How Environmental Toxins Hurt the Thyroid


When we think about how toxins impact the body, we often don’t consider the specific organs affected – one of which is the small but mighty thyroid gland. Yet the thyroid is particularly susceptible to environmental toxins. And that has big repercussions for the estimated 20 million Americans dealing with thyroid issues (1).

The thyroid is a vital part of the endocrine system. It produces hormones that directly influence the function of the metabolism, brain, heart, muscles, liver and more. 

Poor thyroid function can feel like tiredness, depression, hair loss, weight gain, skin problems and even the development of autoimmune issues. Thyroid dysfunction also affects women more than men, with an estimated 1 in 8 women expected to develop a thyroid issue in their lifetime.

Toxins such as heavy metals may alter the thyroid’s ability to function properly, leading to a cascade of negative symptoms. Read on to better understand how toxins affect the thyroid, one of our most important organs.

Understanding How the Thyroid Works


The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly shaped organ located just below the larynx. This vital hormone gland is part of the endocrine system which regulates the body’s metabolism, helping transform the food we eat into energy. 

In turn, the energy produced during this process influences the body’s growth and development. The thyroid also plays a significant role in hormone function, heart health, brain development and more. So yes, this tiny organ is extremely important in keeping the body’s natural processes in balance.

The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones, T3 and T4. These hormones help maintain the body’s basal metabolic rate and are released into the body based on need, as determined by the pituitary gland. 

To function optimally, the thyroid needs two main nutrients: iodine and selenium (2). However, several toxins, especially heavy metals, can also be deposited in the thyroid and these can interfere with thyroid function (3).

Signs the Thyroid is Underactive


When the thyroid starts to become underactive it is called hypothyroidism and when it becomes overactive it is called hyperthyroidism. An underactive thyroid is far more common, yet most people are unaware they have this issue. 

The symptoms associated with an underactive thyroid vary, but may include (4):

  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression 
  • Low heart rate
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Hair loss
  • Infertility
  • Autoimmune disorders

Most people don’t associate these issues with their thyroid, assuming they are related to getting older or stress. To assess your thyroid function, your doctor can order a blood test to check your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. 

How Toxins Disrupt Thyroid Function


Toxins either bind to or displace essential proteins that allow the thyroid to function properly. For example, studies show that mercury interferes with the production of TSH which is what signals the thyroid to release T3 or T4 (5). 

There are numerous environmental toxins that can negatively affect the thyroid, including heavy metals, plastics, and dioxins. Once this happens, a domino effect begins, impacting overall health. Here are some of the most common toxins and how they can impair the thyroid.

Cadmium (Heavy Metal)

Cadmium is a heavy metal found in some foods and in secondhand cigarette smoke. It affects the thyroid gland via direct toxicity, interfering with its primary cell functions. Research on cadmium-exposed workers in Egypt showed a direct link between high levels of cadmium in the bloodstream and autoimmune hypothyroidism (6).

Arsenic (Heavy Metal)

Research shows that exposure to arsenic can decrease thyroid hormone levels T3 and T4. Specifically, studies on mice showed that low T3 and T4 levels due to arsenic exposure may lead to hypothyroidism (7). Arsenic exposure is common since most rice products and several types of fruit juice have this toxin.

Mercury (Heavy Metal)

As we age, the amount of mercury in the thyroid rises. In fact, mercury is present in the thyroids of nearly 30% of people 60 years and older. This may have something to do with the presence of mercury in the seafood we eat, and high levels of mercury in dental amalgams (silver fillings). Mercury can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones and may trigger an autoimmune reaction or oxidative damage to cells (8).

BPA and Phthalates (Plastics)

Studies determined that chemicals in plastics, such as BPA and phthalates, have thyroid disrupting properties. They can interfere with T3 hormone binding, as well as certain gene expression that can lead to hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function (9).

Dioxins (Chemicals)

Dioxins are toxic byproducts of manufacturing herbicides. They can also be contaminants found in bleached paper goods. These toxins get stored in the fat cells and can slowly damage our thyroid. Research shows dioxin exposure is linked to high TSH levels, showing the thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone (10). 

How to Reduce Toxin Exposure


It can be scary and even infuriating to learn about the toxins that exist throughout our environment. But the silver lining is that there are many ways to decrease your exposure through simple lifestyle changes. 

    1. Buy cleaner, greener products. Swap out toxic household items or cleansers with natural, plant-based alternatives. By reducing your plastic usage, you can significantly decrease your exposure to chemicals and heavy metals.
    2. Eat organic foods. Researchers believe that much of our exposure to toxins comes from food sources. By opting for organic, you can ensure that your family is not ingesting pesticides, herbicides, or other harmful chemicals.
    3. Drink filtered water. Use a water filter to capture heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and other common toxins.
    4. Start a natural detox. You can choose to actively fight against toxins in your body with a detox, such as natural zeolite or fulvic minerals.

Why Detoxing Works for Toxin Exposure


If you choose to explore detox to combat toxin exposure, the most effective and easiest option is zeolite. Zeolite is a natural mineral that moves through the body taking heavy metals and toxins out as it passes through. 

Since the thyroid is impacted by various toxins, adding a versatile natural detoxifier to your routine can help support the release of these toxins from the body. 

When we detox, we are helping support the body’s natural processes by lessening the toxic load. By aiding in the excretion of heavy metals and toxins, we can support the health of our thyroid and other body systems.

Environmental toxins are all around us. If we combine detox with healthy lifestyle choices such as eating organic food, we can significantly decrease toxin exposure and play an active role in achieving whole body wellness.

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