National Thyroid month is here! Time to show some love to this rad endocrine organ that does so much!
What is a thyroid?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that sits at the base of the front of your neck. It’s about two inches long and lies in front of your windpipe, at the bottom of your “Adam’s apple,” or the thyroid cartilage. The wings of the thyroid butterfly are called lobes that lie on either side of your throat.
The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, which consists of glands that produce, store, and release hormones into the bloodstream. Using iodine from the food you consume, the thyroid gland produces two hormones:
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Thyroxine (T4)
Like the adrenal glands, the thyroid gland exists as part of an “axis.” Two glands in the brain, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary glands, communicate with the thyroid gland to maintain the balance of T3 and T4. This communication is the “HPT axis,” or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid axis.
What does the thyroid do?
The thyroid gland releases hormones that control metabolism or control how your body uses energy. The hormones that the thyroid manages do some pretty important things, including regulating:
- Body temperature
- Menstrual cycles
- Breathing and heart rate
- Cholesterol levels
- Muscular strength
- And bodyweight.
The thyroid receives information from the brain and produces stores, and secretes T3 and T4 based on these inputs via “TSH,” or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. The hypothalamus produces TSH Releasing Hormone, which signals the pituitary to release TSH, which tells the thyroid to produce or release more or less T3 or T4.
When T3 or T4 levels in the blood are low, the pituitary releases more Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, which tells the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone.
When T3 or T4 levels in the blood are high, the pituitary releases less TSH and indicates the thyroid to produce less.
As such, if the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone or producing too little thyroid hormone, the issue may not be with the thyroid gland itself. There could be an issue with any part of HPT Axis, and thyroid dysfunction could be one component of overall Metabolic Chaos®.
(Image credit https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid-nodules/thyroid-gland-controls-bodys-metabolism-how-it-works-symptoms-hyperthyroi)
What happens if the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis (HPT Axis) dysfunctions?
This national thyroid awareness month, I wanted to take the time to explain the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis (HPT Axis), and its dysfunctions. T3 and T4 affect every cell in the body. These thyroid hormones decide the speed at which cells metabolize or the speed at which cells work. They determine how fast your heart beats, how quickly your intestines digest food, how your brain develops, and even things like the turnover of mineral tissue in your bones.
As such, if T3 and T4 are low, you may experience weight gain, the inability to lose weight, low energy, low heart rate, and constipation.
Here are some common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism or low T3/T4:
- Exhaustion, fatigue, tiredness
- Less focus, difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping – sleep issues
- Chronic pain – joint and muscle aches and pains
- Heavy or frequent menstrual periods
- Weight gain, the inability to lose weight
If T3 and T4 are high, you may have diarrhea, weight loss, the inability to gain weight, and or a rapid heartbeat.
Here are some common symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism or high T3/T4:
- Nervousness, hyperactivity, shaking
- Irritability and moodiness or mood swings
- Excessive sweating
- Light or missed menstrual periods
- Weight loss, the inability to gain weight
These symptoms can also be an effect of myriad issues other than thyroid dysfunction, including:
- eating the wrong foods for what your body uniquely needs,
- consuming foods to which you have inflammatory sensitivities,
- bacterial overgrowth in the gut pr presence of pathogens in your gastrointestinal tract,
- intestinal integrity issues such as leaky gut syndrome,
- hormone imbalances,
- or insufficient detoxification.
There are multiple types of issues that can cause the same list of symptoms. As a Health Detective, I correlate symptoms with lab test results, but I don’t treat symptoms – I treat what’s causing them. Symptoms can manifest far removed from the actual cause, and often symptoms are the same but have different root causes.
That’s why, as a Health Detective, I don’t guess – I test. I want to know the real cause of the symptoms, and we can work together to address them at their source.
What can cause HPT Axis dysfunction?
Stress can cause the HPT axis or the thyroid gland itself to dysfunctional and either produce too much T3/T4 or too little T3/T4.
We commonly think of stress as being mental or emotional, and these psychological sources of stress can cause health issues. But stress includes physiological sources, such as the stress caused by food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances in the gut, or a toxic load that exceeds the capacity of our detoxification organs.
Any form of stress – whether mental, emotional, or physiological – will cause a chemical response in the body.
We think of this response as the “fight-flight-or-freeze” response, during which the HPA Axis kicks in. Much like with the HPT Axis, the hypothalamus tells the pituitary to tell the adrenal glands to respond. The adrenal glands produce the chemical cocktail that enhances the body’s ability to respond. This reaction sends epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol into the bloodstream.
During this stress response, when cortisol is elevated, the pituitary gland decreases the production and release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone and blocks the conversion of T3 and T4. Effectively, when your body is responding to ANY stress stimulus, your HPT Axis takes a temporary back seat to your HPA Axis.
When stress is chronic, this can lead to HPA Axis dysfunction, HPT Axis dysfunction, and dysfunction of the thyroid gland itself.
Since any mental, emotional, or physiological stress stimulus can be the source of this dysfunction-inducing chronic stress, investigation of the cause of dysfunction is critical for healing and health.
What can you do to restore your whole body and thyroid's health?
