One of the fastest rising health conditions in the western world is hypothyroidism.
You may have heard of hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).
Both come with their own set of symptoms which can seriously impact your general health, sense of wellbeing and quality of life.
Some studies suggest up to 40% of the population suffer from at least some level of underactive thyroid.
Plus, the thyroid gland is the most common site for the development of an autoimmune disease. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, is an autoimmune condition of the thyroid that is considered the most prevalent autoimmune condition.
Hashimoto's is said to account for about 80% of hypothyroidism cases.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimotos is also a condition that is much more common in women than men.
If you’re a woman and reading this post it’s good to be aware that there are certain stages in your life when you are more susceptible to thyroid issues. These are:
That being said hypothyroidism can often be due to a poor T4 (thyroxine) to T3 (triiodothyronine) conversion if it’s not autoimmune in nature (Hashimoto's) which can be caused by high stress levels, sluggish detoxification and gut dysbiosis. Read on for more on T4 and T3.
Thyroid Gland Function
The main job of your thyroid is to control your metabolism. Metabolism is the process that your body uses to transform food to energy which your body uses to function.
This is why symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, brain fog and hormone imbalance are often connected with hypothyroidism.
Metabolism also includes the chemical reactions that occur inside your cells. This is why thyroid hormones are essential to every cell in your body.
And the amount of hormones your thyroid produces should go naturally up and down to respond to your body’s needs and environment.
Your thyroid hormone should fluctuate according to temperature, stress, food intake and activity level.
The amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (in your brain) in order to get out and interact with the cells of your body.
When the hypothalamus decides we need more thyroid hormone in circulation it sends thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) to the pituitary gland.
As a result, the pituitary gland subsequently sends thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid to balance out the amounts in circulation.
Thyroid Health Testing
Most of us have had TSH thyroid blood tests done via the doctor. Higher TSH levels indicate that your pituitary is prompting your thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs.
When your thyroid receives a signal in the form of TSH from the pituitary that your body has inadequate levels of thyroid hormone, your thyroid produces more of both T3 and T4.
T3 is much more biologically active than T4 which means that the tissues throughout your body need to convert T4 into T3 to really be able to utilize the hormone.
It's therefore important that your body has adequate levels of T3 and T4 in order to function optimally.
This is why testing TSH alone does not provide a complete picture of the health of your thyroid gland.
There’s other reasons for this too - another being that your body is able to compensate for quite some time before your TSH actually begins to be affected.
Plus, if your hypothalamus and pituitary gland aren’t functioning properly they won’t be doing their job to signal TSH to your thyroid.
In this post, I'll share with you some symptoms of hypothyroidism as well as essential nutritional needs to support healthy thyroid function.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Your thyroid controls many, far-reaching facets of your health, and every cell in your body contains a thyroid hormone receptor.
This in itself can lead to multiple symptoms and dysfunction because if the butterfly-fly shaped endocrine gland in your neck isn’t working well, your body is going to struggle to function.
Here are some common hypothyroidism symptoms.
1. Weight Gain
When your thyroid is underactive, your body is less able to break down fat, making you resistant to weight loss.
Weight gain isn’t the cause of your problems, but a symptom of something not being addressed.
When you deal with the underlying hormonal problem and heal, weight loss is the natural byproduct.
The thyroid regulates energy levels. When it's running low, so are you.
An underactive thyroid will put stress on your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
Then because of the lack of glucose and energy getting to your cells, the HPA axis has to release more cortisol in an attempt to get more energy to the cells.
This physiological stress inevitably affects your hormonal health too and can result in HPA axis dysfunction or adrenal fatigue.
3. Gut Problems
Low thyroid function can reduce motility, meaning food takes longer to travel through your intestines.
Consequently constipation is a common symptom of an underactive thyroid.
The body's ability to absorb nutrients is also decreased when your thyroid isn’t working well.
Low thyroid function is linked with leaky gut syndrome whereas healthy thyroid function dampens gut inflammation.
When it comes to gut health and the thyroid due to their intimate relationship - it’s really a cause and effect scenario.
Because like most bodily systems, the gut is intertwined with hormones—specifically, thyroid hormones through the thyroid-gut-axis.
Gut issues like candida overgrowth and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) are all associated with autoimmune thyroid problems via this axis.
In fact, 20% of your T4 is converted to T3 in the gut, which can be inhibited with an imbalanced, unhealthy microbiome.
4. Compromised Physical Health
The symptoms of hypothyroidism can also include joint pain and stiffness, bone loss, improper bone growth, connective tissue weakness, cramping and scoliosis of the spine.
Since the thyroid affects the body’s ability to utilise calcium, bone and connective tissue issues can be eliminated by regenerating the thyroid gland.
