The thyroid is the center of your energy and metabolism and is a very important gland in the Healthy Body. Generally thyroid conditions fall into 2 categories: either your thyroid is under functioning (hypothyroidism) or over functioning (hyperthyroidism). Here we will focus on hypothyroidism.
An under functioning thyroid can cause many symptoms including: weight gain, fatigue, constipation, low mood, hair loss, dry skin and much more! If you or your doctor suspect that you may have an issue with your thyroid gland, the standard course of action is to get bloodwork done to check TSH levels.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is produced by a gland in the brain called the pituitary. It signals the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone. TSH can be thought of as an indirect way of looking at your thyroid. When thyroid hormone is low, the pituitary will increase production of TSH in an attempt to get a response from the thyroid. TSH is like a telephone. It is a signal from the brain (ring ring) that tells the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland responds to this TSH signal by making T4 hormone which is a “pro-hormone”, meaning it needs converted into T3 which is the active thyroid hormone.
T3 is the hormone that gives you energy, speeds up your metabolism, elevates your mood and overall makes you feel good! The conversion of T4 to T3 happens all over the Healthy Body (kidneys, liver, GI tact, muscle and brain). Certain co-factors and enzymes are needed for this conversion to happen.
T4 can also be converted into reverse T3 which has the opposite effect of T3. It makes you feel tired, sluggish and cold and slows metabolism which encourages weight gain. The Healthy Body tends to make more reverse T3 when it is under stress or if there is a lot of inflammation in the Healthy Body.
So what does this all mean? It means that if you want your thyroid hormones to work well, you need to support the conversion of T4 to T3 and reduce the conversion of T4 to reverse T3!
Conventional treatment for an under functioning thyroid is a medication called levothyroxine (Synthroid). This provides only T4 hormone. Which means that if you want to get all its benefits, your Healthy Body still has to convert it to T3.
Naturopathic Medicine can help with the conversion of T4 to T3 to increase active thyroid hormone thereby boosting metabolism to help with weight loss, increasing mood and energy levels and improving how we feel overall!
How to support T4 to T3 conversion:
Certain minerals act as co-factors and are needed to activate enzymes important for the proper conversion of T4 to T3. Selenium, zinc and copper are three of these minerals and many people are deficient in some or all so testing blood levels could be beneficial to see if supplementation is required.
Liver Support: About 20% of the conversion of T4 to T3 takes place in the liver, and so if you don’t have a properly functioning liver, this can also cause problems with the conversion. Dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal medicine and certain nutritional supplements can all support the liver to help with the conversion of T4 to T3.
Adrenal Support: Having high cortisol levels can affect the conversion of T4 to T3. A lot of people have high cortisol and often it is due to stress! A stress management plan could include acupuncture, lifestyle changes and supplements that help support the adrenal gland to lower cortisol levels. This can decrease the conversion of T4 to reverse T3 and promote more T3 conversion which is what we want!
Gut Health: Your gut is another location where the conversion of T4 to T3 occurs. Disruptions in gut health as seen in leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria) may also reduce your Healthy Body’s ability to covert T4 into the active T3 hormone. Supporting overall gut health is very important. Decreasing inflammatory foods, healing the gut lining to ensure proper absorption of nutrients and minerals and increasing healthy bacteria would also be beneficial.