Understanding the Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the neck, just below the Adam's apple. Despite its size, it plays a vital role in controlling various bodily functions, including metabolism. Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert food into energy.
The thyroid gland produces two main hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate metabolism by influencing the rate at which cells use energy and oxygen. In simpler terms, they control how fast or slow your body burns calories.
Once your thyroid releases thyroxine (T4) into your bloodstream, certain cells in your body transform it into triiodothyronine (T3) through a process called de-iodination. This is because cells that have receptors that receive the effect of thyroid hormone are better able to use T3 than T4. Therefore, T4 is generally considered to be the inactive form of thyroid hormone, and T3 is considered the active form of it. Cells in the following tissues, glands, organs, and body systems can convert T4 to T3:
- Pituitary gland
- Brown adipose (fat) tissue (This type of fat produces heat to help maintain your body temperature in cold conditions)
- Central nervous system
Thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) affects every cell and all the organs in your body by:
- Regulating the rate at which your body uses calories (energy). This affects weight loss or weight gain and is called the metabolic rate
- Slowing down or speeding up your heart rate
- Raising or lowering your body temperature
- Influencing the speed at which food moves through your digestive tract
- Affecting brain development
- Controlling the way your muscles contract
- Managing skin and bone maintenance by controlling the rate at which your body replaces dying cells (a normal process)
HYPOthyroidism Sometimes, the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones, leading to a condition called hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid releases too little T4 and T3 into the bloodstream, causing the metabolism to slow down too much. The most common cause is Hashimoto’s disease. This is an autoimmune condition in which white blood cells and antibodies attack the thyroid gland. If not treated, the metabolism will continue to slow and will ultimately (10 to 15 years) lead to death. Symptoms include:
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Feeling cold (even on warm days)
- Unusual weight gain
- Reduced concentration (brain fog)
- Puffiness of the face
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
Two Main Problems With a Hypothyroid Condition
Either you’re not making enough thyroid hormone - usually, you’re low on T4 - or you’re not converting T4 to T3. In order to convert T4 to T3, you need co-factors, or helper vitamins and minerals.
All of these nutrients help contribute to this conversion:
- Selenium. This is the most important.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
If you’re doing a healthy ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting, you’re eating foods that are giving you all of these nutrients. Also, when you do healthy keto and intermittent fasting, the need for T3 goes way down. So, it's going to help the thyroid overall.
But, even if you’re not doing keto, keep in mind that those are the key nutrients to help this conversion. Now, bile and the liver also have to do with conversions. 80% of the conversion from T4 to T3 happens in the liver and 20% happens in the kidneys. If there’s a problem with the kidney or the gallbladder (if, say, you’ve had your gallbladder removed) then you’re not going to get the conversion. A really simple solution here is to take purified bile salts. That will instantly improve the conversion. On the flip side, if you have a hyperthyroid condition - with which you have too much thyroid hormone - you don’t want to take bile salts. It’s going to give you more thyroid hormone and worsen the situation. Hypothyroidism Caused By Low Thyroid Hormone
As far as the production of more thyroid hormones goes, what’s usually happening is that, if you have low TSH, something is suppressing the function of the thyroid.
- Cortisol: High cortisol that comes from stress. It could also be from medications like prednisone and cortisone shots.
- Estrogen: Estrogen is also a big factor here. This is why you see women (right after pregnancy, for example) with a hypothyroid case. This has to do with the spike in estrogen. If you’re taking birth control pills or you’re on HRT, that can limit the production.
- Fat Storing Hormone: Also, high levels of Fat Storing Hormone. If you’re doing a high-carb diet or if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) for example. That can inhibit T4.
Other things that can interfere with thyroid function include:
- High blood pressure medication
- Excessive iron (iron deficiency will create a problem in the conversion, but too much iron can also create a problem with the conversion from T4 to T3).
- Phytic acid. This is in grains and it will deplete zinc and throw off your conversions.
- Coffee and tea will deplete you of certain nutrients like B vitamins. If you’re consuming a lot of iced tea or coffee, you better be taking nutrients at the same time because it could be affecting your thyroid.
- Sugar and refined carbs. These are definitely going to mess up your thyroid.
- Soy will act like estrogen and inhibit the thyroid as well.
- Dairy has many different types of hormones, and that can also influence the thyroid.
An overactive thyroid releases too much T4 and T3 into the bloodstream, causing the metabolism to speed up too much. The most common cause is Graves’ disease. This is an autoimmune condition in which antibodies behave like TSH and stimulate the thyroid uncontrollably. Complications of untreated hyperthyroidism include liver damage and heart failure, which can lead to death. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
- Rapid pulse
- Tremor (shaking) of the hands
- Sweating and sensitivity to heat
- Weight loss (despite an increased appetite)
- Nervousness, agitation and anxiety
- Bulging eyes
Testing Thyroid Function
To diagnose thyroid problems, doctors often use blood tests to measure levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), T4, and T3 in the blood. These tests help determine if the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism).
Weight Loss and Thyroid Function
It's essential to note that while thyroid function can influence weight, it is not the sole factor determining your weight. Weight loss and maintenance require a combination of factors, including diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices.
- Diet: Eating a balanced diet with appropriate portion sizes is crucial for managing weight. While an underactive thyroid can make it more challenging to lose weight, a healthy diet remains essential. Try NUSTARTS NS28 Program. It balances nutrition and cleansing into an easy-to-follow program where you can lose up to 28 pounds in 30 days.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help increase metabolism and burn calories, aiding in weight loss. Consult your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program, especially if you have thyroid issues.
- Medication: If you're prescribed thyroid medication for hypothyroidism, taking it as directed can help regulate your metabolism and support weight management.
- Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you suspect thyroid issues are affecting your weight, consult a healthcare professional. They can assess your thyroid function and provide guidance on weight management strategies tailored to your needs.
An Overview of The Solutions
The appropriate solution depends significantly on the cause of your thyroid concern.
- If your issue is with converting T4 to T3, consider trying the keto diet with intermittent fasting. Also, if the conversion problem is happening in your liver and kidneys, you can try taking purified bile salts to improve the conversion.
- If you have low TSH, something is suppressing the function of the thyroid. This is usually cortisol, estrogen, or Fat Storing Hormone - so you’ll have to identify the source and treat that issue to fix this problem.
- Other lifestyle choices could be interfering with your thyroid function. Again, these have to be explored and addressed to regulate your thyroid.
- If you have Hashimoto’s, it could be beneficial to take at least 20,000 IUs of vitamin D per day.
And remember to always consult with your physician before making a change to your medication or your healthcare regimen.