The Thyroid

The Thyroid

The thyroid is a complicated gland...

The Thyroid

The thyroid is a complicated gland situated in the neck and is responsible for many mechanisms in the body. Every cell in the body depends upon the two thyroid hormones, thyroxine (referred to as T4) and triiodothyronine (known as T3) for regulation of their metabolism. They are made from one small protein molecule called Tyrosine (amino acid) and either 3 or 4 molecules of Iodine hence the name T3 and T4. Metabolism is the conversion of oxygen and calories to energy, and means all the physical and chemical processes by which the living body is maintained. In other words the thyroid hormones influence every system, every chemical reaction and the activity of every organ and muscle in the body. So it’s no wonder that if it is over working (hyperthyroidism), or under working (hypothyroidism), you are going to feel really unwell.


If hormones are under-active the signs and symptoms you may experience are; slow pulse, fatigue, loss of energy and lethargy, hoarse voice, slowed speech, goitre (swelling of the neck caused by swollen thyroid gland), sensitivity to cold, weight gain, constipation, coarse hair, hair loss, infertility, numbness in fingers or hands, confusion, depression, dementia, headaches, menstrual problems. In children; slowed growth, delayed teething, and slow mental development. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the thyroid, reducing thyroid hormones, and is a leading cause of hypothyroidism. The disease affects both sexes and all ages, but is most common in women over age 50. Unfortunately, a higher percentage of Hashimoto’s patients may also develop additional conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anaemia, adrenal insufficiency, lupus or other autoimmune disorders.

If there is an excess of thyroid hormones (less than 1% of the population) you may experience these symptoms; fatigue or muscle weakness, hand tremors, mood swings, nervousness or anxiety, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, skin dryness, insomnia, weight loss, increased frequency of bowel movements, menstrual problems. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease. In this disorder, the body makes an antibody (a protein produced by the body to protect against a virus or bacteria) called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that causes the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease can be hereditary and is more commonly found in women.
How does it work?

T4 is converted into the more active T3 by an enzyme that is dependent upon the minerals selenium and zinc. The hypothalamus and Pituitary gland work together on a feedback mechanism to produce thyroid hormones. On sensing that the levels of thyroid hormones are low, the hypothalamus sends a message to the pituitary gland which then releases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), to produce more T4 and T3. There is also a back up system where by if the body needs to conserve energy, and get rid of unneeded T4, it reverts T4 to reverse T3 (RT3). This is absolutely normal, however, if this is particularly high, it could mean other issues, and will show signs of hypothyroidism. When the medical profession tests for the thyroid they usually only measure the levels of TSH and T4, therefore it is vital to do the extra laboratory tests which include RT3 and free T3 to get a full picture of what’s going on. Examples of the body conserving energy and therefore contributing to an extremely high RT3 are emotional, physical, or biological stress, such as being chronically or acutely sick (chronic inflammation or the flu, pneumonia, etc), after surgery, after a car accident or any acute injury, chronic stress causing high cortisol, being exposed to an extremely cold environment, diabetes (1), ageing, or even being on drugs such as beta blockers (2). Also Starvation/severe calorie restriction is known to raise RT3 (3), Lyme disease, Cirrhosis of the liver or Renal Failure (4).
Action Plan

  • Ensure liver is at full capacity and decrease any toxic burden on the body.
  • Decrease inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids are good for decreasing inflammation but ensure that you check with your GP if you are any blood thinning medications.
  • Aid proper bowel elimination.
  • Test for selenium and zinc. Good food sources for selenium are Brazil nuts, tuna, seafood and brown rice. Great food sources of zinc are cooked oysters, prawns, oats, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and Brazil nuts.
  • Optimum Vitamin D levels. Especially if suspected autoimmune diseases.
  • Avoid fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated water as they compete with iodine for absorption.
  • Support gut environment.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Balance blood sugar levels.
  • With hypothyroidism avoid foods that interfere with thyroid function, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soybeans, peanuts, linseed, pine nuts, millet, cassava, and mustard greens.
  • Eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, such as whole grains (if no allergy), fresh vegetables, and sea vegetables.
  • If you take thyroid hormone medication, talk to your doctor before eating soy products. There is some evidence soy may interfere with absorption of thyroid hormone.
  • Taking iron supplements may interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone medication, so ask your doctor before taking iron.
  • Eat foods high in antioxidants, including fruits (such as blueberries and tomatoes) and vegetables (such as squash and red peppers).
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Talk to your doctor before increasing caffeine or decreasing alcohol intake, as caffeine impacts several conditions and medications.
  • L-tyrosine. The thyroid gland combines tyrosine to make thyroid hormone. If you are taking prescription thyroid hormone medication, you should never take L-tyrosine without direction from your doctor. Do not take L-tyrosine if you have high blood pressure or have symptoms of mania. However adding avocado, banana, pumpkin, sesame seeds and cashew nuts to your diet will add a welcomed source of tyrosine.
  • Iodine. Do not take an iodine supplement unless your doctor tells you to. Iodine is only effective when hypothyroidism is caused by iodine deficiency, which is rare in the developed world. And too much iodine can actually cause hypothyroidism.
    However, adding regular iodine food sources to your diet such as kelp, shellfish, sardines, radish, onions, pineapple and egg whites will be beneficial.

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