The Thyroid: Our Master metabolism controller
What is the thyroid and why should you care? The thyroid gland controls the entire metabolism of all cells in the human body, so when things feel like they are slowing down, the thyroid is likely an area to look into.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland situated on your neck. The thyroid is the master controller of our metabolism, growth and maturation of the body. When you need more energy, more thyroid hormone is released, when you are cold, it helps heat your body tissues. There are thyroid receptor hormones on every organ in the body. This is why when you have an under active thyroid, you feel the effects all over your body.
Over 60,000 new cases of thyroid disease are diagnosed each year, and this figure is rising. Thyroid disease effects mostly those designated female gender at birth (over 90%) of cases. The incidence of congenital hypothyroidism is also on the rise.
Symptoms of low thyroid function:
- Weight gain
- Intolerance to the cold, cold extremities
- Menstrual irregularities such as heavy and irregular cycles and infertility
- Mood issues such as depression and anxiety
- Sleep issues
- Dry skin, brittle nails
- Hair loss and hair thinning
- Brain fog, inability to concentrate
- Gut issues such as constipation or diarrhoea.
- Increased allergies and food intolerance
How do we test for hypothyroidism?
If you are experiencing a number of the above symptoms then maybe it’s time to check out your thyroid function with a full thyroid blood test. This can help a practitioner get to the root cause for your specific issue, which is important as the drivers of the disease are different for everybody. A full thyroid panel includes:
- TSH (this is your pituitary gland asking your thyroid gland for more thyroid hormone)
- T4 – a pro-hormone, that needs to be converted to the active hormone. If you have been prescribed thyroxine, this is T4, the inactive pro-hormone
- T3 – the active thyroid hormone
- rT3 – this is a metabolic break. In times of extreme stress and eating disorders, our body converts T4 into the inactive hormone rT3 instead of T3
- Thyroid antibodies – these can tell us if the thyroid is autoimmune (Hashimotos thyroiditis is autoimmune low thyroid function or Graves disease, which is autoimmune high thyroid function)
Diagnosis of thyroid disease is generally made in the late stages of the disease when it has already severely progressed. This is due to the wide range of the thyroid hormone reference ranges, under testing, and also people just thinking that feeling sub optimal is normal. If you don’t feel right, request more tests, and work with a functional medicine practitioner who will look at the optimal references ranges for health.
How to treat the thyroid?
Once you have a full thyroid panel, look at the things in your life that may be driving thyroid health or disease, and treat this. If you do not treat the cause and only treat symptoms, the issue will not resolve.
Most thyroid issues are linked to autoimmunity. Some of the key drivers of autoimmunity are stress, leaky gut, hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy, environmental toxicity (see my blog on environmental pollutants here), heavy metal exposure, a low nutrient diet, lack of sleep and infections.
- Stress is one of the main drivers of thyroid dysfunction. You may not be able to remove some stressors from your life (hello lack of sleep with young children), but you can change the way you react to these stressors. This may mean counselling, therapy, deep breathing exercises, journaling, gentle exercise, sunlight and adequate sleep.
- Gut health. This is a big one. Every case of autoimmunity has gut health and leaky gut as a driver. Treating the digestive system, and assessing symptoms that tell us that gut health is not optimal such as reflux, bloating, pain, constipation, diarrhoea, undigested food in stool, mucous or blood in the stool. Treating these symptoms can help reduce systemic inflammation and ensure adequate digestion of nutrients needed for thyroid hormone synthesis and conversion.
- Immune issues. Having a dysregulated immune system can lead to autoimmunity. Most of our immune system is housed in the gut, which needs to be adequately functioning. Nutrients needed to sustain immunity such as vitamin D, zinc and vitamin C are also important.
- Diet low in nutrients needed to make thyroid hormones. The thyroid requires iodine and tyrosine to make thyroid hormones, as well as selenium, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin A to adequately convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 to the active T3. If your diet is low in nutritional value, or you are not eating foods high in these vitamins and minerals, sustaining thyroid health can be difficult.
- Chemical exposure. Some chemicals are called halogens, these have a similar chemical structure to iodine, which is important for our thyroid hormones. These can disrupt thyroid hormone synthesis. These include bromine in commercial breads, fluoride in toothpaste and our water supply and chlorine in drinking water and swimming pools.
- Infections. This can be a big trigger for many people. This can be something like glandular fever, helicobactor pylori, candida, lymes and herpes virus’. Adequately helping your body to clear or treat underlying infections and the immune dysfunction that may be allowing these to flourish is important.
If you have a thyroid disease, and are only taking thyroxine, you are not treating the cause of your low thyroid function, you are simply supplementing the hormones. Book in with me today to find the cause of your thyroid issue and treat your body holistically.