Updated 10/8/23; Originally posted 1/23/22
Your thyroid gland, located deep in your throat, acts like your body’s engine. It controls the power of every cell in your body and regulates the interconnection of many hormones and body processes. While we might try to soup it up with caffeine or slow things down with alcohol or melatonin, often times our energy problem is that our engine is not working right and our thyroid needs some naturally oriented help. Luckily, in your quest to feel better not older, your wellness lifestyle can include natural thyroid remedies that have a huge impact on your boosting your thyroid health.
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What is Your Thyroid Gland’s Function?
It controls your entire body! This multi-purpose gland, part of your endocrine system, is your body’s engine. It controls how fast you go! Your thyroid gland controls:
- The production of energy inside the body – your metabolism
- Your internal body temperature – because it depends on your internal energy!
- Your heart rate, breathing rate, and motion through gastrointestinal tract
- The creation of thyroid hormones for use in the cells throughout the body
- Regulates body weight – slower metabolism brings weight gain
- Modulates cholesterol level – slower metabolism brings higher cholesterol levels
Your thyroid gland is clearly crucial to your overall wellbeing! Keep reading for the science of thyroid hormone creation and what wellness lifestyle actions you can do to maintain a healthy thyroid!
Thyroid Gland Function: A Thyroid Hormone’s Creation Story
Your brain, in particular the hypothalamus, regulates everything in your body to keep you balanced, working well, and feeling good. Your hypothalamus creates Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH) and sends it to your pituitary gland located right next to your hypothalamus in your brain. Upon receipt of TRH, your pituitary gland sends Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to the thyroid gland itself via the bloodstream.
When the TSH reaches your thyroid gland located at the base of your throat in the front, it is time to ramp up production of the 4 thyroid hormones – T1, T2, T3 , and T4. T4 is the storage version of the hormone which is the main output of the thyroid gland. T4 circulates around the body waiting to be used and is also stored in cells for localized consumption.
T4 can not be used by the cells directly until it is converted into T3 by removing an iodine molecule, the active usable form of thyroid hormone that ramps you up. T4 can also be converted into Reverse T3 – the hormone that slows you down.
Most T4-to-T3 conversions happen locally in the body when that area needs more power. About 20% T4-to-T3 conversions happen in the gut while 80% of the T4-to-T3 conversions occur in the liver – which creates much of the T3 found in your blood.
Is Your Thyroid Healthy?
Many people search the internet or talk to their doctor when they feel sub-par. Low thyroid hormone levels often result in symptoms like:
- low energy
- weight gain
- feeling cold frequently
- dry skin
- low sex drive
- hair loss
- muscle aches and weakness.
An underactive thyroid gland is actually quite common but not a sign of health and wellness! Less prevalent is an overactive thyroid which creates symptoms like increased sweating, anxiety, rapid weight loss, and poor sleep. Any thyroid concerns are an invitation to make lifestyle changes to support your thyroid health because they work!
Blood Tests for Your Thyroid
If you want to get an accurate picture of your thyroid health and whether it is contributing to your symptoms, it is quite reasonable to ask your doctor to order a full Thyroid Panel blood test. You also have the option to purchase your Comprehensive Thyroid Panel blood test independently through me and share with whatever doctor your choose. Most doctors do not request a full thyroid panel unless you are working with a functional medicine practitioner – you may need to advocate to receive the full panel to gain all the information you need. Included in the Comprehensive Thyroid Panel Blood Test:
- TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – How many messages are being sent from the brain to the thyroid? Does your brain have to yell at the thyroid to get a response? Is your brain sending enough instructions to the thyroid gland to work? Note that your TSH levels vary throughout a 24 hour period – it rises and falls with your circadian rhythm.
- Total T4 – Storage thyroid hormone – Is your thyroid napping or doing a great job making hormones? Does it have enough ingredients to make hormones?
- Free T4 – Available Storage thyroid hormone – How much of your total T4 is bound up and not able to be stored in cells for future use? Are your thyroid hormones ready and available to be used throughout the body?
- Free T3 – Active thyroid hormone – Are you converting T4 to T3 well enough so your whole body has power?
- Reverse T3 – This hormone fills the T3 receptors with the intent to slow down your metabolic processes and take away your power. Reverse T3 acts like brakes to your body. Are you over braking?
- Thyroid Antibodies – If your immune system has gone on overdrive and started attacking your thyroid gland (an autoimmune disorder), your blood will contain the antibodies used by your immune system.
- Thyroid Peroxidase – Do you have enough of this enzyme needed to make thyroid hormones? Too much that is not getting used?
Your test results will come with a western medicine range of “normal” values. Remember when I said that it was common to have an underactive thyroid? All too many of us are walking around feel less than great with “subclinical” thyroid function. Functional medicine doctors have more narrow ranges for your thyroid blood test numbers that are more appropriate goals if your focus on optimal health. Don’t settle for less than a fabulous thyroid!
