Understanding Thyroid Health ~ Part 1


Understanding Thyroid Health ~ Part 1

Perhaps it’s not until we have something go wrong with our health that we begin to fully understand that part of us that needs healing. My personal health journey has certainly led me down the ‘thyroid health’ garden path, after being diagnosed with Postpartum Thyroiditis several months ago. Fortunately I am now well and truly on the road to recovery. It has taken extensive research and understanding of my condition and trusting in my capabilities to create and commit to my treatment plan and eventually see great improvement.

It is quite common in clinic to have women present with lagging fatigue, brain-fog, unexplained weight-gain, poor immune and overall exhaustion, to then have thyroid testing done, to discover a thyroid condition. Interestingly in my personal case I had none of these symptoms, in fact I felt sensational after the birth of our baby, with high energy, could function on little sleep, and started losing weight rapidly. Until a visit to my GP suggested in my routine pathology post-birth to test thyroid hormones. It was then that we discovered I had hyperthyroidism, when your thyroid is producing too much thyroxine. Immediately I began naturopathic treatment of herbs and nutrients as well as lifestyle/dietary changes. However, a few weeks later it swung significantly to hypothyroidism, not enough thyroxine, which is a very common stage in Postpartum Thyroiditis, this is when I hit the wall. I rapidly gained weight, felt incredibly exhausted, hair started to fall out, all signs that a lot of Mum’s think is just part of the postpartum recovery! And back to the drawing board with a different treatment plan and more strict exclusion of gluten, dairy and egg in my diet.

Over the course of 5 months I monitored my thyroid pathology and where necessary adjusted my treatment to stay on track, and gradually my results normalised - hooray!! It was fascinating over a space of a few weeks to see my energy levels improve, with the ability to commit to daily walks, becoming more organised with meal planning and motivation to do the dreaded housework, (not as laborious as before) and my mood was lifting too.

My wish now is that other women post-birth and of all ages have more understanding of the thyroid and its function. Statistically women are 8 times more likely to develop thyroid disease than men. See below answers to common questions to help you further understand your thyroid:

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine (hormonal) gland located at the front of the neck, just below the larynx. The gland consists mostly of thyroid follicles that are the centre for production of thyroid hormones. It is a good idea to palpate (feel) this gland routinely like you do your breasts. If you feel any irregularities in the shape such as lumps, swelling or tenderness refer to your General Practitioner.

What is the function of the thyroid?

Believe it or not a lot more than you could ever imagine! The thyroid is the energy thermostat for your body by constantly releasing steady amounts of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream to help regulate your metabolism, growth, cognitive function and reproductive functions. This can include how we breathe, our heart rate, skin health, muscle strength, body temperature, our ability to learn, focus and memorise, how well our menstrual cycles function, mood, weight, achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy, cholesterol levels, how efficiently we burn calories and the production of breastmilk.

What are the hormones involved in thyroid function?

Like all endocrine glands the thyroid is host to a whole array of signalling systems that are in constant fluctuation and are very responsive to our daily ‘stressors’. Stressors can range from environmental toxins (harmful chemicals found in cleaning products and personal care products, heavy metals as well as mould), poor food choices, poor digestive health, sickness (viral/bacterial infections), low mood or anxiety, over-exercise and starvation to name a few.

  • The hypothalamus is located at the base of the brain, it releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH)

  • The pituitary receives TRH and stimulates the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)

  • The main hormones produced by the thyroid are tetraiodothyronine (T4 or thyroxine) and triiothyronine (T3)

  • TSH from the pituitary and the T4 from the thyroid work harmoniously to maintain a feedback loop to create homeostasis - balance. A positive feedback loop generates the production of more thyroid hormone and a negative feedback loop stalls the production of thyroid hormone

  • T3 is the most active of thyroid hormones and is converted from T4.

  • Reverse T3 (rT3) is the inactive form of T3 and is produced in higher amounts during periods of stress. T4 normally converts to T3 and rT3 continuously. Generally the body should eliminate rT3 efficiently, unless it experiences fasting, starvation, liver disease, illness or increased stress.

  • Iodine is a critical nutrient to support thyroid hormone production and is found from our diet, absorbed into our bloodstream from food from our small intestine (there are other nutrients such as selenium that are important, I will discuss further next month).

What is hypothyroidism?

Accounting for up to 80% of thyroid conditions, hypothyroidism is from decreased thyroid function and a decrease in the actions of the thyroid hormones in the body. Up to 90% of people that suffer hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include: constipation, depression, insomnia, low immunity, high cholesterol, cold intolerance, unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight, dry skin, muscle weakness, menstrual irregularities, slow heart rate, slow cognitive function and puffiness around the eyes.

What is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is also known as thyrotoxicosis due to the increased levels of thyroid hormones. Approximately 85% of people that present with hyperthyroidism have Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune disease. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, loose stools, heat intolerance, insomnia, irritability, sweating, stare, tremor, tachycardia (heart palpitations), unexplained weight-loss.

Already your mind may be spinning from so much information, regarding this fascinating and valuable endocrine gland. To do this topic justice stay tuned for Part 2 next month, I will cover how we can nourish and nurture our thyroids to optimise our health and vitality and go into more detail about the types of thyroid diseases.

Take care of you, love and light ~ Jaunita, Your Family Naturopath

References:

The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution - Aviva Romm MD

Clinical Naturopathic Medicine - Leah Hectman

The Thyroid Connection - Amy Myers MD

Physiology, Thyroid Hormone - Shahid A. Muhammad, Ashraf A. Muhammad, Sharma Sandeep, 18 May, 2020

How does the thyroid gland work? - Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, 2021.

Australian Clinical Labs - Reverse T3

The Thyroid Gland - Oregon State University

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