The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front of the neck. Although small, this gland has an immense impact on the human body! The hormones produced by the thyroid gland, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), regulate the basal metabolism of the body, protein synthesis, and growth and maturation. Interestingly enough, adequate amounts of thyroid hormone also permit your body to respond to catecholamines such as epinephrine.
When the thyroid gland is working well, it is one of the most cherished little organs, humming along and keeping our bodies operational. When it is not it can wreak havoc, as there are receptors for thyroid hormones on almost every cell of the body! It is estimated that approximately 200 million worldwide are struggling with a thyroid disorder. In Canada, 1 in 10 people are affected and whatsmore is that 50% of these people go undiagnosed! (Let’s move the needle on that together ladies!)
When evolving in my medical education I once heard the thyroid gland referred to as the canary in the coal mine. This always stuck with me because it could not be more true, thyroid function is a reflection of whole body health. If you eat too few calories, too many of the wrong calories, too few carbs; if you stress too much, have hormone imbalances, a toxic burden, nutrient deficiencies, gut dysbiosis or brain signalling issues… then you could have a thyroid issue! And this is just the short list, essentially almost everyone is susceptible.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Weight gain or weight loss resistance
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
- Constipation / digestive disorders
- Depression, mood disorders
- Brain fog
- Joint pain
- Menstrual complaints (of all kinds!)- both the uterus and the ovaries are VERY metabolically demanding tissues, and if your metabolism isn’t working properly, then neither are they!
Types of Hypothyroidism
One of the main causes of hypothyroidism in the Western world, and anywhere where iodine is supplemented, is Hashimotos, which is actually an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland. 90-97% of cases of hypothyroid are not from a ‘sluggish thyroid’, it is in fact your immune system causing the attack. Although many of the above listed symptoms are seen in Hashimotos it is important to know that due to the thyroid attack there can be periods of time where increased amounts of thyroid hormone are dumped into your system (think of it as if you were puncturing a water balloon full of thyroid hormone). During these periods of time anxiety, palpitations, panic attacks, sweating, feelings of increased heat etc can occur, which can confuse and concern people!
When treating conditions of the thyroid it is often necessary to treat it similar to an autoimmune disease. The removal of inflammatory foods, modulation of the immune system and reduction of oxidative stress are critical. Additionally, other pieces of the puzzle must be investigated in each individual’s specific case.
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Food sensitivities and systemic inflammation
- Frank or stealth infections
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction
- Toxic burden
- Cortisol imbalances, or pituitary/hypothalamic dysfunction
Overall, what is critical to note is that there is not a one-way approach to treating the thyroid! One person may not produce enough hormone, another may not convert between T4 and T3, and yet another may over convert into reverse T3… and the list goes on! The thyroid gland and its function are fascinating, and in my opinion more thorough work ups for the thyroid need to be completed when someone is experiencing fatigue. TSH, and even T3/T4 don’t always tell us the full story!
The first step that anyone can take in their journey is to ensure their diet is nutrient rich and thyroid healthy!