Ditch These 5 Thyroid Harming Things
1: The Stress Thyroid Connection
Part of your body’s response to stress involves making stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol takes over the body’s processes to keep you safe until the danger has passed. That includes reducing thyroid function! High cortisol also blocks the conversion of T4 to T3 and can increase the production of Reverse T3. Low cortisol reduces the number of T3 receptors. Stress activates inflammatory immune cells (cytokines) that block the thyroid receptors in your cells – your hormones can not be used!
2: Inflammation and Hypothyroidism
Foods that contain gluten (grains), conventional dairy, artificial sweeteners, sugar, alcohol, or other allergenic foods will create havoc with your thyroid function. In particular, gluten and casein (in dairy) molecules are have the ability to mimic thyroid hormones which confuses the body when you have gut issues.
An easy way to assess if a food is causing thyroid trouble is to simply not eat it for a period of 2-3 weeks (elimination diet). If you feel better without it – yay! You learned how to adjust your diet to focus on your wellness! If it makes no difference, add it back in and keep exploring.
Tip: Eat more locally grown organic foods and your thyroid will thank you!
3: Chronic Pain Link to Your Thyroid Problem
The reasons for chronic pain are different for everyone but frequently connected to your mitochondrial health status and detoxification load on your body. Nothing in the body or mind works well when there you feel chronic pain, not even your thyroid gland. Before you can get motivated to detox the body and work on your thyroid condition, sometimes you need to deal with your pain first. Here’s to less pain!
4: Environmental Toxins Compromise Your Thyroid Function
The thyroid gland is particularly susceptible to damage from environmental toxins. Your thyroid attracts selenium and iodine and anything else that is structurally similar – like perchlorate (from leather, rocket fuel, and batteries) in the groundwater, flame retardants, pesticides and herbicides, PBA and plastics, and heavy metals like mercury and lead. Be sure to avoid chlorinated water (oh no – not the swimming pool!), mercury and fluoride (especially at the dentist), non-stick cookware, and pesticides (choose organic food). Ready to detox your body and brain?
5: Circadian Rhythm, Sleep, and Your Thyroid
You need a regular sleep pattern because your thyroid and other hormones are intimately tied to your circadian rhythm. Your deep sleep period is when your brain and body rejuvenate and detoxify themselves. Work on your sleep and your thyroid, brain, weight, and so much more will improve! Remember that light and food are the keys to your internal circadian clock. If you want my help using diet and light therapy to improve your sleep, let’s talk!
6 Wellness Actions to Increase Thyroid Health
1: Practice Stress Reducing Yoga and Meditation to Improve Your Thyroid Function
Yoga and Meditation are well established stress relieving tools that you can do from the comfort of your own home or at a wellness studio like my Zen and Vitality in La Plata, MD.
I ensure that my Zen Flow Yoga classes provide moving meditation, tissue and muscle stretching, encouragement to breathe, and leave you with a calm mind and body.
Meditation, especially guided meditation using my recordings, can and should be done anytime you need the world to go away or to shift your thoughts towards positive.
Remember that you can have all the free youtube videos in the world and all the meditation apps on your phone that you can hold, but if you do not actually use them – they can not help you. If you want my help with following through on your stress relief action to help your thyroid, let’s talk!
2: Eat These 9 Vitamins and Minerals for Thyroid Health
In the world of nutrition, micronutrients are queen for those of us focused on wellness. These vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are what keep us feeling great and working well rather than feeling tired, sick, and old. Yay for micronutrients!! For your thyroid, the following micronutrients are most important – and I tell you why!
- Iodine is a primary ingredient in your thyroid hormones. As a matter of fact, T4 contains 4 iodine atoms! Clearly if you are low on iodine (which much of the world is), you will not have enough ingredients to make thyroid hormones. When you are iodine deficient, your thyroid gland sometimes grows in an attempt to capture more iodine so it can perform it’s primary task in life. Give yourself enough iodine!
- Iron has 2 jobs for the thyroid. It helps convert iodide into iodine which is part of thyroid hormone). Iron is also required to change T4 into T3. In particular, you need your ferritin level to be high enough. Ferritin is your stored iron – ready to be used – rather than the free iron floating around in your blood as part of your red blood cells. Do you need to do a blood test for your iron levels?
- Selenium is an essential ingredient for the transformation of T4 to T3 and is too often low in our diet. Low selenium levels means you create more Reverse T3 and you have put the brakes on your metabolism and energy. Grab a brazil nut and enjoy or get your selenium supplement from me as part of your Custom Supplement Subscription.
- Vitamin A is used inside the cell to activate T3. Keep in mind that Vitamin A is present in animal fats and algae– orange fruits and vegetable supply beta-carotene that must be converted in the body to Vitamin A.
- Vitamin D is necessary for T3 to bind into the receptor inside a call and activate the use of T3. Too much Vitamin D can inhibit thyroid hormone production in your gland.
- Copper is associated with a thyroid gland that likes to go fast! I get mine via 90% dark chocolate (organic, fair trade, and regenerative agriculture friendly!) but beware that you need to balance your copper and zinc.
