Does Genetics Influence Your Thyroid Function?

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Does Genetics Influence Your Thyroid Function?

Date of Content: January 7, 2024
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



What is a Thyroid?

Who would have thought that an organ much smaller than the palm of your hand could affect so much of your bodily functions? The small, butterfly-shaped gland nestled at the base of your neck orchestrating a symphony of metabolic functions within your body is called a thyroid. It is a crucial endocrine gland that plays a pivotal role in regulating metabolism, energy production, and overall growth and development.

Anatomy and Function

The thyroid gland, situated just below the Adam’s apple, produces essential hormones that influence nearly every cell in the human body. T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine), the thyroid hormones, meticulously control the body’s metabolic rate, impacting processes such as heart rate, body temperature, and energy expenditure. This intricate control is orchestrated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, forming a complex feedback loop known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis.

What is the Function of a Thyroid?

Controlled by the sophisticated HPT axis, the thyroid’s activity is orchestrated by the release of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) from the hypothalamus and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland. This intricate system ensures precise regulation of thyroid hormone secretion based on the body’s metabolic demands.

Thyroid hormones influence various tissues and organs that are essential for normal growth and development, particularly in the central nervous system and skeletal development. Aberrations in thyroid function, whether hypo- or hyperthyroidism, can lead to a spectrum of health issues, underscoring the critical role this gland plays in maintaining overall physiological balance and homeostasis. Understanding the nuanced functions of the thyroid provides a foundation for comprehending the complexities of metabolic regulation in the human body.

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Thyroid Function

Are Humans the Only Ones with a Thyroid?

No, humans are not the only organisms with a thyroid; the thyroid gland is present in a wide range of vertebrates, emphasizing its evolutionary significance. The thyroid gland is a fundamental component of the endocrine system, and its structural and functional homologs exist in various animal species.

Other mammals, including non-human primates, share a similar thyroid anatomy and function with humans. Also, birds possess a thyroid gland situated near their trachea, playing a crucial role in regulating metabolism and growth. Reptiles also exhibit thyroid function, influencing their metabolism and reproductive cycles. Fish, amphibians, and even some invertebrates have thyroid-like structures that contribute to hormonal regulation within their respective physiological systems.

The conservation of thyroid glands across diverse species underscores the evolutionary importance of this endocrine organ. While variations exist in the specifics of thyroid anatomy and hormone production, the overarching function of regulating metabolism and maintaining physiological balance remains a common thread throughout the animal kingdom.

What Can Affect Thyroid Function?

There are many things, both internal and external to the human body, that may affect thyroid function. Delving into the genetics of thyroid function unveils a fascinating interplay between inherited factors and environmental influences. Genetic variations can predispose individuals to thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Understanding these genetic and environmental intricacies is not only pivotal for comprehending the roots of thyroid-related conditions but also holds the promise of personalized approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors play an important role in a person’s thyroid function. While genetics are not the sole determinant of a healthy, well-functioning thyroid, some genes have been linked to better or worse thyroid function.

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) orchestrates thyroid function by binding to its receptor (TSHR), triggering cyclic AMP (cAMP) production. Serum TSH levels serve as a sensitive gauge of thyroid health, and anomalies impact approximately 10% of individuals over a lifetime. 

In a recent study examining genetic data from over 16,000 individuals, common variants linked to TSH and free thyroxine (FT4) level variation were explored. For TSH, a new variant in SYN2 (rs310763) and an independent variant in PDE8B (rs470397) were identified. SYN2, a protein involved in neurotransmitter regulation, and PDE8B, associated with cyclic AMP production, play key roles in thyroid regulation. For FT4 levels, a low-frequency variant near B4GALT6/SLC25A52 was found, tagging a rare TTR variant linked to ceramide metabolism and cyclic AMP inhibition in thyroid-stimulated cells.

These findings highlight the complex factors influencing thyroid traits, contributing to our understanding of normal thyroid function. The study demonstrates the importance of analyzing both common and rare genetic variants to uncover novel associations with thyroid function. 

