Everything You Need To Know About Your Thyroid

If I asked you what your thyroid gland did, would you be able to tell me? 

Turns out most people have no idea what it does and the truth is that it can actually impact your health and metabolism far more than you would imagine. 

So I turned to one of my friends Dr. Stefania Tiveron for her expert take on our thyroid gland, its hormones, and how it can play a role in our health journey.

Take it away Dr. Stef! 

***Stefania is typing now***

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located below the larynx and straddles the trachea.

It’s highly influenced by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a hormone secreted by a gland in the brain called the anterior pituitary.

How our thyroid gland works…

Like most regulatory physiology, the thyroid operates on a negative feedback loop. It’s like a thermostat in your home. 

When the temperature drops too high or too low, the thermostat alerts the AC or furnace in your home to kick on and bring the temperature inside your home to the appropriate range again. 

Low TSH levels in the blood are monitored by your hypothalamus, which alerts the anterior pituitary to secrete TSH. Essentially, feedback from thyroid hormones in the hypothalamus/pituitary gland keeps TSH within a narrow normal range. 

Here’s what goes down:

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) tells the thyroid gland to release thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). About 80 percent of the total amount of thyroid hormones released by your thyroid gland is T4. The remaining 20 percent is T3. They’re collectively referred to as thyroid hormones, yet T4 is largely inactive, meaning it doesn’t impact your cells, whereas T3 is active. In fact, Triiodothyronine (T3) is four times more metabolically active than thyroxine (T4). 

Nutrition is key here! The thyroid requires adequate amounts of iodine and tyrosine to create T4 and T3, along with essential minerals like zinc and selenium for the conversion of T4 to T3.

Once secreted, these hormones regulate cellular metabolism and growth all over the body. 

The final message is a simple one: increase metabolism or decrease it. 

How your thyroid impacts your metabolism…

The thyroid gland’s hormones regulate metabolism in every cell of the body. You could say that these hormones/pathways are most significant for setting your overall level of metabolism. 

When I say metabolism, most people think I am talking about mostly fat and muscle mass—that’s not completely true!

Metabolism is simply the consumption of energy. It occurs in every cell of the body, which in turn affects virtually all bodily functions, including the brain and cognitive function.

More specifically, it is the use of energy in the cells of the body for a variety of functions, including the day-to-day stuff like repairing tissues and digesting food all the way to lifetime functions like long-term brain cognition.

What impacts our thyroid gland hormone levels?

Once the up-regulation of our metabolism is achieved, the original signal is shut off—that is if the negative feedback loop we discussed earlier is functionally properly. 

If it’s not, then it could be one of four things impacting our thyroid: 

  • Insufficient Iodine (to produce thyroid hormones)
  • An autoimmune process impacting the thyroid gland or its hormones (the immune system attacks the thyroid and causes inflammation) 
  • Tumor of the thyroid, pituitary gland, or hypothalamus (benign and cancerous) 
  • Physiological need for decreased metabolism.

The first three reasons require (and are best treated by) standard and conventional interventions, such as medication, surgery, or supplementation. 

The fourth reason is compensatory in nature. The metabolism downregulates because it senses a need to reduce or offset the adverse effects of something; namely, the impact of dietary and lifestyle factors over time, which are complex and many. The point is that they strongly influence the hormonal output of thyroid hormones. 

In this sense, metabolic compensatory reactions are adaptive in nature. 

The metabolism is adaptive and reactive, and the thyroid is like the star of the show. 

Many factors impact the production and output of thyroid hormones. As we now know and appreciate, those thyroid hormones influence metabolism in nearly all cells in the body!

What happens when our thyroid gland doesn’t regulate properly? 

These events are known as “hypothyroid conditions” and can also go by several other names including functional hypothyroidism, subclinical hypothyroidism, or compensatory hypothyroidism

Typically, people report fatigue, low energy and mood, swinging weight gain/loss, lethargy, and hair loss.

This is why it is important for people who are struggling with their mood, weight, and energy levels to consider their thyroid function. 

These symptoms are not very specific, so many people brush them off. Instead, we tend to blame things like our busy schedule, poor nutrition and eating habits, lack of sleep, and high-stress levels before considering the thyroid. 

As it turns out, diet and lifestyle factors have a huge impact on our thyroid function!

Here are four main reasons that your body might down-shift your metabolism: 

  • Actual or perceived state of famine = conservation of resources by decreasing output and favoring storage over expenditure of energy (aka restrictive diets and severe caloric restriction)
  • Heightened exertion that is damaging (ie overtraining or overuse, especially in the context of caloric restriction)
  • The accumulation of toxins within and outside the body (prevents the metabolism from operating at optimal capacity)
  • Injury or illness = reallocation of resources (supports a state of rest)

Most commonly, we see compensatory hypothyroidism in folks who are chronically overworked, both physically and mentally, while also lacking adequate resources for all activities of daily living. 

Sound familiar? 

The message to the metabolism is clear: resources are scarce, so we are in a state of conservation. 

What can we do to support healthy levels in our thyroid?

For normal thyroid function, consider what current factors in your life are contributing to a down-regulated metabolism.

Look at these lifestyle and diet factors:

  • Leaky gut due to food allergies/sensitivities, alcohol, NSAIDs, corticosteroids 
  • Toxic burden: alcohol, sugar, processed food; strong emotional states
  • Microflora imbalance in the gut
  • Poor digestion and elimination (stress impairs digestion and absorption) 
  • Chemical overload
  • Food additives, agricultural chemical run-off (organochlorine exposure especially), environmental pollutants, chemical exposure, household cleaners and sprays, herbicides and pesticides, hair dyes 
  • Stress, depression, inadequate rest and relaxation 
  • Low-grade chronic acute infections

Although not always realistic, the most effective intervention for compensatory hypothyroidism is rest. Also, be mindful of your coping mechanisms because metabolic compensations reactions are protective! 

There you have it, everything you need to know about your thyroid and how it impacts your health! 
If you like helpful tips like the ones in this article, be sure to check out my Instagram right here.

Until next time…

Dr. Stefania!

References:

Asadi, Shain. (2020). Iss 1 Citation: Asadi S. the Role of Mutations on Genes FGF23 & GNAS 1 in McCune-Albright syndrome. Journal of Neurology. 3. 1-13.

Hechtman, Leah, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine (Kindle Locations 66082-66084) Elsevier Health Sciences. Kindle Edition.

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