- Magnesium is needed to convert T4 to T3 and about 299 other processes in the body! Gut issues, chronic stress, autoimmune disorders, and more require you to have even more magnesium that when you are completely healthy. I get mine when I drink Neuro-Mag or take Magnesium Breakthrough before bed. How do you get yours?
- B vitamins are linked to good thyroid hormone levels, particularly Vitamin B12. B vitamins work better when taken as a family or complex, but be sure to get the chemical forms that work for your personal biology (MTHFR variations require methylated vitamins). I suggest BioActive Complete B Complex.
- Zinc is part of the thyroid conversion process to get active T3 instead of Reverse T3. Zinc also plays a part in the hypothalamus’s ability to assess your current thyroid hormone levels. Since the hypothalamus regulates your hormone production – it needs to know what’s going on!
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids control the amount of inflammation in your body through their by-products when cells use the Omega-3s. Inflammation fights with your thyroid and metabolism. You can stop the fight and feel better when you get your Omega-3s. I recommend either Super Omega-3 Plus or Citrus Flavor Omega3 Squeeze.
Wow, that’s a lot to think about when you are hungry! If you want help figuring out what to do with your diet to improve your thyroid health, I would love to work with you.
3: Sleep and Healthy Light for Better Thyroid Hormone Regulation
Inside your brain’s hypothalamus is a master clock that decides when you should sleep and wake based on the amounts and colors of light you see. Your sleep and wake pattern ideally matches the sunlight or lack thereof! This circadian rhythm affects the production of all the hormones in your body including your thyroid hormones. To support your thyroid hormones, maintain an even circadian rhythm by keeping a regular sleep pattern and getting beneficial light exposure.
The hypothalamus sends the message that it is time to make more TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone. Too much or too little TSH is a sign that something is off in the signaling from the brain. Red/Infrared light therapy is a terrific wellness action to support your brain and thyroid health!
Red/Infrared light therapy activates the hypothalamus helping to improve its ability to regulate your body through the chemical messengers that it generates. It models the red light of the sunrise and sunset – so early morning and after dinner are great times to grab a light session to support your circadian rhythm so you experience great sleep and a healthy thyroid hormone level!
4: Check Your Iodine Intake to Raise Your Thyroid Hormone Levels
Iodine is required in order to make T4 and T3. In fact, T4 contains 4 atoms of iodine and T3 contains 3 iodine atoms! Sometimes your thyroid needs you to increase iodine intake because you have run out of ingredients. Other times you’ll need to reduce your iodine; if your diet is heavy in iodine rich foods like fish, eggs, sea vegetables, raw grass-fed milk or cheese, or salt with added iodine then perhaps you are getting plenty of iodine.
It is easy to see how eager your body is for iodine with an Iodine Skin Test — take a drop or two of liquid Lugol’s Iodine and rub it on your inner arm. If you still see the brown iodine discoloration on your skin a day later, then your body is not desperate for iodine. If the spot is gone in a few hours, your iodine levels are quite low and it is time to do your research on supplementation! I like to use the liquid Lugol’s Iodine on my skin so my body can decide for itself how fast to absorb the iodine it needs.
If you live or work near La Plata, MD and want to do this Iodine Skin Test, you can schedule time to pop into Zen and Vitality and borrow a drop or two from the studio’s bottle of Lugol’s Iodine.
5: Get Hot in an Infrared Sauna for Thyroid Rest and Detox
Your thyroid is a hard working gland. Thyroid hormones control your internal body temperature – low thyroid function means you feel cold too often! When you add heat through vigorous exercise, a hot bath, or an infrared sauna session, your thyroid can take a little break and your hormones can go to your metabolism and their many other tasks besides keeping your warm.
Infrared saunas offer much more thyroid help than just heat! During your sauna session, you will:
- Improve your blood flow to stimulate healing and decrease pain associated with low thyroid activity
- Remove toxins stored in your fat via sweat – these are creating inflammation and blocking thyroid hormone function
- Mobilize your fat to help you lose the extra weight that a hypothyroid induced low metabolism gave you
- Relax! Get rid of stress that is hurting your thyroid function
- Open up your thyroid receptors in your cells so you can use your existing hormones better!
6: Support Your Liver to Boost your Thyroid Hormones
Your liver is more than your body’s main detox organ. It participates in about 500 body functions, one of which is thyroid hormone metabolism. The liver is expected to perform 30-40% of the T4 to T3 conversions that happen outside the thyroid gland. When the liver malfunctions due to liver damage, less conversions into T3 occur while the amount of conversions into Reverse T3 (the “brakes”) rises. High cholesterol, fatty liver disease, mold induced illness, and excess sugar and alcohol intake all provide substantial enough challenge to liver function that your thyroid hormone profile is likely to be suboptimal.
When you choose to work on improving your diet and reducing your chronic inflammation, your thyroid status and liver health will get better too! If you want help figuring out how to improve your thyroid situation and boost your liver function naturally, I would love to meet you!
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