The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped organ located in the front of the neck. Its main job is to release hormones that control metabolism and how energy is used in the body. The things controlled by the thyroid include heart rate, breathing, body weight, muscle strength, body temperature and fertility. The two most important hormones that the thyroid makes are T4 (inactive) and T3 (active after conversion from T4 in the liver and kidneys). The brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) control how much thyroid hormone is made by the gland through feedback loops.

Thyroid disease affects an estimated 20 million people in the US. Women are 5-8x more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid condition. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) happens when the body doesn’t produce and release enough thyroid hormone. Common signs of hypothyroidism include hair loss, fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, dry skin and brittle nails. Nutritional deficiencies that contribute to low thyroid function are low levels of iodine, iron, ferritin, zinc, magnesium, selenium and vitamins A, C, B2, B6 and B12.

Stress can lead to hypothyroidism when high cortisol interferes with the conversion of T4 to T3, our active thyroid hormone. Estrogen dominance (estrogen not balanced by enough progesterone) can also lower thyroid function by causing the liver to increase thyroid binding globulin (TBG) thereby lowering available thyroid hormone.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is type of thyroid failure caused by autoimmune disease. Antibodies are formed by the immune system that attack thyroid cells as if they were an infection, causing cell death of the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells. Testing for TPO (thyroid peroxidase) and ATA (antithyroglobulin) antibodies are the way to diagnose this autoimmune thyroid disease.

Treatment of thyroid failure involves replacing T4 and T3. The best way to do this is with desiccated thyroid hormone (natural glandular extract) such as Armour or NP thyroid. Treating with synthetic T4 (Synthroid, Levothyroxine) and T3 (Cytomel) should only be done if the patient has Hashimoto’s disease. Taking supplements containing vitamins and nutrients essential for healthy thyroid function can also help optimize thyroid hormone production.