A comprehensive article on thyroid function
A comprehensive article on thyroid function
I am a nutritionist and developmental specialist and am not in the business of dispensing medical advice through an article and I cannot diagnose the reader’s specific thyroid needs. But I can educate you as to how the thyroid works, how to test it, what are natural things that stimulate normal thyroid function and what to avoid things that hinders thyroid function. Knowledge is power for life. To get more specific for your own thyroid balance you will need to see a good Naturopathic Medical Doctor to address your needs.
About the thyroid
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits to the front of the base of the throat. The thyroid governs metabolism and when it doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, people feel sluggish, have trouble concentrating, gain weight and feel cold. Left untreated, thyroid disease can lead to more-serious health problems, including elevated cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility, depression, and even cancer. Recent studies have estimated some 50 million Americans currently have a low-thyroid condition and over 50% do not know it.
In adults, thyroid hormones play a critical role in cancer prevention, maintaining allergy barriers, sustaining mental clarity and capacity, regulating sex drive, supplying good mental health and sustaining general health and well-being. In children, thyroid hormones play critical roles in metabolism, growth and brain development. These hormones are especially important during fetal development and early childhood with small changes in thyroid hormone levels during these developmental periods affecting IQ and motor skill development in children.
How does your thyroid function?
In order to support proper thyroid function we need to know where the thyroid is functioning at first. Testing the TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels in the blood will tell you what the pituitary is demanding from the thyroid but it will not tell you how the thyroid is functioning in the cells and the cell nucleus. You could have perfect thyroid levels in the blood but if they are blocked from entering the cell and performing their functions, you will still have the untreated problems associated with low thyroid.
Your thyroid function is dependent on your pituitary gland to produce the actual TSH that is measured in the blood thyroid test. It is the TSH levels produced by the pituitary gland that tells the thyroid to go to work or slow down. Never assume that high or low levels of TSH levels in the blood indicate a thyroid problem as these levels only indicate symptoms – not causes.
TSH counts are generally interpreted by the medical community as “if there are high/low levels of TSH in the blood – the thyroid is defective”. A blood test for TSH is not a good indicator of true thyroid function because you can test normal on all thyroid blood tests and still have low thyroid function. Furthermore, the normal range for TSH is so over-broad that you can be in the safe zone and still feel miserable because of low thyroid function. The test “safe” range for TSH is 0.5 to 5.5, therefore 5.5 is low thyroid and 0.5 is high. Most people thrive between the 1 – 2 range of TSH blood levels and merely survive above that range.
What are thyroid hormones?
Thyroid hormones are made from the amino acid tyrosine and the mineral iodine. Tyrosine is the “T” in the thyroid hormone designation T-1, T-2, T-3 or T-4. Iodine makes up the numeral designation of 1, 2, 3 or 4 iodine atoms, depending on whether it is T-1, T-2, T-3 or T-4, respectively. T-3 and T-4 hormones regulate the body temperature and metabolic rate of every cell in your body. This correlates to how well you metabolize your oxygen. Cancer is always associated with lower oxygen metabolism and lower thermogenesis (heat production).
T-4 is the storage form of thyroid hormone that circulates in the blood. T-4 levels comprise about 93% of the thyroid hormone with T-3 coming in at about 7%. T-1 and T-2 are always present but not measured. Thyroid in the form of T-3 is the bioactive form that crosses into the cell. To convert T-4 (storage form) to T-3 (bioactive form) the body uses a delicate balance of specific enzymes and cofactors, in particular selenium, lithium, zinc and iron. Many things can interrupt this process and jam the receptor sites thereby preventing proper thyroid function.
