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How Protein Impacts Thyroid Hormones

Protein is a building block of the thyroid.
How Protein Impacts Thyroid Hormones
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Everyone needs carbs, fat, and protein to function. Understanding protein and how it affects our bodies, particularly our hormones, is important when creating a meal plan. We need amino acids to build cells and other proteins that function as hormones. Some of these amino acids can be produced internally, but there are many that we must get from our diet. 

When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into these amino acids. Some of the protein however becomes hormones that create and regulate the chemical reactions in our body. 

A closer look at hormones

We often hear words like thyroid hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. But what exactly are these hormones responsible for? This is not an exhaustive list of hormones and their functions, but it does provide information on some important aspects.

Estrogen is responsible for the production of the female body including breasts, uterus, regulation of the menstrual cycle. It also assists in bone formation and improves collagen content in skin.

Progesterone prepares the uterus for pregnancy, regulates blood sugar, and builds bones. Progesterone also plays a role in converting fat into energy and helps regulate thyroid hormone production.

Testosterone is required in the development of male sex organs. Testosterone also maintains sperm count, muscle strength, and bone mass. It also plays a key role in sexual health in both men and women.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and commonly called the “fight or flight hormone”. It increases the metabolism of glucose, regulates blood pressure, controls the sleep/wake cycle. It can also help control your mood and motivation.

Triiodothyronine (T3) is a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland and is the active hormone that is involved in many processes of the body including regulation of metabolism.

Thyroxine (T4) is another hormone secreted by the thyroid gland and is a precursor to T3. Basically, it’s the inactive thyroid hormone that converts into the active form of T3.

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) regulates T3 and T4. When released, it stimulates the production of T4.

Leptin is a hormone made in the small intestine that regulates energy balance and inhibits hunger. Leptin also helps minimize fat storage.

Ghrelin is the hunger-promoting hormone that is created primarily in the stomach and signals feeling of hunger to the brain.

Protein builds our cells and helps hormones develop

As mentioned earlier, our body needs amino acids to build cells and make the proteins that function as hormones.  Without protein these cells can break down which can lead to auto-immune problems such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. As you can see from the previous list of hormones and their functions, hormones have major effects on the mind, body, and emotions. 

Protein assists in the release of hormones that control appetite

The brain determines when and how much you eat. A higher protein diet decreaes the appetite by increasing the hormone leptin, while also decreasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. As you lose weight, leptin will become more effective at reducing hunger. Increasing your intake of berries and vegetables will also help with leptin production.

A high protein diet also boosts metabolism. Replacing carbs with protein will also reduce the hunger promoting hormone ghrelin. Protein helps you burn more calories, so by adding protein, reducing carbs, and being committed to an exercise routine, you can begin to achieve weight loss or see less fluctuations in weight.

Protein helps support thyroid function

The thyroid gland has the function of controlling metabolism. When a diet is deficient in protein, slowing of metabolism can occur and may increase the risk for other diseases. Diets low in protein also cause a suppression of the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroid symptoms such as cold hands and feet, depression, anxiety, fatigue, mental fog, weight gain, and many other symptoms.

If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder, it’s important to receive thorough testing to ensure that you receive a correct diagnosis. Working with a doctor that specializes in thyroid health can help make the process much easier which in turn helps you start feeling better sooner.

Eating in balance in key

To be clear, not all protein is created equal, and some types of protein must be eaten in moderation. Beef should be limited due to its ability to cause inflammation in the body. Also, conventionally raised beef may raise estrogen levels. Estrogen dominance is linked to certain cancers, decreases new bone formation in women, and can lead to fibroids. It’s important to include different types of proteins into our diet. It’s also vital to remember that not all of our focus should be on protein. A balanced diet of protein, healthy carbs, and vegetables is important in achieving overall health. 

Working with a nutritionist to create a healthy diet plan for your health needs can help you achieve your desired results and removes much of the guesswork when trying to heal from thyroid disease or lose weight.


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Julia Walker, RN, BSN

Clinical Nurse

Julia Walker, RN, BSN, is a clinical nurse specializing in helping patients with thyroid disorders. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Regis University in Denver and a Bachelor of Arts in the History of Medicine from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She believes managing chronic illnesses requires a balance of medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments. Her background includes caring for patients in women’s health, critical care, pediatrics, allergy, and immunology.

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