The importance of a healthy thyroid
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
A topic that has come up with women I have done health histories with, is thyroid health- hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. And since it's something that affects many people, especially women, it's worth to look deeper into thyroid and understand what can you do to better manage your symptoms.
In this post I will go through the following:
Metabolism, production and conversion of thyroid hormone
Other practices for thyroid health
Foods to consume for healthy thyroid
Foods to avoid to better support your thyroid
Essential oils for thyroid health
Thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat, just behind the Adam's apple. The normal size of thyroid is two thumbs held together in the shape of a V. There can be enlargements- when thyroid gland is ineffective making thyroid hormones, when it's inflamed and if there are tumours.
Thyroid is your body's thermostat, regulating continuously temperature, your hunger levels, energy expenditure. Your thyroid is connected to the way every organ in your body functions- it releases and controls thyroid hormones that control your body's metabolism (a process where food you take into your body is transformed into energy). There are thyroid hormone receptor sites on every single cell in your body. If there is an imbalance in thyroid hormone production or metabolism, it's going to affect your whole body.
Thyroid conditions go often unnoticed and un-diagnosed as many people experiencing symptoms of unhealthy thyroid don't actually know they have an issue with thyroid.
How does metabolism, production and conversion of thyroid hormone work?
Too often there is too much focus going on the endocrine system itself having an issue. We need to understand that everything in the body is so interconnected. The actual metabolism of thyroid hormone, the production and the conversion of it happens throughout our body.
The process starts up in our brain, where our hypothalamus and our pituitary gland are in communication from our brain down to our thyroid. TSH is our thyroid stimulating hormone and it is our brain telling our thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. Our brain is sensing what's going on with the rest of our body. Using a lot of different nutrients and cofactors our thyroid is then producing thyroid hormone- T3 and T4. T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone- it gets used up by the body right away.
When our thyroid is releasing thyroid hormone, it's only releasing around 7% active form of T3. 93% of the thyroid hormone coming out of our thyroid is T4. T4 starts to travel around our body - where it gets converted into T3 in different parts of the body- like in your liver and in your gut.
You can see that different parts of your body are involved in thyroid metabolism, so if any of these organs are sluggish- if our gut is not working optimally, if our liver is not working well- that maybe part of the issue if you are receiving too little or too much thyroid hormone.
Hypothyroidism- an under active thyroid
Hypothyroidism is by far the most common type of thyroid problem. 90% of hypothyroid cases are undiagnosed. 1 in 8 women develop hypothyroidism in their lifetime and it's also more common amongst women than in men. With hypothyroidism, your body literally slows down and you can experience the below symptoms:
Moodiness and anxiety
Muscle weakness or aches and pains
Trouble concentrating and forgetfulness
Dry skin and hair
Toes and fingers feel cold
Women are also much more likely than men to develop auto-immune conditions of thyroid. With hypothyroid your body is not producing enough of the thyroid hormones (T3, T4 or both). The most common reason for hypothyroidism is a condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It's when your body mistakenly attacks your thyroid, therefore affecting its function. Hashimoto's thyroiditis happens due to an autoimmune response (where your body is attacking your own tissue)- therefore interfering with normal production of hormones. What often causes Hashimoto's disease are high amount of stress, low immune function, nutrient deficiencies, toxicity as well as iodine deficiency.
Hyperthyroidism- an overactive thyroid
Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. It's when body produces too much of thyroid hormones. The most common cause for hyperthyroidism is Graves' disease, but taking too much T4 thyroid hormone in tablet form or lumps on the thyroid can also cause hyperthyroidism.
Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
Rapid and irregular heartbeat
Weight loss though you are eating the same amount
Anxiety, irritability, nervousness
Increased sensitivity to heat
Tremor in your hands
More frequent bowel movements
Difficulties with sleeping
An enlarged thyroid gland (swelling at the base of your neck
Comprehensive testing of thyroid
There are different tests and scans used for understanding if your thyroid is functioning as it should. Doctors use visual testing of thyroid- to see if it's enlarged or if it's palpating. Also doctors get you to do blood tests. You can also order thyroid panel test from a lab (like Synlab in Estonia). Doctors can also perform ultrasound and a radioactive iodine uptake scan.
Functional medicine doesn't only look at thyroid, but also adrenal health, infections, pathogens and toxins in the body.
When checking thyroid health, it's important to run a full thyroid panel:
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)- your pituitary gland in the head produces TSH, which stimulates the production of T3 and T4
Total T3 and T4 (T4 levels in your body trigger the pituitary gland either to produce more or stop producing TSH. T3 is converted from T4 by the liver and other tissues.