How to accurately test the thyroid
Testing the thyroid function is best done by measuring the basal body temperature. For several days keep a basal temperature thermometer or a trusted medical thermometer by your bedside. As soon as you wake up in the morning put the thermometer in your armpit for ten minutes. You must do this before you get up. If you get up first you will not get an accurate reading. If your temperature runs below 97.8 then you most likely have low thyroid. If it swings more than 0.2 degrees then you could have adrenal challenges.10
Supplements that support thyroid function
Iodine is critical for every cell in the human body to function normally. When our bodies are deficient of elemental iodine and potassium iodide, the cells, transporters and related enzymes will allow another halogen, similar in atomic structure, like bromine, fluorine or chlorine to enter into the missing iodine key-lock pathway. The more deficient in iodine a person is, the more bromine, fluorine and chlorine toxic they become.
The body of an average adult contains about 20 to 50mg of iodine, most of it in the thyroid gland. Iodine is absorbed in the gut and excess is excreted in the urine. The adult thyroid gland traps about 60mcg of iodine per day to make thyroid hormones. In the event of insufficient iodine, the thyroid gland enlarges in size (a condition known as goiter) to trap more iodine. In the case of remote fallout of radioactive iodine from a nuclear event (like Fukushima) the body of the average American will need about 15mg of iodine a day to help prevent radioactive iodine from going to the thyroid gland.
According to Dr. David Brownstein, this is a serious problem because over 90% of people in North America are iodine deficient, leaving them incredibly vulnerable to radioactive iodine from any source.
There are two types of iodine necessary for optimal nutrition and thyroid function: Iodine and iodide. Iodide is simply the negative ion form of elemental iodine. The iodine supplements you normally find at the health food stores are made from kelp, which is seaweed that is lacking in the necessary iodide that humans need. Plus, the volume of iodine in iodine supplements you find most on the retail shelves are listed in micrograms which are about 100 times too weak to be very effective in stimulating your thyroid.
- For normal health maintenance, find a potassium iodide form of supplement and follow the recommended daily dosage for normal thyroid function. For thyroid disorders it is best to find a qualified naturopathic physician to monitor thyroid progress.
- Tyrosine is crucial to brain power and alertness in another way. It’s also needed for your body to make active thyroid hormones. Low blood levels of tyrosine are associated with an under-active thyroid gland. (Extreme thyroid deficiency causes severe mental retardation known as cretinism.) Great vegetarian sources of Tyrosine include almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy products, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Supplemental tyrosine is food and overdose is not likely to occur at any reasonable amount.
- Selenium is a cofactor for type 1 deiodinase, which converts storage thyroid T4 to active thyroid T3. Selenium is also critical for formation of glutathione peroxidase, which protects the thyroid from oxidative stress. Selenium levels become critically depleted in people with mercury toxicity. People living in regions with poor soil selenium levels in addition to low iodine levels are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of iodine deficiency in thyroid function. Notably, selenium deficiency in study rats decreased critical thyroid enzyme activity by 90%.
- Zinc is required for the action of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. The zinc/copper balance also has a big influence on the progesterone/estrogen balance in women, which has a significant influence on thyroid function.
- Lithium orotate is a supplement that offers superior bio-utilization that allows this trace mineral to penetrate the mitochondria, glia and lysosomes in the cells to promote thyroid activity inside the cell. Lithium orotate helps with: Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, brain protection, building grey matter, anti-aging, neuroprotection from environmental toxins, Lyme disease, along with PTSD, stress, ADHD, aggression, rage, anger, balances rage and lithium orotate improves memory.
- Fish oil supplements helps optimize the function of thyroid hormones within liver cells to burn fat and thereby effecting blood fats. It is the enzyme activity of hepatic mitochondrial glycerophosphate dehydrogenase in thermogenesis (body temperature) which causes a higher level of thyroid T3 in a study group that consumed fish oil.
- The amino acid L-cysteine is important in zinc metabolism for thyroid function.
- The B-complex vitamins, especially B-6, facilitate zinc metabolism to assist in thyroid function.
- Iron, manganese, and chromium are often deficient in the hypothyroid patient. Some hypothyroid patients may be so deficient in minerals that they become hyperthyroid because they cannot utilize their iodine properly.
- Maca is an herb that jogs the pituitary into producing the precursor hormones which ultimately end up raising estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels, as well as helping to balance the adrenal glands, the thyroid and the pancreas.
