A Holistic Approach to Thyroid Health

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By Stacey Littlefield

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck just below the Adam’s apple. This gland produces two main hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) that influence every organ, tissue and cell in the body. They regulate metabolism by controlling the rate at which the body converts oxygen and calories to energy. When regulation is imbalanced, fatigue, difficulty losing weight and even depression can set in. The regulation of the thyroid is complex and intricate. It involves more than just the thyroid; it also involves the brain, the adrenals and the liver. Supporting all the systems involved take more than iodine and L-tyrosine alone. By combining those nutrients with a blend of minerals, herbs and antioxidants, a well-rounded approach to thyroid support can be achieved.

Basic Nutritional Support

Two important nutrients for the synthesis of thyroid hormones are iodine and L-tyrosine. These two nutrients form the backbone of the two main thyroid hormones. However, if there are insufficient levels of copper, zinc or selenium in the body, these hormones will not be produced in adequate levels; furthermore, the inactive form of thyroid hormone, T4, will not be metabolized into the more biologically active form, T3Enzymes are required for both the production and conversion of thyroid hormones. These minerals take part in the structure of the enzymes or the process of conversion.

Supporting Antioxidants in the Liver

The conversion of T4 to T3 is heavily dependent upon high levels of antioxidants in the body, particularly in the liver. Free radicals are a by-product of normal reactions in the body, and normally, we are equipped to handle these. However, environmental toxins, stress, a poor diet and a lack of exercise can also create free radicals. These additional sources create a greater need for antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants protect active thyroid hormone against degradation by free radicals before the cells have the chance to use it and they help the liver convert unusable thyroid hormone to a usable form. One way to boost overall antioxidant levels in the body is to support healthy glutathione levels. Glutathione is a small molecule of amino acids that has powerful antioxidant activity in the body. It is a component of many enzymes, some of which participate in thyroid hormone metabolism. Glutathione also recycles other antioxidants in the body. N-Acetyl-cysteine and resveratrol are two nutrients shown to increase levels of glutathione in the body. By maintaining a good level of antioxidants, healthy levels of thyroid hormone can also be maintained.

Addressing Stress

The physical by-product of stress in the body is the hormone, cortisol. It is produced by the adrenal glands when we are under times of stress. Coritsol has negative impacts for thyroid function and thyroid regulation. Cortisol will suppress particular function in the brain – namely pituitary function. The pituitary gland tells your thyroid when to make hormone and how much to make. Cortisol will inhibit the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone to active thyroid hormone and it will block thyroid hormone from entering the cells, thus, blocking its metabolic effects in the body. As we can see, stress can have much to do with our overall thyroid health. One of the best ways to address stress in our lives is with adaptogen herbs. Adaptogens help the brain and body cope with stress. Ashwagandha is a plant-based medicine that originates from Ayurvedic medicine. It is used traditionally as a rasayana – a rejuvenative herb. Modern research shows that Ashwagandha has a direct effect on the thyroid gland. In addition, Ashwagandha affects the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis. It modulates and regulates the way in which the brain and the adrenals respond to stress. This results in healthy levels of cortisol. Holy Basil and codonopsis are other adaptogens that also display a similar effect on the HPA axis.

Thyroid disruption can occur on many different levels. It can involve thyroid hormone production itself, an imbalance in thyroid regulation by the brain, a result of an unhealthy stress response or low levels of antioxidants in the liver and throughout the rest of the body. In order to fully address thyroid health, all of these issues need to be covered.

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