Thyroid hormones - What are they, and how do they affect our body?

Thyroid hormones - What are they, and how do they affect our body?

23-minute read

The thyroid is a delicate gland that affects the way we feel, think and function. It influences many hormonal and metabolic roles throughout the body, with its behaviour often going under the radar due to the varied number of non-specific health issues, making it difficult to diagnose the causation of symptoms.

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is the number one thyroid disorder in Australia affecting 1 in 33 Australians.

So, when should you be concerned about your thyroid function and do test results always give the full picture?

What does the thyroid gland do and why is it so important?

The thyroid gland is essential for the production of energy and controlling your metabolism, and also plays a huge role in many other functions of the body. It is shaped like a butterfly, has two lobes and is found at the front of your throat.

Diseases of the thyroid are more common in women and come about as you age, symptoms can often cause confusion with perimenopause.

Common thyroid diseases are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves disease, thyroid nodules, goitre and thyroid cancer.

The main cause of hypothyroidism in Australia is Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease. This is when the body’s immune cells start to attack the thyroid gland and eventually cause its dysfunction.

The thyroid produces three hormones that impact many areas of the body which are triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and calcitonin (CT). T3 and T4 are involved with heart function, bone growth, brain development, digestion and muscle contraction.

CT works to control the amount of calcium and phosphate in the blood, important for bone health. T4 is produced in higher amounts and converts to the more active T3 as required by the body.

 TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) is produced in the pituitary gland and controls the levels of T3 and T4 through a negative feedback loop. In an overactive thyroid (high T3 and T4 production), low levels of TSH are released by the pituitary; and vice versa, in an underactive thyroid (low T3 and T4 production), you should see higher TSH levels.

Some symptoms of a poorly functioning thyroid gland include, but not limited to:

  1. Weight gain or loss
  2. Fatigue
  3. Hair loss
  4. Aches and pains
  5. Heavy or irregular periods
  6. Fluid retention
  7. Goitre
  8. Breathlessness
  9. Depression
  10. Infertility
  11. Constipation
  12. Sleep issues

The symptoms are broad and are difficult to specifically link to the thyroid which makes diagnosis sometimes delayed or missed.

What tests are done, and what do they mean?

TSH, and sometimes free T4, are the first thyroid hormones tested by practitioners to determine the health of the thyroid. If levels return within the “normal range” then no further investigation is usually done, despite having persistent symptoms which align with thyroid dysfunction.

It can be really frustrating when you get your test results back from the doctor and they are “within range” or “borderline”, and you’re told to just wait and watch. What exactly does that mean? 

Your symptoms haven’t disappeared and you’re not feeling any better, but
you’re just meant to wait? What are you waiting for, and where do you go
from here? It can be quite overwhelming with the abundance of information online, at the pharmacy, health food store and from your GP.

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is the number one thyroid disorder in Australia affecting 1 in 33 Australians.

With lots of different advice, products and opinions, it’s no wonder this issue gets neglected until it’s too late.

While it is good to know the TSH and T4 levels, this only tells part of the story and may not show any autoimmune responses or early stages of thyroid disease.

It can be difficult to get further tests done through your GP if these levels are within range as Medicare does not cover them. However, it is important to understand where the root cause of your symptoms is coming from and if it is a suspected autoimmune response.

Then, testing for antibodies is beneficial so treatment can aim in helping reduce this immune reaction and prevent further harm to your thyroid gland.

This test can be paid for privately or if there is any family history of autoimmune diseases then this may be enough to warrant antibody testing. As mentioned, given that the main cause of thyroid disease in Australia is Hashimoto’s, antibody testing should be highly considered.

What can you do to improve the health of your thyroid gland?

One of the best approaches for figuring out the root cause of your thyroid issues is to make contact with a naturopath, nutritionist or integrative GP.
The holistic care provided by these practitioners can drastically improve underlying metabolic dysfunction such as; poor gut health, insulin resistance or autoimmune activation, that could be triggering thyroid disease and help prevent
future issues.

 

Diet and lifestyle considerations

Research has shown a diet free from gluten can greatly improve autoimmune symptoms and diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Selenium and Myo-inositol have also demonstrated their ability to reduce autoimmune antibodies and support thyroid function through some studies.

Other supplements to be considered for thyroid support are iron, iodine, zinc, tyrosine, B complex vitamins, vitamins C, D, E, A and magnesium.

Studies have shown that blood sugar imbalances, or insulin resistance, can affect symptoms of Hashimoto’s. It is important to do regular low-moderate exercise (no HIIT), drink plenty of water and get good quality sleep to
regulate insulin levels. A lack of sleep raises cortisol levels and affects weight gain and blood sugar levels.

It is also very important to reduce the toxic load in your home, through your diet and water supply. The thyroid gland is incredibly sensitive to external toxic chemicals affecting its function.

Reducing the toxins in your environment can play an important role in thyroid health. Opting for filtered water – reverse osmotic water is best – as it removes harmful chemicals and chlorine which may interfere with the absorption of iodine, a mineral essential for a healthy thyroid gland.

Eating organic where possible and using natural cleaning products, such as vinegar and water, in place of commercially produced products will help to reduce the toxic load.

 

References

  1. Briden, L. (2021). Hormone Repair Manual: Every woman’s guide to healthy hormones after 40. Macmillan. Australia
  2. Hormones Australia: Endocrine Society of Australia (2019). Hypothyroidism.
  3. The Thyroid Pharmacist - https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/myo-inositol-and-hashimotos/
  4. Ceyhun V, Tezcan K, Perihan V, et al. (2017). Insulin resistance in the patients with euthryroid Hashimoto thyroiditis. Biomedical Research. 28(4)
  5. Nordio M, Basciani S. (2017). Treatment with Myo-Inositol and Selenium Ensures Euthyroidism in Patients with Autoimmune Thyroiditis. International Journal of Endocrinology. doi:10.1155/2017/2549491

 

Back to blog
  • Acute compartment syndrome, person holding their ankle

    Acute Compartment Syndrome

    Compartment syndrome is a painful and potentially limb threatening medical emergency which requires early diagnosis and management to prevent serious complications.   

    Acute Compartment Syndrome

    Compartment syndrome is a painful and potentially limb threatening medical emergency which requires early diagnosis and management to prevent serious complications.   

  • Water Immersion in Labour

    Water Immersion in Labour

    This article explores the holistic benefits of water for labour, and demonstrates the principles and considerations of safety for midwives supporting women using water immersion in labour.

    Water Immersion in Labour

    This article explores the holistic benefits of water for labour, and demonstrates the principles and considerations of safety for midwives supporting women using water immersion in labour.

  • De Garengot's Hernia - Case Presentation

    De Garengot's Hernia - Case Presentation

    A 63yo female patient presented to GP with irreducible lump in right groin which she had initially noticed 24 hrs prior. Learn about this case and the treatment given.

    De Garengot's Hernia - Case Presentation

    A 63yo female patient presented to GP with irreducible lump in right groin which she had initially noticed 24 hrs prior. Learn about this case and the treatment given.

1 of 3