Skin hydration It makes sense that when your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, your life can seem significantly off-kilter, even downright miserable.
The hormones of the thyroid, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), influence the metabolism of each and every cell in our bodies. T4 is a precursor to T3, which is the biologically active form of thyroid hormone used in the cells. T4 is produced in the thyroid and then converted into T3 in the liver and kidneys.
The conversion process of thyroid hormone involves series of events. When T3 and T4 are low in the bloodstream, the part of your brain known as the hypothalamus – the “command center” for most hormones – sends a message in the form of TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then interprets the message to secrete more TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), which in turn, prompts your thyroid gland to take up iodine and the amino acid, tyrosine, to produce more T3 and T4. The T3 produced in the thyroid is a small amount used for short-term energy requirements. The thyroid produces much more T4, which is shunted off to the liver for conversion to T3, which is used in the cell through the mediation of T3 cell receptors on the outside of the cell membrane, which “read” the T3 and allow it to enter the cell.
Thus, there are three main areas where dysfunction can occur: 1) in the hypothalamus/pituitary/thyroid production of T4; 2) in the liver in conversion of T4 to T3; 3) at the T3 receptors on the cell membrane (known as thyroid hormone resistance).
Let’s look at some common thyroid imbalances:
When your thyroid hormones are too low to support your daily activities, it is known as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism can cause severe fatigue and loss of energy and libido, dry skin, hair changes, general puffiness, constipation, digestive problems, cold intolerance, depression and more. It can also increase cholesterol levels and aggravate issues like PMS, menstrual irregularities, and fibrocystic breasts. Sufferers of hypothyroidism have a greater chance of developing diabetes and heart disease as well. A common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In fact 80% of newly diagnosed hypothyroidism is autoimmune and is determined by testing for thyroid antibodies. It is crucial to know whether your thyroid dysfunction is autoimmune based, as this drastically alters the method of treatment and therapy used.
When the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, it is called hyperthyroidism. Too much thyroid hormone can cause nervousness and anxiety, increased heart rate or palpitations, breathlessness, diarrhea, insomnia, and depression. Like hypothyroidism, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Graves’ disease. Chronic Graves’ disease may cause a person’s eyes to bulge (exophthalmos).
When someone experiences symptoms of hypothyroidism even though their thyroid test results are still in the “normal range,” it’s probable that their lab tests are at either extreme end of the normal range. This is called subclinical hypothyroidism. Despite having what’s considered “normal” lab test results, people in this category often feel much better when their thyroid function is enhanced.
The question is….what to do about it?
The main factor to consider with thyroid disease is what is the root cause? Is it autoimmune-based or not? If so, it begs the question why is your immune system attacking your thyroid? If not, then what other factors must be considered to find the root of the problem?
The answer to these questions lies in understanding inflammation. Most will be familiar with inflammation as it pertains to an injury, a cut or insect sting. This is known as acute inflammation and is a localized, short-term, and helpful immune response to injury that brings needed immune cells, blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the injury site to protect the body from further damage and begin the healing process. Chronic inflammation, however, is altogether different. It is this same inflammatory process but one that is chronic (long-term), located system-wide in the body, and at the cellular level, affecting the cell membrane and the membranes of the cell organelles, such as the nucleus (home for DNA) and the mitochondria (producers of cell energy). This type of inflammation is deadly, disrupting healthy cell function at every level, and is now known to be at the root of almost every western degenerative and autoimmune disease, including thyroid disease.
With this in mind, the real question now becomes: Why is my thyroid inflamed?
The answer lies in understanding what causes chronic inflammation. The three main causes of inflammation are:
- Chemical toxicity (food, heavy metals, biotoxins, personal care & cleaning products, pesticides, etc.)
- Physical toxicity (subluxation)
- Emotional/Spiritual toxicity (stress, unresolved trauma, stinking thinking)
Healing thyroid disease begins with identifying sources of these toxins in your life and then removing them (detoxification) and minimizing or eliminating subsequent exposure to them through life-style change.
We will explore these sources of toxicity in future articles but here are some great resources for you to begin doing your own research and taking charge of your thyroid health:
www.iaomt.org (mercury toxicity)
www.ewg.org (environmental toxins, cosmetics database and more)
www.ifoam.org (organic food advocacy)
In the meantime, begin taking care of your thyroid in these three important areas:
Food for your thyroid: Food plays an essential role in every day thyroid function and in eliminating inflammation. First of all, make a point of eating breakfast every day, so that your system gets a balanced start. Keep sweets and simple starches to a minimum (eliminate if you can). Even natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey use insulin to metabolize and are inflammatory. Make sure you get enough protein as well. Too many carbs and too little protein can both interfere with the conversion of T4 into T3. Your thyroid also requires specific nutrients for proper functioning, such as iodine, selenium and other minerals, tyrosine, and B vitamins. Some of these nutrients are available in seafood and sea vegetables, as well as poultry, Brazil nuts, mushrooms, legumes, yogurt, strawberries, and eggs . One caution however: if you have autoimmune thyroid disease, do not supplement with iodine. This may exacerbate your symptoms.
Herbs and minerals to support healthy thyroid function: Herbs like ashwagandha, hops, sage, bacopa monnieri, coleus, and guggul can also help support thyroid hormone production and balance hormonal signals to the thyroid gland, thus boosting energy and protecting other functions in the body.
Thyroid-healthy lifestyle changes: You might not expect that factors like managing stress, taking time for yourself, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and attending to emotional wellness would make a significant difference when it comes to thyroid health – but they can. So can getting out in the sun for a bit each day (to help maintain adequate vitamin D levels) and avoiding exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and cigarette smoke. These steps can also support your adrenal glands, which are intimately connected to thyroid health.
Leslie Strovas is a certified nutritionist through Health Centers of the Future and a candidate for her PhD in Natural Medicine at the University of Natural medicine.