The Story You Did Not Know!
Science has proven that chronic inflammation can turn into a silent killer that contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmunity, and nearly every type of chronic disease. Here I have written about 5 ways to reduce inflammation, but today I want to explain how chronic, low grade inflammation impacts your liver, thyroid, hormones, iron levels and digestive balance. Read on to learn more.
What is chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation refers to a long-lasting and persistent inflammatory response in the body. Unlike acute inflammation, which is a short-term and localized response to injury or infection, chronic inflammation can persist for months or even years.
Chronic inflammation is typically characterized by the infiltration of immune cells, such as macrophages and lymphocytes, into the affected tissues. These immune cells release inflammatory mediators, such as cytokines and chemokines, which promote further inflammation and recruit additional immune cells to the site of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by various factors, including persistent infections, autoimmune disorders (where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues), prolonged exposure to irritants or toxins, and certain lifestyle factors such as obesity, poor diet, smoking, and chronic stress.
Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and contribute to the development and progression of various diseases.
In order to put a stop to this low grade inflammatory process, it is important to recognize symptoms that correlate with this process, and to take action if signs are developing.
The following is a list of symptoms related to chronic, low grade inflammation; ask yourself the following?
Do you feel tired?
Do you have poor exercise endurance?
Do you lack motivation?
Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
Are you retaining fluid?
Have you gained weight that is difficult to lose?
Do you have heavy periods?
Do your lungs feel tight?
Do you have a burning sensation in your throat?
Do you have acid reflux?
Do you have trouble focusing and remembering things?
Do you get bloated after eating?
Is your hair thinning and/or dry?
Do you have vertical nails, ridges or divots?
Do you feel winded when you go up stairs?
Do you have high cholesterol?
Is your voice raspy?
Do you have breast tenderness?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, know that it may be common, but it is also your body’s way of telling you something is not right.
My hope is that by the end of this post you will understand the role inflammation plays and the cascade effect that occurs in our body, especially the relationship between iron deficiency anemia, thyroid health, a healthy liver, your hormones and your digestive system.
What happens when the body responds to inflammation?
One result of inflammation is the production of the hormone Hepcidin, which is primarily synthesized in the liver. Hepcidin plays a crucial role in the regulation of iron metabolism in the body.
During an inflammatory response, the immune system releases various inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6). These cytokines stimulate the liver to produce hepcidin. Hepcidin acts as a key regulator of iron homeostasis by controlling the absorption, storage, and release of iron.
When hepcidin is released it reduces the absorption of iron in the digestive tract. Because the main function of hepcidin is to limit the availability of iron in the body.
By decreasing the availability of iron, hepcidin helps to restrict iron levels during inflammation. This mechanism is thought to be a protective response to prevent pathogens from accessing the iron they need to grow and replicate.
The end results of high hepcidin is an iron deficient state.
While this response is beneficial in the short term to counteract pathogens, prolonged or excessive production of hepcidin can lead to disruptions in iron homeostasis.
What happens when we become iron deficient?
When we are low in iron your whole body can be affected:
Iron is required for oxygen transport.
Iron is required to make red blood cells and to make hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to the tissues and cells in our body. Myoglobin stores oxygen in the muscles, which allows them to work. >>> This can lead to reduced energy levels, decreased exercise tolerance, and a higher risk of complications in individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory conditions.
Iron is involved in DNA synthesis and cell division.
Iron is a vital component of enzymes involved in DNA synthesis, repair, and cell division. These enzymes, such as ribonucleotide reductase, require iron as a cofactor to facilitate the conversion of ribonucleotides to deoxyribonucleotides, which are building blocks of DNA. Iron's involvement in these processes is crucial for the accurate replication and maintenance of genetic material during cell division, supporting healthy growth, development, and tissue repair.
Iron is needed in the conversion of blood sugar to energy, which allows muscles to work at their optimum during exercise or when competing.
Iron is a necessary component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues throughout the body. Oxygen is crucial for cellular respiration, the process by which cells convert glucose (blood sugar) into usable energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Iron-containing enzymes, such as cytochromes in the mitochondria, participate in the electron transport chain, a vital step in ATP production. Adequate iron levels ensure efficient energy production, allowing muscles to function optimally during exercise or competition.
Iron is also needed for proper immune function.
Iron is essential for optimal immune system function. Iron deficiency can weaken the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections and potentially impairing the body's ability to fight off pathogens.
Iron is involved in neurotransmitter synthesis
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the nervous system. Iron is necessary for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are involved in regulating mood, cognition, sleep, and various other brain functions. Adequate iron levels are crucial for the proper production and function of these neurotransmitters.
How Iron Deficiency Affects Our Metabolism.
There is not a system in the body that is not affected by iron deficiency.
An often overlooked symptom of iron deficiency is its impact on gene expression in the liver and muscles. When iron levels are low, specific genes are activated that promote fat storage and can lead to blood sugar issues. These effects can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This can contribute to an increased deposition of fat and the development of fatty liver disease. Furthermore, iron deficiency can impair insulin signaling and glucose metabolism, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and potentially increasing the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
How Iron Deficiency Affects The Thyroid.
