Thyroid Hormone Affects the Whole Body

January 8, 2018 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Thyroid Hormone Affects the Whole Body
It is well-known that the thyroid gland and its hormones are needed for health and metabolism. But what does that mean? Thyroid hormones affect the entire body in ways that are often not thought about. From the very young with growth and maturation, to adulthood with fertility, weight management, energy, heart disease, to the elderly with aging bones, memory and learning, constipation, and more, thyroid hormone affects everything. Inadequate thyroid gland support and impaired hormone function, even at subclinical levels, can impact healthy aging and well-being. Protection and fortification of this system must be a priority for healthy metabolism, and aging well.

Heart, Cholesterol, Blood Pressure


Thyroid hormone is needed by the heart to maintain function and rhythm. If this system is not performing well heart rate changes and arrhythmias may occur. Blood pressure is affected by hyper and hypothyroidism due to the change in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAS). Total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol are all impacted by thyroid hormones. Cardiovascular risk and disease increases with poor thyroid function even in children and teenagers who have subclinical hypothyroidism.

Bones


Bones need thyroid hormone to grow during childhood, to reach peak bone mass, and to maintain a proper balance of bone build-up and break-down through adulthood. T3 thyroid hormone has a synergistic effect with parathyroid hormone, vitamin D and several other proteins and enzymes that affect bone formation and turnover. In children with hypothyroid, they may experience stunted growth. Adults and children may face higher risk of osteoporosis.

Adrenal Glands, Growth, Fertility, Menstrual Cycle


Hypothyroidism correlates with diminished adrenal function. The size and weight of the adrenal glands are often smaller in underactive thyroid. This is associated with decreased production of adrenal steroids, like cortisol.

Growth spurts, initiation of puberty, and fertility depend on healthy thyroid function. Infertility and repetitive miscarriages may occur with thyroid dysfunction. Other hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH) decrease in hypothyroidism, which challenge menstrual cycle regularity and flow. PMS and menopause symptoms may increase.

Muscles, Mitochondria and Energy Production


Muscle energy and strength may be affected by both hyperthyroidism and underactive thyroid. Muscle weakness, loss of strength, muscle fatigue, diminished muscle repair, difficulty building new muscles, cramps, and even muscle breakdown or rhabdomyolysis may occur with impaired thyroid function. Those who are treated with a cholesterol-lowering statin medication and have untreated hypothyroidism may be at higher risk of muscle breakdown or rhabdomyolysis due to their overlapping stress effect on muscles.

Mitochondrial function is profoundly impacted with either under- or overactive thyroid problems. Energy problems, calorie burning and other significant metabolic changes occur because of impaired mitochondrial function and decreased thyroid hormone. In hypothyroidism, it is like trying to start a fire with damp firewood. The energetic process just smolders and does not create heat or energy. Hyperthyroidism stresses mitochondria like a fire that has gasoline dumped on it, only to burn hotter and faster provoking more free radical stress and inflammation.

Nerves, Brain, and Pain


Thyroid hormones impact the myelin sheath or the protective fatty layer around nerve tissue. Overactive and underactive thyroid problems may cause high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation that damages the myelin sheath. Impaired thyroid hormone function affects the hippocampus or memory center of the brain. The result is memory and learning difficulties. Pain sensitivity increases, neurotransmitter levels are altered, mood changes, and neuropathy may occur.

Gall Bladder, Liver, Pancreas/Insulin and Gut


Gallbladder problems can occur because of low thyroid function. Constipation occurs with hypothyroidism and diarrhea occurs with hyperthyroidism. Insulin resistance may occur with both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Fatty acids build up and are not burned for fuel. This may contribute to some cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Gut dysbiosis or imbalanced gut bacteria may lead to or occur because of thyroid dysfunction.

Immune Cells


The immune system is directly affected by thyroid hormone balance, as every single immune cell has receptor sites for thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is needed to help mature and regulate the T and B cells of the immune system. Thyroid gland function is also impacted by the immune system, so it is a reciprocal relationship. Most thyroid problems are autoimmune, i.e. the immune system attacks the thyroid gland or prevents the thyroid hormone from working because of inflammation.

Blood Flow


Blood clots like DVTs, pulmonary embolisms/PEs, etc. may occur with thyroid dysfunction. Subclinical hypothyroid and elderly may pose a higher risk for blood clots, but this may occur in younger adults too. In hypothyroidism, blood doesn’t travel as fast and blood cells have a greater tendency to clump together, resulting in clots. Hyperthyroidism may also lead to changes in blood flow and hemodynamics, which may also result in blood clots or bleeding disorders

The end result is that health risks increase, and significant loss of health may occur with any type of thyroid disruption including subclinical thyroid dysfunction.

