The picture below is from when I was an age grouper. I was fast. I had huge feet, a narrow little body, and massive shoulders. My body was literally designed to rip through the water.
Then my Olympic dream set in thanks to our national swim hero – Mark Tewksbury. I watched and screamed at the TV as he out-touched the reigning champion, Jeff Rouse, at the 1992 Olympics in the 100 m backstroke. That’s what I wanted too – to go to the Olympics and stand on the podium just like he did. It made me believe that anything is possible.
The late Kevin Thorburn, who eventually became one of the best swim coaches in Canada, told me I had what it takes. I affectionately remember him saying he would buy me a car if I made Top Age Group magazine (a top ranking list in Canada for age groupers) in all 13 events. I did, and was even top 3 in Canada for a few of them. Coach Kevin gave me a little tinker car with a card saying how proud he was. I beamed, and lived for his respect. He was one of my favourite coaches of all time, and a huge loss for the swimming community
Later I felt I needed to do more than what the swim program offered, and put in extra training by running laps during recess and climbing stairs on the weekends. I was motivated and had a great work ethic…I was also incredibly naive to how long this journey would truly be.
Then I hit puberty and everything changed
I gained 30 lbs in one summer and my body completely transformed. I was no longer shaped like a little torpedo. However it wasn’t just that. I was sluggish, slept over 10 hours per day, and a deep brain fog settled in to stay. I started to get the reputation of being a “zoner” and being “spacey”, which affected my self esteem for years. My period was heavy and came every 2 weeks, so my MD put me on birth control pills at 14. Later I found out this can contribute to osteoporosis when used that young – something to look forward to (PMID: 20004271).
Being desperate, my parents took me to see an unregulated Naturopath. She lifted me up and told me all my organs were out of place, and the roots of the planter’s wart (thanks pool deck) on my foot would grow and give me hip problems. As a side note – this is why it is so important to make sure your Naturopath is licensed and regulated! Our profession gets a bad reputation from these people, when the majority of us practice evidence based medicine.
I wasn’t fast anymore. In fact, I was terrible in the pool. I struggled for FIVE additional years trying to make it work. I wanted to quit when I turned 17, but my parents made me finish what I started and I completed my final year. They taught me grit.
My diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis didn’t occur for 10 years from onset of symptoms. When a thorough MD listened to my laundry list of symptoms, she ran my TSH (marker for thyroid issues). It was 18 mIU/ml, while normal is 0.3-4.4IU/ml. She re-tested to see if it was a mistake – it wasn’t
I was immediately put on Levothyroxine, which is a form of thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Six weeks later a dark cloud completely lifted. The song, “I can think clearly” by Johnny Nash, describes this period perfectly. A new found energy had also grown. Frankly, regulating my hormones changed my life and athletic career
I didn’t reach the Olympic podium in swimming, but did manage to get there in a completely different sport. Rowing brought me to 3 Olympic games, and took 18 training sessions/week for over 10 years to get there. There would be no way I could handle that training load successfully without correcting my thyroid.
Getting an Olympic medal at the 2012 Olympics is one of the proudest moments in my life, and a memory I’ll hold onto forever. Ironically Mark Tewksbury, the catalyst for my Olympic dream, was the chef de mission. It felt like a full circle had been completed and I finally had closure. I could retire, and pursue my passion in helping others as a Naturopathic Doctor.
Thyroid Issues are Common
Thyroid issues are everywhere. It is estimated that 12% of the US population will develop one in their lifetime, and 60% will have no idea. That doesn’t even include subclinical thyroid issues that can absolutely have an impact. This little gland in the middle of your neck has enormous power. It has influence over every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.
Hypothyroidism (source: Mayo Clinic)
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated cholesterol
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Pain and swelling of joints
- Heavy and/or irregular menses
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
Hyperthyroidism (source: Mayo Clinic)
- Unintentional weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Tremor – usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Frequent bowel movements
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Fatigue, muscle weakness
- Skin thinning
- Fine, brittle hair
A Naturopathic Approach To Treating the Thyroid
Because many subclinical pathologies go undiagnosed with conventional screening, I highly suggest a full thyroid panel for a complete diagnosis. In addition to TSH, it looks at thyroid hormones and antibodies. Yes, many of these tests are out of pocket, but when a pathology is detected the treatment can be life changing. It should also be noted that if thyroid antibodies are high, they are destroying the thyroid and the damage is irreversible. The sooner a diagnosis and treatment plan, the better chances of salvaging your thyroid. Diet and key supplements like selenium and myo-inositol can decrease thyroid antibodies by 50% over 3 months (PMID: 28293260).
If you experience any of these symptoms, a licensed Naturopathic Doctor can do a full work up and provide an evidence based treatment plan to accompany your MD’s recommendations. I see patients all over Ontario virtually, as well as in person at my office in the Toronto Beaches. If you are curious about Naturopathic Medicine, I’m offering free 10 min virtual discovery calls to learn more.
Dr. Viinberg, ND
Check out my last post on what I’ve been up to these past 4 years