TweetThe thyroid, how does it work?
The thyroid gland is situated in the top part of the neck. It produces several hormones which are crucial for the appearance of the bodybuilder. It is not a question here of flaunting our science with complicated terms. I am concentrating on what is important for the bodybuilder in terms of leanness and muscles, but it is important to understand how the thyroid works and its mechanisms of action.
The thyroid gland produces a substance called T4 (thyroxine or tetra-iodothyronine). This T4 is called a pro-hormone, as the scientists haven't succeeded in demonstrating a direct action by it. Of course, a pro-hormone, is nonetheless a hormone. But its action is indirect, as it will, in part, be transformed into T3 (triiodothyronine) which is responsible for the actions of the thyroid. Not all the T4 is transformed into T3 -- it therefore constitutes a reserve of thyroid hormones in the blood. Its lifetime will thus be longer, the T3 being degraded more rapidly.
A portion of the T3 (20%) comes directly from the thyroid, the rest coming from the transformation of the T4. Tissues like the liver, the kidneys, the heart, the muscles or the central nervous system are the sites of this transformation.
The action of TSH
TSH is a hormone that stimulates the thyroid (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) to produce T4 and T3. When these two are elevated, they lower the level of TSH. On the other hand, when T3 and T4 are low, the level of TSH increases. In a blood analysis, a hypothyroid is therefore in theory characterized by a low T3 and T4 and a raised TSH, while a hyperthyroid is characterized by an elevated T3 and a low TSH.
In reality, many hypothyroids have not only a low TSH, but also a low T3. This is called having a "lazy" thyroid as the body does not react to the deficiency of thyroid hormones. Women often have this condition.
It is said that TSH determines the size of the thyroid gland. Those who take medications containing thyroid extracts lower the level of TSH, which means that they will atrophy their thyroid gland, sometimes even for a long time after the stopping of this medication. But why is this gland so important for the bodybuilder?
What are the effects of thyroid hormones?
First of all, they are a determining factor for basal metabolism. The more the T3 is elevated, the more calories the body burns, particularly in the form of heat. Therefore the higher the level of these hormones is elevated, the more your body temperature will be elevated. In consequence, taking your temperature in the morning is a good indicator of the level of activity (or lack of activity) of your thyroid. Many women find that they are constantly cold, even in warm weather. This is often because they suffer hypothyroidism.
The thyroid hormones are also at once anabolic and catabolic. A weak level of T3 is mainly anabolic and very little catabolic. The higher this level gets, the more the catabolic action will predominate, while the anabolic activity reaches a ceiling quickly. The thyroid hormones also have indirect actions. For example: only the action of either epinephrine or norepinephrine on the beta receptors in the fat cells has lipolytic (fat loss) properties. So if one blocks these beta receptors, the increased caloric expenditure due to a high T3 level will be derived mostly from muscles (amino acids), and not from fat. On the other hand, thyroid hormones help to reduce fat (and to gain muscle) by increasing the number of beta receptors in the fat and muscle cells.
Moreover, thyroid hormones are indispensible for the production of IGF-1 by the liver. A large part of this permissive effect, other than a stimulation of the secretion of the secretion of GH, is due to the increase of the number of growth hormone receptors in the liver. Of course, all this works well if the thyroid gland functions normally. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case, especially during a diet poor in calories. We must therefore ask:
What are the effects of a diet on the thyroid gland?
This is not a secret for anyone: the stricter and longer a diet is, the more the body adapts to the deficiency in calories and reduces its energy needs. Metabolism slows down and the body temperature is lowered. This action is essentially due to a reduction in the level of thyroid hormones in the blood. The lowering of thyroid hormones is produced not only directly by an atrophy of the gland but also by a lessening of the transformation of T4 to T3.
How is this lowering of activity of the thyroid gland produced?