What impairs thyroid function?
There are many things that we drink, eat, breath and put on our bodies that interrupt thyroid function.
Our drinking water, processed drinks and our processed foods are full of halides. Halides are binary compounds of halogen and listed in the periodical elements as such. “Halogen” means “salt-former”. The main solid state of a halogen is iodine; liquid state is bromine and the two gas states are fluorine and chlorine. A problem arises in the iodine pathway because other halides, which are very similar in atomic structure to iodine, can easily occupy the iodine pathways and ultimately become stuck there as these other halogens cannot replace iodine in the pathway.
Bromine, fluorine and chlorine are halides just like iodine. Because of their similarities, other halides can occupy the iodine pathways in the cells leaving thyroid hormones floating in the blood with no place to go. Blood tests cannot tell what is going on in the cell. Supplemental iodine will begin knocking the others out of the way and allow the cells to work better. The halide toxic patient that begins to take supplemental iodide will often have adverse reactions in the detoxification process as the body starts eliminating the stuck halides.
It is wise to become familiar with and avoid all products containing any form of bromine, sodium fluoride and commercial chlorine
- Bromide: Bromide is an insidious additive used in many common products. Some experts point to bromide as the largest cancer causing additive we consume because of its propensity to displace iodine and cause hypothyroid conditions. With the massive amounts of bromide-supplemented products we consume, exposure to this man-made additive is causing a depletion of iodine in the body. Studies provide alarming evidence that even small amounts of bromide exposure can be toxic.11
You can also find bromide as methyl bromide in pesticides – stuck to your vegetables all the way to the dinner plate. Most bread products contain potassium bromate as a dough conditioner. Brominated vegetable oil is sometimes added to; flavored drinks, hot tub cleansers, asthma inhalers, prescription drugs, plastic products, personal care products, and fabric dyes. When bromide dominates in your body, iodine levels recede. Iodine supplementation competes with bromide and helps tip the balance back to iodine dominance.
- Fluoride: Fluoride is the negative ion of elemental fluorine. Fluorine (AKA fluoride) is another insidious and silent killer. It has swept into our lives under the guise of “essential for bone and teeth health”. The salt form of sodium fluoride displaces essential iodine and penetrates our cells to become transporters for drugs, poisons and even pathogens. Unfortunately for humankind the misguided experts have confused the poison form of sodium fluoride for the bone-building calcium fluoride. In fact, many scientific studies and even a JAMA article admit that sodium fluoride causes skeletal fluorosis.12
Fluoride attacks immune proteins so they cannot recognize body proteins from invading proteins resulting in autoimmune diseases like Hashimotto’s Disease. Fluoride also slows the process where iodine is attached to tyrosine to make the two thyroid hormones T-4 and T-3 and inhibits TSH output from the pituitary gland, thus reducing the thyroid hormone output.
Calcium fluoride occurs naturally Sodium fluoride does not occur in nature but rather is a toxic waste substance and bi-product of industry. Sodium fluoride is poison, not antidotal, healthy or helpful. Because of a fatal flaw in logics driven by corporate greed, sodium fluoride has infiltrated our water supplies, dentifrices and food products. It is a food preservative and food processing agent for refined foods but it has never prevented any disease or tooth decay, anywhere.
- Commercial chlorine is deadly to human life. This deadly chemical is applied to our domestic water systems to kill pathogens in the processed water. Even though it is highly diluted in our water, drinks and processed foods, it is still a halogen that displaces essential iodine.
- Installing an RO water system at the kitchen sink for drinking and cooking water to remove the chlorine is a good idea but will not remove fluoride. Boiling water only concentrates the fluoride content in the water. The only true way to filter out all fluoride in your home is to install a large bone-char filter cylinder at the water inlet to your home.
Food products that affect and impair thyroid function
Goitrogens are naturally occurring thyroid inhibiting substances found in foods. The thyroid inhibiting effect of these food components is largely inactivated by cooking. Foods containing goitrogens include Brussels sprouts, turnips, soy, cauliflower, cassava, millet, cabbage, kale, flaxseeds and broccoli.
