A small gland – measuring less than 6cm and weighing around 30 grams – the thyroid is located at the base of the neck and has two lobes shaped like butterfly wings. Though unobtrusive, it plays a central role in the human body (1).
Like many other endocrine glands, thyroid function is controlled by the ‘master gland’, the small, bean-shaped organ situated at the base of the brain called the pituitary (2), which is itself controlled by the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which stimulates the pituitary to produce thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which in turn stimulates the thyroid gland’s production of thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4 or tetraiodothyronine) and triiodothyronine (T3).
And effectively, it is these two hormones that regulate the pace at which all our organs function. Thus the thyroid gland affects our metabolism, our weight, our mental health, our libido, our energy and fatigue levels, etc.
To a significant extent, therefore, our health and well-being rely on the ability of this tiny gland to produce precisely the right amount of hormones necessary for our organs to function at the correct rate. An ability which itself depends on another gland, which in turn depends on another gland ... The slightest ‘gremlin’ in this well-oiled machine and the whole system either gets over-excited – or falls asleep.
With the thyroid, it’s all a question of rhythm. And because of this, the slightest problem with it disrupts our bodies’ overall rhythm.
too many thyroid hormones circulating? Your heart starts racing, as does your gut, and your metabolism, you lose weight even though your appetite has increased, you have problems sleeping, you become anxious, etc. (3)
too few thyroid hormones? Different - or sometimes similar - problems occur: weight gain, chronic fatigue, low mood or even depression, etc. (4)
Women are particularly affected by one or other of these thyroid problems, especially after the age of 60, though pregnant women, new mothers, or women going through the menopause can all be impacted. Worldwide, more than 200 million people are thought to suffer from thyroid issues.
And if such problems are growing year on year, one of the reasons is likely to be endocrine disruptors.
These chemicals are, in the main, synthetic molecules used in the manufacture of products with specific characteristics, which successfully ‘trick’ our endocrine glands because they have a similar form to that of molecules found naturally in the body (5). They are thus able to either inhibit or maximise the functioning of our endocrine glands, including one of the most important – the thyroid.
Endocrine disruptors are now the subject of extensive investigation. In France for example, Inserm (the National Institute of Health and Medical Research) (6) and Anses (the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) (7) are conducting a number of studies to identify endocrine disruptors, analyse their mechanisms of action and find ways of preventing them in the future.
Thus it’s a good idea toto avoid plastics in general (found in certain food containers, cosmetics, toys …) in order to protect against the potentially thyroid-damaging effects of known or suspected endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A, phthalates, triclosan and mercury (8).
Iodine is the primary component used to produce thyroid hormones, as we can see from the names of these hormones: tetra-iodo-thyronine and tri-iodo-thyronine.
Specifically, ingested iodine circulating in the body passes from blood vessels to vesicles that make up the thyroid which then uses the iodineto produce hormones. When thyroid hormones are used, part of this constituent iodine is released back into the body and it can then be recycled by the thyroid. (9)
While widespread encouragement of iodised salt consumption has significantly reduced potential iodine deficiency in much of Europe, it has not completely eradicated the problem. Thus, with the WHO estimating that a billion people globally are deficient in iodine, one would expect around 200 million people to be suffering with goitres and 6 million with cretinism. And this includes European populations. (10)
Furthermore, salt-free diets, living far from the sea, and low consumption of seafood (fish, shellfish, seaweed – not spirulina - etc) are also risk factors for iodine deficiency.
Which is why, in cases of suspected iodine deficiency, and on medical advice, some people choose to supplement with iodine as a natural way of protecting their thyroid (with, for example, Natural Iodine, a source of iodine extracted from kelp).
Iodine supplementation is not, however, recommended for pregnant women or those who are hypersensitive to iodine. To avoid potential interactions, you should also take medical advice before supplementing with iodine if you are taking any medication.
Kelp is a type of algae rich in iodine and alginate. Numerous studies have shown that consuming kelp supports normal thyroid function and hormone production as well as normal energy metabolism (11).
Used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, the resin guggul is rich in specific active ingredients called guggulsterones (12), which act at various levels in the body. Here again, research has shown guggul to support thyroid health (13).
Selenium has a regulating effect on thyroid hormones, particularly triiodothyronine (T3) (14). In fact it’s in the thyroid, where specific selenoproteins are found, that selenium is primarily concentrated. This trace-element plays an active part in maintaining normal thyroid function (15).
Thus selenium is another natural substance that can help you take care of your thyroid. It’s best to take L-selenomethionine, the most bioavailable form of the compound (L-Selenomethionine).
To benefit from these various natural substances ‘in one go’, you can opt for a specific synergistic formulation (such as Natural Thyro Formula, rich in kelp-sourced iodine, guggul, selenium, and kaempferol, as well as other minerals and micronutrients). Note, however, that as this supplement is comprehensive, it should not be taken alongside other supplements for the thyroid.
Though it’s rarely discussed, iodine deficiency is a relatively common problem. Here’s a brief overview of its symptoms and ways of addressing it.
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