The thyroid gland is a small gland located in your neck just below your Adams apple. It is one of many glands in the endocrine system and has unique functions. Its butterfly shape hints at the important role it plays. The thyroid’s job is to produce hormones that control how quickly the body uses energy (metabolic rate), makes protein, regulates body energy and temperature, and controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones. The thyroid also produces a hormone that regulates the use of calcium in our body.
The thyroid produces 3 hormones, Triiodothryronine or T3, Tetraiodothryronine or T4, and Calcitonin. The hormones T4 and T3 are regulated by the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland; these are critical. Calcitonin regulates when calcium is moved in and out of bones.
An improperly functioning thyroid causes a myriad of different symptoms which can be difficult to diagnose. Possible symptoms of an improperly functioning thyroid may include unexplained weight loss or weight gain, fatigue, depression, insomnia, excessive sweating, joint pain, vomiting, and poor attention span. Fortunately, there are blood tests that your doctor can do which will assist in determining if the thyroid is working properly.
If a blood test reveals that the thyroid is overactive, that is known as hyperthyroidism. What that means is that the T4 level is too high. Hyperthyroidism can have several causes. Graves’ disease is a common autoimmune condition where antibodies, thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), produced by the body cause an overproduction of T4 and T3. Sometimes, the thyroid stops responding to TSH produced by the pituitary gland. Other causes include inflammation of the thyroid gland or a nodule that is producing excess hormones.
Physical symptoms of hyperthyroidism include, but are not limited to, significant unexplained weight loss, insomnia, tremors, nervousness, frequent bowel movements, excessive sweating, joint pain, difficulty concentrating, eyes seem to be enlarging, feeling excessively hot in normal or cold temperatures, vomiting, increased blood pressure, and persistently fast heart rate. Depending on the exact cause of the hyperthyroidism doctors have various treatments.
If a blood test reveals that the thyroid is underactive, that is known as hypothyroidism. In this case, T3 and T4 hormone levels are too low. Causes of hypothyroidism may include an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, low levels of TSH from the pituitary gland, pregnancy, certain medications, and low dietary levels of iodine. Women are 6 times more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism.
Physical symptoms of hypothyroidism include, but are not limited to, goiter, abnormal weight gain, tiredness, constipation, poor attention span, baldness, dry skin, depression, puffiness around the eyes, deeper hoarse voice, intolerance to cold, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, and bradycardia (resting heart rate below 60 BPM).
Hypothyroidism during pregnancy has been linked to autism in infants as well as hypothyroidism in children. Proper levels of T3 and T4 are critical for fetal brain development as well as thyroid development.
A major cause for hypothyroidism is lack of iodine in our diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, iodine levels have decreased 50% in the last 30 years. Possible reasons for iodine deficiency include, toxins compete with iodine receptors, iodine depleted soils, chlorinated and fluorinated water, baked goods no longer use iodine as a dough conditioner, lack of iodine in our diet, lower salt consumption, and the fact that iodized salt loses 100% of iodine content after exposure to air for 4 weeks.
The thyroid gland uses iodine and tyrosine to produce T4 and T3 hormones. Iodine is so important for our body to function properly that it is stored throughout the body. Iodine receptors allow the uptake of iodine into cells. Iodine receptors are found in breast, prostate, brain, and ovary tissues, gastric mucosa, salivary glands, and cerebrospinal fluid.
There are several chemicals (toxins) that we are exposed to every day which compete for space where the iodine receptors are located; these toxins are fluorine (fluoride), chlorine, and bromine. Bromine is found in breads as a dough conditioner. Before the early 1970’s iodine was used in all breads as a dough conditioner but was replaced by bromine; this very fact alone accounts for a large decrease in dietary iodine. Over farming is another reason for a decrease in dietary iodine availability.
Fortunately, iodine can naturally be found in seaweed, cod, sea bass, haddock, perch, asparagus, spinach, Swiss chard, baked potato with peel, cow’s milk, shrimp, turkey, chicken, cooked beans, tuna canned in oil, and boiled eggs. The richest sources of iodine comes from the ocean. Although, sea salt does not contain iodine.
The RDA, Recommended Daily Allowance, is set at 150µg per day. According to Dr. David Brownstein, that RDA is too low. Dr. Brownstein recommends 6.25mg – 50mg per day. In a recently published report, Dr. Brownstein states, “If we have too much bromine, iodine is released from the body. The receptors that are supposed to bind with iodine now bind with bromine instead. Thus, hormones that are supposed to contain iodine contain bromine. For example, the thyroid gland produces thyroxine, or T4. There are four iodine molecules attached to it, but if we ingest too much bromine and too little iodine, there is a good chance that our thyroid hormone will not contain iodine but bromine. Unfortunately, thyroid blood tests cannot distinguish between the two.”
For most Americans, we do not get enough iodine in our diet. And the iodine we do get may be competing with toxins in our body. The organs that store and use iodine become compromised and risk of disease increases as bromine, fluoride, and chlorine take the place of iodine in our cells. Daily supplementation with kelp or another form of seaweed is a great way to boost iodine levels. If you prefer to take iodine pills, ensure that they contain both iodine and iodide for the best bio availability. Many cases of hypothyroidism have been successfully treated with increasing iodine levels. Returning your thyroid to proper functioning could transform your life and restore your vitality.
You may also want to check to see how much selenium you are getting. It is found naturally in many ocean fish. Selenium is often used to reduce the inflammatory effects of autoimmune disorders and has shown positive results in treating Hashimoto’s disease. For the thyroid, selenium is also necessary for T4 to be turned into T3.
Blood tests do not always tell us what is going on inside our body. It is important to pay attention to how we feel. It is important to identify changes in energy level, moods, appetite, weight, and aches and pains. These are all useful tools for your doctor to identify anything abnormal happening in your body; share them with your doctor. Also discuss with your doctor any supplements that you are taking or wish to take as they may interfere with medications and blood test results.