4 min|Rhiannon Lockhart

Get to Know Your Hormones: TSH

Health, Education, Hormones

Have you heard of your Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)?

If you haven’t yet, you’ll know all about it as we dive into your thyroid, TSH, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) in our new series “Get to know your hormones”.

The thyroid seems to be one of the most talked about glands in the human body, as its dysfunction can lead to a whole host of symptoms including:

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Constipation

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Inability to lose or gain weight

  • Fatigue or excessive energy/feeling wired

  • Depression

  • Muscle weakness

  • Excessive sweating

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

  • Infertility

Your thyroid can be a complicated little gland, with a lot of power. It has three hormones that are directly connected to it: TSH, T3, and T4. We can’t discuss TSH without diving into the thyroid as a whole - remember, your hormones all work together.

How it works:

Your hypothalamus produces thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), to stimulate your pituitary gland. (Quick note: The hypothalamus and pituitary glands work together like your body’s project manager.)

Your pituitary gland then releases TSH, which triggers your thyroid to produce T3 and T4. This whole system is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. Your adrenal glands are also involved, but that’s a blog for another day.

This whole system works in a supply and demand type way, called a negative feedback loop. Our body listens to how much T3 and T4 are being produced to determine how much TSH to release. If there’s a lot of T3 and T4, we produce less TSH. If there’s not enough, we produce more.

Why they all matter:

The primary function of TSH is to stimulate the thyroid to release T3 and T4. About 80% of what is released from the thyroid is T4, however it is eventually converted into T3, which is the active form of your thyroid hormone. Twenty percent is released as T3 directly. (1)

Does this all feel like a physiology lesson yet? Phewf.

Thyroid conditions:

Issues with the thyroid are quite common with 1 in 10 Canadians living with one and many are undiagnosed. (2)

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is common in the North American population with approximately 1 in 50 Canadians experiencing it at some point in their lives, mainly with women. Hypothyroidism is characterized as a high level of TSH and a low level of T4.

Common symptoms can include: lethargy, constipation, cold intolerance, brain fog, dry skin and nails, hoarse voice, slower reflexes, bradycardia (slow heart rate), and heavy or irregular menstrual periods. (3) (4) However other symptoms that are not as quickly diagnosed can include: mental health issues like depression and anxiety, fertility, and muscle and joint pain. (5) (6) (7)

One common cause of hypothyroidism is a condition called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that attacks the thyroid tissue. (4) Learn more about Hashimoto’s here.

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is much less common, and means that your thyroid is making too little TSH, and too much T3 and/or T4. Approximately 1.2% of Americans are diagnosed with an overactive thyroid.

Symptoms can include weight loss, rapid or irregular heart beat, anxiety, trouble sleeping, shakiness, sweating or trouble tolerating heat, and frequent bowel movements - many being the opposite of what may be seen with an underactive thyroid. (8)

Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by Graves’ disease, which is another autoimmune condition attacking the thyroid. Learn more about Graves’ disease here.

What to consider with testing:

Sometimes, our test results will come back clear from our general practitioner. If this is the case for you, but you still think something isn’t quite right with your body, speak with one of our naturopathic doctors. Testing is only one piece of the puzzle and symptoms have a big story to tell too.

How to prevent/manage thyroid problems:

As with any illness, disease or condition, you may not be able to completely prevent it. However, symptom reduction can be possible with the right diet and lifestyle habits. Here are a few tips:
  • Manage stress

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Reduce sugar intake

  • Try brazil nuts and seaweed if you have an underactive thyroid (speak to your health care provider if you are already on medication)

  • Include salt with iodine if you have an underactive thyroid (speak with your health care provider if you are already on medication)

  • Try a probiotic (9)

  • Adopt a gluten free diet (10)

Remember: your hormones are all interconnected. If you suspect an issue with your thyroid, it’s likely other conditions may follow if it is left unchecked. Speak with one of our naturopathic doctors to learn more.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499850/
2. https://thyroid.ca/thyroid-disease/
3. https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article-abstract/5/3/456/2548794
4. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/illnesses-conditions/thyroid/hypothyroidism
5. https://www.scielo.br/j/rbp/a/bgSS4mL79T9V7HtVmB7gLDr/abstract/?lang=en
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657979/
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1031216/?page=3
8. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/graves-disease#symptoms
9. https://journals.lww.com/indjem/Fulltext/2014/18030/Link_between_hypothyroidism_and_small_intestinal.10.aspx
10. https://www.beyondceliac.org/celiac-disease/related-conditions/thyroid-disease/
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