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If you were to ask a group of adults in America about their biggest health complaints, the vast majority would identify weight gain, lack of energy, and less than optimal mood as top contenders. These are not just health concerns, but are major contributors to diminishing quality of life.
Weight, Energy, Mood, Your Thyroid & You
In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 71 percent of men and women over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. About 45 percent of adults in the US report feeling chronically tired or fatigued, even though they report 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. An even higher percentage report fatigue who sleep less than 7 hours. There are estimates that upwards of 30 percent of people report some type of mood disorder, with likely many more mild cases unreported.
If Sherlock Holmes was a health investigator, I am sure he would turn to Dr. Watson and ask if there was something connecting these major problems. And if Dr. Watson had paid attention in endocrinology class, he would have responded, “But of course, my dear Sherlock. There is one gland that plays a role in weight gain and loss, levels of energy, and even mood. And that is the thyroid gland.”
What Does the Thyroid Do?
The thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck and consists of two lobes that partially wrap around your trachea (windpipe). Many people refer to the thyroid as butterfly-shaped because its connected lobes resemble wings. The thyroid gland makes hormones, often referred to as T4 and T3, that dictate the speed at which fuel (food) is burned for energy. Creating energy for the body affects everything from heart rate, to bone density, to bile duct stones, to fertility, to brain function and much, much more.
Thyroid dysfunction can lead to thyroid disease in which the thyroid can be overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). The vast majority of thyroid issues are attributed to the latter.
Why are Thyroid Problems on the Rise?
What is causing this epidemic of thyroid issues? I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all answer, but rather a combination of many factors negatively affecting the ability of the thyroid gland to do its job.
Thyroid-Disrupting Synthetic Chemicals & More
A 2017 study found that a synthetic chemical called perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) can disrupt the thyroid and even kill its cells at high enough concentrations. Certain fabrics, carpeting, and furniture are known to contain PFOA, among many other of its industrial uses. Exposure to heavy metals is also a risk factor for developing thyroid disease. Cadmium is a common component of phosphate fertilizers and can accumulate in plants like rice, some grains, and potatoes. Within the body, cadmium is able to concentrate in the thyroid gland where it can cause oxidative stress and inflammation.
We are swimming in a sea of thyroid-disrupting chemicals. Is it any wonder our thyroid is struggling to maintain some kind of balance? And often failing to do so?
Suboptimal Iodine Levels & Thyroid Problems
The most documented cause of thyroid dysfunction is sub-optimal amounts of iodine in the body. The thyroid requires two primary raw materials to make hormones: iodine and the amino acid, L-tyrosine. Unfortunately, our diet is often lacking adequate amounts of this essential nutrient. The soils are depleted, and it has been shown that average iodine intake has decreased 50 percent or more in the last several decades.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we are now exposed to high levels of iodine’s competitors: fluoride, chlorine, bromide, and astatine. These compounds can accumulate in the body and attach to receptors meant for iodine. We get fluoride in our drinking water, chlorine in water, swimming pools, hot tubs, and laundry, and bromides from commercial baked goods using brominated flour and brominated vegetable oil in soft drinks. The competitors are more abundant than the real deal—iodine!
What Happens When Your Body is Iodine Deficient?
When the body doesn’t have enough iodine, it cannot make adequate thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is responsible for the conversion of food (fuel) to energy. It the thyroid isn’t working properly, then that process slows down. That results in lower levels of energy, depressed or low mood, and weight gain. If the food is not burned for energy, it is turned into the storage form of fuel, called adipose tissue or fat.
Research has shown that even mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency can be correlated with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome involves a myriad of conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), blood sugar issues (diabetes and insulin resistance), excess abdominal weight, and triglyceride and cholesterol imbalances.
It has also been reported that a high percentage of individuals with some type of depressive disorder have sub-optimal thyroid function, and treating the thyroid in some cases greatly reduces symptoms or even eliminates the problem. There is even evidence that thyroid function plays a role in certain types of schizophrenia.
Natural Ways to Improve Thyroid Function
One important way to care for your thyroid is to do your best to avoid competitors and toxins that can damage this gland. It is also important to use iodine, or iodine in combination with L-tyrosine, to make sure the thyroid gland has readily available raw materials to make optimal amounts of thyroid hormone.
Iodine for Thyroid Support
There are several kinds of iodine. Any form will have some functionality in the body, but certain tissue prefers certain forms. For example, the thyroid likes potassium iodide, the breast and prostate like molecular iodine, and sodium iodide is the most soluble, enhancing the absorption also of other forms. Therefore, a blend of more than one type is a good choice for a wider spectrum of benefits.
Dosages of iodine are highly variable. Iodine experts recommend 12.5 milligrams (mg) a day as a medicinal dose, with 30 mgs as a daily dose for specific thyroid problems. You may have to experiment with dosages to find the level that provides you with the most optimal functioning.
Improve Thyroid Function with Selenium
Another mineral to consider is selenium. Selenium is required for the conversion of the storage form of thyroid hormone (T4) to the active form (T3). Sometimes people make adequate levels of hormones, but still suffer from low thyroid symptoms. They often have a conversion problem that selenium helps correct. A good daily dose to improve the conversion of T4 to T3 is about 300 mcg a day. Note this is micrograms, not milligrams (mg). Only tiny amounts of supplemental selenium are required, and higher levels in the milligram range can be problematic.
The thyroid directly or indirectly affects virtually every single health system in the body. Improving thyroid function, and increasing thyroid hormone production, benefits your health in more ways than you may know.
The American Thyroid Association estimates that around 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from thyroid disease. Of the people affected, women are over 5 times more likely to have thyroid issues than men.
“Chapter fourteen – Cadmium effects on the thyroid gland” by S.A. Janic and B.Z. Stosic, Vitamins & Hormones, 2014
“General information/Press room,” American Thyroid Association, https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/
“Iodine deficiency and thyroid disorders” by M.B. Zimmermann and K. Boelaert, Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol, 4/15
“Mental development disorders and attention-deficit syndrome caused by iodine deficiency: a clinical and epidemiological study” by A.O. Zhukov, Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova, 2007
“Metabolic syndrome and its components are associated with increased thyroid volume and nodule prevalence in a mild-to-moderate iodine-deficient area” by S. Ayturk S, et al., European Journal of Endocrinology, 10/09
“Obesity and overweight,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
“Thyroid disruption by perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA),” by F. Coperchini, et al., J of Endocrin Invest, 2/17
“Thyroid dysfunction in major psychiatric disorders in a hospital based sample” by R. Radharkrishnan et al., Indian J Med Res, 12/13
“Thyroid hormone (T3) stimulates brown adipose tissue activation via mitochondrial biogenesis and MTOR-mediated mitophagy” by W.W. Yau et al., Autophagy, 9/13/18
“Timing of thyroid hormone action in the developing brain: clinical observations and experimental findings” by R.T. Zoeller and J. Rovet, J Neuroendocrinol, 10/04