What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is part of the endocrine or hormonal system, which includes the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals, parathyroid, pancreas, gonads, and gut. These components work together in harmony to maintain balance within the body.
Because the thyroid gland serves as the body’s thermostat — continuously regulating crucial factors such as temperature, hunger levels and energy expenditure — symptoms of thyroid problems can affect nearly the whole body.
The thyroid gland controls many aspects of metabolism, including regulating the production of various hormones that enable the body to carry out vital functions, such as digestion and reproduction.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone is produced by the pituitary gland in order to regulate the production of hormones released by the thyroid. Sometimes the thyroid winds up pumping out either too much or too little of certain hormones. Either scenario is problematic for things like body weight regulation and mood stabilisation.
Two of the most important thyroid hormones are T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These two hormones, once released, travel through the body via the bloodstream, converting oxygen and calories into energy. This energy is crucial for cognitive functions, mood regulation, digestive processes, a healthy sex drive and much more.
There are two main categories of thyroid problems
Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) and Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid)
Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)
Hypothyroidism is by far the more common type of thyroid problem. Most people with hypothyroidism are women, especially those who are of reproductive age or middle-aged. Most women are diagnosed between the ages of 30 to 50 years.
In the case of hypothyroidism, your body literally slows down. This is why symptoms like weight gain, brain fog, and sluggishness are common.
These occur due to the thyroid not producing enough of the thyroid hormones T3 or T4 (or both). It can also cause elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone levels.
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Hyperthyroidism causes the opposite effect of hypothyroidism. It almost speeds up one’s metabolism to the point that the heart may beat faster, and the person may have a hard time eating properly or keeping enough weight on.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body has too much of the needed thyroid hormones.
What causes thyroid problems?
Many factors can contribute to thyroid problems, ranging from genetics to poor lifestyle habits — like skipping sleep, exercising too much or too little, and eating too many inflammatory foods.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
In the U.S., by far the most common reason for hypothyroidism is a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body mistakenly attacks the thyroid and destroys cells, thus compromising its functioning. It’s also sometimes called chronic autoimmune thyroiditis and chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s is a type of autoimmune disorder. It takes place due to an autoimmune response (the body attacking its own tissue with T and B cells), interfering with the normal production of hormones. It affects women seven to 10 times more often than men due to chromosomal susceptibilities.
The prevalence of hyperthyroidism in the U.S. is approximately 1.2% of adults. Graves’ disease is the No. 1 cause of hyperthyroidism, but lumps on the thyroid (having a goitre) or taking too much T4 in tablet form can also contribute to hyperthyroidism. The underlying cause is the excess production of thyroid hormone.
Causes of Hashimoto’s disease can include high amounts of stress, nutrient deficiencies (such as low iodine), low immune function (immunosuppression) and toxicity. However, on a worldwide level, an iodine deficiency in the diet is the No. 1 cause of hypothyroidism.
Some of the more common signs of thyroid problems;
- Low energy
- Thinning hair
- Slow heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in libido
- Weight changes
Several nutrients, such as iodine and selenium, play an important yet often overlooked role in regard to the thyroid functioning properly. The thyroid converts iodine and amino acids (the “building blocks” of proteins) to the hormones T3 and T4.
Research shows that some of the most significant known risk factors for thyroid problems include:
- Deficiencies in three important nutrients that support healthy thyroid function — iodine, selenium and zinc deficiency
- Poor diet high in processed foods with things like sugar or unhealthy fats. Too much caffeine and/or alcohol can also contribute to emotional stress and poor gut health.
Either too much or too little iodine can disrupt thyroid function. The same can happen when someone lacks B vitamins, zinc and other minerals, including electrolytes.
Additionally, problems absorbing and converting nutrients from the diet can make matters worse. Leaky gut syndrome (also referred to as intestinal permeability) is one contributing cause of symptoms of thyroid problems since it raises inflammation levels and interferes with certain metabolic processes.
When you’re under a lot of physical or emotional stress — such as feeling very anxious, overworked, fatigued, angry or going through a traumatic experience — your body may remain in a “fight-or-flight” mode where stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are elevated.
This has negative effects like narrowing of blood vessels, increased muscular tension and blood pressure, and release of inflammatory proteins and antibodies that can suppress immune function and damage the adrenal/thyroid glands. This is one reason why people with thyroid problems often experience hormonal changes related to lowered libido, fertility problems, mood swings, etc.
To keep the endocrine glands from becoming overloaded, it’s important to take stress seriously and tackle the root causes of mental strain.
Natural remedies include improving your diet, reversing deficiencies, reducing stress, staying active and avoiding toxicity/chemical exposure.
For advice on Thyroid Health and further support, speak with a practitioner at Hills Natural Health.
We offer 100% personalised treatments to support you the best we can. For further advice, speak with a Hills Natural Health Centre practitioner.