- Studies have shown that in animals fed soy protein, there is lower energy and protein utilization compared to milk protein fed animals. Circulating thyroid hormone levels (T4) were found to be lower following soy feeding. In one animal study, rats fed soy had lower activity of a protective enzyme implicated in goiter. This enzyme is known as TPO- which is responsible for making thyroid hormone. The genistein in soy destroys TPO.
Soy has long been implicated in diet induced goiter. This is happening even more as the consumption of soy products in the US is increasing dramatically. While the studies mentioned above were on animals, we do know that in babies who have hypothyroidism at birth and require feeding replacements need to avoid any replacements that contain soy products. Soy contains flavonoids that are goitrogenic (interfere with the thyroid function) that impair oxidation of iodide within the thyroid gland.
Soy products especially affect people that are low in iodine.
- Potassium Bromate is a toxic form of the halogen bromate which gets into the thyroid pathways to block the life-sustaining iodine. Short story: bromate is an endocrine disruptor that is used as an additive to increase the volume in breads, rolls, and flours. In California there is even a cancer warning for potassium bromate required on labels. Other names for potassium bromate are: Bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour and “enriched flour.” It is used liberally in almost all commercial baked goods in the US and is also a very common hidden ingredient in flour that also shows up in some toothpaste and mouthwash brands even is listed at times as an antiseptic.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil, listed on food and drink labels as BVO, is a hazardous ingredient and can cause bromide poisoning symptoms like hypothyroidism, skin lesions and memory loss, as well as nerve disorders.
- Carmel color is known to cause thyroid, lung and liver cancer along with many other problems. Caramel color is found in many foods, like beverages, candy, baked goods, cereal, energy bars, puddings, jams, bread, macaroni and cheese, deli meat, icings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet and even put in meats and fish to make them appear “fresher”. The problem is, caramel color is a chemical called either 2 or 4-methylimidazole, which forms when sugar is mixed with ammonia and sulfites. Caramel color is also used for many food colors, from FD&C Blue #1 to Red Number 3 and Yellow 5.
- Methyl iodide is used as a strawberry fumigant in the US and around the world. Independent scientific reviews show that this chemical can cause thyroid tumors, alter DNA, taint groundwater and is also linked it to birth defects, nerve damage, and brain and lung problems.
- Gluten sensitivity causes thyroid problems. In fact, there are fifty-five diseases that can be caused by eating gluten listed in a review in the New England Journal of Medicine – including thyroid disease.
Clothing, furniture and even cookware products that impair thyroid function
- Flame Retardants: a.k.a. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are known to disrupt thyroid function, cross the placental barrier and pass through into breast milk. Flame retardants are commonly found in children’s pajamas, furniture foam, carpet padding and are even found in cell phones, computers and TV monitors. We and our children are often sleeping on mattresses with PBDEs and wearing PJs with PBDEs and consequently breathing chemical fumes for nine or more hours every night. Then, we spend many waking hours in classrooms and/or homes with computers, TVs and cell phones that are emitting these chemicals into the air. Additionally, PBDEs are now being found in our water supply and being passed along to farm-raised fish.
- PFOA causes thyroid disorders. It’s in your cookware, your clothing, furniture, carpets, popcorn bags and even in your food! Its perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and it remains indefinitely in the environment and even gets stuck in your body. A new study out of West Virginia University’s School of Medicine has found that people with the highest blood levels of PFOA are 40 percent more likely to develop arthritis than people with the lower levels. PFOA is also linked to a variety of diseases, including thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, delayed pregnancy, and infertility. See also: Flame retardants are causing autism: Natural News article by Craig, Tuesday, August 07, 2012
- Lead accounts for most of the cases of pediatric heavy metal poisoning which leads to thyroid dysfunction. Millions of homes built before 1940 still contain lead (paint, pipe solder etc) leading to chronic exposure from weathering, flaking, chalking, and dust. Target organs for lead toxicity are the bones, brain, blood, kidneys, and thyroid gland.
