Often my clients ask me whether their thyroid could be causing their weight gain, or contributing to their struggle to lose weight or be the root cause as to why they feel tired and moody. The answer to all these questions is "yes". But it is a little more intricate than this. Let's find out why.
Your thyroid is in charge of producing several thyroid hormones that control your metabolic rate including how you burn calories; how fast your heart beats, your body temperature, how fast food moves through your digestive tract, and the way your muscles contract. These thyroid hormones are used throughout the body, in nearly every cell. So you can see why your small but mighty little thyroid is so important.
How does it work?
Your thyroid gland uses iodine from food to make two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The pituitary gland, which is in the brain, helps control the thyroid gland. It releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The release of TSH into the bloodstream makes the thyroid gland release thyroid hormones. When the pituitary gland detects that thyroid hormone levels are too low, it releases more TSH. If the pituitary gland detects too much thyroid hormone, it releases less TSH. If the thyroid does not produce enough hormones, it is called hypothyroidism. If the gland produces too many hormones, it is called hyperthyroidism. It is a fine balancing act!
The hormone triangle
We know that your thyroid doesn't function in isolation but rather as part of a system. The thyroid sits at the center of all hormone communication between your brain, your adrenal gland (the gland that manages stress hormone action) and your ovaries/testes. In short, your sex, stress and thyroid hormones work together in a finely tuned orchestra!
When this communication is damaged, the interaction between your sex hormones, stress hormones, brain neurotransmitters and energy metabolism falls apart. Symptoms that seem related to problems with estrogen and progesterone, are often caused by thyroid hormone imbalance.
Your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA-A) is the system that helps you to respond to stress. The hypothalamus is in the brain, and as a result it is true to say that your stress response system begins in your brain. Your hypothalamus is also where the signaling begins to stimulate your thyroid, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis (HPT-A.)
These two systems work parallel together. Stress impacts both the adrenal hormone pathway and the thyroid hormone pathway. Stress can cause inflammation in the brain/ hypothalamus, stress can raise cortisol levels that may inhibit or alter the metabolic pathway of active thyroid hormone (T3). Transforming your stress can go a long way in achieving better thyroid function.
The role of your GUT
If you struggle in achieving good GUT health, then this may be a good starting point in achieving healthier thyroid functioning. An imbalance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your GUT can interfere with the conversion from T4 to T3. Up to 20% of T4 to T3 conversion occurs in the GI tract. Inflammation in the gut triggers the release of cortisol and this can result in a decrease in active T3 levels.
The thyroid genes
Knowing whether you carry the risk genotype in one or more of the key genes involved in thyroid function, will empower you to understand your potential risk for thyroid problems and how to support them with their key nutrient co-factors.
The key genes are:
|FOXE1||Associated with the risk of an under-active thyroid gland resulting in hypothyroidism.||GENE-COMBO||Iodine at 150 micrograms a day, Selenium, Iron and Mayo-inositol|
|DIO1||Catalyzes the activation reaction involved in the conversion of the prohormone thyroxine (3,5,3',5'-tetraiodothyronine, T4), secreted by the thyroid gland, to the bioactive thyroid hormone (3,5,3'-triiodothyronine, T3) by 5'-deiodination.||VitaTHYROID||
|DIO2||The function of the DIO2 enzyme is the conversion of T4 (thyroxine) to the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3).||
Iodine at 150mcg/day and Selenium 55mcg/day -150mcg/day
|TRHR||Encodes for thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). Stimulates the release of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 leading to an increased metabolic rate which is required to mobilise fuels during exercise.||VitaTHYROID||
|TSHR||Provides instructions for making a protein, known as a receptor, that attaches (binds) to a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). This receptor spans the membrane of certain cells (called follicular cells) in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped tissue in the lower neck.||VitaTHYROID||
|PDE8D||Involved in the specific signaling of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the thyroid gland. Can result in hypo- or hyperthyroidism||VitaTHYROID||
|TNF-a||Pro-inflammatory protein secreted by both macrophages (large white blood cells that form part of the immune system) and adipocytes (a cell specialised for the storage of fat, found in connective tissue). Can contribute to thyroid autoimmune diseases.||Omega 3|
The biochemistry - putting it all together
Imagine a perfect conversation. That's how your thyroid hormones should "talk to each other". Understanding where in the conversation things are misheard or misunderstood will help you to determine where you need to focus your thyroid health choices.
