In order to adequately explain thyroid dysfunction, I do need to give you some medical jargon for the first paragraph or so, but bare with me! I know more women who have thyroid issues, than women who do not. I had a very short-lived thyroid issue a few years ago. I had Hashimoto’s for a few months after a mold exposure. This photo was taken during that time. You can see my large Adam’s apple in the picture. My neck does not ordinarily look like that. I was actually quite ill when that photo was taken, but my children motivated me to keep pushing forward to heal. So many people are on thyroid drugs, when really the root cause usually has nothing to do with the thyroid – as was the case for me. I needed to pull out the toxins, and support my immune system without pharmaceuticals further congesting my liver.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped glad over the Adam’s apple. It’s the metabolic regulator for every cell in the body. Thyroid controls body temp, glucose, hormone metabolism, liver function, fat metabolism and more. The HPT AXIS is the metabolic messaging system. It stands for the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid axis. The thyroid regulates, but it takes orders from the brain. The hypothalamus sends TRH (thyroid regulating hormone) to the pituitary, which signals the pituitary to send TSH to the thyroid gland. Then, when the thyroid gets the message from the pituitary, it makes T4 and T3.
Before I lose you, stick with me a minute longer and you’ll see why this all makes sense. T1, T2, T3 and T4 are all made but the focus on T4 and T3 (and reverse T3). T3 is active, but the majority of what the thyroid produces is T4. They are produced in a 90% to 10% ratio. So T4 needs to be converted to T3. To produce T4 and T3, there is a requirement for tyrosine and Iodine. So already we are seeing some practical knowledge here. Our bodies need tyrosine (an amino acid), and iodine.
Once T4 and T3 are produced, they need to be transported to cells that need them. Thyroid binding globulin (TBG) is produced in the liver and it binds to them for transport like a bus. As long as they are on the bus, they can’t be used. The liver takes care of about 40% of T4 to T3 conversion by taking one iodine molecule. Now we can see that proper liver function is also a critical element in having proper thyroid function.The GI tract accounts for about 20% of the conversion. So now we see gut health is also a key player in proper thyroid function. And actually, in many cases thyroid function has more to do with proper liver or gut function, than the thyroid itself. Conventional medicine tends to focus solely on the thyroid and ignore liver and gut function.
Signs of thyroid issues are hair loss, appetite changes, depression, sensitivity to cold, constipation , weight loss (hyperthyroid), weight gain (hypothyroid). Conventional doctors may prescribe synthetic hormones to stimulate or inhibit thyroid function. As an FDN, I look for underlaying causes of hormone dysfunction. These triggers could be a congested liver from environmental toxins, gut dysbiosis (imbalance of gut flora), detoxification dysfunction (MTHFR mutations), oxidative stress, and gluten. There is usually more than one trigger in someone with thyroid dysfunction which is why it’s important to look at everything. By everything I mean, hormones, toxins, gut health, pathogens, bacteria ratios, heavy metals and food sensitivities.
In general, looking at cortisol levels are the first thing to always check for, but it’s even more important in people with thyroid issues because of the way chronic stress affects thyroid hormones. When cortisol is elevated it interferes with T4 to T3 conversion., It interferes with overall thyroid hormone (TSH) production. It also reduces cell receptors sensitivity to thyroid hormone. So, again thyroid disfunction could be cortisol regulation dysfunction from stress, not an actual thyroid issue. DHEA can be useful in cortisol regulation, and there for a positive impact on thyroid health, but only if you’ve identified low DHEA through proper testing.
Proper liver function is an important player as well as I mentioned earlier, but it’s also important because of its role in estrogen. A congested liver is not able to properly clear excess estrogen as it should, and this leads to excess estrogen. Estrogen competes with T3 for TBG (thyroid binding globulin – the buses) binding sites, so thyroid hormone may be produced properly, but it can’t be transported, and used properly. Steroids decrease TBG so people with autoimmune issues who are given steroids regularly are also further increasing their chances of having thyroid disfunction.
You can see why reducing toxins is also a major issue here. In order for our liver to have optimal function, we need to reduce our toxic load, so it doesn’t need to work as hard. Beauty products (with parabens), and plastic containers are important as well (plastic water bottles, plastic food containers). BPAs and phthalates found in those products are synthetic estrogens, so they compete for thyroid hormone receptor sites as well and block your body’s ability to use the thyroid hormone it’s producing. Pesticides and herbicides (especially glyphosate) from eating non-organic foods destroy our gut flora, therefore inhibiting our body’s ability to convert T4 in the gut.
So, when addressing thyroid issues, as with any other health issue, you can see why we have to look at everything. We need to look at liver function, gut health, toxins, pathogens, stress, and lifestyle. The idea of just looking at someone’s T4 and T3 levels and then giving them a drug is mind blowing to me.
Most conventional doctors will only check TSH levels (thyroid stimulating hormone ) The problem is that it fluctuates throughout the day, so a snapshot in time blood test for only that marker doesn’t tell you a lot. Plus, keep in mind that TSH is only the signal, it doesn’t always show how much thyroid hormone is actually being produced and utilized in the body. T3 is often not even looked at on labs. Also, the reference ranges on typical labs are so wide that they won’t detect a problem until you’re really in a bad place.
Autoimmunity is the single most common cause of thyroid dysfunction. The root causes are all the usual suspects that I already listed. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It accounts for upwards of 90% In Hashimoto’s the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Grave’s is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (about 95%), but it’s still not as common as Hashimoto’s. They stimulate the thy
Gluten is one of the primary triggers of Hashimoto’s. 1/5 people have gluten sensitivity. That is different than an allergy, and most of those people will not even have any gastrointestinal symptoms. They won’t have stomach aches, or bloating. Those people tend to think a little here and there is ok, because they feel fine. However, even one exposure to gluten sensitive people sets off an inflammatory response that can last up to 6 months. As I’ve discussed in detail before, regardless of having a sensitivity or not, gluten leads to gut permeability (link to further explain) and therefor leads to autoimmunity – particularly thyroid autoimmunity. The gluten protein is so structurally similar to thyroid tissue, that once it’s tagged as a pathogen, the body produces antibodies that not only attach gluten, they also attach thyroid tissue. There’s almost a 100% correlation between Hashimoto’s and gluten sensitivity.
Some quick recommendations to help thyroid function is to ditch gluten and add an iodine supplement., Caution here though as a sudden increase in iodine levels may exacerbate thyroid autoimmunity, so try a liquid iodine supplement that you can titrate in a drop at a time, over a period of time. As you saw earlier, iodine is a key component to T4 to T3 conversion. Adequate protein (amino acids) intake is important for TSH production. Vitamin D is needed for proper function of thyroid receptors, and it’s critical for proper immune function. Magnesium, zinc and selenium are also essential. Selenium is necessary for thyroid hormone conversion, and it may reduce thyroid antibodies. B6 is needed to iodine absorption.
Keeping your liver as clean as possible in this ever increasingly toxic environment is very helpful as well. Dry brushing to help with lymphatic circulation, coffee enemas, and saunas all help. Toxins love to hang out in fat cells, so staying at an optimal weight is helpful. The most important thing we can ever do to improve our heath is to learn how to cope with past and present stress and let go of negative thoughts and feelings.