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Stress, Thyroid & Metabolism

What is the thyroid and does it contribute to your weight gain?

Just like the adrenals, the thyroid can be confusing for people and an organ that most women do not know how to deal with. Chances are, when it comes to thyroid, you will see the term ‘Hashimoto’s thyroiditis’ coming up more and more. Today, we are going to address the basic foundations of the thyroid, how stress can impact the thyroid, the link between thyroid and weight gain and what to look for in the thyroid if you have PCOS. As with all other blog posts, information presented here are merely to create awareness and disseminate genuine scientific information. Please consult a naturopathic doctor if you think you might be suffering from thyroid concerns.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is located at the lower part of the front part of the neck, below the Adam’s apple. The butterfly shaped gland produces thyroid hormone which is required for both normal development and metabolism in adults involving bodyweight and energy expenditure. It affects our basal metabolic rate by having an effect on the mitochondria (the energy cells in our body).

It is a like a sandwich because it receives and gives communication to the gut, ovaries, adrenals and brain. This means the whole endocrine system should be looked at as a whole (something to take note of when you go see a functional medicine doctor) and usually the gut should be taken care of first before the thyroid.


Functions of the Thyroid

  • Role in metabolism and muscular homeostasis. For example, a slow/underactive thyroid indicates slower rate of fat metabolism.

  • Regulates circadian rhythm, mood, skin, memory and clarity.

  • Helps with thermogenesis in the body (helps to regulate blood temperature).

  • Iodine is stored in the thyroid to make the thyroid hormone

Hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid Axis (HPT)

The HPT Axis determines the set point of thyroid hormone production. The thyroid hormones that get released from the thyroid gland ultimately regulates the precursor hormones in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland by negative feedback, essentially working like in a feedback loop.

Stress directly affects the

hypothalamus

pituitary gland which sends thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to the

thyroid to release thyroid hormones T3 and T4.

T4 is the inactive form of thyroid hormone, which needs to be converted to T3 to be used by the cells. Check out this image for a clear description of this biological process.

THE ADRENALS AND THYROID ARE LINKED.. via stress

When we face too much stress, it can cause blocks in the pathways in both the adrenal (HPA) and HPT axis. I want to draw attention to the fact that the adrenals have an impact on the thyroid as well. When the adrenals are stressed, too much cortisol is being produced and it can impact the conversion of T4 to T3 and inflammatory molecules from stress reduces the sensitivity of the receptors for thyroid hormone. This means that stress impacts how much active T3 is being produced and how much thyroid hormone is being produced in response.

Stress can also impact the liver’s capability to remove excess estrogen from the body. The excess of estrogen can cause increased levels of thyroid binding globulin (TBG), which is a molecule that the thyroid hormone binds to which makes it inactive. The hormonal imbalance stemming from adrenal stress can thus cause low levels of free active T3 in the bloodstream, which causes the thyroid to not be able to function properly.

As a woman, this means you have hormonal imbalance and an inability to lose weight due to hypothyroidism.

How do you know if it is a thyroid or autoimmune disease?

Mccall Mcpherson, founder of Modern Thyroid Clinic, recommends these lab ranges in her thyroid practice.

  • TSH (should be <3). It is often prescribed as the first test for thyroid but highly inadequate.

  • T4 free & total

  • T3 free & total

  • Reverse T3

  • Antibodies (TPO & Thyroglobulin)

  • Thyroid ultrasound

Most conventional medicine doctors only test for TSH and T4, which does not distinguish the difference between Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. Testing for antibodies can demonstrate if the body is attacking its own thyroid gland or not.

It should be noted that lab ranges are not standardised amongst different kinds of lab companies. In addition, lab ranges are not accurate. If you think you might have thyroid due to some of the symptoms written here, please consult a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine doctor. This blog post is merely to create awareness only.

Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune diseases are usually related to a leaky gut and immune health. So gut should be checked thoroughly as well. Do note that healing does not mean antibodies level should be zero.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis/Graves Disease are autoimmune diseases that affects the thyroid function. The immune system attacks the body’s thyroid gland in Hashimoto’s, resulting in inflammation of the thyroid gland. In addition, there are three factors that predisposes someone to Hashimoto’s including genetic disposition, inability to handle stress and/or leaky gut. Stool testing is very important as viruses that remain dormant in the body can affect mitochondria functions and eventually contribute to autoimmune disease. Interestingly, the gastrointestinal system disruptions might have a role in thyroid disease due to leaky gut, gut dysbiosis and share immune pathways. It is also important to test for food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, magnesium and iodine levels and some people can do a thyroid ultrasound according to Thyroid Pharmacist Dr Izabella Wentz.

Graves Disease on the other hand, is a condition whereby the thyroid is overactive, resulting in hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms: (hypothyroidism)

  • Hair loss

  • Feeling cold all the time

  • Constipation

  • Sudden weight gain

  • reduction of muscle definition due to atrophy of muscle tissue

  • dry skin

  • reduced exercise tolerance

  • irregular or heavy menstruation

  • Joint pain

Symptoms: (hyperthyroidism)

  • Weight loss

  • Enlarged thryoid

  • Rapid heart beat

  • Frequent bowl movements

  • Warm fingers

  • Nervousness

Full symptomatic list can be found here.

A word on thyroid & periods & pcos

There are theories that claim that women have higher chances of developing thyroid disease due to the three big hormonal changes in our lives: pregnancy, puberty and perimenopause. After giving birth, fetal cells may remain in the thyroid gland of the mother, which could trigger an immune system response.

For women with PCOS, there is a connection to Hashimoto’s and Shannon Garrett (Hashimoto’s Expert) recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, food sensitivity testing and taking care of digestion as nutrition solutions. Apparently, 25% of PCOS women have hypothyroidism because the latter condition causes an increased level of androgens, which is a cause of PCOS. Both conditions have certain characteristics which are similar such as adiposity, highly fatigued, high insulin resistance and both are the most common endocrine health problem in the general population.

Nutritional and Lifestyle Medicine Solutions

There is no one way to heal the thyroid, just like there is never one way to achieve weight loss or solve any health concern. Here are some ways to help your thyroid, taking into account that these solutions wlll help your gut health, immune system, ovarian health and brain health too.

Focus on certain foods to get the right vitamins and minerals for your thyroid:

  1. Iodine: seaweed (because iodine is needed to make thyroid hormone)

  2. Vitamin E

  3. Selenium (organ meats, eggs, brazil nuts)

  4. Vitamin D: sunshine, cod liver oil

  5. Increase detoxification & efficiency of the liver: cruciferous vegetables, avocados, lemons, ginger, turmeric, beets

  6. Iodine (kelp, or supplement) but need to monitor for swelling of thyroid especially in Hashimoto’s.

  7. Eliminates gluten (gladin in gluten mimics thyroid molecules and when it breaches the gut barrier, and enters the bloodstream, the body will then attack it). It is no surprise that thyroid disease is associated with increased prevalence of celiac disease. Avoid cross contamination with gluten - soy, corn, dairy, oats, instant coffee, chocolate etc

  8. Avoid conventional dairy

  9. Limiting processed sugars

  10. Helping the digestive process and gut health- bone broth, digestive enzymes support

  11. Sleep (lack of sleep can reduce TSH n free T4 which affects the function of the HPT Axis)

  12. Movement through yoga or dance and throat breathing. Bring circulation to areas that are stuck to stimulate the vagus nerve

  13. Manage stress - having support groups are a great way to cultivate a tribe

3 Unexpected Foods for PCOS Weight Loss.png

these foods can help your thyroid too..

Since the whole hormonal system needs to be addressed as a bigger picture, check out these three unexpected foods that can help with the hormonal imbalance and ultimately weight loss, especially if you have PCOS.