Hashimoto’s: The Liver and the Thyroid
Hashimoto’s can cause a host of problems all over the body, but one place in particular where we can see it’s influence is on the liver and gall bladder.
In this post we explore these relationships and explain why a healthy liver is so important for healing your Hashimoto’s.
The body is not a machine, like our earth it is a group of interacting ecosystems that all talk to one another and influence each other in both good and bad ways.
The liver and the thyroid are a perfect example of this. Here is a brief breakdown of how they interact:
* 60% of thyroid hormone is converted from T4 to T3 in the liver. Both T3 and T4 are glucoronidated and sulfated there. (More on that in a minute).
* Thyroid hormone influences the way that cholesterol and other lipids are synthesized and broken down (and where does this happen? – yes, the liver). With Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, this is often slowed down resulting in high cholesterol and other lipids like LDL and triglycerides.
* Thyroid hormone affects detoxification pathways in the liver and affects insulin growth factor and cytochrome P450 enzymes which metabolize lots of drugs and environmental toxins. When this slows you can have toxins build up.
* On the autoimmune side, research has shown a link between autoimmune thyroid and autoimmune liver diseases.
*Very high levels of thyroid hormone (T3) can raise bilirubin levels and can actually be toxic to the liver because it damages mitochondria.
The liver has several pathways through which it metabolizes hormones, filters toxins, and cleans the blood. Byproducts from these processes are dumped into the gall bladder to help get them out of the body.
Low thyroid function slows down this whole process, making the liver and gall bladder sluggish and congested and helping to make gallstones.
Gallbladder x-rays in hypothyroid patients can show a bloated gall bladder that contracts sluggishly. This slows down the flow of bile which can lead to slower breakdown of fats and cholesterol and other toxins that are broken down in the liver.
This whole process can also lead to the formation of gall stones. Many people with Hashimoto’s have gall bladder issues.
Thyroid hormones are converted into their usable form in the liver (60% happens there), you can see how low thyroid function can create a vicious cycle.
Hypothyroidism messes with liver function and fewer thyroid hormones become active. So it goes until you have all of the common symptoms of too little thyroid hormone: fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, hair loss, weight gain, depression, etc.
Thyroid hormone is converted primarily through 2 processes:
Glucornidation and sulfation, let’s break these down:
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, DC, these processes are supported in the following ways:
Glucoronidation is an important process for converting thyroid hormone.
This pathway is supported by B vitamins, magnesium, and glysine, click here to learn about food sources of B vitamins and magnesium.
Sulfation involves binding things partially broken down in the liver with sulfur containing compounds. It is one of the major detoxification pathways for neurotransmitters, toxins, and hormones (like thyroid hormones). Vitamin B6 and magnesium are important for sulfur amino acid metabolism, as are foods containing sulfur such as: eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, nuts and legumes. Click here to learn more about food sources of vitamins and minerals.
Its important to choose animals products wisely, buy organic whenever possible because organic foods have far fewer toxins like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides which can all cause problems of their own.
Another important point about sulfating is that it requires sulfate which is often poorly absorbed by the digestive system, especially by people with Hashimoto’s who often suffer from intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome. Sulfate is the oxidized, inorganic form of sulfur produced by an oxidation step called (you guessed it) sulfoxidation.
This step is made possible by an enzyme that is called sulfite oxidase which uses the essential mineral molybdenum, click here to see food sources of molybdenum. Problems with sulfoxidation can be seen in people who are sensitive to foods that contain sulfites (garlic) or dugs and food additives (in dried fruit and herbs, preservatives, in salad bars used to keep vegetables looking fresh).
(These people may also have an abnormally strong odor in their urine after eating asparagus. For these people one should consider molybdenum supplementation or organic sulfates like sodium sulfate or magnesium sulfate.)
In Chinese medicine, we view interactions in the body in the context of body, mind and spirit. This can be really helpful to see how these physical problems can affect you emotionally and psychologically.
In the book, Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfeld, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., the liver is described as something like a military commander in the body. It formulates tactics and strategies, moving blood and energy (qi) throughout the body.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system which is viewed as qi and is derived from the yang energy of the kidneys. So the ancient Chinese recognized this relationship and how important one is for the other. The liver needs that qi to have the energy to do its job, and if it is clogged or blocked it can’t facilitate the movement of that energy throughout the body.
When the liver gets stuck or clogged, the most common emotion that people experience is anger. This can be directed outwardly at people you know (usually people closest to you: family, co-workers, or friends), or this anger can be directed inwardly and result in depression and feeling of self-hatred and low self-worth. Or sometimes you have a combination of these two.
It is also interesting to note that in Chinese medicine the nervous system, tendons and ligaments and the eyes are thought to be part of the sphere of influence of the liver. So many people with Hashimoto’s also have issues in all of these areas: eye problems, tendon issues, and cognitive issues affecting the brain.
