Your Thyroid: How Much Do You Really Know About It?
The thyroid regulates the speed and function of your body. Every cell has receptors for thyroidal hormones. They affect our brain chemistry, digestion, heart, reproductive health, fat metabolism, energy levels and our ability to cope with stress. If this gland is under strain, you may experience many possible symptoms, including weight gain, hair loss and exhaustion.
Dr Leila Sadien, an integrative medicine GP from Renascent Health in Cape Town, explains:
“Stimulated by the pituitary gland, the thyroid makes thyroid hormones. Too much can cause symptoms of increased metabolism, diarrhoea, anxiety, headache and weight loss. Too little can cause the opposite: weight gain, water retention, constipation, etc.
“This gland is also responsible for how we experience temperature, so [too much activity] causes intolerance to heat, and [too little] an intolerance to cold. The thyroid usually becomes dysfunctional because of autoimmune disease or stress, and treatment is usually centered around treating this, while assisting the patient with thyroid supplementation.”
Adds Kirby Hendricks, registered dietician from Alex Royal Dietetics in Cape Town: “The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. Its function is to take iodine, found in many foods we eat (mainly fish, seafood and seaweed), and convert it into hormones known as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).” The liver is in charge of converting about 60% of the thyroid hormone T4 into T3, but it needs selenium (found in Brazil nuts) and zinc (found in seafood) for this conversion process. The gut also plays a role in this conversion. Therefore, a healthy liver and gut are an essential part of thyroid balance.
If the body is depleted from stress or nutrient deficiency, the brain tells the this gland to slow down to reserve dwindling resources. Even if the pituitary gland signals the thyroid to make hormones, it might not be able to make enough T4 and T3. But most of the time, an underactive thyroid is actually caused by an autoimmune disease.
Studies show that 90% of people with hypothyroidism are in fact suffering from an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In this condition, the body has a case of mistaken identity and produces immune antibodies that attack thyroid tissue. Over time, this immune attack results in a decrease in thyroid hormones. Hashimoto’s is one of the most common autoimmune disorders and affects mainly women.
Leaky gut syndrome is the foundation of autoimmune diseases. The journal Annals of Medicine published a research study on autoimmunity, coeliac disorder and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) in 2009. The study found that the most frequent disorder linked to IBS and coeliac disorder was Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
In Hashimoto’s, gluten leaks through damaged intestinal walls in the gut and arrives in the bloodstream. The immune system launches an attack on the gluten proteins, which results in a gluten allergy.
Scientists have found that the molecular structure of a protein in gluten is incredibly close to the structure of proteins in the thyroidal tissue. Therefore, the antibodies that are created for the gluten begin to attack the thyroid. If you have Hashimoto’s, taking any form of iodine will aggravate the condition until you have reversed the autoimmunity. Stress is another contributing factor.
An overactive thyroid releases high amounts of T4 and T3 into the bloodstream, causing the metabolism to speed up too much. Extra nodules of tissue growing on this gland, known as toxic multinodular goitre, can cause an overactive thyroid. These nodules can stimulate this gland without the use of thyroid-stimulating hormones.
Certain medications can also speed up the thyroid, or an autoimmune condition such as Graves’ disease can be the cause. According to Dr Amy Myers, an international expert in Graves’ disease from the United States, Graves’ is also triggered by leaky gut syndrome and a gluten allergy. She also writes that infections such as herpes and Epstein-Barr virus, as well as mercury toxicity, have been implicated.
Did you know?
The Modern Family-actress Sofia Vergara is one of numerous people suffering from hyperthyroidism. Click here to discover her tips on how to live with this condition.
What to eat
Hendricks advises a diet rich in selenium, zinc, antioxidants and B vitamins for thyroid health. This can be achieved by including Brazil nuts, seeds, broccoli, ginger root, citrus fruit and berries.
This particular little gland may be complex in its actions, but simply keeping the gut healthy appears to be a vital component in keeping it happy and healthy.