Many hormones have a permissive effect on the action of TSH. The best known of these hormones are insulin and IGF-1. When one eats less, the plasma levels of these two hormones drop. The result is that TSH is unable to stimulate the thyroid gland properly.
The level of TSH drops under the action of many hormones. Cortisol, whose level is elevated during a caloric restriction, plays an inhibiting role on the thyroid in lowering the level of TSH.
Other factors are raised during the diet prevent the transformation of T4 (inactive hormone) to the active hormone T3. This is the case with glucagon for example. The T4 is degraded without being transformed into T3 or is transformed into an inactive form of T3 called reverse T3 (rT3). A deficiency in protein increases this phenomenon.
Some metabolites resulting from the degradation of T3 reduce the rate of conversion of T4 to T3.
The level of free T3 lessens when it is tied to a binding protein. While this extends the lifetime of the T3, it also renders it inactive.
A puzzling phenomenon needs to be pointed out. Normally, GH raises the level of free T3. This is one of the reasons why GH increases basal metabolism and reduces fat. One could therefore be entitled to expect an elevation of the level of T3 during a diet since the concentration of GH is raised following a caloric restriction.
In fact, it is the opposite which occurs. The level of free T3 drops in spite of a rise in the level of GH. Therefore, we must differentiate the effects of GH during a diet and when not on a diet:
GH with a normal or elevated caloric ration is essentially anabolic and increases basal metabolism.
GH during a caloric restriction is catabolic (for muscle and for fat) and is unable to oppose the lowering of the rate of T3.
These effects can appear paradoxical. They are explained by the increase or not of the level of IGF-1.
In conclusion: The macronutrients will have an important role in the stimulation, or the slowing of the thyroid . Carbohydrates are the key macronutrient. They have a direct action on insulin and indirect on IGF-1, while inhibiting the secretion of glucagon. Therefore, The more you reduce carbohydrates during a diet and the longer your diet lasts, the more you will reduce the secretion of thyroid hormones. This is the big problem of diets without carbohydrates. They will drastically reduce the basal metabolism, hence the value of periodically resuming a normal (i.e. not low calorie or low carbohydrate) diet to restart the thyroid.
Consequences of the lowering of the activity of the thyroid
Lowering of the secretion of thyroid hormones seems disadvantageous during a diet. It translates not only to a lowering of the caloric expenditure but also to a reduction of lipolysis due to two phenomena: fewer beta receptors on the adipocytes and more potent factors preventing lipolysis. These factors are adenosine, phosphodiesterases, etc. As you can see, all this is very harmful for your fat reduction.
The solution seems easy: raise the activity of the thyroid. Unfortunately, the thyroid hormones also have a large impact on the muscles. As we have said, the thyroid hormones can be catabolic for the muscle. Insulin, if it is present in a sufficient quantity, can prevent the catabolism induced by the thyroid hormones. Therefore when one eats normally, the thyroid hormones are essentially anabolic. On the other hand, when the level of insulin is low due to caloric deficiencies, it is impossible to protect the muscle. Conclusion: during a diet, if the thyroid hormones were maintained at an elevated level, they would have essentially a catabolic action on the muscle. It is also one of the reasons why the level of thyroid hormones is reduced during a diet: preservation of the muscle mass. In consequence, people who take thyroid extracts rapidly lose mass during a diet. We must also add that the degradation of thyroid hormones is potentialized by cortisol, and this hormone is also increased by the diet. The muscle catabolism due to thyroid hormones is both direct and indirect: the thyroid hormones take amino acids from the muscle while increasing and accelerating the catabolism of amino acids in the liver.
To summarize, it is important to preserve a normal activity of thyroid hormones during a diet, without wanting to increase their level excessively with thyroid extracts.
The thyroid gland and the hormones that it produces are among the key factors which determine the success or failure of a diet. Because thyroid hormones are regulators of basal metabolism, they determine the daily consumption of calories. A strict diet downregulates the activity of the gland. This lowers the daily requirement in calories, obliging us to eat still less. It can be a vicious cycle.
