Understanding Your Thyroid
What does the thyroid gland do?
At the front of your neck is your thyroid. The thyroid gland is made up of 2 lobes joined by a thin band of tissue (isthmus) and its primarily concerned with the regulation of two thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroxine (T4) is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. It is the inactive form and it is converted to an active form triiodothyronine (T3) by the deiodinase system in multiple tissues and organs, but especially in the liver, gut, skeletal muscle, brain and thyroid gland itself. Thyroid hormones play vital roles in regulating the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development and maintenance of bones. Reverse triiodothyronine (rT3) has a similar structure to T3 which allows it to bind to T3 cells receptors. This blocks the binding of T3 and is metabolically inactive. Certain conditions such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), starvation, stress, trauma, liver dysfunction and infections can increase levels of reverse triiodothyronine (rT3). For something so small your thyroid plays a large role in your overall health and vitality!
How do I know if my thyroid is working properly?
There are a number of reasons why your thyroid may be over or under functioning. The best way to know if your thyroid is working properly is to see a naturopath who can properly assess thyroid function pathology tests and your associated symptoms. If you experience some of the following symptoms a thorough review of your thyroid function is recommended;
- Constant fatigue
- Difficulty losing weight or gaining weight easily
- Brain fog and poor memory
- Mood swings
- Muscle aches
- Low libido
- Cold hands and feet
- Heart palpations
- Menstrual problems
- Goitre (a swelling at the base of your neck)
- Decreased appetite
- Dry skin or hair
- Increased hair loss
- Slow wound healing
Several different conditions can arise from thyroid dysfunction. The most common thyroid conditions are:
Conversely, the thyroid can also become overactive, speeding up metabolism. Symptoms include rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, agitation, weight loss and fatigue.
Autoimmunity refers to the body’s immune system attacking itself. In the thyroid, this manifests as either Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (creating an underactive thyroid) or Graves’ disease (creating an overactive thyroid).
A goitre is the enlargement or swelling of the thyroid gland. It can occur with both an under and over active thyroid as well as iodine deficiency.
Thyroid nodules are solid or fluid-filled growths that form on or in the thyroid gland. Some nodules produce thyroid hormones which can produce symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism.
Toxins and thyroid dysfunction
We are often unaware of it but we are under constant exposure to toxins in our everyday life. How many of you have been buying bisphenol (BPA)-free products such as repeated use drinking bottles thinking that you have avoided a known endocrine-disrupting chemical? Yep me too, but it turns out that many of the chemical replacements are also bisphenols just in different forms and they are just as hormonally active1
The thyroid is highly sensitive to environmental toxins. A broad range of chemicals, with structural similarity to thyroid hormone, has been shown to bind to thyroid receptors with both agonist and antagonist effects on thyroid hormone signalling2. Toxins have also been shown to interfere with the production, transportation, and metabolism of thyroid hormones2.
Triclosan is a chemical ingredient used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent in over 2,000 commonly used products such as toothpaste, hand and body washes, hand sanitisers, antibacterial soaps, cosmetics and kitchenware. Some short-term animal studies have shown that exposure to high doses of triclosan is associated with a decrease in the levels of some thyroid hormones3.
Heavy metals such as fluoride (found in our tap water & toothpaste!), bromide, chloride, arsenic and mercury can inhibit the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb iodine – needed for the production of thyroid hormones – from the bloodstream.
Switching to natural cleaning and skin care products and supporting your body to deal with daily toxin exposures via regular practitioner-supported detoxification programs takes the burden off of the thyroid gland allowing it to perform many important bodily functions.
The gut – thyroid link
The health of your gut and the function of your thyroid are interrelated. Poor gut health can suppress thyroid function, and low thyroid function can lead to an inflamed and leaky gut.
Several trace elements and minerals such as iodine, iron, selenium and zinc are essential for normal thyroid hormone metabolism, therefore poor nutrient absorption via the digestive tract can impair thyroid function. Furthermore, hypothyroidism impairs gastric secretion and slows down motility which can lead to constipation, poor digestion, heartburn and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
In the presence of healthy gut bacteria, about 20 percent of the inactive T4 thyroid hormone is converted into the active form of T3. Intestinal dysbiosis – an imbalance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut – significantly reduces the conversion of T4 to T3. T4 and T3 have also been shown to protect the gut lining from stress-induced ulcer formation.
Food, if not digested properly, can become fuel for the growth of ‘bad’ (disease-causing) bacteria. These organisms produce toxic chemicals, and when they die, fragments of their cell membranes can be absorbed into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response that can reduce thyroid function.
My top 5 tips for supporting your thyroid naturally
- Eat organic produce or alternatively, soak your fruit and vegetables for 30+minutes in a mixture of water and vinegar before eating.
- Avoid storing or heating your food in plastic. Use stainless steel or glass containers and bees wax wraps instead.
- Use natural/organic skin care, personal hygiene and household cleaning products.
- Keep your stress levels in check by taking some time out each day to do something that calms you down such as yoga, meditation or going for a walk in nature.
- Eat a whole food diet that is rich in thyroid supporting nutrients such as zinc, iodine, magnesium, selenium and B vitamins.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that can be associated with thyroid issues I can provide you with further guidance on the many ways in which you can support the thyroid gland naturally.
1Rochester JR, Bolden AL. 2015. Bisphenol S and F: a systematic review and comparison of the hormonal activity of bisphenol A substitutes. Environ Health Perspective 123:643–650; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1408989
2Patrick L 2009 ‘Thyroid Disruption: Mechanism and Clinical Implications in Human Health’, Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutic, vol.14 (4) pp 326-46
3 FDA – US Food and Drug Administration https://www.fda.gov/ForConsum…/ConsumerUpdates/ucm205999.htm