Are you experiencing fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, constipation, depression, or digestive issues?
These symptoms are often associated with a poorly functioning thyroid. However, the root of the problem may not actually be the thyroid itself. There are other glands in the endocrine system that could also be causing some of these unwanted symptoms.
But for now, let’s take a deeper look at the thyroid.
The Master Gland
The thyroid gland is located in your neck and is considered by many to be the master gland, and for good reason. This butterfly-shaped gland is responsible for producing thyroid hormones and even plays a role in calcium metabolism. As part of the endocrine system, it relies on the other glands to produce their hormones in order to keep you healthy.
But when one gland isn’t functioning properly, the others are affected as well. Kind of like when one member of the family is down sick and unable to perform their normal activities. This puts added stress on the other members of the family, requiring them to pick up the slack. And in the process, they are also unable to complete their day-to-day responsibilities. And so it continues until everyone is back to being fully functional.
Factors That Affect the Thyroid
If we want to get the family of glands back to work, we need to look at the outside factors that may be causing them to go offline. One of the most common reasons the thyroid may become dysfunctional is chronic stress. This is the type of stress that just doesn’t go away. It could be due to a strained relationship, heavy workload or job stress, taking care of aging parents, and so on. Experiencing occasional or temporary stress is not the problem – in fact, a little bit of stress is actually good for you. It’s the unrelenting, heavy chest, feels-like-you’re-never-going-to-make-it kind of stress that will bring your thyroid to its knees.
Hormone imbalances can also wreak havoc on your thyroid, interfering with optimal thyroid hormone production and blocking key cell receptors. This can lead to fatigue, loss of libido, mood changes, irregular cycles, or even infertility.
Essential Nutrients for Your Thyroid
The thyroid is no different than any other system of the body – it requires certain nutrients to function well and produce those much-needed hormones for the rest of the body.
Let’s take a look at four of the most important nutrients your thyroid needs to do its job.
Thyroid hormones are made from iodine and tyrosine (more on that one in a second). Because iodine is so important for thyroid hormone production, the body has a built-in process to recycle as much iodine as possible just in case you don’t get enough in your diet.
In nature, iodine is found in micrograms which means the body needs very little of it. This is likely why it is so efficient in recycling it. So, in keeping with the way nature provides it, the best sources for iodine are clean fish (not farmed or obtained from toxic waters) and/or Celtic Sea Salt. Consuming wild-caught fish two to three times per week will provide enough iodine to keep your thyroid happy. But if you’re not a fish lover or you don’t get it that often, adding Celtic Sea Salt to your food can be another easy way to ensure your iodine levels are adequate.
Selenium and Zinc
These minerals have very little in common when it comes to prevalence in the body but each of them has their own stake in the ground when it comes to protecting and improving thyroid function.
Selenium is another micromineral, just like iodine, which means you don’t need much. Not only does it play an important role in the thyroid but it’s also an important antioxidant in the body. One of the best sources of selenium is none other than Brazil nuts. Just two or three per day will provide enough selenium to keep your thyroid happy.
Zinc however, is a bit different. Responsible for over 500 enzyme reactions in the body, zinc is a key player when it comes to maintaining your health. It is needed for immune function, skin health, and plays an important role in protein synthesis and DNA replication. Mothers and growing babies need lots of zinc as well.
One of the most concentrated food sources of zinc is… drum roll… oysters! But if you’re not an oyster fan, you can always opt for a few pumpkin seeds instead.
Technically, tyrosine is an amino acid, not a nutrient. But its role in the thyroid is an essential one.
Thyroid hormones are built in a container known as the lumen or colloid. Here, the thyroid gathers up iodine atoms and attaches them to tyrosine, creating the building blocks for T4 and T3. Four iodine atoms collectively form T4 and three iodine atoms collectively form T3. Super simple!
The Role of the Liver
Once these thyroid hormones have been created, they are stored in the colloid until needed. The thyroid produces 95% T4 with only 5% being T3. But here’s the catch: T4 is largely inactive meaning it needs to be converted into the active form T3 in order to do its job. Kind of confusing, I know. But hang with me just a bit longer.
Once the thyroid hormones (largely T4) are released into the bloodstream, most of them head for the liver to be converted into T3. This is the thyroid hormone your cells need, crave, and love to have hanging around. T3 gives you energy, helps with your digestion, keeps your weight stable, your skin soft, and makes your brain happy. Sounds good, right?
But when the liver isn’t working well, T4 is unable to readily convert into T3 which can lead to symptoms of thyroid hormone deficiency. When this happens, the best thing to do is to provide support for the liver to get it working better. Once that happens, the T4 to T3 conversion can occur without restriction and your body and brain will feel much better.
There May Not Be Anything Wrong With the Thyroid
Western medicine assumes that if TSH, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, is high, you automatically need replacement thyroid hormones when in fact, it may not be your thyroid that’s the problem. It could very likely be the liver that’s causing the thyroid hormone disruption.
Simply providing T4 in the form of medications like Synthroid is not always the solution for low thyroid hormones. While it might make you feel better in the short term, prescription thyroid hormones may not effectively address the real underlying issue, which could be the liver, and they’ll leave you feeling the same as you were before.
Finding Someone Who Can Help
If you suspect that your thyroid is not working as it should, the best thing to do is find a practitioner who takes a holistic approach to supporting the thyroid. They can order a comprehensive blood test to assess TSH, T4, and T3 levels to determine if the problem lies with the thyroid itself or in the liver.
Once your practitioner has evaluated your blood tests and obtained a comprehensive health history, they can work with you to create a personalized plan to address the root cause of your symptoms and improve your overall health. Investing the time and effort into maximizing your own health will pay off in the long run. Don't waste time on Dr. Google, trying to self-diagnose or looking at unreliable sources. The best option is to find a knowledgeable practitioner to help you feel your best again.