Free T3 and free T4 (free T4 indicates how well your thyroid is functioning). Having appropriate balance between the free T3 and free T4 shows the function of thyroid as well as how good is the communication between the thyroid and pituitary gland
Reverse T3 (this inactive form of T3 is produced when your body conserves energy while converting T4 to T3). If you have low levels, it could develop into hypothyroidism. If you have too much, then it can keep your cells in the body to receive the necessary amount of T3
T3 uptake- how well your body is processing T3 and putting it into various systems
TPO and TGAb antibodies- if you have one or both of these present, it could indicate that you have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (both of these antibodies are created, when your body sees the thyroid and its hormones as invaders and starts to attack them.
TBG (Thyroid Binding Globulin)- this protein is responsible for circulating thyroid hormone through different body's systems. It shows how well your body is able to transform T4 to T3 and put it to use.
A low level of T3 and a high level of TSH could indicate that you have an under-active thyroid (hypothyroid). High levels of T3 and very low levels of TSH can mean your thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroid).
Foods to consume for healthy thyroid
Wild-caught fish to get good omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, herring, sardines)
Seaweeds, for their good iodine content (dulse, nori, kelp)
Selenium rich foods (seaweed, seafood, eggs, fish, Brazil nuts, liver, lima peans, turkey, chicken, yoghurt, spinach, bananas, raw cheese)
Zinc rich foods (shellfish, red meat, poultry, legumes, seeds (pumpkin, hemp, flax), nuts, cheese, eggs, quinoa, rice, oats, potatoes, green beans
B-vitamin rich foods (beef, liver, dark green vegetables, cheese, fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), oysters, eggs etc
Sprouted seeds, like flax, chia and hemp seeds
Fibre rich foods, like seeds, berries, vegetables, beans
Tyrosine rich foods (dark poultry, wild-caught fish)
Foods to avoid to support thyroid health
Gluten containing foods (gluten containing grains contain a protein called gliadin that your body can mistake for a thyroid molecule). If your gut is leaky and gliadin gets into your bloodstream, your body sees it as an intruder and starts to produce antibodies to it. And when the antibodies are formed, they can attack your thyroid gland. Gluten can disrupt also the communication between your gut, your brain and thyroid.
Dairy (conventional dairy, where animals are raised in the factory and often fed antibiotics). If you can tolerate dairy, better to consume organic raw dairy, but moderately. If your body is inflamed and you are struggling with different aches and experiencing unhealthy thyroid symptoms, it could be good to try to be without dairy to see how your body feels. You can consume nut milks (almond, coconut, cashew ) instead of cow's or goat's milk. Make sure you read labels that there are no unwanted ingredients. Remember, that leafy greens, seeds and vegetables are full of calcium.
Processed sugar and sweeteners - for good thyroid health it's important to keep a good blood sugar levels (spikes and dips stress your body, raise your cortisol levels and cortisol slows down thyroid).
Processed oils- vegetable oils- canola, safflower, sunflower, which are unstable and can cause inflammation in the body). And margarine
Coffee- it is a 'drug in a mug' and a stress-enhancer, especially if your daily life is already stressful. When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, your thyroid function is lowered by pituitary gland because it is in survival mode.
Other things to do to support thyroid health
Get adequate amount of sleep (7-9 hours per night)
Practice meditation and breathing
Incorporate regular exercise and movement into your day
Consider also using adaptogens, like ashwagandha
Review your personal care and cleaning products to make sure you are not putting unnecessary toxins on your body or inhale them in your home
Incorporate self-care in your daily life
Essential oils for thyroid support
It's also good to use essential oils to support your thyroid. You can create a below mix in a roller bottle:
5 drops of peppermint
5 drops of lavender
5 drops of myrrh
5 drops of lemongrass
5 drops of frankincense
5 drops of clove
Fill the bottle with a carrier oil of your choice (fractionated coconut, jojoba)
Mix it together and roll directly on your thyroid
A detox bath:
Fill your bathtub with water
Add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
Add 1/2 cup of baking soda
Add 1/2 cup of sea salt
Add 1/2 cup of Epsom salt or magnesium flakes
Add a 5 drops of frankincense, grapefruit essential oils and 2 drops of rosemary essential oil
Soak in the bath for 20 minutes
I hope the above gives you a good overview how you can better take care of your thyroid.
If you need support and guidance how to reduce inflammation in your body that affects also thyroid health, don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com for health coaching.