It’s called the Bonk.
The point in athletics when you run smack into a wall.
Not just any wall, but an Energy wall.
Worst part is many of us feel like we’re bonking every day. For those who have low energy, consider that the thyroid may be at the root of it. And yet often it’s not the thyroid’s fault.
Sure, when your thyroid hormones are low, your cells are literally running out of energy. Without proper amounts of thyroid hormone, cell function slows down. Since cells are the building block of every organ you FEEL this slow down.
But that doesn’t automatically mean the thyroid is broken. The real story is much more fascinating and intriguing.
It Starts With Small Power Plants
Cells are the basic building blocks of all the tissues in our body. You have an estimated 37,200,000,000,000 cells in your body – 37.2 trillion cells! We have all kinds of specialized cells, like red blood cells designed to carry oxygen, nerve cells to transmit signals, and skeletal cells are able to contract. What they all have in common is each contains a unique little factory inside.
Just like factories in our society, it takes energy to run these little factories. You can almost think of each cell as its own little city and every city needs an energy source. But instead of windmills, solar panels, or power plants, our cells have mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power plants of the cell; they make energy for your body.
Energy in this case is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Think of ATP as packets of chemical energy. Mitochondria make ATP which is why they are so important.
Thyroid Hormones Affect Your Power Plants
It’s now known that your thyroid hormones act directly on your mitochondria. Remember, the thyroid makes two primary hormones T4 and T3 and that these hormones regulate metabolism, which is the rate of chemical reactions inside the cells. So, how is it that the thyroid hormones reduce metabolism in cells? It partially has to do with those mitochondrial power plants.
The specific effects of thyroid hormone on mitochondria are not yet fully understood. However, in general, the more mitochondria you have inside the cell, the more ability for that cell to produce energy. And it’s generally thought that anything that increases the number of these power plants is a good thing.
New research is suggesting that thyroid hormones directly affect the number of mitochondria in a cell. At what level remains unknown, but it’s possible that low amounts of thyroid hormone reduce mitochondria. The research is also showing a link between thyroid hormone and the quality of inner membrane of the mitochondria, which would reduce energy output as well.
This means that the fatigue you feel begins at the cellular level and is partially controlled by hormones from the thyroid.
But how does this translate up to the rest of your body?
Building From Cells to Organs to Systems
As we zoom out a bit, thyroid hormone affects cells, organs and the systems that they make up. For example, your cardiovascular system is extremely sensitive to fluctuations in T3. All forms of T3 dysfunction, both high (hyperthyroidism) and low (hypothyroidism), can cause heart arrhythmias, decreased cardiac output, and other heart diseases. But as the study points out even subclinical thyroiditis is a serious issue, which means that just being “in-range” with your thyroid hormone lab results doesn’t really mean you’re “healthy” or protected from diseases.
To tie this back to the mitochondria and energy output, your cardiovascular system is responsible for delivering nutrients and things like oxygen to all those trillions of cells. Your mitochondria utilize oxygen to make energy. If thyroid hormones are below optimal, then your power plants won’t get enough raw material to produce the required energy.
It’s like having a coal-driven power plant that runs out of coal to burn every day. So, not only are your power plants being affected but their fuel source is as well.
This can put you in a massive energy deficit.
What Happens To a Hypothyroid Body
Hypothyroidism is a condition of low thyroid hormone levels. Hypothyroidism shows up on a sliding scale and depending on lab test results is often referred to as clinical or subclinical. Both of these diagnoses depend on measuring levels of thyroid hormone. Clinical hypothyroidism is generally categorized by modern medicine as low free T4 levels and increased TSH and subclinical labs are seen with “normal” free T4 and increased TSH.
If you have elevated thyroid antibodies, as about 50% of people with hypothyroid do, then you have the autoimmune version called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Either form of hypothyroidism can result in:
- appetite loss + weight gain – metabolism slowing
- dry skin
- Inability to handle cold – metabolism slows down, so less body heat is produced
- Cardiovascular problems
- Cognitive/neurological problems
These are just some of the effects of a slow thyroid and slowed metabolism.
Here’s the kicker; in modern medicine they don’t tend to measure free T3 much, which, as we’ve been discussing, is the most important part of the thyroid hormone picture. Not only that, if you have hypothyroid symptoms that’s all that matters in my opinion. You could have a normal TSH, low-normal free T4 and still have a thyroid problem.
Modern medicine likes to put everything in a box, but the thyroid isn’t built to be put in a box. Everything in the body is related and to act like they’re not is complete ignorance.
But is it Your Thyroid’s Fault?
There are many levels at which thyroid hormone production can get messed up.The gland itself can be damaged or broken. When the gland itself is affected it’s called primary hypothyroidism; most often this results from an autoimmune disorder.
If your immune system is waging a war on the thyroid tissue, it won’t be able to produce proper amounts of hormone. And it’s not really your thyroid’s fault; the problem is your out-of-whack immune system.
When hypothyroidism is caused by something other than thyroid gland dysfunction, it’s known as secondary hypothyroidism. Remember, T4 gets converted to T3 in peripheral tissues (primarily the liver, kidney, and gut). If any of these organs are not functioning properly, thyroid hormone levels can be affected.
But that’s not all; the thyroid is part of an axis called the HPATG axis. In simple english, your brain, thyroid, adrenals and sex organs form a bigger system and the output of each is regulated by the others.
The hypothalamus regulates the output of TRH (thyroid releasing hormone), which acts on the pituitary. The pituitary releases TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which acts directly on the thyroid telling it to make and release T4 and T3. It’s like a chain of command; if any link is broken or dysfunctional the orders won’t be carried out correctly. But that’s only scratching the surface. Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, testosterone and so many others impact the brain, thyroid and the T4 to T3 conversion…
Which means the thyroid output, or conversion, may be inhibited but it might have nothing to do with the thyroid gland itself.
How Do You Figure Out What’s Going On?
As you can see, there’s much more going on here than blaming the thyroid. This means that when you have low energy we must look at many areas of the body at once…
Which is one of the reasons modern medicine fails in helping thyroid disorders.
If you have an energy issue, I want you to take 2 steps today:
1. Get screened for physical problems. I want you to book an appointment with your doctor to get an ultrasound of your thyroid. This will tell you about the physical health of the gland.
2. Get signed up for our gut-hormone call this week. On it we’ll give you the list of thyroid labs you’ll need to understand your thyroid. We’ll also be teaching what you need to know about the commonly accepted “optimal ranges” for each lab. And then we’ll cover the other tests you’ll want to have to figure out what else might be impacting your thyroid.
Instead of relying on “in-range” labs which could still mean you’re sick, you’ll have a blueprint of what optimal labs look like and what else to check. Then, we’ll walk backward into how most functional medicine practitioners begin to fix this and share our personal stories about how we did it.
We’re going to include a deep understanding of the HPA axis, how the adrenals affect the thyroid, my story about how my brain ended up being the organ that held my thyroid back, and so much more.
P.S. – This call would have saved me hundreds of dollars in co-pays for lab tests that were incomplete, wrong and not value added. Knowing this info would have sped my healing time up just through avoiding simple mistakes.