The Master of Metabolism: How the Thyroid Gland Creates Vitality

by Dr. David Minkoff October 09, 2019 7 min read

Snowboarder coming to a stop on top of a snowy mountain side.

When you think of “vitality” what do you think of?

For most people, it’s some image of an active life, bursting with energy: shining eyes; spring in your step; the zest of life.

But if you go just a little bit deeper into this idea of vitality, it’s not some abstract, ephemeral quality reserved for the chosen few with the right genetics. It’s a very real thing, grounded in the biochemistry of life.

And it ultimately comes down to your body’s ability to make biological energy, a complex process collectively known as “metabolism.” 

So if you want to enhance your vitality, it makes sense to start with the master regulator of metabolism –– the one gland that controls metabolism and energy for every single  cell in your body:

The Thyroid Gland.

And learning how to dial in its health is one of the most powerful ways to enhance your energy, speed up healing, and simply feel more alive.

What is the Thyroid?

Before we get into the details, let’s start with the basics. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland perched in the middle of the neck.

It is the largest endocrine gland of the body and the hormones it secretes affect every single cell in the body.

You can think of it as the operations manager of your body, making sure all the cells are working properly, on time, and in sync with the demands of the environment.

It has complex sensors that monitor the energy systems of the body –– glucose, fats, and other hormones. It is directly controlled by the pituitary gland which secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

TSH then causes the thyroid to produce two other hormones called T4 which can be converted into another hormone called T3.

These are the hormones that tell the rest of the cells how fast they should make energy. The ratio of T3:T4 in your body determines your “Base Metabolic Rate” or BMR. [1-4].

When someone has “fast metabolism” it really means they have a high BMR –– their body produces energy very fast. These people tend to be thinner, higher energy, and potentially prone to inflammation. If someone has a “slow metabolism” they have a low BMR and do not produce energy quickly. These people tend to have trouble losing weight and feel more lethargic.

Dances With Hormones

The interesting part about this dance of thyroid hormones is that the conversion from T4 to T3 doesn’t happen in the thyroid. It happens mostly in the gallbladder.

This is why the health of your gallbladder can be so critical to your overall energy levels. The interplay of TSH, T4, and T3 is a complex dance and if something goes wrong with any one of them different problems show up in your body.

The problem is that symptoms have such a wide range, and there could be many different causes for the same symptoms. This makes a proper diagnosis challenging.

If your doctor only looks at one of the three hormone levels, for example, he might be missing an important clue and completely misdiagnose.

Effects of Thyroid Hormones on Different Systems

The collective action of the thyroid on your body literally affects everything. It controls your body temperature. [5]

It influences your sex drive. [6,7]

It influences all the digestive organs, including the pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, and liver to coordinate and mobilize all the energy resources of the body. [8,9] They modulate the metabolism of cholesterol, carbohydrates, glycogen, and insulin sensitivity.

It has a profound effect on the gut [9].

It controls the energy produced in your muscle tissue, whether that means having the energy to get off the couch, running from a hungry bear, or competing in a triathlon. [10,11]

It directly activates mitochondria, your cellular energy factories, and can stimulate their proliferation to upgrade your overall energy capacity [12,13].

The thyroid gland touches virtually every aspect of your health and vitality.

The flip side of this, however, is that when something goes wrong with the process, it can negatively affect your entire life.

The Unhappy Thyroid

The two general ways things go wrong with the thyroid is if it’s overactive –– hyperthyroidism –– or underactive, hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is significantly more common in American culture, so let’s start there. It can be a broad range of symptoms including everything from depression, anxiety, fatigue, and memory problems to dry skin, cold hands and feet, no sex drive, thinning hair, weight gain, cramps, and usually difficult PMS.

As you read that list, consider how these are related to your body’s basic ability to produce energy. Then consider how damaging it could be to your long-term health to attempt to treat just one of the symptoms, depression or anxiety, for example, with pharmaceuticals instead of getting to the root of the problem.

Hyperthyroidism is just as bad as hypothyroidism but is generally less common. Symptoms include fatigue or muscle weakness, mood swings, nervousness, weight loss, trouble sleeping, dry skin, heart palpitations, and tremors.