In another study with 4,300 Sardinians, a significant association between a genetic variant (rs4704397) in PDE8B, a gene encoding a cAMP-specific phosphodiesterase, and circulating TSH levels was found notably, PDE8B variants were implicated in altering cAMP levels in the thyroid, influencing the production of T4 and T3 and, in turn, impacting TSH release from the pituitary. This positions PDE8B as a potential target for interventions in thyroid dysfunction. 

These findings illuminate the genetic factors influencing TSH levels, providing insights into thyroid physiology and the potential modulation of thyroid disease progression. The genome scans have also highlighted associations with several other genes like PDE10A, TSHR, THRB, GNAQ, TG, POU1F1, PDE4D, and TSHR.

Environmental Factors

The thyroid gland can be influenced by a variety of environmental factors that may impact its function. Understanding these influences is essential, as alterations in thyroid function can lead to a spectrum of health issues. Here are some key environmental factors known to affect thyroid function:

  1. Iodine Availability: Iodine is an indispensable component for thyroid hormone synthesis. Insufficient iodine intake can lead to iodine deficiency disorders, such as goiter and cretinism. Conversely, excessive iodine intake, often seen in areas with iodine-rich diets or due to iodine-containing medications, can also disrupt thyroid function, potentially triggering hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
  2. Endocrine Disruptors: Certain environmental contaminants, or endocrine disruptors, can interfere with thyroid hormone production and regulation. Chemicals like perchlorate, found in some fertilizers and drinking water, can competitively inhibit iodine uptake by the thyroid, affecting hormone synthesis. Bisphenol A (BPA), present in plastics, has also been linked to thyroid dysfunction by disrupting hormone signaling pathways.
  3. Heavy Metals: Exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, can adversely affect thyroid function. Mercury, often found in contaminated fish, can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis and lead to autoimmune thyroiditis. Lead exposure has been associated with decreased thyroid hormone levels, particularly in children, impacting cognitive development.
  4. Radiation Exposure: Ionizing radiation, whether from medical procedures, environmental sources, or nuclear accidents, poses a risk to thyroid health. The thyroid is highly sensitive to radiation, and exposure can result in an increased risk of thyroid cancer and other thyroid disorders. This was notably observed following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
  5. Stress: Chronic stress can influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, disrupting the normal feedback loop and leading to alterations in thyroid hormone levels. Stress-induced changes in cortisol levels may also impact thyroid function indirectly. While the relationship between stress and thyroid function is complex, studies suggest a potential link between chronic stress and thyroid disorders.
  6. Dietary Factors: Nutritional factors, beyond iodine, play a role in thyroid health. Selenium, for example, is a crucial micronutrient involved in the conversion of T4 to the active T3 hormone. Deficiencies in selenium can impair this conversion, affecting overall thyroid function. Additionally, certain foods, known as goitrogens, can interfere with iodine utilization and may impact thyroid hormone production.

Understanding the intricate interplay between environmental factors and thyroid function provides valuable insights into preventive measures and potential interventions to maintain optimal thyroid health. Regular monitoring and addressing environmental influences are essential aspects of comprehensive thyroid care.

How Do You Measure Thyroid Levels?

Measuring thyroid levels is a crucial aspect of assessing thyroid function and identifying potential disorders. The primary indicators analyzed are the levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood.

  • TSH Levels: Thyroid-stimulating hormone, produced by the pituitary gland, stimulates the thyroid to release T3 and T4. Elevated TSH levels typically indicate an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), as the body attempts to stimulate more hormone production. Conversely, low TSH levels may suggest an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
  • T3 and T4 Levels: Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are the thyroid hormones responsible for regulating metabolism. Abnormalities in their levels can indicate thyroid dysfunction. High T3 and T4 levels may be associated with hyperthyroidism, while low levels can indicate hypothyroidism.
  • Thyroid Antibodies: Testing for thyroid antibodies, such as anti-thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and anti-thyroglobulin antibodies, helps identify autoimmune thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease.
  • Thyroid Imaging: In certain cases, imaging techniques like ultrasound or scintigraphy may be employed to assess the physical structure of the thyroid gland. This is particularly useful in identifying nodules, inflammation, or abnormalities.
  • Reverse T3 (rT3): While less commonly measured, reverse T3 can provide additional insights into thyroid function. It is the inactive form of T3 and may be elevated in certain conditions, reflecting altered thyroid hormone conversion.

