While the thyroid and how it functions has long been thought to be somewhat difficult to understand, this small but important endocrine system gland can have a profound effect on the way you feel, look and stay healthy.
The good news is those thyroid problems are more common and approached with awareness, easier to diagnose and treat. It is also important to understand that when your thyroid hormone levels are tested, “normal” ranges are not always the best representation of how you are really feeling.
Let’s have a closer look at the thyroid and see if we can clarify any of the misconceptions and mysteries surrounding it.
What does the thyroid gland do?
The thyroid gland is a soft, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, in front of the trachea (windpipe). It regulates how fast or slow your brain, heart, muscles, liver, and other parts of the bodywork. Thyroid function even affects hair health, including breakage, texture, rate of growth, and rate of loss.
The thyroid releases hormones that control metabolism and the way your body uses energy. Those hormones regulate vital body functions, including:
- Heart rate
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
- Much more!
What is thyroid
It is easy to get confused about thyroid information. Here’s a simple breakdown of how thyroid hormones work.
The thyroid produces two hormones – T4 and T3 (thyroid hormone) – which circulate in the blood. The Thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland in the brain by producing a hormone called TSH (Thyroid stimulating hormone).
It is important that T3 and T4 levels are neither too high nor too low. Two glands in the brain—the hypothalamus and the pituitary communicate to maintain T3 and T4 balance.
The hypothalamus produces Thyrotropin-Releasing Hormone (TRH) that signals the pituitary to tell the thyroid gland to produce more or less of T3 and T4 by either increasing or decreasing the release of a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
When T3 and T4 levels are low in the blood, the pituitary gland releases more TSH to tell the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones.
If T3 and T4 levels are high, the pituitary gland releases less TSH to the thyroid gland to slow production of these hormones.
Why you need your thyroid gland
T3 and T4 travel in your bloodstream to reach almost every cell in the body. The hormones regulate the speed with which the cells/metabolism work. For example, T3 and T4 regulate your heart rate and how fast your intestines process food. So, if T3 and T4 levels are low, your heart rate may be slower than normal, and you may have constipation/weight gain. This condition is often referred to as hypothyroidism. If T3 and T4 levels are high, you may have a rapid heart rate and diarrhea/ weight loss. This condition is known as hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
- Irritability or moodiness
- Nervousness, hyperactivity
- Sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures
- Hand trembling (shaking)
- Hair loss
- Missed or light menstrual periods
- Frequent, heavy periods
- Trouble sleeping
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin and hair
- Brittle nails and ridges
- Sensitivity to cold temperature
- Joint and muscle pain
Hashimoto (also known Hashimoto thyroiditis) is an autoimmune disease affecting your thyroid. This occurs when your immune system develops antibodies against the cells in your thyroid that produce thyroid hormone. To determine if you have Hashimoto’s disease a blood test will be run to check your TPO antibodies. A high TPO antibody result means your thyroid is attacking itself which decreases thyroid function and hormone production.
What Causes Thyroid Problems
There are steps you can take to help avoid or reverse some common thyroid problems.
Here are 5 things you can do today:
1. Eliminate Stress
Stress can negatively impact your body on an impressive scale partially because it has a particularly heavy effect on the thyroid. As you become more stressed or experience chronic stress, the body produces more of the hormone known as cortisol. Excess production of cortisol causes a reduction of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Lowered TSH levels significantly impede thyroid hormone production, which may cause you to experience symptoms related to hypothyroidism.
Stress is a common contributor to thyroid dysfunction, which is partially why stress is associated with fatigue, anxiety, hair loss, and weight gain. Furthermore, chronic stress can cause T4, the storage form of thyroid hormone, to be over converted into Reverse T3, which greatly inhibits active T3 hormone function.
2. Cut Back on Coffee
Even though coffee may be an integral part of your morning ritual, it may be detrimental to thyroid function. Having an occasional cup can be beneficial but relying on the caffeine kick can raise stress levels and interfere with your thyroid’s work to keep your body’s metabolism in balance.
3. Get Gut Issues Under Control
Reduced thyroid function lowers metabolic and digestive ability and vice versa. One of the many functions of thyroid hormones is to aid in the digestive process and help eliminate waste from the body. But if there is a thyroid hormone deficit, undigested food can remain in the digestive tract causing inflammation and autoimmune disorders such as leaky gut syndrome. Improving digestion helps the thyroid get the nutrients it needs, which allows it to better support the digestive system.
4. Stay Away from Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals known to interfere with development and reproduction, and they may cause serious neurological and immune system effects. These chemicals are dangerous because they mimic the female sex hormone estrogen, the male sex hormone androgen, and thyroid hormones.