Cleaning and disinfectant products that impair thyroid function
- Triclosan and triclocarban are used in antibacterial hand soap and pesticides that end up on food. Several studies have shown that triclosan can alter hormone regulation, including sex hormones, and also cause antibiotic resistance. Triclosan and triclocarban, which are in antibacterial hand soap, can damage both your thyroid and the environment.Use plain soap instead. Studies show that if you wash for 20 seconds with plain soap, you’ll be just as germ-free.
- Phthalates soften plastics, and are in everything from shower curtains to plastic wrap to food containers. They are also used to stabilize scents – which means, you find them in fragrance-based products like perfume, shampoo, plastic tubing, soaps and lotions. Phthalates are pervasive in the environment and have increasingly become associated with changes in development of the male brain as well as with genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone in babies and adults. Multiple studies have linked phthalates to suppression of normal thyroid function and birth defects, mostly affecting the genital development of young boys and sperm counts in adult men.
- Parabens, common in shampoos, lotions and shaving gels are preservatives that humans have been widely and publicly exposed to as toxic contaminants. Parabens are a synthetic preservative and antimicrobial agent found in most personal-care products like shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, lotions, cleansers and body wash. Parabens appear as methyl-, ethyl-, butyl- or propylparaben. Studies have found that parabens mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt normal hormone function, and are commonly found in breast-tumor biopsies. It is now relatively easy to find clearly-marked parabens-free products.
- For more on toxic sundry products see: https://realhealthtalk.com/Lather,_slather,_lotions_and_potions.html
Lifestyle affects thyroid function
- The circadian clock is a well-regulated biological process which helps to keep the body healthy by regulating sleeping, waking, hormone release, thyroid function and body temperature along with other important functions; all in an orderly 24-hour cycle. Not having enough sleep, night-shift work and other disruptions to our body’s 24-hour clock can cause it to run down, leaving you susceptible to infection and illness.
- The lymphatic system stimulates the thyroid, liver and pancreas. It also rejuvenates the white blood cells, stimulates the immune system to fight disease, all while cleansing the kidneys and joints. But the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump and relies on our breathing and body movements like walking, jogging or jumping to keep things moving. Without lymph movement you would die in about 24 hrs as a result of the trapped toxins and proteins surrounding our cells.
- When on a diet your body starts conserving calories, making it more difficult to lose weight. This is because dieting is a form of stress that causes more Thyroid T-4 to convert to RT-3 which slows metabolism and aids survival during periods of famine. During any fasting you should take supplemental tyrosine daily as it is an essential amino acid that comes mostly from animal proteins.
Drugs, medical procedures and dental products that affect thyroid function
There are no such thing as “side effects” because they are all effects… There are more than 4 dozen popular drugs that overtly impair thyroid function. Things like NSAIDs (Aspirin, etc.) Hydrocortisone, Interferon, Beta Blockers, and some cholesterol lowering drugs just to name a few.
- Statin drugs ruin your cholesterol based hormones and cause thyroid dysfunction along with a drop in all sex hormones. Low thyroid levels directly related to statin drugs leads to low energy, sleepiness, irritability, dementia and depression. Researchers found the direct connection between statin drugs and low thyroid and testosterone after studying data on nearly 3,500 men.
- A new study finds that doctors are treating patients with early-stage, low-risk thyroid cancer using radioactive iodine, which doesn’t increase their chances of surviving but rather puts them at very high risk for a secondary cancer.
- Mercury is a known thyroid and endocrine disruptor and feminizing agent. Exposure to mercury appears to be the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Many studies document that mercury causes hypothyroidism and damage to the thyroid. Thimerosal (AKA mercury) is a common additive to vaccines, injectable drugs, bandages, cotton balls, diapers and feminine products. Mercury comes from many different sources though and accumulates in the body until it finally brings about disease symptoms.
