Thyroid Part II: Offenders
Now let’s look at the major reasons for why the Thyroid becomes dysfunctional. Here we will go over the main offenders that act as antagonists to the Thyroid and cause the production of T3 to diminish.
During times of stress, the Adrenal Glands are activated and release Cortisol to help deal with whatever “fight or flight” situation the body is currently experiencing. Due to the often constant state of stress that many people find themselves in today, the Adrenal Glands become overstimulated and end up releasing too much Cortisol too often. Cortisol gets a bad reputation, but it is actually too much Cortisol that is the problem. Cortisol’s main function is to help us during times of high stress, like defending your village from intruders (fight) or running away from a bear attack (flight). Its job is to release stores of glucose for fast energy (run away from bear), counteract Insulin by increasing blood sugar levels (Insulin lowers blood sugar), increase our heart rate and blood pressure, shunt blood to important organs like our lungs, and shunt blood away from organs of low importance like our digestive tract. All of these processes support our body’s perceived sense of threat and promote our short-term survival. But, because these threats are for the most part gone in today’s modern world, it is often low levels of chronic stress that put us in a prolonged state of “fight or flight”. These stresses can range from never ending deadlines at work, to emotional anxiety about a relationship, to the inability to put down our smartphone; the list is never ending. When there is constant stress, our body’s preferred energy source switches from fats to carbohydrates. This leads to cravings for sugars and sweets to replace our stores of carbohydrates while fats continue to be stored away unable to be utilized. Once the body gets used to high levels of Cortisol, the body tries to compensate by releasing more hormones and neurotransmitters like Insulin and Serotonin to try and pull the body back into a more relaxed state, thus leading to an ongoing tug of war and the depletion of its stores. More importantly, Cortisol blocks the process of Deiodination which converts T4 into T3. This results in an excess of the inactive T4 without enough active T3 to carry out the body’s metabolic processes. This causes what is most commonly referred to today as a slow metabolism. A slow metabolism does not only mean that digestion is slowed, it also means that every chemical reaction in the body needed to sustain life is reduced as well. The Adrenal Glands need to be addressed due to their role in the release of Cortisol as well as whatever stress is going on in a person’s life. Failure to do this will result in the patient being unable to improve due to their persisting underlying issue.
This is the term we use for the disorder of blood sugar metabolism. It is not high blood sugar, it is not low blood sugar, it is a dysfunction of the body’s ability to maintain proper blood sugar levels. As mentioned above, Cortisol levels will alter the body’s blood sugar levels by competing with Insulin. When Cortisol is released in excess, it releases stores of Glucose which floods the blood with sugar. This causes the Pancreas to release similarly high levels of Insulin to counteract this and push sugar into our cells in an attempt to lower blood sugar levels. This back-and-forth fight between Cortisol and Insulin happens over and over again as blood sugar rises and falls throughout the day causing patients to feel miserable. Similar to Cortisol, Insulin is also a main inhibitor of the conversion of T4 into T3. A poor diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in fats and proteins will lead to Insulin surges resulting in low levels of T3. Eating proper meals focused on good fats, proteins, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates that are low in fruits and sweets will help reduce Insulin levels and allow the Thyroid to function properly. Eating three meals spaced out evenly with about 4.5-5 hours inbetween without snacking will help prevent flucuations in blood sugar. Dysglycemia will also cause low levels of Serotonin and Dopamine, two of our most important neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters not only play a main role in mood, but they also help regulate the release of Insulin. Due to the Cortisol-Insulin rollercoaster, eventually their stores will begin to diminish, and Insulin levels will be left unchecked. So, not only does Insulin prevent Deiodination, but low levels of Serotonin and Dopamine result in high levels of Insulin further resulting in the inability to convert T4 into T3.
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common reason for low Thyroid function today. The deterioration of the Thyroid is the result of an Immune response that needs to be addressed or health will not improve. Medication is the typical response in the form of Hormone Replacement therapy but that only masks the issue and does not address the cause of the problem. Hashimoto’s destruction of the Thyroid is often slow and mild and can be corrected when it is determined why the immune system is attacking the Thyroid. Typical culprits are foods such as Gluten and Casein, infections, heavy metals, or exposure to some toxin. Hashimoto’s will cause Hyperthyroidism in the early stages of destruction as it releases high amounts of Thyroid Hormone but ultimately results in Hypothyroidism due to deterioration of the Thyroid. The gut plays a large role in this which you can read about here.
The Liver is responsible for up to 60% of the conversion of T4 into T3. Our Liver is mostly known for its role in detoxification, but it has over 500 functions that are vital to our overall health and wellbeing. The liver can become extremely overworked and toxic if it is not working properly and this will lead to poor Thyroid function as over half of our T3 is produced here. Below I will list just a few of the major functions and pathways the Liver is involved in. Just know that each one of these functions is vital and entire articles could be written dedicated to each pathway.
- Methylation pathway
- Gycination pathway
- Glutathione Conjugation
- Sulfation pathway
- Glucuronidation pathway
- Oxidation and Hydroxylation