Thyroid disorders are increasingly common. According to statistics by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), approximately 27 million Americans have a thyroid disorder. 1 in 10 Americans, more than the number of Americans with diabetes and cancer combined, suffer from thyroid disease. Yet, half remains undiagnosed because initial signs and symptoms are vague, ambiguous, and often seen in various disorders. The underlying factor in very common disorders such as infertility, hair loss, irregular menses, constipation, fatigue, weight gain, elevated cholesterol, anemia, or depression may be a malfunctioning thyroid. Fortunately, our current understanding of thyroid disorders shed light on actions we can take to maintain a healthy thyroid.
It is well-established that most thyroid disorders are autoimmune. The body's tissues, here the thyroid, are attacked by its own immune system via the production of antibodies. These antibodies can in turn cause the thyroid gland to be hyperactive, hypoactive, or inactive. Because autoimmune diseases as a whole affect disproportionately women, hormones are seen to play an important role in autoimmunity. Furthermore, it is observed that women with conditions involving hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis and PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) are more susceptible to thyroid disorders. Therefore, ensuring that hormones are balanced is one way to maintain adequate thyroid function.
Autoimmunity may also arise from a very interesting phenomenon known as molecular mimicry. Molecular mimicry describes a type of biochemical forgery in which protein sequences in bacteria, viruses, foods, or other foreign substances are similar or identical to sequences in human tissues. The immune system recognizes these mimicking sequences as foreign and mounts an immune response (a cross-reaction) to both the mimicking sequences and sequences in human tissues. Research has implicated cross-reactions with wheat and milk proteins in autoimmune diseases. Because not everyone who consumes these proteins will develop autoimmune cross reactions, it is a very good idea to obtain tests for food allergies and intolerances in order to determine suspicious foods that might trigger these reactions.
Iodine deficiency is a well-known cause of hypothyroidism. Iodine is an element that is essential for the production of thyroid hormone. Treatment of iodine deficiency by the introduction of iodized salt virtually eliminated goiters due to iodine deficiency in the 1920s in industrialized nations. Yet, a state of iodine deficiency can be created by many common consumer products.
Everyday consumables such as flour products, pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, synthetic perfumes, drinking water, and toothpaste contain halogens. Halogens are a group of highly active chemical elements that include bromine, chlorine, fluorine, and iodine. Bromine, chlorine, and fluorine readily displace iodine; this makes iodine less available to the thyroid gland for the production of thyroid hormones causing hypothyroidism. These halogens may also mimic the actions of iodine; this leads to the production of excessive thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism. Chlorine and fluorine are commonly found in tap water, toothpaste, and non-stick cookware. Bromine is a chemical frequently used in pesticides/fungicides, fire retardants, and many flour products. Eating unbrominated flour products and organic foods, reducing the use of synthetic chemicals and non-stick cookware, and purchasing a good filter to minimize chlorine and fluorine from drinking water are simple ways to lessen halogen exposure and ensure optimal thyroid function.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that influence essentially every organ, tissue, and cell in the body; it plays an important role in regulating metabolism and calcium balance. This article hopefully sheds light on actions that we can take to optimize the functioning of this very important gland.