Thyroid tissue is strange tissue. It’s delicate and fatty, with a rich blood supply. It’s vulnerable to toxins such as mercury, which accumulate in the thyroid.
Even more strange is the histology or microstructure of the gland. It’s composed of little bubbles or sacs (follicles) that house the oxidative reactions of iodine transfer and hormone production. The surrounding tissue is shielded from these mini-cauldrons by only a single layer of cells. Imagine a pile of water balloons full of hazardous chemicals, and you get a sense of the precariousness of this gland. When tissue damage occurs, the body responds with repair and growth, and unfortunately at times over-growth, resulting in nodules and goitre.World-wide, most goitre and nodules are from iodine deficiency. But even in places where iodine is abundant, thyroid nodules still occur. Nodules are linked to smoking, infections, environmental toxins, radiation, gluten, and neck trauma like whiplash.
According to the Mayo clinic, ultrasound can detect thyroid nodules in up to 67 percent of people, with a higher incidence in women and the elderly. Most thyroid lumps are benign, but occasionally they produce hormone (hot nodules), and—more commonly—they are associated with autoimmune thyroid destruction (Hashimoto’s).
Autoimmune thyroid disease is extremely common, affecting 25 percent of women. It is the most common autoimmune disease, and is a harbinger of other autoimmune diseases. In other words, thyroid disease in the family is often the first sign that a person is genetically prone to autoimmunity. The immune system attacks the thyroid when it perceives damaged tissue. Damaging factors are infection, mercury, PCBs and gluten. Fortunately, when some of those factors are removed—such as gluten and mercury — thyroid autoimmunity tends to back off.
I did not intend for this to be a post about autoimmune thyroid disease – but it’s hard to avoid such a huge topic. Not all nodules are associated with autoimmunity. Some nodules are just there. The medical opinion is that if nodules are not cancer, and if they are not affecting hormone levels, then they do not matter. Which brings us back to my question: Do nodules matter?
Yes, thyroid nodules matter because they are an early warning sign of loss of tissue integrity. Granted, the thyroid is more vulnerable than any other tissue, but with optimal health, even the thyroid should have the tissue integrity that it needs to do its job.
The thyroid is our canary in a coal mine. If your thyroid is struggling—other tissues are struggling too.
What is the solution? I will leave that for a future post, because it’s a big one. Supplemental iodine, selenium, and thyroid hormone can all help to some degree, but they don’t solve the underlying problem with tissue integrity and/or autoimmunity. It’s a full body project.
Yours in Health,