The Butterfly Effect: The Thyroid

You’re probably familiar with the butterfly effect, the idea that small things can have large effects on complex systems.

The concept is imagined with a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon. Of course, a single act like a butterfly flapping its wings cannot cause a typhoon. Small events can, however, serve as activators to complex conditions.

The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the center of your neck affects every complex system in your body. If your thyroid is not running optimally, then neither are you. This small gland is part of what is called the endocrine system. This system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things.

In the following article, we will break down the function of the small butterfly gland, the thyroid. By understanding its function we will later be able to build on and discover how it affects each complex system in the body.

The Thyroid’s Primary Function, T4 and T3:

  • About 97% of what the thyroid produces is called thyroxine, also known as T4.
  • T4 is a hormone that once converted to triiodothyronine, also known as T3, will set the metabolism and control protein synthesis in every cell of the body that has a nucleus.
  • Every cell of the body has need of T3 to turn it on so it can perform its function.
  • A little amount of T3 is produced in the thyroid, the rest comes from a process called conversion which occurs in the liver and gut.

Controlling the Thyroid:

  • The thyroid is controlled by the pituitary, which is found in the brain and produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone or TSH that stimulates the thyroid to produce its hormones.
  • Part of the brain (called the thalamus) measures how much T4 is in the blood and will either increase or decrease the production of TSH accordingly.
  • If T4 is low, we should find TSH high to increase production.
  • If T4 is high, we should find TSH low to curtail production of the additional hormone.
  • T4 and T3 are primarily made of iodine and tyrosine, an amino acid.
  • There are small parts of the thyroid called the “parathyroid” that also produce calcitonin that controls calcium levels in the body.

So how much iodine from the thyroid is needed on a daily basis to supply adequate amounts for optimal health? Some sources recommend about 150 mcg. daily. That isn’t a lot but with today’s farming methods most of our soils are iodine-poor and unless you are in the habit of eating sea vegetables you may develop a deficiency. A deficiency of iodine can lead to the formation of a goiter, an enlarged mass in the thyroid, due to overstimulation of TSH.

For this reason, salt began to be iodized in an effort to curtail this problem. But modern research as seen on Pubmed and other research sites may have identified a connection between iodization of salt and an increase of autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroid. This may be due to the type of iodine being used in this process. We will talk more about autoimmunity in a subsequent article.

So with the explanation above, we can identify two of the major thyroid conditions involving the thyroid gland: hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. We will continue that discussion in our next article.

Thyroid Health Assessment