These laboratory tests, collectively known as thyroid function tests, provide a comprehensive profile of thyroid health. Interpretation involves considering the interplay between TSH, T3, and T4 levels, along with clinical symptoms and potential underlying causes. Regular monitoring of thyroid levels is crucial for individuals with thyroid disorders or those at risk, enabling timely interventions and personalized management strategies.

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What are the Common Signs of Thyroid Problems?

Thyroid problems can manifest through a range of symptoms, reflecting disruptions in thyroid hormone levels and overall gland function. It’s important to note that the severity and combination of symptoms can vary, and some individuals may experience subtle manifestations. Here are common signs associated with thyroid problems:

  • Fatigue: Both hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can lead to persistent fatigue. In hypothyroidism, decreased thyroid hormone levels can slow metabolism, while hyperthyroidism can cause increased metabolic activity, leading to fatigue.
  • Weight Changes: Unexplained weight gain is often associated with hypothyroidism, as a sluggish metabolism can lead to difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight. Conversely, hyperthyroidism can result in unintentional weight loss due to an accelerated metabolic rate.
  • Temperature Sensitivity: Thyroid hormones play a role in regulating body temperature. Individuals with hypothyroidism may feel excessively cold, while those with hyperthyroidism may experience heightened sensitivity to heat.
  • Changes in Heart Rate: Hyperthyroidism can lead to an increased heart rate (tachycardia), palpitations, and irregular heart rhythms. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, may result in bradycardia, or a slowed heart rate.
  • Hair and Skin Changes: Thyroid dysfunction can affect the health of hair and skin. In hypothyroidism, hair may become brittle and skin may be dry, while hyperthyroidism may lead to hair loss and oily skin.
  • Mood Swings and Mental Health Changes: Thyroid hormones influence brain function, and disruptions can impact mood and cognitive function. Hypothyroidism is often associated with depression, lethargy, and cognitive impairment, while hyperthyroidism may lead to anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Menstrual Irregularities: Thyroid disorders can affect the menstrual cycle in women. Hypothyroidism may lead to heavier or irregular periods, while hyperthyroidism can cause lighter or less frequent menstruation.
  • Muscle Weakness and Joint Pain: Muscle weakness and joint pain are common symptoms of hypothyroidism. Reduced thyroid hormone levels can contribute to muscle fatigue and stiffness.
  • Swelling and Neck Discomfort: An enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goiter, can cause swelling in the neck. This can occur in both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, often associated with autoimmune thyroid conditions.
  • Changes in Bowel Habits: Thyroid dysfunction can affect the gastrointestinal system, leading to constipation in hypothyroidism and diarrhea in hyperthyroidism.

Recognizing these signs is crucial for prompt diagnosis and management of thyroid disorders. If experiencing persistent symptoms, individuals should seek medical evaluation, including thyroid function tests, to determine the underlying cause of their health concerns.

How to Maintain Good Thyroid Function

Maintaining optimal thyroid function is essential for overall health, as the thyroid plays a central role in regulating metabolism, energy production, and various physiological processes. A combination of lifestyle choices and dietary habits can contribute to supporting a healthy thyroid. Here are evidence-based strategies to promote and maintain good thyroid functions:

Iodine-Rich Diet

Iodine is a crucial component for thyroid hormone synthesis. Including iodine-rich foods like seaweed, fish, dairy products, and iodized salt in the diet ensures an adequate supply for the thyroid. However, it’s important to strike a balance, as excessive iodine intake can also lead to thyroid dysfunction.

Selenium Supplementation

Selenium is an essential trace element involved in the conversion of thyroxine (T4) to the active triiodothyronine (T3) hormone. Including selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts, fish, and lean meats or considering selenium supplementation in consultation with a healthcare professional can support thyroid health.

