The thyroid is a gland located in the neck, in front of the trachea. This butterfly-shaped gland is part of the endocrine system, and secretes several hormones, mainly thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones are involved in many functions in the body including controlling metabolism, regulation of heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature. The thyroid also has a role in the production of sex hormones including testosterone. It follows that defects in the thyroid and/or inadequate or excess production of thyroid hormones will affect overall health and sexual health in particular. In this discussion we will look at the effects of thyroid hormones on testosterone and other hormones, and ways to support thyroid health.
How the thyroid is related to hormonal health
The thyroid gland works together with the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands to produce the required amounts of thyroid hormones. The three components of the cycle work in the following way:
- Upon sensing the need for thyroid hormone production, the hypothalamus gland, within the brain, releases thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) intended for the pituitary gland.
- Upon getting to the pituitary gland, also within the brain, TRH signals for the pituitary gland to produce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is intended to signal for the thyroid gland to produce T3 and T4.
- When TSH gets to the thyroid gland, T3 and T4 are produced.
The thyroid gland produces four times more T4 than T3. However, T3 is the more active form of thyroid hormone and a significant portion of the T4 is later converted to T3.
The thyroid gland has a working relationship with other glands in the endocrine system and actually affects the workings of every cell in the body. It is worth noting that thyroid hormones have a role to play in metabolism which happens in every cell in the body. Deficiency of thyroid hormone would therefore affect functions in the cells. Researchers’ findings show that deficiency of thyroid hormone causes multiple changes in the endocrine system. One study indicates that these changes affect the following functions among others:
Other effects include:
- Increase in follicle stimulating hormone, which in young males leads to enlargement of the testicles
- Abnormal response to the luteinizing hormone (LH), gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnGH) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)
- Reduced testosterone levels, especially free T which is the active form of testosterone. When the condition is chronic, hypothyroidism can lead to increased prolactin levels.
By affecting these hormonal functions which have a bearing on the levels of testosterone in the body, hypothyroidism interferes with male fertility. This study found that hypothyroidism delays general development and sexual maturation in younger males.
In case of hyperthyroidism in which case the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone, higher testosterone levels as well as sex hormone binding globulin result. It is worth to note that even with high testosterone levels, in the presence of sex hormone binding globulin, most of the testosterone is bound and is therefore rendered ineffective.
Another study found that abnormal thyroid hormone levels adversely affect fertility and sexual activity. This means that both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have negative effects on testosterone.
Other studies have led to the conclusion that in the immature male, hypothyroidism has a similar effect to castration because they both reduce levels of thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) and therefore cause delayed development and sexual maturity.
Ways to improve your thyroid health
1. No crash diets
While diet is a good practice for improving overall health, including maintenance of a healthy weight; crash diets can have a negative effect. Furthermore, the body requires both macro nutrients and micronutrients to function properly. For this reason, it is important to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrate, fat, protein, minerals and vitamins. This might not be the case if you are on a crash diet. Many crash diets are very low in one or all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein. This can compromise the body’s capacity to function in various ways.
Besides containing adequate carbohydrate, fat, protein and vegetables, a thyroid supporting diet can also include:
- Sea weed – which is rich in iodine and other minerals.
- Shell fish – also rich in iodine
- Coconut oil – which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Saturated fats like those contained in coconut, support thyroid function.
In case you are experiencing thyroid problems, you may need to reduce intake of the following foods:
- Raw vegetables of the cruciferous family like cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and turnips
- Uncooked millet
2. Lower stress
Stress leads to increased production of the stress hormone, cortisol which leads to more stress. As a result, the body gives precedence to cortisol production and metabolism is adversely affected. This causes the thyroid gland to slow down so that production of thyroid hormones, including T4 and T3 decreases. Additionally, conversion of T4 to T3 is also affected. This vicious cycle may also affect insulin production or its blood sugar regulating function.
To mitigate these effects, you need to do whatever it takes to de-stress. Some of the ways to do this include avoiding stressful lifestyles and activities and taking part in activities such as physical exercise, meditation and yoga. You will also need to get adequate rest by sleeping for 7 – 9 hours per day.
3. Micronutrients supplements
Some supplements have been proven to help improve thyroid health. The aim of taking the micronutrients is to provide specific nutrients that are known to support the thyroid gland. For most cases of thyroid problems, the patient will need to take a combination of nutrient supplements so as to access the different micronutrients. The specific ingredients of the supplements should include:
- Zinc citrate
- Copper citrate
- Vitamins A, C, D, E, K
- Potassium iodide
- B- vitamins
You can also try other thyroid supporting supplements such as ashwagandha.
The thyroid gland works together with a number of other glands including hypothalamus and pituitary in a cycle that also involves the testicles in the production of testosterone. It follows that the thyroid gland should be working optimally for you to have healthy testosterone levels. For this reason, it is critical to take care of your thyroid health through a healthy diet, stress reduction and supplementing with relevant micronutrients when necessary.