A big part of my practice involves helping patients who are struggling with thyroid issues. Thyroid disease hits women particularly hard — they are five to eight times more likely than men to be diagnosed with a thyroid problem, and one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime.1 And then there are the millions of people with thyroid issues that don’t even realize they have a problem, or whose symptoms are misdiagnosed.
What many people don’t realize is that there are a number of factors that affect thyroid function, some of which are related to lifestyle choices. Everything from the food you eat to the air you breathe can impact your thyroid. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways your lifestyle could be affecting your thyroid health.
The thyroid gland secretes two types of hormones — thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid needs T3 to perform critical metabolic functions, but 80 percent of T3 is converted from T4.2 If the thyroid isn’t able to properly convert T4 into T3, it isn’t able to do its job properly. In fact, the thyroid will sometimes convert T4 into something called reverse T3 (RT3). RT3 is an inactive hormone that doesn’t perform any of the important work done by T3.
The inability of the thyroid to convert T4 to T3 is sometimes called T3 syndrome. Mainstream physicians aren’t always trained to recognize symptoms of T3 syndrome, but functional medicine practitioners like myself are experts in diagnosing and treating this condition. We can also help you pinpoint ways that your lifestyle may be contributing to your thyroid issues.
Here are some of the things that can affect the thyroid’s ability to convert T4 to T3.
Chronic stress can take a toll on every part of your body, including the thyroid. When your body is forced to maintain a constant state of “fight-or-flight” in response to stress, your thyroid isn’t able to do its job of converting hormones.
2. Celiac Disease
There’s a strong link between this autoimmune disease and thyroid dysfunction. In one study of 241 patients with untreated Celiac disease, participants with Celiac were three times more likely to have hypothyroidism compared to controls. And 16 percent of Celiac patients in the study also had autoimmune thyroid disease.3
Viral infections like Epstein-Barr are considered a major environmental factor in thyroid conditions like subacute thyroiditis and autoimmune thyroid diseases.4 A person could have a low-grade viral infection and not realize it, but the thyroid’s ability to convert T4 to T3 can still be impacted.
4. Nutritional Gaps
Your thyroid gland relies on certain nutrients to produce and convert hormones. Many people know that iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism. Selenium is necessary for the conversion of T4 to T3.5 Zinc also helps with this conversion. If you’re deficient in these nutrients, your thyroid may not be getting what it needs to function.
5. Fluoride, Heavy Metals, and Other Toxins
Fluoride is an antagonist to iodine, meaning it inhibits iodine production. And heavy metals like mercury and lead, along with pesticides and other toxins, can negatively impact the thyroid’s ability to convert T4 to T3.
Here are some of the things that can cause the thyroid to convert T4 into RT3, the inactive form of T3.
If you’re dealing with one or more of these factors, your thyroid might not be producing the active form of T3 it needs to perform essential metabolic functions.
There may be aspects of your lifestyle that are negatively affecting your thyroid health, but you can also make choices to support it. Here are some of them.
Focus on Nutrition
Increasing your intake of certain nutrients can help your thyroid convert hormones. These include iodine, iron, tyrosine, selenium, and vitamins C, D, E, B2, B3, and B6. Vitamin A and zinc are also important, because they improve the sensitivity of your cells to thyroid hormones.
Heal Your Gut
If you’re dealing with conditions like leaky gut, you may not be able to absorb the nutrients your thyroid needs. Addressing any underlying gut problems and/or food sensitivities is key to supporting thyroid function.
No matter what symptoms my patients are dealing with, I often point to stress reduction as a healing tool. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, or simply spending more time outdoors, relaxing activities can go a long way toward promoting thyroid health.
At My Pure MD, we specialize in treating thyroid issues that many mainstream practitioners don’t recognize. We can help you identify which lifestyle factors may be affecting your thyroid health, and help you on your journey toward a healthy, balanced thyroid.
2. Sapin R, Schlienger JL. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) determinations: techniques and value in the assessment of thyroid function. Ann Biol Clin (Paris). 2003;61(4):411-420.
3. Ch’ng CL, Jones MK, Kingham JG. Celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid disease. Clin Med Res. 2007;5(3):184-192.
4. Desailloud R, Hober D. Viruses and thyroiditis: an update. Virol J. 2009;6:5. Published 2009 Jan 12.
5. Olivieri O, et al. Selenium, zinc, and thyroid hormones in healthy subjects: low T3/T4 ratio in the elderly is related to impaired selenium status. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1996;51(1):31-41.