Unfortunately, the endocrine disruptors in our life are common and plentiful, including some kinds of toothpaste, sunscreens, bread, soda, household items including furniture, holiday décor, and even tap water. After entering the body, endocrine disruptors block iodine and other elements necessary for thyroid hormone production.
This is why I tell my patients they must be extra vigilant in reading labels and product information to look for those disruptors like fluoride, bromine, BPA’s, heavy metals, PBDE’s and others. It may come as a shock how many of your day-to-day products contain endocrine disrupting substances and it is well worth the effort to avoid them.
5. Review Foods for Thyroid
Contrary to widespread belief, the thyroid loves good fats. Eating a low-fat diet negatively affects a hormone in your body called leptin. This hormone regulates your body weight and thyroid function. Eating a low-fat diet causes the slowdown of your thyroid hormone production and ultimately weight gain.
Another contradiction in the news is to avoid all goitrogenic foods because they interfere with thyroid function. Goitrogen foods belong to the Brassica family of vegetables known as broccoli, broccolini, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, sprouts, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, turnips, and collards. It has been stated that goitrogen foods suppress thyroid function by blocking iodine uptake which is a nutrient critical for thyroid function. This is not entirely correct, as ensuring adequate levels of iodine levels will allow you to eat these foods with no thyroid issues. If you are still working on increasing your iodine levels, you don’t have to eliminate these foods entirely. Instead, just limit them to 2-3 times a week until your iodine levels are optimal.
If you have Hashimoto’s you should avoid gluten as it can cause more gut problems and inflammation. This can result in high thyroid antibody production. The high TPO levels on blood tests can drop substantially and even come back to normal levels just by eliminating gluten and grains from your diet.
Soy is another food which should be avoided as it can negatively affect thyroid function. Soy can be found in dairy alternative foods such as soy milk, soy yogurt, soy isolate protein, soy burgers, soy cheese, tofu, sauces (such as shoyu, tamari, teriyaki, Worcestershire), and soy-based “meats.” There are many hidden sources of soy in foods even in protein bars and supplements. For some, consuming soy can cause a crash, leaving them feeling exhausted and mentally drained.
Can Thyroid Cause Weight Gain?
The answer is an unequivocal, YES. If you are suddenly gaining weight you could potentially have a sluggish thyroid. This is frustrating if you are finding that you are not eating any more than usual, but the scale shows otherwise. This is known as an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism.
Following a Hypothyroidism Diet as discussed in my article (15 Tips for the Best Hypothyroidism Diet) can make a positive change in reducing or eliminating thyroid symptoms.
The opposite can occur when your appetite has increased substantially but you are rapidly losing weight. This potential thyroid disorder is known as hyperthyroidism.
I address more natural remedies for Hypothyroidism in my article (8 Simple Natural Remedies for Hypothyroidism).
Natural Thyroid Supplements
Improving digestion is a really important step towards supporting your thyroid naturally. This can be achieved with proper fiber intake or supplementing with high-quality probiotics.
Avoiding inflammatory items such as gluten, processed foods and sugars can also improve gut health and indirectly help the thyroid. These can reduce thyroid function and overall wellness.
Processes involving the thyroid such as digestion, T4 to T3 conversion, anti-thyroid antibodies, and hormonal signaling are all impacted by different vitamins and nutrients. Unfortunately, many supplement brands lack the appropriate amounts of synergistic nutrients needed for proper thyroid function.
Here’s a list of some nutrients to support the thyroid:
The role of the thyroid gland is to take iodine from the foods you eat and convert it into thyroid hormones, T4 and T3. The body then uses an amino acid called tyrosine to make T3 and T4. Without adequate amounts of iodine, this process does not occur. A deficiency of iodine inhibits the release of T3 and T4 into your bloodstream which negatively impairs each cell in your body. This will reduce your thyroid function and metabolism.
In some cases, simply incorporating a multivitamin or a good thyroid formulation into your daily health regimen is enough to counteract some common deficiencies. I like to recommend Thyroid Synergy™ to my patients as a great all-in-one formula for nutritional support of thyroid function. It contains non-stimulating adaptogenic botanicals that help maintain healthy cortisol, blood glucose, and insulin levels, along with a balanced conversion of thyroid hormone.
Stay connected and sign up for my FREE newsletter
Bonus: Download my ‘12-Key Tips for Healthy Digestion’ Guide
Sometimes mindful adjustments to your diet, daily lifestyle and reducing stress is helpful in getting your thyroid to function better.
However, there are times you may need more support to dive deeper into the issues. This may require an in-depth consultation and additional lab work with a healthcare professional.
Need help with thyroid support? I am available for consultations to give you guidance and support to address any thyroid issues you may be struggling with today. Contact me and let’s work together to explore practical ways to address your thyroid issues.