Nutritional Needs for Thyroid Hormone Function


For the thyroid gland and optimal hormone function, many nutrients are needed. Thyroid hormone itself requires the amino acid tyrosine and the mineral iodine as they are the elements needed for T4 and T3 thyroid hormone. Iodine may have other benefits too as seen in a recently published randomized trial with Grave’s disease. Patients with Grave disease (autoimmune hyperthyroidism) were given anti-thyroid drug therapy and severely restricted iodine intake, which is the standard of care. Grave’s disease has a nearly 46 percent likelihood of reoccurrence within a year of treatment. In this study, researchers found that by simply optimizing iodine intake, they dropped the reoccurrence rate down to 35 percent. The results suggested that iodine restriction might cause more problems in Grave’s disease.

For thyroid hormone to do its job throughout the body, several nutrients are required. These include zinccopper, protein, magnesium, iron, selenium, vitamin B2, B1, B5, B6, vitamin C, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin A, essential fatty acids, and vitamin D. Here are some nutrients that stand-out.

Vitamin A is critical for thyroid hormone usage inside of cells. Without vitamin A, thyroid hormone can’t do its job to increase energy and metabolism. Vitamin A deficiency will worsen thyroid dysfunction when iodine is deficient. Excess iodine intake without adequate vitamin A causes more stress to the thyroid gland.

Essential fatty acids, like the omega 3 EPA/DHA and omega 6 GLA oils, are essential for thyroid hormone production and receptor site function. These special fats help transport thyroid hormone into cells and also help the liver activate thyroid hormone

Vitamin D is a complement to thyroid hormone function. Just as every cell in the body is influenced by thyroid hormone, every cell needs vitamin D. When vitamin D levels are lacking, it negatively impacts thyroid hormone function. Greater incidence of autoimmune thyroid disorders (Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease) and thyroid cancer have been demonstrated when vitamin D levels and its function are impaired. Thyroid autoimmunity due to excess iodine intake is significantly associated with inadequate vitamin D.

Zinc is a vital mineral necessary for the brain to tell the thyroid gland to make thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). Zinc and the mineral, selenium, help thyroid hormone convert from the non-active T4 to the metabolically active T3. Both minerals are needed as antioxidants to protect the thyroid gland from inflammation and to support the king of antioxidants – glutathione.

A recent animal study showed that insufficient zinc during pregnancy created subclinical hypothyroidism in the offspring that persisted into adulthood. Low zinc intake led to altered function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis and elevated TSH levels. Lowered metabolic rate and cold sensitivity, metabolic syndrome, obesity, elevated cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and increased cardiovascular risks occurred from insufficient zinc.

Selenium provides an immune-modulatory effect on the thyroid gland and buffers against autoimmune thyroid inflammation. In a recent study, selenomethionine (selenium and the amino acid methionine) with inositol, which is like a B vitamin, provided an immune-modulatory effect. The combination of nutrients buffered autoimmune thyroid inflammation. Selenomethionine and inositol were found quite effective at normalizing TSH and thyroid antibodies while enhancing thyroid hormones and personal wellbeing.

Healthy Adrenal Function and Stress


We saw earlier that poor thyroid function correlates with stressed adrenal gland function. Therefore, it is essential to provide simultaneous nourishment and support to help optimize adrenal gland function. Several nutrients for thyroid and those listed here can help fortify the adrenals and support stress tolerance. Adrenal support may include pantethine, the active form of vitamin B5, all other B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, holy basil, cordyceps, eleutherococcus/Siberian ginseng, rhodiola, protein, magnesium, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and ashwagandha. These nutrients also help support homeostasis of the communication loop between the brain, adrenals, and thyroid system

Support to help reduce wear and tear or optimize thyroid inflammation management may include omega-3 EPA/DHA, omega-6 GLA, curcumin, magnesium, vitamin D, probiotics, N-acetyl-cysteine, and many others.

Thyroid symptoms range from forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, frequent colds/infections, constipation/diarrhea, elevated cholesterol, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, fatigue, change in temperature regulation, sleep problems, blood sugar imbalances, weight changes, muscle pain, weakness and fatigue, gall bladder and liver problems, mitochondria dysfunction, nerve symptoms, and skin problems, etc. Every system in the body is affected. Western medicine likes to compartmentalize symptoms and systems, but everything is connected in the body. Like the complexity of its function, thyroid hormones need several different nutrients to function. Nutritional fortification is necessary for healthy thyroid function. If you find yourself with a long-list of symptoms, work with your health care provider for proper evaluation and use these tips and those found in last week’s article, Tips to Make Your New Years Resolution Successful to help ensure healthy nutrition for your thyroid.

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