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Thyroid disorders affect one in twenty people in the UK – could you be one of them?i
The thyroid gland is small, but mighty. It regulates how quickly our mitochondria produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the ‘energy currency’ of our body, and in doing so, underpins metabolism and the health of every body system.ii Its key tools are thyroid hormones that communicate with our body cells - thyroxine (T4) which can be converted to the more active triiodothyronine (T3).
If the thyroid functions too slowly, as in hypothyroidism, there is too little fuel to feed the fire and metabolism becomes sluggish. Yet, if the thyroid functions too efficiently, as in hyperthyroidism, there is too much fuel to feed the fire and metabolism starts to work too fast. As hypothyroidism is much more common, this is what we will focus on in this article.
The starting point to natural thyroid support is provision of the nutrients it needs to function. Iodine and tyrosine make T4, supported by iron, selenium, and vitamin A, B2, B3, B6, and C. Selenium, zinc, and copper are needed to convert it to T3.iii,ivDepletion of these nutrients is common, particularly iodinev from low seafood intake and selenium from soils becoming mineral deprived.vi N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is also an important amino acid. It combines with selenium to form selenocysteine, a key thyroid antioxidant,vii and supports production of glutathione peroxidase.
However, you can take the best thyroid supplement and pack your diet full of these essential nutrients, but if you have compromised digestion, detoxification, and blood sugar management, autoimmunity, and chronic stress, you will probably experience frustratingly slow progress.
Compromised digestion can be an underlying factor, especially of autoimmune thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, due to the association with increased intestinal permeability (‘Leaky Gut’).viii This is often mediated by gluten,ix imbalanced gut bacteria,x and stress,xi which drives autoimmunity, especially if an individual is genetically susceptible.xii If food is also poorly digested, say from eating on the go, and moves through the gut too fast due to diarrhoea, nutrient absorption becomes harder. So, even if you manage to consume sufficient thyroid-supportive nutrients, how much of that are you actually absorbing?
Low vitamin D is a mediator of autoimmunityxiii which can arise from low sunlight exposurexiv and being a carrier of variants of the vitamin D receptor gene, VDR.xv Meanwhile, chronic inflammation driven by intestinal permeability and autoimmunity, and other factors like processed foodxvi and poor sleep,xvii may suppress thyroid activity.
Disrupted blood sugar due to a high sugar diet and high stress, often accompany thyroid dysfunction. Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands in times of stress. When produced excessively, it may suppress the release of thyroid stimulating hormone from the pituitary.xviii It also forces T4 to be converted to ‘reverse T3’ (rT3) which actually blocks thyroid function, even though thyroxine levels look adequate when tested.xix Blood glucose imbalance also triggers cortisol secretion, and insulin resistance may have a direct negative effect on the thyroid too.xx
‘Halide’ molecules, such as fluoride from tap-water,xxi are similar to iodine, and can prevent uptake of iodine into the thyroid. Other toxins like heavy metals, such as mercury from dental fillings, can impair conversion of T4 to T3.xxii High exposure to these toxins, coupled with impaired detoxification due to poor diet, nutrient depletion from chronic stress, and genetic factors, may give them the opportunity to disrupt thyroid function.
The health of the body regulates the health of the thyroid. This is the ‘golden nugget’ which can help individuals with a thyroid disorder to achieve the lasting balance which they deserve.
In practice, this involves provision of thyroid-supportive nutrients, especially iodine, tyrosine, selenium, N-acetyl cysteine, vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc.
Also consider support for digestion (e.g. probioticsxxiii), immunity (e.g. vitamin D3xxiv), a balanced nervous system (e.g. magnesiumxxv), blood sugar management (e.g. chromiumxxvi), and detoxification (e.g. glutathionexxvii), as well as mitochondrial function (e.g. D-ribosexxviii).
Looking after yourself and focusing on some key nutrients really can help you to keep both body and thyroid in good health.