As January is Thyroid Awareness Month, this article discusses the importance of the thyroid gland within the body, diseases and conditions which affect the thyroid and how gut health and nutrition are linked to optimal thyroid function.
It is thought that more than 12% of Western populations will develop a thyroid condition at some time in their life, with women being at least 5 times more likely to develop thyroid disease. But shockingly, up to 60% of those with a thyroid condition are undiagnosed! Thyroid disease can lead to many other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, to name just a few. That is why thyroid awareness is very important.
What is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the middle of the neck that produces hormones. It plays a major role in metabolism, growth and development. It controls our body temperature, how efficiently our body burns energy, our menstrual cycles...basically it impacts every cell and organ in the body.
The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone T4, which has to be converted to T3 (the active form) in order to be used. Some thyroid problems can be linked to this conversion. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is produced by the pituitary gland, and it tells the thyroid gland to release hormones.
What is Thyroid Disease
There are different types of thyroid diseases where too little or too much thyroid hormone is produced. There are also autoimmune diseases that attack the thyroid gland.
Hypothyroidism is when too little thyroid hormone is produced and can result in symptoms of weight gain, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, constipation, brittle fingernails, hair loss, oedema, joint aches and poor sleep. The autoimmune form of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto's Disease, and this is when the body's own immune system attacks the thyroid gland, resulting in loss of thyroid hormone. It is thought that 90% of hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's Disease.
Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid where too much thyroid hormone is produced. Symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, rapid heart rate, excess sweating, irritability and shaky hands. The autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism is called Graves Disease, where the immune system causes the thyroid gland to grow and produce too much thyroid hormone.
Link to Nutrition and Gut Health
Autoimmune thyroid conditions are often connected via the "gut-thyroid axis". This means that an unbalanced gut microbiome results in dysbiosis, which can lead to:
- Inflammation resulting in leaky gut and altered immune responses driving autoimmune conditions
- Reduced absorption of minerals that are important to thyroid function such as iodine, selenium, zinc and iron
- Food sensitivities and triggers such as gluten or dairy which can also result in inflammation leading to leaky gut and autoimmunity
Nutrition and Thyroid Function
Identifying poor thyroid function and testing for thyroid antibodies is a great starting point for getting to the root cause of what can be behind many health conditions. Looking at overall gut health, food intolerances and imbalances in the gut microbiome are important steps in starting to heal the gut and balance the gut-thyroid axis. Following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and removing processed foods is the best way to start.
Medicinal Eating Nutritional Therapy can help with both dietary analysis and provide support in making the necessary diet and lifestyle changes to kick start your journey to better thyroid health. Functional testing is also available to identify specific thyroid and gut health issues. For further information, please contact Medicinal Eating or email Janine at email@example.com.