Balanced Nutrition

Maintaining a well-balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients for overall health, including thyroid function. Adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, B vitamins, and zinc, supports the thyroid and helps prevent deficiencies that may impact thyroid health.

Limit Goitrogenic Foods

Certain foods, known as goitrogens, can interfere with iodine absorption and utilization. While cooking typically neutralizes their effects, individuals with thyroid concerns may choose to limit raw consumption of cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage) and soy products.

Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular physical activity supports overall metabolic health, including thyroid function. Exercise helps regulate hormone levels and improves insulin sensitivity, contributing to a balanced metabolism.

Adequate Hydration

Staying well-hydrated is essential for optimal metabolic function, including thyroid processes. Water facilitates the conversion of T4 to the active T3 hormone, and dehydration can impact this conversion.

Stress Management

Chronic stress can disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, leading to imbalances in thyroid hormones. Incorporating stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can positively influence thyroid health.

Adequate Sleep

Quality sleep is crucial for overall hormonal balance, including thyroid hormones. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to support optimal thyroid function and overall well-being.

Regular Monitoring

Regular check-ups and thyroid function tests are essential, especially for individuals with a family history of thyroid disorders or those exhibiting symptoms. Timely detection allows for early intervention and management of thyroid conditions.

Limit Environmental Exposures

Minimizing exposure to endocrine disruptors, such as certain plastics and pollutants, can contribute to thyroid health. Being aware of environmental factors and making choices to reduce potential exposures supports overall well-being.

By incorporating these evidence-based practices into one’s lifestyle, individuals can contribute to maintaining good thyroid functions. It’s important to note that individual responses may vary, and any concerns about thyroid health should be discussed with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and recommendations.

LifeDNA’s Thyroid Function Report

Unlock the secrets of your thyroid health with LifeDNA’s Thyroid Function Trait  Report – a cutting-edge genetic analysis that dives deep into your unique DNA to provide personalized insights into your thyroid function. Your thyroid plays a crucial role in overall wellness, regulating metabolism, energy levels, and more. Understanding your genetic predispositions can empower you to make informed decisions for a healthier, more balanced life.

Our scientifically-backed and comprehensive Vitamins and Supplements Report takes it a step further, offering tailored recommendations based on your genetic profile. Because when it comes to wellness, one size does not fit all. LifeDNA’s approach is personalized, providing you with precise information on the vitamins and supplements your body needs to thrive.

Explore our other insightful trait reports, like the Magnesium Levels Report, Vitamin B6 Levels Report, and Vitamin C Levels Report, each crafted to offer a nuanced understanding of your body’s unique requirements. With seven main report categories and almost 200 trait reports available, LifeDNA’s Vitamins and Supplements, Wellness, Nutrition, Fitness, Sleep, Skincare, and Personality and Cognition Reports are your compass to a holistic understanding of yourself.

Embark on your wellness journey today – subscribe to LifeDNA and unveil the blueprint of your health. Knowledge is power; with LifeDNA, you gain the knowledge needed to elevate your well-being. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to live your healthiest life – take the first step with LifeDNA now!


  • The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland, regulates metabolism, energy production, and growth.
  • TSH, T3, and T4  thyroid hormones control metabolic rate and heart rate, body temperature, and energy expenditure.
  • Understanding genetic and environmental influences is crucial for preventing thyroid disorders.
  • Thyroid function tests assess TSH, T3, and T4 levels, along with thyroid antibodies, and can include imaging. Regular monitoring helps identify and manage thyroid disorders.
  • Fatigue, weight changes, temperature sensitivity, heart rate variations, hair and skin changes, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, muscle weakness, joint pain, swelling, and changes in bowel habits can indicate thyroid issues.
  • Iodine-rich diet, selenium supplementation, balanced nutrition, limiting goitrogenic foods, regular exercise, adequate hydration, stress management, adequate sleep, regular monitoring, and limiting environmental exposures contribute to optimal thyroid health.
  • By understanding the intricate interplay of genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices, individuals can proactively support and maintain good thyroid function. Regular check-ups and personalized approaches are essential for overall thyroid care.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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