Symptoms that can be associated with thyroid dysfunction can include feeling tired, depressed, achy muscle pain and unable to shed pounds. The thyroid gland produces hormones that influence metabolism. There are two main types of thyroid disorders. There is hyperthyroidism, which is when there is too much thyroid hormone being produced, and there is hypothyroidism, when there is too little thyroid hormone. If left untreated, thyroid disorders can lead to osteoporosis, infertility and elevated cholesterol.
The thyroid gland plays a vital role in the endocrine system. Despite its small size, the thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands.
Following stimulation by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the pituitary gland, the thyroid releases the hormone, thyroxine (T4), which must be converted by the liver into an active form called triiodothyronine (T3). T3 assists in regulating cardiovascular and neurological function along with supporting immunity, metabolism and energy levels.
The structures of the hormones the thyroid produces is what makes it susceptible to damage. The thyroid requires iodine and selenium to produce its hormones and these elements are chemically attracted to the structure of thyroid hormones (T3 or T4). Many environmental toxins with structures similar to thyroid hormones are mistaken for iodine and selenium and accumulate in the thyroid gland.
Environmental toxins that mirror thyroid hormone structure and invade the thyroid gland can be categorized as: Heavy metals, household toxins, industrial chemicals and agricultural agents.
There are four specific heavy metals that damage the thyroid the most. They are aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury. Aluminum oxidizes the thyroid, inhibits iodide uptake, limits thyroid hormone production and can mislead the immune system to attack the thyroid. Cadmium triggers thyroid enlargement, produces multinodular goiters of the thyroid, reduces thyroglobulin secretion and can induce thyroid cancer. Lead has been linked to reduced thyroid function and increased levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Mercury lowers iodide uptake in the thyroid and prevents thyroid hormone production.
Toxins are becoming more prevalent around us. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), more commonly referred to as flame retardants, populate many areas of the modern-day home such as furniture, carpet padding, clothing made of synthetic materials and the screens of electronic devices. PBDEs imitate thyroid hormone structure allowing PBDEs to bind to a particular class of proteins called transporters that T4 usually binds to, thereby blocking T4 from being transported in the blood. Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, ingredients used to make plastic for water bottles, children’s toys and food storage containers, imitate the structures of other hormones found naturally in the body and disrupt the entire endocrine system along with the thyroid. Thyroid function is also diminished by triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in some liquid hand soaps, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an agent used in stain-resistant fabrics, food wrappers and non-stick cookware.
The most prevalent industrial chemicals are dioxin, perchlorate, perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. All four of these pollutants negatively affect thyroid function. Dioxin, a byproduct of pesticide production, plastic making and other manufacturing processes, reduces thyroid function by mimicking thyroid hormone structure and decreasing T4 levels. Perchlorate arises naturally in the soil of arid regions, but the highest levels polluting the environment come from the development of airbags, batteries, fireworks, leather, paint, jet and rocket fuel and rubber. Many imported goods contain PFCs, from mattresses and detergents to food packaging and fire extinguishers. PCBs are widely used as lubricants, in electrical equipment and for adhesive, paint or plastic production.
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides weaken thyroid function to the point of causing hypothyroidism or “low thyroid.” Agricultural agents wreck thyroid function by altering thyroid hormone gene expression, preventing the uptake of iodine into the thyroid, blocking thyroid hormone from binding to its transport proteins, lowering the absorption of thyroid hormone into thyroid cells and promoting thyroid hormone removal from the body.
Among all heavy metal toxins, chronic toxicity with aluminum, lead and mercury can further damage the thyroid by recruiting antibodies to attack the thyroid. This process contributes to the development of autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD), such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Contracting any of the following viruses enhances the incidence of thyroid diseases: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Enterovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, Hepatitis C, Herpes Simplex virus, Human Immunodeficiency (HIV), Human Parvovirus B19, Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus-1, Mumps and Rubella.
The most common thyroid diseases are Hashimoto Thyroiditis and Graves’ disease. Hashimoto Thyroiditis, a relative to chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, affects mostly women and tops the list of conditions responsible for low thyroid. Symptoms include anxiety, brain fog, cold intolerance, depression, fatigue, heart palpitations, hair loss, loose bowels and an inability to lose weight. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of overactive thyroid. The symptoms are similar to Hashimoto’s with some exceptions including a fine tremor of the hands or fingers, heat sensitivity, weight loss, bulging eyes, thyroid enlargement, reduced libido, erectile dysfunction and menstrual cycle changes.
A thyroid antibody test is the most effective way to have a thyroid problem diagnosed.
Given the widespread presence of thyroid-damaging toxins in the environment, prevention should center on strengthening the thyroid along with avoiding environmental toxins as much as possible. You can also invest in a quality, reverse-osmosis water filter. Consume foods rich in iodine and selenium or take a supplement. Eat organic varieties of food as often as possible. Make all living and working environments as serene as possible. Minerals that are absolutely necessary to offset nutritional depletion related to thyroid function are copper, zinc, selenium and iodine. Strengthen your immunity by being aware of food sensitivities and avoiding these foods.
No matter an individual’s gender or genetics, maintaining a healthy, toxin-free environment both externally and internally is the best way to support thyroid health and avoid autoimmune thyroid disease. Pay close attention to changes in energy, weight and sleep.