Ten Things that Interfere with Thyroid Function

Monday, January 26, 2015
By: Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

Thyroid health and function is an intricate web of artwork throughout the body. It is not just the thyroid gland and a single signal from the brain to the thyroid. It is a complicated web of activity throughout the brain and body down to 70 trillion cells and their cell membranes. When this web is working well, vigor, vitality, and healthy metabolic functions permeate our being affecting every cell. When the web is disturbed or upset, the consequences are noted with a myriad of symptoms affecting the entire body. Identifying and removing some of the most common factors with thyroid function is vital to keeping the thyroid web of function intact.

1. Stress, Cortisol Imbalances

Too much stress and excess cortisol dampen thyroid function. The more stress you are under, the worse the thyroid function. Overstimulation, wind-up, and burnout are different phases of excess stress and compensation responses. This is a fundamental, extremely common issue that causes individuals to run to their physicians with symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, weight gain and hair falling out.

High levels of stress and cortisol have caused the brain to put the brakes on the brain’s TSH communication signal to the thyroid. This is an attempt to stop the individual from metabolically straining themselves even more. Lab tests return and are within normal limits or perhaps TSH is low normal, but yet the symptoms sound like poor thyroid function. This is not a direct thyroid gland problem. It reflects a protective mechanism and manifest with all kinds of symptoms reflective of challenged thyroid hormone function.

The goal with this type of situation is to address the stressor(s) and the out of balance, stress-induced chemistry. Nutritional support such as B vitamins, especially pantethine, and other nutrients like magnesium, DHA, and carnosine help support this tired, wired, mentally fuzzy, headachey, hair falling out, bloated, irritated stressed induced feeling. The goal is to reduce “stress friction” which then releases the brakes that caused the thyroid to hibernate. 

Inadequate cortisol also plays a primary, powerful factor in how the thyroid functions. This is what happens after you have pushed yourself to excess resulting in severe depletion and terrible burn-out. If cortisol is borderline low or low and one takes thyroid hormone, this will have mixed results. The initial use of thyroid hormone will help relieve the fatigue and lethargy, etc., but eventually the adrenal glands falter even more. This puts even more strain on the thyroid and nervous system. Symptoms return and it feels like the thyroid medication stopped working and the process repeats.

The adrenal glands must provide healthy levels of cortisol and DHEA in order for the feedback mechanism in the brain and thyroid to work. In fact, it is clearly stated in thyroid prescriptions drug mechanisms, that one must have healthy adrenal function and not adrenal insufficiency before prescribing thyroid medication. Don’t ignore this fundamental principle otherwise further loss of health will occur sooner or later. There are many levels of support essential for helping the body to rejuvenate. Basic fundamental support includes B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, coenzyme Q 10, and zinc.

2. Inflammation, Chronic Pain, Autoimmune Inflammation

This is a massive topic with many different facets from acute and chronic inflammation and pain, and autoimmune inflammation. The main points are to reduce the level of inflammation in the body and identify the source. Autoimmune thyroid inflammation causes slow, chronic thyroid cell damage and destruction leading to the thyroid being burned out and nothing left to give. It is the primary cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Autoimmune inflammation comes from many different triggers including gluten intolerance, viral infections, and many of the key points in this article.

Pain and inflammation from other sources unrelated to autoimmune reactions often results in poor thyroid function. Chronic inflammation of all types damages cell membranes and interrupts function on a cellular level. Thyroid hormone may be trying to get into the cell, but the cell membrane doors and transport system are broken. This makes thyroid hormone pile up “outside the door” with no way to enter. As a result, thyroid symptoms persist. The pain signals and inflammatory responses also flood the brain creating a feedback loop that can lock the problem in between high stress and poor thyroid function. 

The reverse with thyroid function can also happen, that thyroid dysfunction causes pain and trigger points. For those individuals who have significant thyroid problems that are not well managed, muscle and joint pain and trigger points occur. If one leaves these concerns undertreated or unrecognized, the physiology perpetuates the imbalanced cortisol and wind-up phenomenon. It can be a very difficult cycle to break if not managed well. This is combination of scenarios may be seen with whiplash injuries and thyroid dysfunction.

Essential nutrients that help calm down inflammation and break the pain cycle includes vitamin D, quercetin, DHA, phosphatidylserine, curcumin, grape seed extract, and magnesium with malic acid.

3. Food Intolerance and Goitrogens

Gluten intolerance and gluten associated cross reactive foods play a profound dietary role in causing autoimmune inflammation and thyroid gland destruction. If you are reactive to these foods and consume them, it causes chronic slow inflammation that may be linked with hyper and hypofunction of the gland. This can eventually destroy the thyroid gland. It burns the thyroid gland out before you know it and the end result is hypothyroidism. It can also cause full blown hyperactive thyroid problems. This process leads to life long thyroid prescription need. In the world of autoimmunity and tissue destruction induced by food, don’t guess, ignore it, or refuse to believe it. Get the lab testing done to rule in or rule out “wheat/gluten proteome autoimmune reactivity”. If that is positive, then move on to the next test ruling out concerns with “gluten associated cross reactive foods.” Ignoring this factor is like ignoring the check engine light when the engine block is cracked and no fluids in the car.

There are other thyroid problematic foods to reduce or eliminate from the diet such as soy and soybean oil, excessive consumption of kelp, etc, and goitrogenic foods. Goitrogenic foods or foods that interfere with thyroid function including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, turnips, peanuts, linseed, pine nuts, millet, cassava, and mustard greens. Cooking or lightly steaming these foods generally eliminates the risk. 

4. Nutrient Deficits

The thyroid must have adequate nourishment in order to function. Protein, good fats (saturated and unsaturated), DHA, selenium, iodine, manganese, vitamin A, zinc, copper, iron, and B vitamins are essential in thyroid health.

5. Prescriptions

There are many different types of prescription medications that interfere with thyroid. Some meds may cause a dampening of the signal from the brain to the thyroid, i.e. TSH score are low, and some interfere with the circulation of thyroid hormone in the body preventing it from getting to its final destination. Other meds interfere with the activation of T4 to T3 or interfere with measuring T4 and T3 in the blood stream.

Common problematic meds include:

• estrogen and estrogen containing birth control pills
• tamoxifen
• heroin
• methadone
• fluouracil
metformin
• dopamine
• glucocorticoids/steroids
• heparin
• phenytoin
• carbamazepine
• amphetamines
• amiodarone
• radiocontrast dyes
• lithium
• sertraline (Zoloft), 
• probenicid
• furosemide (Lasix)
• propranolol
• aluminum hydroxide
• Raloxifene (Evista)
• and others.

You will probably recognize several of these medications. They have a wide variety of purposes ranging from HRT and contraception, anti-seizure meds, mood stabilizers, diuretics, blood pressure meds, osteoporosis, diabetes, anti-clotting drugs, cancer drugs, and others. The list is eye-opening in the scope of different types of medications that interfere with thyroid function. Be careful to read the fine print on your drug information sheet.

6. Infections

There are many different chronic infections linked with autoimmune thyroid problems. These include H pylori, Epstein Barr Virus, Hepatitis C, and others. Treating the underlying infection is the goal along with stabilizing and supporting healthy thyroid function. Keep in mind, chronic infections often cause significant chronic inflammation and adrenal stress. This contributes to the feedback system that shuts thyroid function that we discussed at the beginning of the article.

7. Gut Problems

This is another complex source of irritation and dysfunction in the how thyroid hormone works. The beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract activates 20 percent of thyroid hormone. Imbalances in the beneficial gut bacteria cause germ overgrowth of the wrong kind rendering hormone conversion ineffective. In the presence of low thyroid hormone levels and non-beneficial germs in the gut, the risk for increased gut permeability and dysfunctional “tight junctions” occur, i.e. Leaky Gut Syndrome. This creates another type of vicious cycle, i.e. low thyroid hormone leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome and vice versa. The end result becomes poor thyroid function and poor gut function. This causes a domino effect with poor digestion and absorption, poor gallbladder and liver function and subsequent malnourishment and more inflammation and weight gain. What a problematic tangled web!

8. Toxins and Detoxification Problems

Digestive problems lead to problems with toxins affecting the liver’s detoxification ability. Simultaneously, we live on a polluted planet with Endocrine Disrupting Compoundsjet fuel petroleum by-products, pesticides that grossly interfere with thyroid hormone activation and function at the cellular level. It is essential to remove as many of these from personal daily exposure. Helping the body detoxify from exposure is just as important. The liver is the primary site of thyroid hormone activation and detoxification. If the liver is sluggish and has problems with fatty liver congestion along with the daily insult of environmental toxins, thyroid hormone function falters. It is not a thyroid gland problem. It is a liver problem affecting the thyroid hormone.

9. Neurotransmitter Imbalances

One area of health that affects thyroid hormone production is the balance and presence of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Research in this arena is growing. Without adequate, balanced amounts of serotonin and dopamine, there is disruption in neuro-hormone communication with the thyroid and how hormone is transported and utilized in the body. Dopamine and the amino acid tyrosine are well studied, but serotonin is also involved in the life and death of thyroid cells.

10. Leptin, Insulin, Estrogen, and Progesterone

Wellness Resources has a wealth of information on leptin, thyroid, insulin and other hormones. Imbalanced levels of leptin, progesterone, estrogen, and insulin resistance prevent healthy thyroid hormone activity and use of it within cells. These are big problems interlinked with the gut, liver, inflammation and more. If you haven’t read The Leptin Diet or Mastering Leptin and your thyroid metabolism is broken, it is time to read one or both books. Follow The Leptin Diet and work on improving insulin resistance. Quality protein, chromium, Gymnema sylvestre, DHA and many other nutrients can provide tremendous support in health and function.

As you can see, there are multiple factors that affect thyroid function. The goal is to identify the most difficult concerns personally affecting you and work on improving them. It is not essential to address everything all at once. Work on stress management, removing food intolerances, detoxification and cleaning up the gut. It is a process. Do something daily no matter how small to change these factors. Thyroid health is a beautiful work of art in the form of a grandiose web, but the only way to conquer it when it is out of balance is akin to the question – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

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