Most of you probably have heard that the thyroid gland plays a role in regulating body weight and metabolism. But, did you know that the thyroid gland regulates a lot more than your body weight and metabolism?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the middle of your neck and is one of the largest endocrine glands in your body. The thyroid secretes hormones, which have an influence on many of the most important organs in the body including the heart, kidney, brain, and skin.
The thyroid plays a major role in:
- How fast or slow the metabolism works (metabolism turns food into energy)
- The body’s sensitivity to hormones
- Growth and rate of function for many systems in the body
- Electrolyte transportation
- Cellular protein synthesis
- Cardiac and muscle activity
- Bone repair
- Turning beta-carotene into vitamin A
- Growth during childhood
- Mental processes
- Libido (for both men and women)
- Menstrual cycles
An easy way to understand how the thyroid works is to think of it like a car engine that decides how fast or slow your body operates. Similar to how a car engine generates energy for a car to move at a particular speed, your thyroid gland stimulates cells to perform bodily functions at a specific rate.
What fuels the thyroid?
The thyroid gland is primarily fueled by Iodine, an essential chemical element found in certain foods we eat. This element can be found in:
- Sea vegetables
- Navy beans
- Raw, organic cheese
- Iodine supplements
Once digested, your thyroid takes Iodine from the bloodstream and uses it to make two types of thyroid hormones – triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). T3 is the most bioactive version while T4 is considered the less active, storage form. Surprisingly, the thyroid creates about 20 times more T4 than T3.
On the other hand, how much T3 and T4 are produced and released is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the pituitary gland.
What happens when the thyroid isn’t functioning properly
According to The American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12 percent of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
When your thyroid isn’t working properly, it releases too little or too many hormones. Ultimately, this can lead to a number of symptoms and if left untreated, serious diseases.
The most common forms of thyroid disease are:
- Graves disease – The autoimmune form of Hyperthyroidism, which causes the thyroid gland to produce an excess of thyroid hormone.
- Hyperthyroidism – Overactive thyroid, which produces an excess of T3 and T4.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – The autoimmune form of Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which affects 1-2 percent of the US population with the majority being women. What many don’t realize is that this is an autoimmune condition, whereas the immune system begins attacking itself.
- Hypothyroidism – Underactive thyroid, which produces inadequate amounts of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, nutrition iodine deficiency, heavy metal toxicity and dysbiosis.
Signs your thyroid isn’t working well
Because your thyroid is involved in so many bodily functions, there are a lot of symptoms that potentially point to thyroid distress. Some of the most common are:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Unexplainable weight gain
- Swollen face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches
- Thinning hair
- Impaired memory
What is causing so many people to suffer with a thyroid disorder?
This happens when the immune system creates antibodies that attack your own tissues, probably due to chronic inflammation. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Celiac disease, gluten, and wheat
Food sensitivities and gluten are considered one of the most common causes of thyroid dysfunction. Meaning, many people’s thyroid issues are caused by dietary-triggered inflammation and autoimmunity to wheat and gluten.
Iodine (found in sea salt and seafood) is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. When people get too much or not enough it can cause hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Unfortunately, soy is not the health food that it has been made out to be by agricultural companies. Soy is a goitrogen and may hinder thyroid hormone absorption. There are many studies now about soy’s connection to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system weakness, cognitive decline and more.
The role of vitamin deficiency and thyroid disorders
Deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals can lead to thyroid deficiency and if you have a thyroid deficiency, the vitamins you are consuming aren’t being absorbed and used properly.
Hence, it’s important that we all make sure to get sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, either by consuming plenty of nutrient-dense foods containing or by using quality supplements in addition to a healthy diet.
Here are some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies:
Vitamin A (not carotene)
Vitamin A deficiency can stop T3 from activating your cells to increase metabolic rate and energy levels. Your thyroid cannot function effectively without adequate amounts of this vitamin.
The thyroid needs this essential vitamin to stay healthy. Long-term deficiency causes the thyroid gland to produce too much hormone. People with an overactive thyroid often need extra Vitamin C, as this is actually drained from the tissues in their bodies.
It has been discovered that when people with an overactive thyroid take this vitamin, it prevents the usual rapid excretion of calcium and osteoporosis can be avoided. A large majority of the population tend to be deficient in this vitamin, even in sunny climates! Supplementation is a great idea for many people to get the required amount of this vitamin.
Deficiency of this vitamin encourages the thyroid gland to secrete too much hormone, as well as too little TSH by the pituitary gland. However, consult your doctor as some believe that supplementing with vitamin E should be avoided in cases of autoimmunity.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the population are deficient in this mineral, which is so important to numerous functions in your body, including sleep, stress and you guessed it, optimal thyroid function.
This is a vital component of the enzyme that converts T4 to T3 in the body. Without it, T3 cannot be produced in the right amounts and organs will function as if they were hypothyroid (underactive) even though blood test levels are normal.
Research has shown that both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism result in zinc deficiency. Also, it plays a role in the functioning of the immune system. Low zinc levels have been found in obese people. Zinc is required to convert T4 into T3, so this mineral is a must.
Addressing thyroid disorders
Conventional approaches to hyperthyroidism include anti-thyroid medications, beta-blockers, radioactive iodine, and surgery. Natural approaches are many and often boil down to one thing – diet.
Try to consume more organic foods, unprocessed foods and plenty of whole foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and try to reduce junk food, artificial sweeteners and colors, trans fats and chemical ingredients.
Moreover, avoiding goitrogenic foods may be helpful, as would removing fluoride, bromine, and chlorine from water via a high-quality filtration system.
Some goitrogenic foods include cruciferous vegetables, radishes, spinach, strawberries, peaches, soy-based foods, and peanuts. Reducing dietary gluten and dairy casein may also help protect the thyroid gland in sensitive individuals.
Superfood for your thyroid gland – Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that has been studied extensively for its healing influence on the human body – particularly the thyroid gland.
Adaptogens (like ashwagandha) help to modulate the endocrine system. In other words, they bring your body back into balance from one extreme or another. You can take adaptogens for a hyperactive thyroid or a hypothyroid.
According to a 20-day study performed on mice, supplementation with Ashwagandha increased T4 levels significantly, making it beneficial for the sluggish thyroid.
You can find ashwagandha most commonly in supplement form.
If you think you’ve got some symptoms pointing to a thyroid disorder, it would be good to chat with a doctor and look into getting tested. Your thyroid is crucial to proper body function and should not be ignored.