our butterfly gland : the thyroid
January is all about Thyroid Health Awareness, so here is a post to fill you in on the topic!
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that is located in our neck. To find it, take your fingers and trace from your chin downwards along your throat. Feel for a first bump, then second, trace just down from there and BOOM there you have it: your thyroid gland
This gland deserves a whole lot of love! It is hard at work to produce our thyroid hormones which regulate the metabolism of our whole body! This post is about how we can support our thyroid and make sure it, and therefore we, are functioning optimally.
Fun fact: this gland receives more blood per weight than any other gland or organ in the body... this goes to show how incredibly important it is!
Before we get into research to support our Thyroid we need to understand it a bit better:
There are 3 main hormones we look at when assessing the thyroid : TSH, T4 and T3
Firstly, TSH – our thyroid stimulating hormone. This is often the first marker checked. Without this hormone stimulating our thyroid, none of the rest of the cascade can occur.
When our thyroid is stimulated by TSH, it will produce two thyroid hormones: T4 and T3.
You may be thinking, why did she write 4 before 3? Well this is because in the world of thyroid health, T4 comes before T3. All of our T4 is made in the thyroid gland but only 10% of T3 is made in the thyroid gland. The other 90% is made when T4 converts to T3 elsewhere in our body (liver, kidneys, skeletal muscle, brain). T3 is MUCH more active than T4 which is why we need to make sure we are converting enough T4 to T3.
I made this diagram a few months back to better explain it:
So what do these thyroid hormones do?
They regulate our metabolism : otherwise known as basal metabolic rate
What do they have an effect on?
Nervous system development
Bone and muscle development
later on in the post we will go over symptoms that occur when these processes aren't occurring properly in our bodies
Some facts from Thyroid.org (1)
Greater than 12% of people will have a thyroid condition throughout their lifetime
Up to 60% of these people will be unaware that they have a thyroid condition
Women are 5-8x more likely to develop a thyroid problem, 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder
Our thyroid can either be
Functioning too low: Hypothyroid (MUCH more common)
Functioning too high: Hyperthyroid
Hypothyroidism is when there is a high level of TSH, and low T4 and T3 = not enough thyroid hormones
Subclinical hypothyroidism is when there is a high level of TSH, and normal T4 and T3 levels (2)
*** some of you will be like "ooohh that is interesting" and others will be "that hurt my brain" - either is okay :)
Causes: can be due to genetic factors, iodine deficiency, autoimmune disease
Feeling cold all the time
Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone (T4, T3)
Causes: Can be due to genetic factors, autoimmune disease (Grave’s disease)
If you think either of these may apply to you, please see your primary healthcare physician for more information!
If you are simply interested in natural ways to support our thyroid gland continue reading below
~ please remember this post is purely educational ~
Ways to support the thyroid through nutrition:
Involved in creation of thyroid hormones as well as protecting the thyroid gland itself. When used for autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s), many studies indicate its anti-inflammatory effect as well as its ability to lower antibody levels (3,4,5)
Selenium may also be beneficial to prevent thyroid disease (6)
Sources: Brazil nuts and many animal products
When hypothyroidism is due to an iodine deficiency, providing the body with an alternate source may be beneficial
However, one must be careful if they are not in need of extra iodine – because this can cause negative effects on the thyroid gland and cause it to overwork (7) as well as other negative symptoms (burning mouth, throat and stomach, fever, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea). Iodine can also interact with many medications and is important to rule out beforehand
Sources: cod, tuna, shrimp, seaweed, eggs
Fun fact: iodine was added to salt in the 1920s to reduce illnesses such as thyroid disease
Tyrosine is a building block of thyroid hormones. Tyrosine (x2) plus 4 iodine molecules = T4. Tyrosine (x2) plus 3 iodine molecules = T3
Sources: chicken, turkey, tuna, tofu, cottage cheese, eggs, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, white beans (8,9)
Involved in the creation of thyroid hormones as well as the conversion of T4 to T3. Zinc is also very important in overall hormone health (10,11)
Sources: oysters, beans, chickpeas, nuts, dark chocolate, eggs
Iron deficiency has a negative effect on thyroid health (12,13). When iron levels are low our thyroid hormones have also shown to be low (7). This can be of specific concern during pregnancy (12)
Sources: green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, green beans as well as nuts, seeds, lentils, beans
If you made it all the way to the end.. you're amazing! I hope you learned something new and feel more educated on thyroid health xo
The American Thyroid Association. 2020. General Information/Press Room. Accessed online: https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/
Woeber, K. A. (1997). Subclinical thyroid dysfunction. Archives of internal medicine, 157(10), 1065-1068.
Gärtner, R., Gasnier, B. C., Dietrich, J. W., Krebs, B., & Angstwurm, M. W. (2002). Selenium supplementation in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis decreases thyroid peroxidase antibodies concentrations. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 87(4), 1687-1691.
Köhrle, J., & Gärtner, R. (2009). Selenium and thyroid. Best practice & research Clinical endocrinology & metabolism, 23(6), 815-827.
Drutel, A., Archambeaud, F., & Caron, P. (2013). Selenium and the thyroid gland: more good news for clinicians. Clinical endocrinology, 78(2), 155-164.
Ventura, M., Melo, M., & Carrilho, F. (2017). Selenium and thyroid disease: from pathophysiology to treatment. International journal of endocrinology, 2017.
Luo, J., Hendryx, M., Dinh, P., & He, K. (2017). Association of iodine and iron with thyroid function. Biological trace element research, 179(1), 38-44.
Healthline. 2018. 9 Healthy foods that are rich in iodine. Found online: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iodine-rich-foods
National Institutes of Health. 2019. Iodine fact sheet for consumers. Found online: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-Consumer/
Severo, J. S., Morais, J. B. S., de Freitas, T. E. C., Andrade, A. L. P., Feitosa, M. M., Fontenelle, L. C., ... & do Nascimento Marreiro, D. (2019). The role of zinc in thyroid hormones metabolism. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.
Baltaci, A. K., Mogulkoc, R., & Baltaci, S. B. (2019). The role of zinc in the endocrine system. Pakistan journal of pharmaceutical sciences, 32(1).
Zhang, Y., Huang, X., Chen, Z., Yang, Q., Li, X., Zhang, R., ... & Zha, B. (2020). IRON DEFICIENCY, A RISK FACTOR FOR THYROID AUTOIMMUNITY DURING SECOND TRIMESTER OF PREGNANCY IN CHINA. Endocrine Practice.
Rayman, M. P. (2019). Multiple nutritional factors and thyroid disease, with particular reference to autoimmune thyroid disease. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(1), 34-44.
Vanderpump, M. P. (2011). The epidemiology of thyroid disease. British medical bulletin, 99(1).