Thyroid Health And What It Means To You
Written by Nichole Kribs
Recently, a close friend of mine had a pretty eye-opening health appointment where he was instructed to make some severe changes in his lifestyle and, among other things, was told his thyroid was not functioning well. This lead me to do research on thyroid health and how it affects individuals.
Below is the information I found when researching thyroid health – if you are an athlete concerned with performance, have a body composition goal to either gain muscle or lose that pesky midsection, or have had suspicions that you might be one of the 20 million Americans affected by Thyroid disease, read on!
What is the thyroid and what does it do?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located in your neck (no you can’t actually see it unless it is swollen). In the case of the thyroid gland, the thyroid secretes several hormones directly into the blood rather than through a duct. The thyroid mainly helps regulate the body’s metabolic rate but also helps with heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance (1). A pretty significant gland, right?
What hormones does the thyroid gland produce?
The two main hormones the thyroid produce and release are T3 (tri-iodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) (4). These are produced when the thyroid gland takes iodine, found in many foods, and converts it into those two thyroid hormones. Interesting enough, thyroid cells are the only cells in the body that can absorb iodine and when combined with the amino acid tyrosine, makes T3 and T4 (2). These hormones are released into the bloodstream and are transported throughout the body where they control metabolism.
Did you say metabolism?
Yes, I did. Your thyroid health has a direct correlation to your metabolism. Simply put, if there is too much thyroid production or too little, it can affect your metabolism. Having a normal functioning thyroid will help regulate metabolism as it correlates with body weight and energy expenditure.
There are two conditions that commonly occur when the thyroid hormone is over-producing or under-producing. They are:
Hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone levels): This means the thyroid is overactive and can make some of the body’s functions speed up, resulting in weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat (3).
Hypothyroidism (reduced thyroid hormone levels): This means the thyroid is underactive and can make many of the body’s functions slow down, resulting in weight gain, high cholesterol, fatigue, dry skin, depression, loss of libido, insomnia, and other conditions (3).
What can affect thyroid health?
Stress. Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, when in overdrive can block the conversion of T4 to the active T3, creating an imbalance in the thyroid production (5).
Lack of crucial vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A, Cooper and Selenium are important as they promote the proper process of T4 and T3. Not only does the lack of these vitamins affect your thyroid health but they also affect overall health. Depleted Vitamin A can make a person more susceptible to infection and low levels of selenium can compromise the immune system. (6) Low iron will also mess with the enzyme used to make your thyroid hormones (5) as well as result in fatigue, hair loss and difficulty breathing. Low iron is also associated with Hashimoto’s, something we will delve into in a later post.
Hormonal imbalance. Low estrogen, insulin resistance and low testosterone all wreak havoc on thyroid function (5). If you are an athlete then having a hormonal imbalance in either testosterone or estrogen will greatly affect your performance and if you are someone looking to lose weight then being insulin resistant will negatively affect those efforts. If you feel like your hormones are off then please go to your primary care physician or naturopath and ask for a hormone panel so you and a health professional can assess your hormonal health.
Microbiome Problems (aka poor gut health). Guess where 20% of your T4 is converted to T3? In the gut so if it is unhealthy, you’ll have a problem. Gluten can also compromise a healthy gut environment so intake of gluten can affect your thyroid (5). Not only does poor gut health compromise your thyroid health but it can also lead to immune problems, systemic inflammation and poor metabolism. (7)
These are just some of the things that can affect thyroid health.
How can I ensure my thyroid is functioning properly?
If you are at all concerned about your thyroid health then please see your primary care physician and seek their counsel. They can help assess, through testing and blood labs, how well your thyroid is functioning.
However, if you are looking to help support your thyroid then you can do the following things:
Get your vitamins and minerals. Eat foods that are rich in B12 (organ meats, tuna, beef), Thiamine/B1 (asparagus, brussels sprouts), Zinc (shellfish, meat, seeds, eggs), Iodine (cod, seaweed, prunes) and Selenium (lean meats, nuts/seeds) will help promote thyroid health. If you are worried that you aren’t getting enough of these vitamins and minerals then please supplement with them.
Reduce your stress. Take a look at the stress in your life and find ways to reduce your stress so your adrenal glands aren’t working overtime.
Take probiotics. Taking a probiotic will help heal your gut and ensure you are having healthy gut bacteria working its magic to promote a flourishing environment.
These are just a few ways you can help support your thyroid health, and therefore not only your general health, but also your athletic and body composition endeavors. However, if you are at all concerned about the function of your thyroid then please consult a physician.