- Antibiotics lead to the overgrowth of yeast (candida) in our GI tracts. Antibiotics kill the “bad” bacteria right along with the “good” bacteria we need in our colon. This sets the stage for Candidal overgrowth – fungus. Candida overgrowth in the intestines (and eventually the entire body), increases autoimmune thyroiditis by disrupting the immune system. Chlorine and fluoride added to municipal water also kills the healthy bacteria and further contributes to yeast overgrowth.
- Levothyroxine, aka Synthroid, is a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone used to treat hypothyroidism. This is about the worst solution possible when compared to natural solutions to help an underactive thyroid gland. Now researchers say Synthroid can triple the odds of a bone break in some people.
- Estrogen dominance causes our liver to make more thyroid binding globulin which then makes less thyroid available for use in the cells. It also impairs the conversion of T4 to T3. Estrogen levels are adversely affected by: hormone replacement therapies, birth control pills; hormones used in livestock; exposure to petrochemicals, plastics, herbicides and pesticides via air, water and food.
- Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed when the only problem was low thyroid function. SSRIs taken by the pregnant mother alter the language development in the baby! Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University found that maternal depression and this common class of antidepressants can alter a crucial period of language development in babies. But they never think of testing the mother’s thyroid instead of tossing life-altering drugs at the mom and unborn child.
- Dental mercury amalgam fillings suppress the thyroid and exude mercury vapors constantly. Did you know that mercury amalgam filling material is handled as a toxic substance before it is put in your mouth and again if it is ever removed from your mouth? The only time it is considered “safe” is while it is in your mouth. Thousands of scientific papers have been published about the danger and toxicity of mercury amalgam dental fillings.
- Fluoride in toothpaste and other dentifrices cause thyroid disruption. Despite scifi claims made by fluoride promoters about fluoride’s purported benefits, there is no legitimate scientific basis for adding this deadly toxic chemical to anything we drink or put near our teeth. “I know of absolutely no, and I mean absolutely no means of (cancer) prevention that would save so many lives as simply to stop fluoridation… There you might save 30,000 or 40,000 or 50,000 lives a year, cancer lives…” ~ Dr. Dean Burk, PhD, former US National Cancer Institute worker, at a 1982 judicial hearing.
- X-rays can turn into a battle for your life with thyroid cancer. Sources of these thyroid damaging X-rays are medical scans, security scanning devices and many ubiquitous environmental sources. Researchers looking into the alarming rise of this unusual cancer found that patients who’ve been zapped at the dentist 10 times have 5.4 times the thyroid risk when compared to those smart enough to avoid dental X-rays. One study found that between five and nine X-rays will quadruple your risk for thyroid cancer. Getting zapped a mere four times doubles your risk.
- CT angiograms are toxic to the thyroid and the kidneys. If you don’t really need one it might just ruin your life instead of saving it. The latest news is that with a CTA you are up to three times more likely to now have a thyroid condition than the unscanned.
Optimal thyroid function
In any health battle, the thyroid needs to be functioning as best as possible. Even the immune system depends upon optimal thyroid to function. Cellular metabolism requires thyroid to perform normal duties — and double-duty in the case of disease. Cleansing the body of toxins and metals while supporting the thyroid is job one. Freedom from stress and life’s worries are also very important for the healing process in the body.
For more on how the thyroid affects brain function read this: “Fixing the Brain Book 2 Structure vs function”
Sources and references
- Vobecky M et al., Interaction of Bromine with Iodine in the Rat Thyroid Gland at Enhanced Bromide Intake, Biol Trace Elem Res 1996.
- The American Journal of Medicine Volume 118, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 78-82
To learn about how the thyroid affects Dementia and child development read this: “Fixing the Brain Book 2, Brain structure vs function”
Authored by Cancer Nutritionist Craig Stellpflug NDC, CNC, Dayspring Cancer Clinic Scottsdale, AZ
Copyright 2011 Craig Stellpflug© Permission is hereby granted to copy and distribute this article but only in its entirety