But even these words, hypo- and hyper-thyroidism are just words. They don’t get to why these problems arise.

The Root of Hypothyroidism

Hashimoto’s is a major cause of hypothyroidism, estimated to cause up to 90% of all cases. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and disrupts the balance of metabolic hormones. Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s often begin in the gut with a compromised gut wall and/or changes in the microbiome. Several new studies show a clear link between changes in the microbiome and the development of Hashimoto’s [14-16]. This means one potential way to restore thyroid function is to heal any issues with leaky gut.

Related to Hashimoto's is inflammation in the thyroid. This may be part of a larger systemic inflammation, but the damaging effects of the inflammation can disrupt the normal function just as much as Hashimoto’s, damaging the fragile follicles that sense and secrete the necessary hormones.

Earlier, we discussed how the gallbladder is the main site for converting T4 to T3. This means problems in the gall bladder can actually create the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction. In popular medical practice, the gallbladder is viewed as a “throw away” organ, like the tonsils or appendix.

But studies have found that just a few months after having their gallbladder removed, patients begin experiencing thyroid dysfunction.

One critical element of the gallbladder-thyroid connection is nutrition.

Thyroid and Nutrition

The process in the gallbladder that converts T4 to T3 requires special enzymes. These enzymes need the trace element selenium. Without enough selenium in the diet, these critical enzymes cannot function and the dance of thyroid hormones gets thrown out of balance. [17]

T4 cannot be converted to T3, the metabolism becomes dysregulated, and hypothyroid symptoms begin to show up.

Iodine is another absolutely critical mineral for a healthy thyroid. It’s used in the production of T4 in the thyroid itself [18]. Widespread iodine deficiency was a major problem in the 1910s and early 1920s. As a solution, the government began a program to fortify commercial salt with iodine and to this day that is why most commercially manufactured table salt has iodine added to it. [19]

Now while this worked for resolving the widespread iodine deficiency problem, the production process for most commercially manufactured salt also strips it of other essential trace minerals so we recommend using sea salt or pink Himalayan salt.


No discussion of metabolic and thyroid issues can be complete without talking about toxins.

Hormonal systems are especially sensitive to the disrupting influence of pesticides and heavy metals.

The thyroid is a sensitive organ and heavy metals are like a giant wrench in the complex machinery of metabolic regulation. They can block or damage receptors, destroy enzymes, and disrupt the normal function of the fragile thyroid follicles [20].

What you can do?

Now remember, the real goal here is robust vitality. The thyroid is an organ of radiant vital energy, of youthful vigor, of strong metabolism.

Now that we’ve looked at the factors at play, what can you do to keep yourself healthy?

Working together, these health practices and lifestyle choices not only support a healthy thyroid by revving up your metabolism and enhancing your overall vitality, but are the cornerstone of good general health.

  1. Minimize exposure to toxins by eating clean, organic food, drinking clean water, and limiting your time in environments with heavy pollution.
  2. Eat a balanced diet rich with selenium and iodine. Brazil nuts are nature’s best source of selenium, followed by wild-caught fish, organic pork, grass-fed beef, and poultry. You can get iodine from seaweed, other wild-caught seafood, and organic dairy products. A high-quality multivitamin can be a powerful boost to your health, ensuring your body always has what it needs for optimal health.
  3. Heal your gut. Systemic inflammation, autoimmune issues, and persistent weight are all associated with both thyroid issues and with leaky gut. By keeping your gut strong, you can help your body to heal. One of the best ways to heal your gut is by giving your body the necessary building blocks to rebuild the gut wall –– that means the 8 essential amino acids. Keep in mind collagen does not get the results manufacturers claim and if you would like to read more about this issue, read this article.
  4. Live an active lifestyle. Hormonally, your base metabolic rate (BMR) is determined  by the interplay of the three primary thyroid hormones: TSH, T4, and T. But these hormones also respond to the metabolic demands of the body. This means if you exercise and increase your energetic output, your body will respond to the increase in demand by increasing your metabolism. Living an active lifestyle can powerfully boost your thyroid function and increase your metabolism.



*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.