I’ve been thinking a lot about the thyroid. It’s always seemed a bit mysterious to me, wrapped up as it is in the intricate workings of the endlessly complex endocrine system. How to parse the functions of the thyroid as it interacts with the pituitary and hypothalamus and the adrenals and the gonads and all the hormone messengers between all of them…and the rest of our miraculous bodies.
Well, I have a long way to go to fully understand the thyroid the way I’d like but I’ve picked up a few things recently that I find fascinating, and I’d like to share.
The word thyroid can be traced back to the ancient Greek word thyrios, which means shield like, shield shaped. It’s an apt analogy as it also closely guards our energy expenditures.
The thyroid is like two wings of the butterfly, nestled on the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid is found in all vertebrates, including fish! The thyroid is incredibly vascular (many blood vessels) and also follicular (many small tubes- think hair follicles.) These follicles are meant to receive iodine, a critical nutrient for the creation of thyroid hormones.
Isn’t that the best word ever? The thyroid, as stated above, is follicular, or partially composed of tiny tubes. These tubes are meant to receive iodine, a key component in the production of thyroid hormones. Guess what else they will absorb- other halides, like fluoride, chlorine, and bromide (found in soft drinks.) This is why drinking and bathing in municipal tap water and spending excessive time in chlorinated pools can adversely affect thyroid function over time. The other halides clog up the works. On the other hand, it’s also important we are taking in enough iodine, preferably in the form of seaweed or other clean sea sources.
As far as function goes, the thyroid is like a thermostat, controlling how quickly the body uses energy. One of the famous symptoms for sluggish thyroid is that the person gets very chilly, even when others are not. Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone, and so thyroid function is critical because it affects every cell in the body!
Every act of energy involves the thyroid.
The thyroid is one in a long axis of endocrine organs. The hypothalamus at the top produces TRH (thyrotropin releasing hormone) which stimulates the pituitary gland, which produces TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which tells the thyroid how much thyroid hormone to make, in the form of a small amount of T3 and mostly T4. T3 is what is usable in the body, and T4 gets converted to T3 mostly by the liver, and various other places.
There are many places in the chain where deficiencies can arise, and often anyone with a suspected issue will ONLY have their TSH measured. This can be the root of unresolved issues, as TSH is only one part of the picture- if a person is having trouble converting T4 to T3, for instance, they will still feel sluggish and off even though their TSH is measuring within clinical range. For a fantastic breakdown of several different ways these numbers can be off and more insight into other helpful measurements, check out this Chris Kresser post:
POSSIBLE INDICATIONS OF LOW THYROID FUNCTION
There are a lot of possible indications of low thyroid function. If you keep getting a ‘normal’ TSH result back but you have any of the following, you may want to dig a little deeper:
Trouble losing weight, depression, heart disease, chronic fatigue, cold all the time, constipation, hair loss, dry skin, low libido, memory problems, skin conditions like eczema and acne, lack of sweating during exercise, hoarseness, and missing the outer third of the eyebrow.
THYROID AND BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION
If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, yay! This next concept is the one I found surprising and yet instantly applicable for all of us, and one that is squarely in the realm of nutritional therapy. The thyroid and blood sugar are linked. When we drive up our blood sugar repeatedly, through stress or sugar/refined carbohydrate intake, we often trigger the up and down roller coaster of reactive hypoglycemia. When the body drops back down too low in blood sugar due to the subsequent over-release of insulin, it has to release cortisol to bring it back up. Chronic prolonged stress also causes the same pattern of repeated cortisol release. This repeated cortisol release suppresses pituitary function, and the thyroid cannot function properly if the pituitary is not functioning. And, if we are constantly revving ourselves forward with stress and cortisol, the cells will down-regulate, becoming resistant to thyroid hormone.
The other side of things is that those with a hypothyroid condition will suffer the effects of slowed down glucose metabolism, resulting in feeling tired all the time and cold.
As Chris Kresser says in the following post, “healthy thyroid function depends on keeping your blood sugar in a normal range, and keeping your blood sugar in a normal range depends on healthy thyroid function.”
If you’d really like to delve more into the intricacies of thyroid function, check out the iconic book ‘Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal’ by Dr. Datis Kharrazian.
And if you’d like to talk with me about how nutritional therapy can support your thyroid health, let me know! I always offer a free one hour consultation to all. http://www.nourishstrength.com/freenutritionconsultation/
Thanks for making it this far and happy thyroid love!!