As many people reading this already know, most so-called “thyroid conditions” are not directly caused by malfunctioning of the thyroid gland. Most of the time other compromised areas of the body are responsible for the hypothyroid or hyperthyroid condition. This of course is the case with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, as it is the immune system which is responsible for the thyroid malfunction. But other areas of the body can directly or indirectly cause the thyroid gland to malfunction, and in many cases it can be a challenge to detect these “thyroid triggers”.
This is one of the reasons why it is unwise for people to self-treat their condition. At times it can be difficult enough for a competent natural healthcare professional to detect the cause of the problem. It is usually even more challenging for someone without much experience to detect and correct the cause or causes of their condition.
What I’d like to do now is to discuss some of the common “thyroid triggers”.
Thyroid Trigger #1: The Immune System. 90% of all thyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature. So for most people, the immune system is going to be the primary factor which caused the person’s thyroid condition. With Graves’ Disease, there are TSH receptor antibodies which attack the TSH receptors, thus causing the thyroid gland to produce an excess of thyroid hormone. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is associated with TPO antibodies, and frequently also involves thyroglobulin antibodies. These both cause destruction of the thyroid gland, which leads to the reduced secretion of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland.
But while we know the immune system is responsible for the production of thyroid antibodies which characterizes Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, what in turn triggers the autoimmune response? There are numerous factors which can trigger an autoimmune response. Some examples include stress, leaky gut, a virus or infection, heavy metals, a mineral imbalance, adrenal problems, candida, mold, etc. These are just a few of the common factors which can trigger an autoimmune response and thus lead to Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Thyroid Trigger #2: Adrenal Glands. Many people have compromised adrenal glands, and this can have a direct or indirect affect on the thyroid gland. High cortisol levels can affect the conversion of T4 to T3, and thus can be a cause of hypothyroidism. But compromised adrenal glands will affect immunity, and so problems with the adrenals can potentially trigger an autoimmune condition. When someone has depressed cortisol levels, lymphocytes circulate in excess and inflammation will be more prominent. High cortisol levels will also modulate the immune system, which is fine with an acute stress situation, but over a prolonged period of time can cause problems. So it is possible for stress to trigger an autoimmune response, as if someone has high or low cortisol levels then this can help set the stage for an autoimmune condition.
Thyroid Trigger #3: Digestive System. Due primarily to poor eating habits over a prolonged period of time, many people have problems with their digestive system. Typically poor digestion isn’t going to directly cause a hypothyroid or hyperthyroid condition, although keep in mind that if someone has problems with digestion and absorption, then this can cause mineral deficiencies, which in turn can affect thyroid function. Problems with intestinal permeability not only can affect absorption, but this can also trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to a condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Thyroid Trigger #4: The Sex Hormones. Many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions have imbalances in the sex hormones. These include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, although it can also involve some of the other male and female sex hormones. Estrogen is known to directly inhibit thyroid function, and so a condition such as estrogen dominance can potentially lead to a hypothyroid condition. However, some of my patients with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease also have estrogen dominance. There is also some evidence that high levels of estrogen itself can trigger an autoimmune response, and exposure to xenoestrogens can potentially have this effect as well. Some healthcare professionals will look at the ratio of 2-hydroxyestrone and 16-hydroxyestrone, as there is some evidence that higher levels of 16-hydroxyestrone may be related to an overactive immune system, although this is controversial.
Thyroid Trigger #5: Mineral Imbalances. I briefly mentioned mineral imbalances earlier when talking about the digestive system. After all, while it’s important to correct any mineral imbalances, if someone is having problems digesting and absorbing these minerals then this without question needs to be addressed. So if someone has multiple mineral deficiencies, one needs to be certain that the digestive system is working properly. This doesn’t mean that taking certain minerals might not be necessary, as if someone has a moderate to severe mineral deficiency then they most likely will need to supplement with specific minerals. But they will never correct these deficiencies if they aren’t properly digesting and absorbing the food they eat and/or supplements they’re taking.
Some of the minerals which can have a direct effect on thyroid function include selenium, zinc, and iodine. Selenium is important for the conversion of T4 to T3, while zinc and iodine are important in the formation of thyroid hormone. Iodine of course is always a controversial mineral to talk about with regards to thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, as a deficiency can lead to a hypothyroid condition, yet there is controversy over whether people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis should take iodine…even if they are deficient in this mineral. The same can be said about hyperthyroid conditions, as most endocrinologists advise their patients to avoid iodine, even though Lugols solution was commonly used to treat hyperthyroidism before radioactive iodine treatment was developed.
Thyroid Trigger #6: Liver Problems. When I say “liver problems”, I’m not suggesting a disease state such as hepatitis. But problems with the detoxifying ability of the liver can affect thyroid health. For example, the liver is one of the main areas where T4 is converted into T3. So problems with the liver can potentially contribute to a hypothyroid condition. There are also some theories that if the liver has problems detoxifying, then the thyroid gland will increase the secretion of thyroid hormone as an adaptive mechanism, which can help with the detoxification process. Thus according to this theory a liver problem can also potentially lead to a hyperthyroid condition, although I think it’s safe to say that most cases of hyperthyroidism aren’t caused by problems with the liver. With that being said, the liver is one of the most overworked organs in the body, and since we’re constantly being bombarded by toxins on a daily basis you do want to make sure your liver is functioning properly. It’s the actual toxins which can trigger an autoimmune response, and if there are problems with the detoxifying ability of the liver then these toxins will have a greater impact on the immune system. This is one of the reasons why I commonly recommend for my patients to go through a liver detoxification program.
There are of course other factors which can directly or indirectly cause malfunctioning of the thyroid gland, but these are some of the most common ones. But how can you tell which one of these is causing the thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition? Once again, it can be challenging to determine the exact cause, and there are times when numerous factors can be causing or contributing to one’s condition. So it usually does take some detective work, as the natural healthcare professional needs to order the correct tests and then evaluate them properly, and of course has to consider the person’s symptoms and case history. All of these factors are important when trying to determine the underlying cause of the problem.