Diary of a Student Nutritionist: Week 8 - Thyroid Health and Diabetes

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Thyroid Health and Diabetes!

This was a really cool lecture, a bit like when I first started my course and I had no idea what the liver did, until this week I had no idea how the thyroid worked.

We were very lucky to have one of the top thyroid nutritional specialists in the UK teaching us and it was very interesting. I knew that some people have hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism in a range of different levels but was not aware of what that really meant.

I now know that all blood passes through the thyroid...who knew and when instructed to release T4 and T3 into the blood. T4 is a tyrosine (an amino acid a building block of protein) with four iodines attached and, T3 is tyrosine with three iodines attached. The body needs both to be released and then most T4 is converted to T3 by specific enzymes. T4 and T3 then bind to thyroid hormone receptors on cells and create a number of reactions inside them. This then leads to increased metabolism, leading to more energy production, better concentration, better temperature regulation, etc. It is therefore very important that it works efficiently and in the right amounts.

There are however a number of ways that you could end up with hypo or hyperthyroidism and this was where things got really interesting. Here are some examples, 1) they do not genetically produce enough enzymes to convert T4 to T3 leading to a deficiency of the more potent T3 and therefore less action on the body, 2) a lack of iodine or tyrosine in the thyroid to make the T4 and T3, 3) an autoimmune condition from birth or activated partway through life causing the thyroid to be attacked and causing the release of too much T4 and T3, 4) high levels of stress that constantly stimulate the thyroid which leads it to believe it needs to release more T4 and T3 to be ready to fight or run, plus high stress increases cortisol levels that use the thyroid hormone cell receptor sites before it gets there leading to increased levels in the blood and so on.

Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261764632_Thyroid_Hormones_T3_and_T4_in_the_Brain

It was also very interesting to learn about all of the ways someone might come to having hypo or hyperthyroidism through lifestyle factors and nutritional deficiencies, some of which I will share more information on in the future. It was then very encouraging to see just how supportive nutritional therapy and lifestyle medicine could be in helping to rebalance and support someone's thyroid health.

One thing that certainly became clear though is that with traditional medicine they generally only test thyroid-stimulating hormone, a hormone released from the pituitary gland and tells the thyroid to release T4 and T3 (see image above). While this can pick up a number of cases for some people who do not produce enough or produce too much of this stimulating hormone it is only part of the picture. You really need to test T4 and T3 levels in the blood as sometimes the thyroid is getting that communication but not releasing any, or you could have very high levels of T4 and the body is not converting it to T3. It is also always worth testing for any autoimmune conditions with the thyroid and this comes as part of many private thyroid tests.

The second part of the lecture was on diabetes. During my first year, I did an assignment on type 2 diabetes and that really got me to understand what was happening within the body over time. This lecture though really got me to understand the difference between type one and type 2 diabetes and just how much you can do to support both. It just saddens me greatly to see so many people around me who are struggling with all of these conditions and could be doing so much better with some simple changes. However, this is what makes being a nutritionist exciting, if you do it well you really can change someone's life!

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