Thyroid – small organ, strong power!
One in five people suffer from an enlargement of the thyroid gland and one in ten from a thyroid dysfunction – and this is continuing to increase. Thyroid problems are often caused by autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto or Graves’ disease. Incorrect nutrition and an imbalanced intestinal microbiome may also be the cause.
The thyroid gland is a small organ – it weighs less than one ounce and is the size of a walnut – yet it has a major effect on metabolism. The hormones produced by the thyroid gland are necessary for the processing of carbohydrates and proteins. At the same time, they influence calorie consumption, increase oxygen demand and break down fatty tissue. So it becomes clear quite quickly: If the thyroid is not functioning optimally, it affects not only the immediate environment of the gland, but the whole body.
Virtually every function of the body and all cells of the body – from the small toe to the hair roots – are controlled by thyroid hormones. If the finely tuned balance of the messenger substances is disturbed just a little, this can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, feeling too cold or too hot, and anxiety.
The hormones of the thyroid gland
The thyroid gland produces the effective hormone triiodothyronine (T3) and the less effective thyroxine (T4), a precursor that needs to be converted into the active form with the help of an enzyme.
The hormones T3 and T4 stimulate protein metabolism and thus contribute to the growth and maturation of the brain and bones. In addition, the increased protein synthesis increases the basal metabolic rate.
In order to produce thyroid hormones and then convert the precursor T4 into the metabolically active T3, the thyroid requires different trace elements such as iodine, iron, selenium and zinc. According to studies, not only the known iodine deficiency, but also a lack of other trace elements can promote an enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter) or autoimmune disease and impair the production of thyroid hormones.
Furthermore, the thyroid gland also produces the hormone calcitonin, which regulates the body’s calcium and phosphate balance and plays a decisive role in protecting against osteoporosis.
Thyroid dysfunction – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
Problems caused by an out of balance thyroid can be roughly divided into two categories: Either the small gland works too little or it is overactive and releases far too many hormones. By far the most common is an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). In this case too few hormones are produced, i. e. the thyroid gland slows down the metabolism. With hypothyroidism, the body literally runs out of fuel. However, this usually does not happen suddenly, but rather insidiously, and thus it often takes a long time before it becomes apparent that something is wrong, especially since the symptoms are quite unspecific, such as constant fatigue, lack of concentration or nervousness, irritability and palpitations.
The metabolism runs on an energy-saving flame, which makes those affected shiver faster, as the body’s heat production decreases. Since fewer calories are burnt, weight gain, despite normal portions, is often observed with hypothyroidism.
In more than 90 percent of cases, an underactive thyroid is caused by an autoimmune disease called hashimoto thyroiditis.
Thyroid overactivity (hyperthyroidism) is much less common than an underactive thyroid. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland really revs up, this means more hormones are produced than the body needs – the body is “under power”. Affected persons are hectic, restless, sleep poorly and the metabolism burns a lot of calories, which, despite sufficient food intake, becomes noticeable through increased weight loss.
Even with hyperthyroidism, in 40 to 60 percent of cases the cause is due to an autoimmune disease, the so-called Graves’ disease.
Hyperthyroidism, even mild, should not be taken lightly. People suffering from hyperthyroidism have a higher risk of gout, depression or cardiovascular diseases. In the long run, the bones also become brittle. A constant excess of thyroid hormones not only boosts the metabolism in the body, but also boosts the calcium metabolism in the skeleton.
Vital substances for the thyroid gland?
Thyroid disorders are more common in women in connection with hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Occupational and family stress, loss experiences, traumas and malnutrition can contribute to the development of the disease as well as an extremely irregular life or a chronic lack of sleep.
The typical lack in abundance that characterizes our Western diet leads to a deficit of valuable vital substances. Together with chronic inflammation as well as heavy metal exposure, this is the main cause for the intestines and immune system to be weakened.
Trace elements for the thyroid gland
The most important trace element for the thyroid gland is iodine, because it is part of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Therefore, a good iodine supply is important for a sufficient production of the hormone. Iodine is mainly found in sea fish and algae, but it is also found in slightly smaller quantities in spinach, radishes, milk or eggs. It is supported by the trace element selenium. It contributes to the formation of thyroid hormone and is also an important antioxidant that promotes the formation of healthy cells. Selenium is also present in different amounts in marine fish, such as mackerel or tuna. In addition, Brazil nuts, lentils and hard cheese are also good suppliers of selenium.
The third trace element is iron, which plays an important role alongside iodine and selenium. Iron deficiency can possibly slow down thyroid metabolism and thus contribute to hypothyroidism.
Vitamins for a healthy thyroid gland
In addition to foods rich in iodine and selenium, vitamin-rich vegetables, fruits and whole grains should also be part of a well-rounded diet.
Vitamins such as vitamin A, B12 and D are also important for the function of the thyroid gland. Vitamin A, for example, supports the release of the TSH hormone, which is needed for the absorption of iodine, as well as for the circulation and growth of the thyroid gland.
In case of vitamin A deficiency, both hypothyroidism and goiter growth are stimulated more strongly.
Influence of the intestine on the thyroid gland
The gut and its inhabitants influence almost every organ in the body. Therefore, the gut should also be examined in case of a thyroid disease. Today, it is also assumed that a change in the intestinal flora in favor of pathogenic intestinal bacteria is responsible for the development of autoimmune diseases. These pathogenic microbes release toxins that can damage the intestine and cause inflammation. In Hashimoto’s and also Graves’ disease patients, it was shown in studies that the composition of the intestinal microbiome was altered compared to healthy study participants. Thus, the subjects with Graves’ disease had a deficiency of bifido and lactic acid bacteria. Hashimoto subjects, on the other hand, lacked the faecalibacterium prausnitzii.
Only a healthy gut can process food properly and provide the body with the necessary building blocks such as iodine, selenium, zinc and other nutrients needed to produce and release thyroid hormones. If the intestine is inflamed or the composition of the intestinal bacteria is severely altered, the absorption of nutrients is usually also impeded.
Support the thyroid gland with nutrition according to Metabolic Balance
Thyroid dysfunction can be balanced with appropriate medications and hormone supplements. However, this is easier and more effective if the eating behavior is adjusted at the same time. Regular meals, a reduced proportion of carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and rice, but plenty of vegetables, high-quality proteins and fats, as recommended in the Metabolic Balance nutrition plans, lay the foundation for a thyroid-friendly diet. In addition, foods that have beneficial effects are selected according to the thyroid dysfunction. High-fiber and anti-inflammatory foods have a positive effect on the intestine and its inhabitants as well as on the thyroid gland and its function.