Hormones have the significant job in your body of delivering important chemical messages to your tissues and organs. Ultimately this controls functions such as your metabolism, hunger, cravings, sexual function, physiology, reproduction, moods and energy levels as well as skin and hair health.
Did your ears prick up when I mentioned energy and metabolism? If this is an area you’re struggling with then it might be time to address your thyroid gland health. Thyroid gland conditions are 4-5 times more likely to develop in women than in men and will contribute to issues with weight gain and fatigue, among much more.
What is your thyroid gland?
Your thyroid gland is a crucial part of your body’s endocrine system and is found in prime position, at the front of your neck. Just like your menstrual cycle, thyroid function is also a brain driven event via a feedback loop between your hypothalamus and pituitary gland (in your brain) and your thyroid gland. Through the production of thyroid hormones, your thyroid controls your moods, body temperature, metabolic rate and energy production.
What is required for healthy thyroid function?
When you have a test for your thyroid function, this will often be limited to just one small portion of the thyroid hormone picture (known as the TSH test). Among TSH, there are other hormones and antibodies which can positively and negatively effect your thyroid function. These include:
- Thyroid releasing hormone (TRH)
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
- L-Thyroxine (T4)
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Reverse T3 (RT3)
- Thyroid antibodies: Thyroglobulin (TG) and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO)
Thyroid releasing hormone (TRH)
TRH regulates the release of TSH by the pituitary gland (in your brain).
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
Once released by your pituitary gland, TSH stimulates the release of thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. It will increase when the body requires more thyroid hormones and will be decreased when there is abundance, to signal to the body to slow thyroid hormone production.
Produced and released by the thyroid gland, T4 makes up approximately 85% of the thyroid hormone. As T4 is the relatively inactive form of thyroid hormone, small amounts are converted into T3 for the body to use it for important bodily functions.
Majority of the T4 and T3 circulates in your bloodstream bound to a protein. The small percentage which is not bound is referred to as free T4 and free T3.
Free T3 is the most active thyroid hormone, as it can attach to a receptor and govern bodily functions. Some T3 is produced by the thyroid gland and the body also converts low levels of T4 into T3, in order to activate and energise all of the cells of the body. Free T3 controls your metabolism, energy levels, body temperature, your bowel movements and impacts the health of your adrenal and sex hormones.
Reverse T3 (RT3)
When the body is in a state of stress, adrenal imbalance (high or low cortisol production), toxicity and/or nutritional deficiencies, T4 can be converted into the inactive Reverse T3 (RT3), instead of T3.
Thyroid antibodies are a measurement of the body mistakenly attacking your thyroid and include Thyroglobulin (TG) and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. When inflammation progresses in the body, this creates confusion between normal tissue and foreign invaders. The body starts attacking its own tissues and the symptom of an auto-immune condition develops. Hashimotos thyroiditis and graves disease are examples of autoimmune conditions of the thyroid gland.
In order for you to have healthy thyroid function, healthy TSH levels, adequate production of T4 hormone and effective conversion into active T3 is required. The conversion of T3 into RT3 must be controlled and thyroid antibodies should be kept at a low level, or even better, non existent. More information about thyroid panel levels to strive for are found in my upcoming hormone health book- Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.
What happens when your thyroid gland struggles?
When your thyroid function is affected through either low thyroid hormone (T4 and T3), high RT3, or antibody production, symptoms start to appear.
One or more of the following symptoms may be caused by a state of hypothyroidism:
- Weight gain
- Cold intolerance & cold extremities
- Dry skin or hair
- Hair loss, or thinning
- Loss of outer third of eyebrow
- Poor concentration
- Low motivation
- Loss of memory
- Muscle aches, cramps and pain
- Fluid retention
- Low heart rate
- Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Irregular and heavy periods
- Infertility and trouble with lactation when breastfeeding
If you are frequently struggling with a number of these symptoms or conditions, hyperthyroidism may be an underlying cause of your health challenges:
- Weight loss
- Heat intolerance
- Increased sweating
- Frequent bowel movements
- Poor concentration
- Restless legs
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Irregular periods
What are the causes of your thyroid gland imbalance?
Although I delve right into this topic in Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones. Here is a brief list of contributing factors of unhealthy thyroid function.
- Poor gut health & food intolerances
- Insulin resistance
- Long standing infections
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Goitrogen food intake. More info on these foods found here
- Toxicity, including heavy metals and endocrine disrupting chemicals
- Autoimmune conditions, including coeliac disease
How do you test for thyroid function?
You can have a thyroid function test performed through your GP however you may come across one of two challenges when asking for a thyroid test.
Your GP will only test for TSH
By merely testing TSH, you cannot accurately determine the function of the thyroid gland and the effects it has on your body. Unfortunately, General Practitioners are under a lot of pressure to meet Medicare guidelines, which prevent them from completing this full thyroid panel (unless the initial TSH result is skewed). In most cases it is not out of the labs reference range.
Ultimately the whole panel of TSH, Free T4, Free T3, RT3 and thyroid antibodies should be included for a comprehensive evaluation of your thyroid health. If your GP is unwilling to run these tests, you can gain a full panel through your naturopath or functional medicine doctor but be prepared to pay the extra (around $160), as Medicare and most private health funds will not cover the costs.
2. Your GP will report that your thyroid function is ‘normal’
Unfortunately, the conventional approach to thyroid treatment is to wait until thyroid function is severely affected before a treatment approach of hormone replacement is given. Reference ranges on blood tests are much larger than optimal ranges and therefore many patients are undiagnosed for underactive thyroid function for many months, or even years.
In order to have healthy thyroid function throughout your body, additional to normal TSH readings, the following needs to occur:
- Adequate production of the T4 hormone
- Effective conversion of T4 into the active T3
- Prevention of T4 into dangerous RT3
- Prevention of the body producing thyroid antibodies.
You can see that by merely testing TSH, you cannot accurately determine the function of the thyroid gland and the effects it has on the body. This may have shone some light on why you may be getting numerous ‘normal’ blood results from your doctor, but experiencing multiple symptoms associated with imbalanced thyroid function.
Another simple test to do at home, is to record your first morning underarm body temperature (after 10 mins of lying flat in bed). If it does not fall between the normal ranges of 36.4 – 36.9 degrees Celsius (most accurately tested between days 2-9 of your menstrual cycle), this is an indication of poor conversion of T4 into active T3.
Nourish your thyroid for hormone balance!
Despite perhaps showing a ‘normal’ TSH reading, above all it is important to tune into your body and listen to what it is telling you. If you either have an (accurate) test indicate thyroid issues or you can relate to multiple thyroid imbalance symptoms, working to nourish your thyroid gland will benefit your health.
Find detailed information about thyroid gland testing information (see a Naturopath to have this performed) along with treatment options for thyroid gland issues in my upcoming hormone health book Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.
Love, health & happiness,