What is Hypothyroidism?
Of all the hormonal deficiency disorders, hypothyroidism is the most common and it’s caused by the thyroid’s failure to adequately produce thyroid hormones [R]. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower neck region. Its principal function is to produce thyroid hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) when the brain signals it to do so.
How does the brain do that? A specific part of the brain, called the hypothalamus, is involved in producing hormones that signal other parts of the body to do certain things. One of the hormones released by the hypothalamus is called Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH). When produced, TSH travels to the thyroid and tells it to produce T3 and T4.
These thyroid hormones then work together to regulate body temperature, metabolism, and heart rate. They’re also involved in reproductive functioning in both men and women, regulating the menstrual cycle as well as spermatogenesis [R].
If the thyroid doesn’t function correctly (often due to autoimmunity) and doesn’t respond to TSH, primary hypothyroidism results. Similarly, if the hypothalamus produces insufficient TSH, secondary hypothyroidism develops. In both cases, the body is left with a lack of thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which consequently produces a number of symptoms including the inability to control body temperature, irregular menstrual cycles, slower metabolism, weight gain, and fatigue.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
In half of the cases, primary hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, wherein the body’s own immune system fails to properly recognize the thyroid as part of the body, and attacks it causing chronic inflammation and organ malfunctioning [R]. The other 50% of primary hypothyroidism cases are caused by other factors such as drugs.
Secondary hypothyroidism, when the brain doesn’t produce enough TSH, can be caused by a disorder originating in the brain, such as a tumor.
Natural (and Scientifically Backed) Ways to Deal with Hypothyroidism
If the body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormones, some natural methods may help.
1.) Probiotics have recently been the center of medical research because of the crucial role the gut microbiome plays in health. The microbes living in our gut are heavily involved in our well-being and one of the ways in which they affect health is by developing the immune system. Seventy percent of the immune system lies in the gut, and it all depends on a balanced microbe population for proper functioning. When the microbiome is imbalanced, the immune system doesn’t develop correctly, and autoimmunity can arise. Probiotics help balance the gut microbiome, and therefore can contribute to a more developed, less self-harming, immune system, that will inflict less damage to the thyroid [R, R].
2.) Selenium is an element that plays a key role in the metabolism and functionality of thyroid hormones. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the autoimmunity often diminishes the body’s selenium supply. Research shows that supplementing this element can help balance T4 levels in some individuals. In addition, selenium supplementation was found to reduce the level of the self-harming immune cells that target and destroy the thyroid. Selenium can be found in foods like meat, fish, bread, and cereal. There are also some foods that decrease the levels of selenium in the body, and therefore should be avoided. These include: eggs, white rice, alcohol, and coffee [R].
3.) Gluten-free diets have been the hype these past years, and for good reason. When researchers found a correlation between Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and coeliac disease, they wanted to investigate whether restricting gluten intake would affect thyroid autoimmunity. They found that a gluten-free diet reduced the levels of self-harming immune cells and slightly increased the levels of thyroid hormones [R].