You have an area in your brain called the hypothalamus that talks to the anterior portion of pituitary gland (also in your brain) and tells it to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is like a megaphone - it instructs your thyroid to make more or less thyroid hormones. The "louder" (higher the number) it gets, the more underactive the thyroid is and more thyroid hormone is needed. The "quieter" (lower number) it is, the more overactive your thyroid gland is and it needs to decrease production. TSH then travels from your pituitary gland to the thyroid and tells the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are the primary hormones produced by the thyroid gland, with T4 being produced four times more often than T3. T3 however, is the more active form of thyroid hormone and is responsible for your metabolism – the way your body uses energy. Breathing, heart rate, weight, muscle mass, menstrual cycles, fertility, nervous system activity, body temperature, cholesterol levels and much more are impacted by your thyroid hormones. In fact, every cell in your body has thyroid hormone receptors (binding sites) indicating that thyroid hormone activity is critically important.
T3 is like the "go button" for your metabolism but you also have something called Reverse T3 produced in the body. More tends to be produced when the body is under considerable stress (high cortisol) because it is similar to a "stop button" and it signals the body to slow down. The levels of T4 and T3 in the system then provide a feedback mechanism to the brain to tell it to make more or less TSH. This conversation is an endless cycle.
When the conversations goes wrong
When your thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), then we see the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is the production of too much thyroxine hormone. It can increase metabolism.
As detailed above, the cause of this loss or gain of function of the thyroid can be attributed to genetics, diet, medications, chronic stress, poor GUT health and radiation.
The diagram below lists the well known features of these two conditions:
If you would like to get a "real-time" view of how this "conversation" is taking place in your body, then we recommend ordering the Complete Thyroid Panel online here:
The latest research
Latest research in thyroid health is to use the Calcium/Potassium (Ca/K) Ratio as an indicator for thyroid dysfunction:
- Called the thyroid ratio because calcium and potassium play a vital role in regulating thyroid activity.
- Does not always correlate with blood thyroid tests because hair analysis is a tissue test. Often blood tests will be normal but hair analysis will indicate an impaired thyroid function. Sometimes symptoms of hypothyroidism may be evident, but the hair test will show a hyperactive thyroid ratio. For nutritional correction, it is prudent to follow the hair analysis indication.
- The thyroid gland is one of the major glands which regulate metabolic rate in the body. A hyperactive thyroid is associated with fast metabolism.
- When the thyroid (and adrenal) ratios are not normal, the efficiency of energy production in the body decreases. It is like an engine that is turning too slow or too fast - power output declines.
The ideal Calcium/Potassium Ratio is 4:1. If you would like to follow this route of investigation into your thyroid function, then we recommend that you order the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTVA) test online here:
There are some key micronutrients that help support a healthy thyroid function.
Iron, B12, Inositol, Selenium 55 - 150 micrograms per day, Iodine at 150 micrograms a day, Zinc at 11 milligrams per day, Tyrosine and D3
|Iron, Selenium, Zinc, Omega 3, 13C, DIM, Sulforaphane, L-carnitine and D3. Avoid high iodine, gluten, soy, caffeine and nitrates.|
* Some of these nutrients can interfere with thyroid medication. They should be taken several hours before or after your thyroid medication to avoid an interaction. Talk to your doctor before taking any of these supplements.
You may also find our integrated THYROID SHOP helpful in sourcing supplements that contain these micronutrients.
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BA (Speech, Hearing & Lang Therapy) Hons | FMCHC | ReCODE Coach | Men's Health | HMX Genomics & Biochemistry (Candidate)