Written By: Kevin Cann
Low thyroid is a much more common problem then we may believe. Dr. Ridha Arem, the author of the Thyroid Solution, believes that one in ten Americans suffers from Thyroid Dysfunction. Some of the typical symptoms for low thyroid are low energy levels, depression, cold hands and feet, poor mental focus, weight gain, tendency to have low body temperature, headaches, and autoimmune conditions. There are many more symptoms of low thyroid as well.
The thyroid gland is located in the front of our throat below our larynx. The thyroid is a major player in controlling our metabolism. This is why low energy and weight issues usually accompany dysfunction of the thyroid. The thyroid produces hormones, the primary ones being triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4).
The hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which stimulates the anterior pituitary to secrete thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The TSH is what acts upon the thyroid to release hormones. T3 and T4 get their abbreviations from their chemical makeup. The T stands for tyrosine and the 3 and 4 represent the amount of iodine molecules attached. T4 is the primary storage form and T3 is the more active form of the hormone.
T3 is necessary to activate our catecholamines. The catecholamines are produced by the adrenal glands and they are; dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. These are all important for our energy and mood, as well as other important factors. Dopamine is important in the control of our motor skills, and a deficiency may lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, and even other psychotic behaviors (Laverty, 1978). Without adequate T3 we can lack energy to get through our day, and possibly develop a mood disorder. So what can cause low thyroid symptoms?
Chronic dieting can be a major issue. In America we are obsessed with counting calories and putting ourselves in a negative caloric balance. Getting too far into a negative caloric balance can be a major problem. For one, if we are not eating all of the nutrients we require, we will become deficient and bad things will begin to happen. Also, being too low calorie causes a significant decrease in serum T3. In one study performed on 18 obese patients, the ones on a very low calorie diet for 8 weeks had a 66% decrease in serum T3 levels compared to the control (Wadden, 1990). This is due to our body protecting itself. It does this by slowing down our metabolism and thyroid function to decrease energy levels and preserve energy. Without adequate T3 our brain cannot produce enough dopamine, norepinephrine, or adrenaline. Serotonin, in these circumstances, will suffer too.
Dopamine deficiencies have been linked to depression. Brown explains that there are similarities between Parkinson’s disease, depression, and seasonal affective disorder, and this lies in the inability of the brain to produce dopamine from its metabolites. He also states that there is significant pharmacological evidence that shows anti-depressants increase dopamine in depressed subjects (Brown, 1993). For example, bupropion, a dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, has been shown to improve symptoms of pleasure, energy, and interest in patients (Nutt, 2007).
Iodine deficiency is another contributor. Remember the hormones are bonded compounds of tyrosine and iodine. Iron, selenium, zinc, folic, acid, the b vitamins, and of course tyrosine are all important factors in creating thyroid hormones. There is also an autoimmune component to thyroid dysfunction. Eating gut irritating foods that contain problematic proteins such as gluten and casein can lead to our immune system attacking the cells of the thyroid.
Our adrenals are important to thyroid function. Cortisol is required for the conversion of T4 to T3. If cortisol levels fall to low this can limit the amount of T4 being converted to T3. Also, the thyroid will respond to chronically high levels of cortisol by downregualting cortisol’s affect on the conversion. Cortisol steals nutrients to help us battle stress, so if our thyroid did not respond we would lose those nutrients and eventually die.
When we are looking at thyroid function we need to see everything that is going on with this powerful gland. The first step is to take a body temperature measurement first thing in the morning for 3 days. If your temperature is below 97.8 degrees you may have a thyroid problem. Try to wake up 30 minutes early, turn on all the lights, and just lay there before you take the temperature. Next, have your doctor order a TSH test, free T4, free T3, TRH, and antithyroglobulin and antithyroperoxidase, as well as an adrenal test.
Supplementation that I recommend is derived from Julia Ross (www.moodcure.com). 500mg-1500mg of tyrosine first thing upon waking, midmorning, and mid-afternoon (always start with the smallest dosage). If someone shows signs and symptoms of low endorphins I recommend they also take 200mg-500mg D-phenylalanine and L-phenylalanine (DLPA). L-phenyalanine can be converted into tyrosine under certain circumstances. If you feel jittery from the L form I recommend to just taking the D form. This is in conjunction to a paleo diet and fish oil supplementation.
Nutt, David (2007). The other face of depression reduced positive affect: the role of catecholamines in causation and cure. Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Brown, AS (1993). Dopamine and Depression. Journal of Neural Transmission.
Wadden, TA (1990). Effects of a very low calorie diet on weight, thyroid hormones, and mood. www.pubmed.gov.
Laverty, R (1978). Catecholamines: role in health and disease. www.pubmed.gov.