Your thyroid gland is one of the largest glands in the body, and is located in the front of the neck, just below the larynx. The thyroid gland is a master orchestrator of the body's use of energy sources, and it also controls protein synthesis and manages bodily sensitivity to many other hormones.
The thyroid produces two principal hormones, known as T3 and T4. They are synthesized from iodine and tyrosine and regulate the rate of functioning of many bodily systems. Additionally, the thyroid produces a hormone called calcitonin, which helps calcium levels remain balanced. A hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, regulates the thyroid's hormonal output. The health of your thyroid has a major influence on your overall health.
Incidence of Thyroid Health Issues
A thyroid gland that is under active, which produces a condition called hypothyroidism, is more common than we used to believe and is the most common problem associated with thyroid health. Up to 40% of Americans are believed to have sub-optimal thyroid functioning. Hypothyroidism is more prevalent in women and the risk increases with age. Around 10% of adults over age 65 have hypothyroidism, but many women in their 20's and 30's report experiencing symptoms of low thyroid before tests results show signs of hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism may be caused by the gland itself not functioning well, or by inadequate stimulation by TSH. In parts of the world where dietary iodine is sufficient, it is most commonly caused by an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Autoimmune thyroid problems are associated with other immune system-mediated diseases like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Around 5% of women develop thyroid health issues after childbirth, and up to 40% of them remain permanently hypothyroid.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include feelings of tiredness and sluggishness, difficulty losing excess weight, dry skin, constipation, lack of sweating, hair loss, and heightened sensitivity to cold. These symptoms are worth checking out with your healthcare provider, because thyroid health influences every system of the body.
Causes of Thyroid Problems
It's not always possible to determine the exact cause of thyroid health problems like hypothyroidism, but substances that mimic the effects of estrogen are believed to play a role. These may include phytoestrogens found in plants like soy, as well as chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which are used in plastic products like beverage bottles and food containers. One study in Michigan found that total T4 levels were on average 10% lower in study subjects with the most exposure to phthalates.
Some forms of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can interfere with thyroid health, and pesticides inadvertently consumed in the typical American diet can also compromise thyroid function. Commercially raised beef and poultry are often treated with hormones that can lead to a condition called "estrogen dominance", which is associated with poor thyroid health. Other causes of thyroid health issues include obesity and nutritional deficiencies in nutrients like vitamin B6 and magnesium.
Natural Sources of Support for Your Thyroid
The good news is, you can reduce exposure to the natural and chemical estrogens in your environment, and this can help your thyroid function properly. A largely plant-based diet consisting of fresh, whole foods, organic fruits and vegetables, and naturally raised meats is good for your thyroid and good for your overall health.
Eliminating unfermented soy and understanding the many places soy is included in packaged foods can help you avoid consuming too much soy and affecting your thyroid health. An herb called ashwagandha is what is known as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to stressors, and it is associated with improved thyroid health. Studies in mice found higher T4 levels in mice that consumed ashwagandha compared to those that did not.
Healthy Thyroid, Better Overall Health
A healthy thyroid gland is a significant factor in overall good health. The thyroid has so many important functions that problems with thyroid health can affect just about any system of the body. Avoiding chemicals like phthalates in plastics, and making sure you're not consuming too much unfermented soy can help your body support a healthy thyroid. Most thyroid health problems can be addressed in a straightforward manner, so if you have symptoms indicating a thyroid issue, you should definitely speak with your physician. And if you'd like to learn more about healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, we invite you to contact us at any time.