Here are six steps you can take to restore your whole body and thyroid’s health:
1- Investigate the root cause of your thyroid issues. And then heal it!
When you learn that your thyroid hormones are too high or too low, you might be put on a medication to lower or raise T3 and T4. This medication addresses that symptom and provides relief.
As a Health Detective, I take a different approach. There is value in providing you relief from symptoms. But that’s not a long-term solution.
I work to treat causes, not effects. If your HPT Axis, or your thyroid itself, isn’t functioning optimally, wouldn’t you want to know why? Might it make more sense to treat the cause instead of treating the effect?
If you are experiencing dysfunction of the HPT Axis, you have the option to investigate the HIDDEN stressors that may be the root cause of the dysfunction. These HIDDEN stressors include issues with your Hormone, Immune, Digestive, Detoxification, Energy production, and Neurological systems.
As a Health Detective, I run functional lab tests for my clients that give us valuable information about what may be causing the dysfunction. Then we design a corrective and preventive protocol for actual healing and long-term health.
2- Eat according to your Metabolic Type
Mass nutritional media attempts to convince us that one diet is the best one for everyone. Should you be eating keto or paleo or vegetarian or low-carb or high-carb or 40-30-30 macro balance? There are so many “best” diets out there. None of them work for 100% of everyone.
Why? Because genetically and biochemically, every one of us has unique nutritional needs. There is no one best diet. And while there are universal nutritional truths, the Metabolic Typing Diet is the only one that accounts for a person’s biological needs as an individual. It is a clinical, scientific, integrated approach to the treatment and prevention of chronic and stress-related health disorders. It is building health and correcting patterns of biochemical imbalance that are the root of health problems.
I teach a workshop called Personalize Your Plate, in which I cover the Metabolic Typing Diet in depth. I would love to see you at that workshop – look for the next one on my workshops page at www.strengthandshieldcoaching.com/workshops-page/.
3- Eliminate stress-inducing foods
About those universal nutritional truths, there are still foods to avoid and eliminate.
To encourage health building habits, eliminate foods with refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners. Eliminate fast foods like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Avoid sweets and alcohol.
All of these foods and food chemicals induce a stress response in the body or degrade health. Avoiding stress-inducing foods is vitally crucial to experiencing an optimally healthy physical, mental, and emotional state.
4- Get sufficient sleep by eating right
While stress can often cause sleepless nights, adhering to a nutritional protocol aligned with your metabolic type and free of stress-inducers like sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine will dramatically improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Here’s a quick example of how nutrition affects your sleep.
When you consume refined sugars, your pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which breaks down the sugar into energy used by your cells. Refined sugar induces a strong insulin response, which “burns” the sugar quickly, causing a quick sugar high followed by a sugar crash.
This low-blood sugar, or hypoglycemic state, is a stressor that prompts a physiological stress response and cortisol production. Also, this process leads to sugar cravings, which may cause you to repeat the cycle: sugar consumption, insulin release, hypoglycemia, cortisol release, sugar craving. Repetition of the same cycle subjects the body to chronic stress, which can have devastating long-term health effects.
The purpose of cortisol in the body is to enable you to best deal with a stress event, like being chased by a bear.
One of the ways cortisol helps you deal with stress is by increasing alertness and heart rate. When your sugar drops while you’re sleeping, your body perceives the drop as being chased by that bear. You can’t run away from a bear while you’re sleeping, so your body will wake you up.
When you spend the day in the aforementioned sugar cycle, or even if you eat sweets late in the evening, hypoglycemia and subsequent cortisol production will make it difficult to get quality sleep.
5- Get sufficient sleep by creating healthy sleep hygiene habits
We are diurnal beings, which means biochemically we sleep at night and are awake during the day. One hour before you plan on going to bed, at 9 pm at the latest, turn off all of your devices and begin preparing your body for sleep. This boundary means no TV, no phone, no computer – no screens. Do something that relaxes you, such as praying or meditating, reading a book for leisure, or taking a warm bath.
Commit to going to bed by 10 pm at the latest. We’re diurnal. It means if it’s dark, your body wants to be asleep.
Set the conditions in your home for healthy sleep. There should be no light in your room. The ambient temperature in your sleeping space should be 68 degrees. Minimize sleep interruptions as much as possible.
6- Reduce stress by checking your mental models
For years, I struggled with a false, subconscious belief that stress was the price I had to pay for happiness and success. And because of that mental model, I perpetuated stress in my life because I thought it was a requirement.
I work with high-performing women. High-performers tend to have mental models around rest that keep us from activating our genuine awesomeness and showing up as ourselves in our lives. I shared a “Healthy Half-Minute” on this topic in the Strength & Shield Coaching Community.
Check out the video here: Strength & Shield Coaching Community Health Half-Minute – Mental Models and Rest.
If you struggle with rest and stress reduction, your mental models could be the reason. In my year-long coaching, the Ultimate Transformation and Master Your Transformation programs, I work with clients on all sources of stress in your body and your life, including addressing false mental models.
Get to the root of your thyroid issues this thyroid awareness month and live an optimally healthy life. Optimal is possible! For more information about Strength & Shield Coaching programs, CLICK HERE.
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