Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat. Because it has a role in metabolism, it can have far-reaching symptoms involving temperature control, energy output and hunger.
Your pituitary makes a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and this messages your thyroid gland to make more or less thyroid hormone. The thyroid mainly makes thyroxine (T4), which is not very active until your body converts it to triiodothyronine (T3), which more potent. Much of this conversion happens within the liver.
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Symptoms may include:
– fatigue that is persistent
– brainfog or trouble concentrating
– low motivation to exercise
– weight gain (even when eating well)
– Intolerance to cold
– dry hair and skin, hair loss, eyebrow loss
– muscle weakness
– fertility issues
Over active thyroid (hyperthroidism)
Symptoms may include:
– anxiety or nervousness
– weight loss
– eyes that appear large or can bulge
– increased sweating
– palpitations (racing heart)
– increase in bowel movements
What can cause an over or underactive thyroid?
An underactive thyroid can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, particularly iodine deficiency, however selenium, zinc, iron and vitamin D all have a role to play in making or converting T4 to T3 and facilitating the use of T3 within the cell. An underactive thyroid can also be caused by inflammation..
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune form of thyroiditis. In the early stages of the disorder people may present with hyperthyroidism, but as the disease progresses the damaged thyroid tissue is unable to produce sufficient thyroid hormone and hypothyroidism develops. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the most common cause of clinical hypothyroidism in Australia.
Causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism), nodules (lumps) in the thyroid or taking too much thyroxine in tablet form.
What contributes to poor thyroid function?
Many of the risk factors for thyroid health are the same as many other conditions:
- Nutritional deficiencies – especially iodine, selenium and zinc
- High processed food diets, high in sugars, caffeine and alcohol
- Long standing emotional stress which alters the way that the HPA axis (hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal axis) functions, ultimately allows stress to impact thyroid function. Stress, via many mechanisms, also has a big impact on the immune system and thyroid disease is often driven by an overactive immune system which can create autoimmune thyroiditis. Stress can also push the production of T4 to something called reverse T3 (RT3). RT3 is like T3 but blocks receptor sites so that T3 cannot work on the cell – this can create symptoms of hypothyroidism.
- Gut health -leaky gut is a condition where there is increased intestinal permeability, this can increase systemic inflammation, impact on nutrient absorption and immune function.
- Genetic factors – there is a tendency for hypothyroidism to run in families.
- Pregnancy and other hormonal changes
- Other autoimmune conditions. e.g. coeliac disease.
- Environmental toxins
What to do?
First be aware that there can be more than one reason for a dysregulated thyroid picture, so you may need to work with more than one practitioner to correct your thyroid dysfunction. For example: a naturopath to help with your gut and environment, a psychologist/counsellor to help with your stress, an exercise physiologist to help with movement or a nutritionist to help with your diet. Whoever you need in your team, make sure that they all communicate well with your primary GP so that you are getting the best possible care and everyone is on the same page.