5. Mood Swings
Your mood is especially susceptible to changes in hormone levels, so some people with hypothyroidism experience anxiety, trouble sleeping and low immunity.
The thyroid gland helps regulate chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which control nerve signals and your emotions.
6. Low Blood Sugar
When your thyroid is underactive it decreases your body’s ability to absorb glucose or blood sugar.
Many people struggling with low thyroid hormones can feel hypoglycemic. Because the cells are not getting the glucose they need, people can feel hypoglycemic even with normal looking blood sugar results.
This cycle of hormonal dysfunction can lead to insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.
Blood sugar imbalances can also cause immune dysfunction and coordination problems.
7. Estrogen Imbalances
Your hormones are all connected, and the ripple effect from dysfunction in one endocrine gland outputting any hormone can negatively affect your thyroid.
Specifically, thyroid function affects the metabolism of estrogen in the body.
Estrogen comes in the form of three metabolites: Estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). When your thyroid isn’t working well it can unbalance this estrogen metabolite ratio.
8. Hot flushes or Feeling Cold
When your thyroid hormone levels are low, it affects your body’s temperature control.
This can cause you to feel cold all the time, or have night sweats and hot flushes.
9. High LDL Cholesterol Levels
Thyroid function and cholesterol levels are closely linked.
Thyroid hormones, primarily T3, play an essential role in helping the liver process and remove excess cholesterol from the body.
When the body does not produce enough thyroid hormones, the liver cannot process as much cholesterol as usual.
An underactive thyroid means that the body removes less LDL cholesterol from the blood. This can lead to high levels of LDL and total cholesterol.
Of course, not everyone with the above symptoms has a thyroid disorder and there are additional symptoms that are likely to arise if a person is experiencing thyroid gland dysfunction.
Specific Nutrients Needed for Thyroid Health
There's a lot that you can do nutritionally to support your thyroid health.
Here are some of the key nutrients that you want to make sure you’re obtaining in sufficient amounts to help keep your thyroid functioning well.
Selenium is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to thyroid health, for a number of reasons.
The thyroid is the organ with the highest selenium content in your body. Selenium is critical for producing T3 thyroid hormone and can reduce autoimmune effects.
In people with Hashimoto’s and in pregnant women with thyroid changes, studies show that selenium supplementation decreases anti-thyroid antibody levels and improves thyroid gland structure.
Zinc is one of the elements required for thyroid hormone synthesis.
Moreover, zinc is crucially required for keeping a normal metabolism of thyroid hormones, in addition to maintaining a normal resting metabolic rate (RMR).
Zinc is required to help the thyroid gland work properly. At the same time, thyroid hormones are required to ensure absorption of zinc.
Iodine is a key mineral for helping to convert and release thyroid hormones, Yet iodine-rich foods (like seaweed) are limited in the typical Western diet.
Other than consuming sea veggies like kelp, you can get iodine from foods like raw dairy, certain wild-caught fish and some fermented grains.
However, too much iodine actually aggravates thyroid disorder symptoms, so just be careful with iodine.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and is required for activation of thyroid hormone receptors. Insufficient vitamin A can depress thyroid function.
Both vitamin A and T3 are necessary to convert your cholesterol into all of your thyroid-protective hormones.
Something else, you need to be metabolising fat in your gut to absorb vitamin A and other fat soluble vitamins, which brings me back to the saying - “you are what you digest and absorb” emphasizing how crucial gut health is to your overall health.
Your thyroid uses all of the B vitamins to convert and use energy and prevent the accumulation of fat.
Your thyroid also uses B vitamins to create thyroid hormones that are used to boost metabolism. So, the fewer thyroid hormones you have, the slower your metabolism will be.
Although fatigue can be connected to all sorts of things, if you think about it - a common side effect of low thyroid hormone is fatigue, which also overlaps with the symptoms of low vitamin B levels.
Vitamin C & E
Vitamin C and E are two critical antioxidants that protect the thyroid gland from oxidative stress and improve immune regulation.
Omega-3 Fatty acids
Essential fatty acids found in fish oil are critical for thyroid and brain function.
DHA and EPA omega-3s found in fish oil are associated with a lower risk for thyroid symptoms, including diabetes, anxiety, low immunity, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.
While maca isn’t a nutrient as such, it is a plant / herb that helps to balance the hypothalamus and pituitary, which release TRH (thyroid-releasing hormone) and TSH respectively. These hormones regulate T4 levels.
Maca also contains zinc, B vitamins, and iron, which are all required for optimal thyroid production.
When supplementing, always choose high quality pharmaceutical grade products that are bioavailable to the body.
If you found this blog post helpful, or would like to share your thyroid health experience comment below.
Hello, I'm a Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, Breathwork Instructor and Pain & Stress Management Therapist with heaps of experience of helping others tweak and transform their health and life.
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