Gall Bladder Issues Make You Unable to Make Decisions
The Gall Bladder stores and secretes bile, this stimulates flow through the stomach and intestines and is very important in helping us to absorb and eliminate different foods as well as different ideas and concepts.
So proper bile flow and production also help us with proper judgment, clear thinking and decision making. If there are Liver/Gall Bladder issues we can end up taking actions without thinking them through, or making decisions and not following through on them or simply getting stuck, unable to decide what to do.
Here are some important herbs for helping the liver and gall bladder.
Ginger: this common food contains chemicals that have been shown to increase bile secretion and to reduce cholesterol levels by up regulating an enzyme responsible for bile acid production (cholesterol-7-alpha-hydorxylase).
Dandelion: The root of this common weed promotes the production of bile and its delivery to the gall bladder. It causes the gall bladder to contract and release bile.
Milk Thistle: This herb increases the solubility of bile and has been shown to significantly lower cholesterol concentrations in the gall bladder. It has potent anti-oxidant activity which supports detoxification and it prevents depletion of glutathione in the liver, which is often depleted in people with Hashimoto’s. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and it promotes protein synthesis to replace damaged liver cells.
Panax ginseng:This herb has been shown in several studies to have numerous positive impacts on liver function. It has been shown to reverse fatty liver in animals and can be really helpful in cleaning toxins out of the liver. It also has really important benefits for the immune system like promoting Kupffer cells (specialized immune cells located in the liver) and can be beneficial in balancing the immune system by increasing key proteins like IL-8.
Herba sargassi, Laminaria Kun Bu: These seaweeds have important detoxification properties and can be used to treat metabolic toxicosis with arthritis, rheumatism, dermatitis and psoriasis. They are quite mild and have very few if any side effects. In addition, they are rich in trace minerals and are helpful in reducing swelling, particularly in the lymphatic glands.
A word of caution with seaweeds: They contain iodine which can be problematic with some Hashimoto’s folks.
Fructus Gardeniae: This herb is the seed pod of the gardenia plant. It has potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and can be used to reduce liver and gallblader congestion and infections.
Caution: Liver infections can be quite serious, consult a trained physician if you suspect that you have any form of hepatitis or liver disease.
Rhubarb Root: This herb is a potent laxative that can be used to treat acute gall bladder and pancreatic infections. It has potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.
Dosage is critical with this herb and too much can cause gastric pain and diarrhea. Never use during pregnancy or lactation or with gout, hemorrhoids or oxalic acid stones. Consult a trained professional before using this herb.
Herbs That Help With Anger and Irritability
There is a very effective herbal formula in Chinese Medicine whose name is translated as Rambling Powder. The name comes from the title the first chapter of a book by Zhuang Zi, “Rambling Without A Destination” that includes stories about wandering freely with an open mind. It is a reference to how this combination of herbs can help one feel less constrained emotionally, feel happy and less stressed.
It has several variations and contains a number of herbs that are very helpful for the liver including buplerum, mint, atractylodes and more. With modifications, it has also been used successfully to treat eye issues, hypertension, hepatitis, anemia, depression, irritability and anger.
Hashimoto’s has so many moving parts and affects so many systems of the body that you really need to have a treatment strategy that looks at all these different areas and gives you solutions for all of them.
That’s why I developed my program: Healing Hashimoto’s: The 5 Elements of Thyroid Health. In in we explore the 5 major systems of the body and learn how they impact us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Because true healing requires more than simply taking a few pills or herbs. It requires a complete overhaul of your body, mind and spirit. And it is a tremendous opportunity for growth and for healing all aspects of your life. Click here to learn more.
Between Heaven and Earth, Harriet Beinfeld, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., Ballantine Books, New York, 1991
Chinese Herbal Medicine Formulas and Strategies, Dan Bensky & Randall Barolet, Eastland Press, 1990
Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal? Datis Kharrazian, DC, Morgan James Publishing, 2010
The Thyroid, A Fundamental and Clinical Text, Ninth Edition, Lewis E. Braverman and Robert D. Utiger, 2005 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins
Severe hyperthyroidism induces mitochondria-mediated apoptosis in rat liver.
Upadhyay G, Singh R, Kumar A, Kumar S, Kapoor A, Godbole MM.
Source: Department of Endocrinology, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, India.
Laukkarinen J, Kiudelis G, Lempinen M, Raty S, Pelli H, Sand J, Kemppainen E, Haglund C, Nordback I. Increased prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism in common bile duct stone patients. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Nov;92(11):4260-4. Epub 2007 Aug 28
Inkinen J, Sand J, Nordback I. Association between common bile duct stones and treated hypothyroidism. Hepatogastroenterology. 2000 Jul-Aug:47(34):919-21