Inside the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland, positioned at the front of our neck, are millions of follicles that produce hormones, needed in every cell of our body.
Here is how it works: Inside these follicles are proteins, called thyroglobulin protein. They attach to both the mineral, iodine, and the amino acid, L-tyrosine (the only two nutrients your thyroid needs to function), by splitting up and breaking down these two into usable hormones, T4 and T3. The main hormone is thyroxine (T4), which contains 4 iodine atoms. T4 is made In the cells of many organs to lose iodine and generate the much more potent triiodothyronine (T3). This happens primarily in the liver, and in certain tissues where T3 acts, such as in the brain
Because our body’s cells need these hormones to function properly, it is extremely important that this process be regulated during our daily rhythms. This means more hormones are output during our waking hours, a full load when we exercise, and a lower production while we are asleep at night.
If not enough thyroglobulin binds to iodine, we are not able to produce adequate amounts of hormones for normal cell function. This is called having an under-active or hypo-thyroid. On the other hand, if too many proteins bind to iodine, there will be too many hormones in the blood stream; this is an over-active or hyper-thyroid.
Newer research indicates that a weakened thyroid may be due to an overactive immune system. Marion Bachra, MS, RD,(1) explains it as follows: “Antibodies are produced by the immune system as an immune response, usually as an allergic reaction. In case of the thyroid, what happens is a stressor in a person’s life, be it emotional, a toxin, bacteria, or virus, etc., affects the delicate balance of this fragile organ. The thyroid can actually get damaged, and the cells of the thyroid can die off and start spilling into the bloodstream. The immune system notices these and realizes that, even though they are thyroid particles, they shouldn’t be there. It starts to create and send antibodies to destroy these “foreign cells”, and while at it, may destroy the thyroid itself! This occurrence can be temporary, or it can go on for a long time and affect other parts of the body.”
Many people have low levels of antibodies in the bloodstream, but high concentrations typically indicate an autoimmune thyroid disease. There are two autoimmune disorders that cause major thyroid problems. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
, antibodies attack and destroy the thyroid gradually, leading to an under-active gland. On the other hand there is Graves’ Disease
when antibodies stimulate the thyroid gradually, making it over-produce thyroid hormones.(2)
Symptoms of a hyperactive thyroid may include high blood pressure, rapid weight loss, anxiety, bone loss, sensitivity to heat, bulging eyes, and goiter development in the neck.
These autoimmune disorders are tricky to diagnose because even though blood tests can show normal TSH-levels, one may still experience symptoms related to hypo- or hyper thyroid. In that case, have blood tests done that measures thyroid antibodies, such as Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO), and Antithyroglobulin (TG). If these tests’ outcomes are positive, chances are you may have to go on some type of thyroid medication. This could be synthetic T4 (Synthroid®, Levothyroxin®), synthetic T3 (Cytomel®), or a combination T4/T3 formula, such as Armour® or Naturthroid®.
In my previous articles I explained symptoms, simple, self-test methods, as well as why women seem to have a higher risk of getting thyroid problems. It is becoming clear that this relatively small, lightweight gland has an extremely important function, capable of altering our quality-of-life. Not all endocrinologists are in agreement on how to diagnose and treat its problems correctly. My hope is that you will find time to study the thyroid, and consult a qualified, holistic-oriented practitioner of your choice, if indeed it is affecting your daily life.