Not only is our metabolism affected by low iron status, but having low iron disrupts the body’s ability to convert thyroid hormone Thyroxine also known as T4, into the active form of thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). This is because the conversion of T4 to T3 requires an enzyme called thyroid peroxidase, which relies heavily on iron. Without sufficient iron the whole process slows down and you end up with less active thyroid hormone.
As with low iron, low thyroid hormones can also cause many undesirable symptoms as well! Which I will bring back up towards the end of this blog, but I also want to point out that many times TSH can be in a normal range (which is the thyroid test most doctors use to check thyroid health), but this only measures TSH, which is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, which IS NOT THYROID HORMONE!!!! And if you have a production issue or a conversion issue you will go undetected, because your TSH can still be “normal.”
AND, that’s not where the story ends… HAVING LOW THYROID PRODUCTION CAN ALSO AFFECT IRON METABOLISM, WHICH ALSO CAUSES AN IRON DEFICIENCY!!!
How Iron Deficiency Affects Digestion And Microbial Balance.
When someone has low thyroid hormone this decreases the amount of stomach acid they are able to produce, which leads to poor absorption of nutrients, including iron!
Low stomach acid might sound like a good thing, I have written about the consequences of low stomach acid here, but having low stomach acid, IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT.
Low stomach acid can cause:
Undigested proteins which are needed to make neurotransmitters for the health of your brain (melatonin, serotonin, GABA, etc.). Proteins are also needed to make the cells of your immune system.
Malabsorption of nutrients, especially minerals because minerals are absorbed in an acidic environment
B12 deficiency because stomach acid is needed to liberate the B12 for absorption in our bodies. And, studies have shown that taking Proton Pump Inhibitors (medications used for Heartburn) are known to decrease the absorption of B12.
Acid reflux >>> this sounds counterintuitive as you would think if you have lower stomach acid that would be better for reflux. But, when there is low stomach acid, gastric emptying is delayed, so food starts to ferment in your gut. This creates pressure and gas in your stomach which needs to get out. This puts pressure on the stomach’s upper sphincter, and forces it open, allowing the gas to pass out, but can also allow gastric juices to flow out as well. This can cause many different symptoms, such as: burning in your throat, a raspy voice, your lungs may feel tight, difficulty swallowing, asthma, unexplained chest pain, bad breath, and lump in your throat, and feeling excessively full after meals.
An overgrowth of non-beneficial bacteria in the small intestine.
This can lead to things like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, Small Intestinal Fungal Overgrowth, H. Pylori, parasites, or other gut pathogens to overgrow.
These conditions can then trigger more Hepcidin to be released in an attempt to keep iron from pathogens. And so the cycle continues.
Low Thyroid function, Iron Deficiency And Hormones.
Another consequence of low thyroid function and iron deficiency anemia is their effect on hormones.
When thyroid hormone production is low, it causes a decrease in the production of progesterone and decreased production of estrogen-binding SHBG, which causes estrogen dominance.
One result of estrogen dominance is heavy bleeding and breast tenderness. This heavy bleeding can cause iron deficiency, BUT this heavy bleeding can also be a result from iron deficiency as well (go back to low iron and how it affects the thyroid!) Yup, another vicious cycle that needs to stop!
This hormonal imbalance will also directly affect the liver, because the liver has to metabolize the hormones, in particular estrogen. If you are bombarding your liver with coffee, alcohol, processed foods, medications, chemicals in your food and water, etc. the liver becomes overburdened and estrogen dominance is one result. This can cause a host of issues in of itself, >>> estrogen dominance has been associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, endometriosis, hormone-dependent cancers, inflammatory disorders and autoimmune disorders.
So now, if we go back to the original list of symptoms that are associated with inflammation, we can tie them back to the story I have laid before you.
I should also mention that many of these symptoms can also be due to gut issues like, candida overgrowth/SIBO, which again will create that inflammatory cascade that creates a vicious cycle >>> low iron >>> low thyroid function >>> low stomach acid >>>
Do you feel tired? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you have poor exercise endurance? Low iron and low thyroid
Do you lack motivation? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you feel anxious or depressed? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Low thyroid and low iron
Are you retaining fluid? Low thyroid
Have you gained weight that is difficult to lose? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you have heavy periods? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you have breast tenderness? Low thyroid and low iron
Do your lungs feel tight? Low thyroid
Do you have a burning sensation in your throat? Low thyroid
Do you have acid reflux? Low thyroid
Do you have trouble focusing and remembering things? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you get bloated after eating? Low thyroid
Is your skin dry? Low thyroid
Is your hair thinning and/or dry? Low thyroid and low iron
Do you have vertical nail ridges or divots? Low iron
Do you feel winded when you go up stairs? Low iron
Do you have high cholesterol? Low thyroid
Is your voice raspy? Low thyroid
Do you have high blood pressure? Low thyroid
There are more symptoms that could be added, but I wanted to paint a picture that I often see in my practice, and many issues I have dealt with myself. Also, some of these symptoms may have other route causes, but low thyroid, low iron, liver health, hormonal balance may also be part of that picture.
What do you do if this is you?
I will answer this in part 2, so look for that in your inbox soon!
Conclusion: Disclaimer - This article is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It is crucial to consult with qualified healthcare professionals for accurate diagnoses, personalized treatment plans, and appropriate care tailored to your specific needs.