Introducing the Thyroid

The thyroid is responsible for managing our metabolism. Its a gland in our neck and it produces the hormones T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (tri-iodothyronine). T3 is ten times more active than T4 and carries out 90% of the thyroid function. All of our cells depend upon this hormone. The process actually starts in our brain though where TSH (thryoid stimulating hormone) is released, this stimulates the thyroid to produce T4 and then the body converts this to T3.

TSH => T4 => T3

Your GP can do a blood test to measure these levels; which of the chemicals they measure will depend upon the GP and its not uncommon for just TSH to be done. The results are used to diagnose clinical hypo or hyperthyroidism, or diagnose that the thyroid is operating ok. Symptoms include:

  • Hypo-thyroidism (under active): Fatigue, weight gain, difficultly losing weight, depression, mental health concerns, senstivity to the cold, cholesterol increases, constipation, dry hair and skin, muscle cramps..

  • Hyper-thyroidism (over active): Weight loss, heat intolerance, palpitations, muscle weakness, hyperactivity, nervousness..

If there are still issues we would wonder if T3 and T4 need testing, and as a nutrition expert I'm particularly interested in whether the conversion process (T4=>T3) is working as well as it could be, that's because food supplies the nutrients we need. Stress can inhibit the conversion of T4 to T3 Its worth knowing that stress can actually inhibit the conversion of T4 to T3. Another chemical is released and Nutritional Therapists commonly see people under stress who have an out of balance thyroid system (whether it is clinical diagnosed or sub-clinical). The stress system is composed of the adrenal glands and we might also suggest an adrenal stress test. It can highlight if the adrenal glands need support - through foods, supplement and lifestyle. Actions:

  • Get tested (GP, or private tests - which do the chemicals discussed here).

  • All body processes need nutrients. Include these foods that the thyroid system needs: Iodine (seafood and seaweed), protein, zinc (pumpkin seeds), selenium (brazil nuts), vitamin A (liver and carrots), and omega 3 (oily fish).

  • Understand your life load/stress.

  • Get an adrenal stress index test done.

  • If you are on thyroid (or other) medication then you can still fine tune your diet and get nutritional advice about what will support and inhibit optimum thyroid function.

Joanne Hart is a Registered Nutritional Therapist (mBANT, CNHC), BSc (Hons)


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