an increase in the hormone called reverse triiodothyronine (rT3). This leaves the person experiencing hypothyroid symptoms.

“It is therefore essential that we consider the role and function of the adrenal glands and stress hormones when trying to support thyroid health. All bodily systems are interconnected, influencing the functioning and health of each other.”

What are some of the symptoms of thyroid problems?

“The symptoms I experienced included poor energy production, depression and metabolic changes. These are perceived as stressful events for the body, causing an increase in stress hormones which then impacts the thyroid further.”

How has nutritional therapy helped you to manage these problems?

“As the underlying cause of my thyroid dysfunction and associated symptoms was stress, supporting the stress response was the most effective way to make health gains quickly.

“Nutritional therapy helped me to sleep well again and this was key to me reducing my stress levels. I was also able to adapt my diet to support the stress response such as reducing caffeine, sugar and avoiding foods that resulted in digestive issues.

“Lifestyle changes such as going to bed earlier, reducing cardiovascular exercise and introducing meditation helped me a lot. I also believe reframing my beliefs around work and expectations of myself were key to helping me manage stress. These are the tools and techniques that I use effectively with clients.

What tips would you give to others who suspect they may be suffering from adrenal or thyroid problems?

“If you are experiencing stress, fatigue or you suspect that you are suffering from adrenal or thyroid problems, then getting a second opinion is vital. We often try to push through the maze of symptoms alone, but objectivity from a new set of eyes and ears usually brings a different perspective and quicker relief.

“Adrenal and thyroid issues can be complex and exhausting - so my advice is never to try and go it alone.”

Visit Claire's website or follow her on Instagram

ION is a leading provider of accredited nutritional therapy training, established in 1984. ION’s BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy is validated by the University of Portsmouth. Be part of a growing community of nutritional therapists and build a rewarding, flexible career helping others to make positive lifestyle changes. Start your journey today and find out more about studying nutritional therapy here.

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