Part 2: Little known facts about thyroid function

Now that we are familiar with thyroid testing (see Part 1 of this series), we are going to dive into the process involved in creating thyroid hormones.  To make any hormone or molecule in the body, you need to have the right "ingredients" - and in the right proportions (i.e. don't purchase supplements or use Dr. Google until you have been evaluated by a good functional medicine/integrative medicine provider!).  And, by the way, all of these apply to anyone who is already taking thyroid replacement hormones.  Here are the top 3 ingredients you need to make good-functioning thyroid hormones:

1. Vitamins and minerals: To convert inactive thyroid hormones (T4) to active thyroid hormone (T3), you need proper quantities of vitamins and nutrients.  Most important nutrients needed:

  • IRON (measured via ferritin levels, with an optimal ferritin value between 70 and 100mg/dL)
  • IODINE (measured via urinary iodine levels)
  • TYROSINE (an amino acid)
  • VITAMIN D (at optimal levels, not "within range")
  • ZINC 
  • B VITAMINS (B2, B3, B6, B12)

2. Good environment.  The thyroid gland is very sensitive to its surroundings.  Thyroid hormone production will be blocked or will convert into the inactive hormone rT3 if any of the following is persistently present:

  • INFLAMMATION (particularly from low-nutrient foods, lack of exercise, being overweight)
  • CO-EXISTING CONDITIONS (particularly, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes/diabetes, other autoimmune conditions, leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • INFECTIONS (particularly H.pylori, Ebstein Barr virus, and certain gut pathogens)
  • STRESS:  One of the most under-valued causes of thyroid imbalance. Think of it this way - the body interprets any stress as a threat that it needs to escape.  If you are running away from a bear, would you want your energy to go towards keeping you at a healthy weight, or would you want to put it towards the heart and muscles that need to work to help you escape from the bear?
  • TOXINS (particularly pesticides, mercury, cadmium, and lead)
  • FLUORIDE (prevents iodine from working properly)
  • LOW-CALORIE DIET (body interprets this as starvation, and slows the metabolism to preserve energy)
  • MEDICATIONS (some medications can affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients, such as antacids)

3. Healthy "partners" (going along with the recipe analogy I started in the introduction, you might call these the "sous chefs").  The thyroid is not isolated, and requires assistance and support from other systems in the body.  The main organ systems that need to be working properly for thyroid hormone processing are:

  • LIVER (the detoxifying organ)
  • ADRENAL GLANDS (the organs that help us respond to stress)
  • GUT: From the mouth all the way to the other end.  In particular, you need good stomach acid production to kill potential infections (which are decreased if you are take an antacid every day), a balance of good bacteria (probiotics), and good motility (i.e. at least one bowel movement every day).


As you can see, there is a lot that goes into making thyroid hormones!  The best place to start, however, is with good nutrition and a good provider that can evaluate any imbalances.  Stay tuned for the Part 3 (all about the medications used to treat hypothyroidism)...