The classic signs of low thyroid function include weight gain, cold hands and feet, massive hair loss, dry skin, low energy, brain fog and poor memory. Your first instinct is to treat the thyroid, which is true, but don’t forget about other organs also affecting thyroid function. This includes the liver. The liver is important in the transport, metabolism, storage and excretion of thyroid hormones as well as being an important site for thyroid hormone activity.
Liver Function and Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolic rate of almost all the cells in the body, including liver cells. Changes in thyroid hormone levels may alter normal bilirubin metabolism and normal liver circulation. When the liver slows down, this impacts so much – including detoxification.
The liver is responsible for converting T4 to the active T3 hormone so when the liver’s detox rate is too slow, your body may be unable to convert T4 to the active T3 hormone correctly. This can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism. It’s important to have sufficient levels of active T3 because it’s our “go” hormone that tells our body to grow hair, boost metabolism, and create more energy!
Thyroid Function Impacts Liver Detoxification
The liver has two pathways for detoxification (link to blog), which is done through a two-step process + the elimination phase. When our detox pathways become overwhelmed and overburdened, we end up with a toxic backlog.
If you find yourself sensitive to or reacting negatively to recommended protocols that support your thyroid, check your liver health. The liver’s overburdened detoxification system may be revolting against you.
Someone with Hashimoto’s disease AND a sluggish liver may also notice an extreme sensitivity to foods, drugs and supplements. These reactions are often due to the toxic backlog present in the body, which can cause them to react to everything in their environment as well.
Detoxification Impacts Thyroid Hormones
Whatever we inhale, ingest and absorb into our skin eventually ends up circulating throughout our body. We’re exposed to thousands of chemicals a day – many which are especially detrimental to our thyroid health. Xenoestrogens such as BPA, phthalates and parabens are chemicals that mimic the effect of estrogen. These chemicals may also increase thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and perpetuate the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. Learn what other factors interfere with thyroid hormone circulating through your bloodstream and therefore increase TSH levels.
Another toxin group that drastically impacts thyroid function are halogens -- like bromine, chloride and fluoride. Iodine helps the thyroid function, and these halogens are structurally similar to iodine, but unfortunately the halogens take up receptor sites in the thyroid gland, build up in thyroid tissue, and lead to inflammation and thyroid cell death. This can lead to the development of autoimmune thyroiditis. Studies show those exposed to high levels of halogen-containing substances have been found to have a higher incidence of thyroid antibodies. These halogens can be found in swimming pools, baked goods, toothpaste, and even our mattresses!
Hashimoto’s and the Gut
Someone with an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s in particular, are especially prone to liver congestion. This risk increases when the intestines are damaged. A healthy intestinal tract allows nutrients to be absorbed and blocks the absorption of toxins and pathogens. Studies have shown everyone with an autoimmune disorder, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, has some degree of intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” Intestinal permeability is defined by gaps in the gut lining that allow irritating molecules and substances to “leak” into the bloodstream. For more information about this, check out the Institute of Functional Medicine’s 4-step program to heal leaky gut.
Get to the root of autoimmune disease with these 5 strategies. I also recommend incorporating these three autoimmune-friendly smoothies.
Ways to Support Your Liver
Supporting your liver can really kick-start your healing and give your thyroid the support it needs. There’s a lot of talk about what hurts your liver, but what does your liver love? Here are 11 liver-supporting foods: beets, cruciferous vegetables, cilantro, fiber, sprouts and seedlings, green juices and chlorophyll, fermented foods, turmeric, berries, a green smoothie. I also recommend these liver-supporting supplements. Don't forget about your kiddos -- toxins are even more harmful for our little humans, and here's what you need to know.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods