The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland, wrapped around your windpipe in your neck. There are two major types of thyroid disease:
- Hypothyroid: The thyroid underperforming by failing to make enough thyroid hormone.
- Hyperthyroid: The thyroid is over performing making too much thyroid hormone.
The thyroid makes hormones that regulate energy level, metabolism, growth and reproduction of every cell in your body. It is part of the body’s endocrine or hormone producing system. Targeting every cell in your body, it specifically modulates the function of your mitochondria inside the cells to produce more or less energy. We need it to remain healthy as it generates new cells to replace old ones. Therefore if something goes wrong with the thyroid all these important functions are affected and symptoms result.
- Women are five times more likely to have thyroid disease as men
- 1 in 8 women develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime
- Approximately 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of the condition
Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and infertility. Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.
WHAT TO DO
- Understand the underlying causes
- Full testing
- Adequate treatment
- Medication, supplementation and other healing
From a basic physiologic point of view, the thyroid is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain which decides when to raise or lower cellular activity. It produces thyroid releasing hormone when it senses more energy is needed by stimulating the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is an organ just above the sinuses and it produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in response to the hypothalamus. This in turn activates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones. Think of the hypothalamus as the president making ‘big picture’ decisions, the pituitary as the vice president who relays those decisions, the thyroid is the company manager sending out or holding back encouragement to each of the workers, and the mitochondria (energy producers in individual cells) as the workers.
THE THYROID HORMONES
- T4 (thyroxine) and
- T3 (triiodothyronine) is the more active hormone and is converted from T4, but the thyroid also produces a small amount of T3 directly. Additionally, it produces very small amounts of T2 and T1. The thyroid uses tyrosine and iodine to make these hormones.
- TSH-thyroid stimulating hormone, produced by the pituitary gland. Often used as a screening test for thyroid function. Optimal result between 0.3-2 mIU/L.
- FT3 and FT4, the active forms of T4 and T3 and more accurate to test. Optimum FT4 level is 1.1-1.8ng/dl. Optimal FT3 level: 230-420pg/dL.
- Thyroid antibodies: These are high when the immune system attacks the thyroid.
Thyroid perioxidase antibodies and thyroglobin antibodies are high in hashimoto disease. Thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin is high in Grave’s disease.
If the thyroid is working properly and hormones are being produced, the body sends a message back to the hypothalamus that energy demands are being met and it in turn instructs the pituitary and TSH remains at a steady level between 0.3-2. However if it is not, the pituitary receives a message to produce more TSH from the hypothalamus which then stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormones. The opposite occurs if the thyroid is overproducing hormones, TSH will be decreased and fewer hormones will be produced by the thyroid. This is referred to as a negative feedback mechanism and also forms the basis of how lab work for thyroid disorders is interpreted. For instance if TSH is high on blood results, we know the thyroid is not producing enough hormones and therefore there is something wrong with it, as the hypothalamus detects that energy demands are not being met and instructs the pituitary to produce more TSH to stimulate the thyroid.
The treatment of thyroid diseases is complex and multifaceted. The good news is the thyroid responds incredibly well to the right treatment and can be effectively treated with a range of naturopathic therapies, oftentimes preventing the use of needing medication.
Check out our articles coming out this week on hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism for symptoms and options to get your body back in balance and energised!