The Thyroid Gland and Your Health

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located at the front of the neck. It is a gland that mainly affects metabolism regulation, but also plays a role in brain development, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, skin dryness, weight, and menstrual cycles. The thyroid gland produces two main hormones T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).

Thyroid function can be affected by a variety of factors including genetics, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disease, pregnancy, and medications. Thyroid dysfunction is much more common in women than men.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is underactive and is not producing enough thyroid hormones. This condition tends to occur gradually and the overall metabolism of an individual is slowed down, leading to a general loss of energy, weight gain, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, constipation, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, brittle or dry hair, and decreased libido. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition whereby the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The end result is often an underactive thyroid producing symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland producing too many thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism speeds up energy metabolism and can lead to symptoms such as sweating, hot flashes, trembling, weight loss, diarrhea, hair loss, nervousness, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, restlessness, a racing heart and in some cases bulging eyes. Graves’s disease is an autoimmune condition causing a form of hyperthyroidism. People with Graves’s disease are more susceptible to the bulging eyes whereby the immune system attacks the muscles and tissues around the eye, leading to an appearance of the eyes bulging out from the eye sockets.

There are numerous toxins that can affect the function of the thyroid gland including phthalates, perchlorate, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and organophosphate pesticides, just to name a few. Phthalates are found in plastics and some personal care items. Phthalates cause thyroid irregularities and other hormonal issues. Perchlorate is found in food and water. Perchlorate disrupts thyroid function because it competes with iodine, and therefore causes a decrease in the amount of T3 and T4 that is made. Drinking reverse osmosis water is one way you can decrease your exposure to perchlorate. PBDEs are found in electronics, cars and building materials. These chemicals decrease levels of circulating thyroid hormones by imitating thyroid hormones. PFOA comes from the use of non-stick pans, water resistant coatings, stain resistant carpets and microwave popcorn bags. This chemical is of particular concern because it cannot be biodegraded. These chemicals can affect levels of thyroid hormone produced. Organophosphate pesticides are found in produce that we consume and areas where lawns and gardens are maintained. These chemicals can alter thyroid hormone levels. It is best to buy produce that is treated with the least amount of pesticides.

The thyroid gland and its function is a complex endocrine gland. Always consult your naturopathic doctor or family physician before taking any supplements or products for thyroid function.

The information above is intended for informational purposes only. Always consult with your health care provider if this is suitable for you.

Alene Falomo, ND

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Alene Falomo