Why does everyone have a thyroid problem?
At last year’s Wellness Expo, I did a talk on thyroid health and had thyroid focus on my stall and got to talk to many women living with a thyroid condition. Quite a few women, when I asked if they had a thyroid condition, replied, “Doesn’t everyone have a thyroid condition??” I’ve heard this in clinic many times also and 70% of my clients present with a thyroid condition.
So what’s going on? And why does it seems that everyone has a thyroid condition these days?? Why are thyroid conditions becoming more prevalent?
Let’s start with understanding a little bit about this little butterfly-shaped gland which sits at the base of our necks, that can cause so much trouble in the body, and that has me in awe of it the more I treat it and the more I learn about it.
The thyroid gland is pivotal to your health and wellbeing. Its function in the body is to regulate our metabolism and temperature and effects every cell, tissue and organ in the body.
The thyroid receives messages form the pituitary gland in the brain in the form of the hormone TSH - Thyroid stimulating Hormone, to produce the thyroid hormones T4, which is then converted into the ACTIVE thyroid hormone T3, which acts on cells and tissues to either speed up or slow down our metabolism, depending on what is needed.
The conversion of the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 occurs in the liver and skeletal muscle by enzymes called deiodinases which in turn need adequate nutrients such as selenium, iodine,
copper and zinc. The thyroid gland is so important to our body’s metabolism and function and influences the function of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin. The thyroid works to communicate with our cells to keep the body running smoothly. It is a very sensitive organ and is affected by stress, gut health, infections, toxicity and nutritional deficiencies.
The most common clinical presentation is women, aged between 35-60, presenting with fatigue, inability to lose weight, constipation, muscle aches and pains, moodiness, foggy brain, headaches, achy joints and muscles, dry skin and hair and hair loss and feeling the cold. Not everyone with a sluggish thyroid will present with all of these symptoms but
most present with around 80% of them. All quite common symptoms which are very easily mis-diagnosed as something else. Most of these women were diagnosed with Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease many years ago, were prescribed with the thyroid medication thyroxine, but are still experience quite debilitating symptoms. There may be high blood pressure and high cholesterol due to the fact that the thyroid affects the function of the heart and specifically the diastolic relaxation of the heart tissue.
Another presentation is the above symptoms, especially anxiety and/or depression, but their thyroid condition is yet to be diagnosed and they are unaware that their thyroid plays a major role in their mood symptoms. On the flip side, Hyperthyroidism/Graves’ disease presents less commonly but is still debilitating for the patient.
I always suspect a thyroid condition when I see ongoing digestive issues in a patient such as SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. When the thyroid is out of balance, particularly in hypothyroidism, the metabolism slows down because not enough active T3 is being converted, the bodily processes slow down, particularly the digestion.
That is why constipation is common in hypothyroidism. The rhythmic and colonic sweeping of waste and bacteria slows down in the small intestine causing bacteria to build up and ferment causing extreme gas and bloating- this is SIBO. The inflammation that is caused can further exacerbate thyroid symptoms, and vice versa, a sluggish thyroid gives rise to SIBO.
I believe that the thyroid gland has become so out of balance in the last 50 years, because it is so sensitive to toxins, stress, (including infections in the body and heavy metal toxicity), nutritional deficiencies, gut health and immune imbalances. The very reasons for thyroid dysfunction is also where our treatment lies.
Environmental toxins – this is a big one. The thyroid is like a filter for all toxins in the body and becomes inflamed in the presence of toxins. Also, the thyroid hormone T4 is converted to its active form T3 in the liver. All toxins have to go through the liver so if you have a high toxic load, most people do, your liver won’t carry out this conversion very well. Our toxic exposure increases year to year as more and more chemicals are pumped into our environment. Chemicals in our food – preservatives, colours, pesticides, processed food wrapped in plastic, chemicals in our water – fluoride and chlorine block iodine uptake into the thyroid which is essential for thyroid hormone production. Chemicals in our shampoos, creams makeup, personal care products provide an ongoing daily exposure.
Then there is stress. We are all running around busy busy busy. Stress alone can trigger a thyroid flare and trigger your thyroid to go out of balance. You would be amazed how many thyroid conditions naturally resolve once the adrenals have been properly nourished and supported! The adrenals are the batteries of the body that keep us going and help us recover from disease. The symptoms of adrenal fatigue are very similar to those of thyroid disease. Stress on or in the body can come from many different avenues such as, nutritional deficiencies, recurring illnesses, infections, constantly going and going and going without adequate rest, poor sleep, high sugar/carbohydrate, excessive caffeine, overexercising and physical and emotional stress.
Nutritional deficiencies. The thyroid is very dependent on certain nutrients to function well. such as iodine, selenium, iron, zinc and tyrosine. Many of our modern diets do not meet these standards. The thyroid does not like dieting, especially yo-yo dieting, or fasting OR famine type diets, it likes a nice steady flow of food quality protein and nutrients. Many women become very deficient in essential nutrients during pregnancy, especially subsequent pregnancies. The growing baby needs huge amounts of nutrients for its development and if mum gets low in these nutrients, especially iron, iodine, zinc and selenium, which are essential for thyroid function also, the thyroid cannot perform well. Low thyroid function during pregnancy can have terrible effects of the developing baby and for the mother’s health after birth.
Poor gut health or leaky gut is pretty much always involved in every thyroid condition. Whether stress has weakened the gut wall over time or there are food intolerances causing inflammation and an over-growth of dysbiotic bacteria and or parasites and an imbalance of good and not so good bacteria, the digestive system can cause a lot of inflammation and alteration of the immune system which can trigger thyroid imbalances.
Another reason is chronic ongoing infections in the body. A really common one is Epstein Barr Virus. Many people have no idea that they have come into contact with this virus until it is found on through blood pathology. Viruses which hang around in our bodies can be reactivated in times of stress and other infections, constantly affecting our immune response and turning on autoimmunity causing the immune system to, in the thyroid’s case, attack thyroid tissue as seen in Graves’ disease and Hashimotos. Other common chronic infections include parasites, Helicobacter Pylori and borrelia infection.
Put all of the above reasons together, which is not uncommon and the thyroid gland will be working overtime to maintain balance or homeostasis in the body. It will either go into over drive to restore balance, (hyperthyroidism – Graves’ disease), or become so fatigued and tired that it slows right down to achieve this, (hypothyroidism – Hashimotos Thyroiditis).
The first step in healing a thyroid condition is getting the right testing and diagnosis. Then finding your individual triggers. If you just take medication, your symptoms may improve at first, but you need to find reason(s) why your thyroid went out of balance in the first place, or you will never truly heal.
The thyroid loves balance as that is its job in the body…to maintain metabolism and temperature and to speed up or slow down metabolic processes. By removing environmental toxins, eating cleanly and healthily for your body, providing the nutrients the thyroid needs to make hormones and healing your gut will go a long way to bring balance back to the thyroid and balance back to your body and life.
By Tara Nelson- Naturopath
Tara’s passion as a Naturopath is about educating people about how to eat well and live well, for them to take control of their own health by making the changes of eating better and eliminating lifestyle practices that are not supporting this process.
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