There are many strategies to deal with this situation. Often, bodybuilders use unusual or unapproved methods. After having discussed the most popular, we will suggest a natural alternative which is much healthier.
Triacana: Friend or foe?
During a diet, it is common to see male or female bodybuilders take medications to get lean. Triac is a metabolite of T3. This means that when the body degrades T3, it does so by successive steps, not all at once. One of these steps gives birth to Triac. One therefore finds Triac naturally occurring everywhere. Triacana ®, as its name indicates, contains a strong dose of Triac.
You may ask why this medication is so popular with bodybuilders. Triacana should not normally be sold outside of France. In spite of this, it is possible to find it, often in an illegal fashion, in many other countries. The legend of Triacana is not therefore restricted to France. Bodybuilders the world over try to obtain it. Why? Because they believe that Triacana will reduce fat without side effects. The term "without side effects" describes here a special phenomenon. It refers to the inhibiting effect caused by thyroid extracts. This translates to the belief that Triac will not lower the level of TSH.
As we saw in the previous section, the level of TSH effects the size of the thyroid gland. Some assert even that Triac will stimulate the activity of this gland and therefore will increase the level of TSH, while the other classical thyroid drugs would have a tendency to cause atrophy in this gland.
Yet we will see that the truth is exactly the opposite. Triacana is a very inhibiting thyroid extract, and maybe the most inhibitive. Moreover, unlike the other extracts, this is practically the only function of Triac. Its peripheral actions are weak. The peripheral actions of thyroid hormones are: increase of the basal metabolism, of the temperature, of lipolysis, of cardiac rhythm, etc. The lipolytic action of Triac also is weaker than that of other thyroid extracts. Paradoxically, its catabolic effects on the muscle and on the bone are at least equal if not stronger than those of T3 and of T4. One may therefore ask:
Where does the legend of Triacana come from?
As paradoxical as it may appear, it comes from west of the Atlantic. In the 1980's, some large dealers were dividing the market for anabolics and other doping substances in the United States. They happily welcomed some "exotic" substances from abroad. Given that they were present in limited quantity, they could be sold at a high markup without competition. It was then just a question of finding good publicity stories.
With Triacana it was easy: it was a matter of a product which was making the European champions leaner than the American champions. In other words a secret weapon that few could obtain. Nothing more was needed for word-of-mouth advertising. In addition to its great effectiveness, Triacana wouldn't have any side effects. In Europe meanwhile, many bodybuilders have concluded that if the American champions were leaner, it must be because they use miracle products, of which only the champions know the existence. It is this type of reasoning that established the popularity of Triacana. The funniest part of the story is that both practical experience and the scientific research on Triac show exactly the opposite. The superiority of Triac as a reducing aid, compared to the other thyroid extracts, was simply false advertising.
What are the real actions of Triac?
During a diet, the level of T3 collapses. This acts to slow down the catabolism of the muscle (which is good) but also that of the fat (which is not so good). Often one sees the level of T3 reduced by half during a strict diet. This is due to a conjunction of different factors: lowering of the level of hormones having a permissive effect on the hormone which stimulates the thyroid (TSH), deficiency in micronutrients which also control the activity of the thyroid gland, and other factors which prevent the good conversion of T4 (inactive) to T3 (active). We find ourselves with a low T3 and a low TSH -- which is not normal, as the level of TSH should have increased to try to compensate for the deficiency in T3. And this despite the fact that even if the TSH was high, the thyroid gland will not produce much more thyroid hormone due to lack of insulin. The fact that the TSH is low demonstrates that something prevents the normal functioning of the gland.
Yet we know that the level of Triac is naturally increased during a diet. It is therefore fair to ask the following question:
Will Triac have a significant action on TSH?
Remember, Triac is a product found naturally in the body. Triacana being itself a medication that contains only Triac. Therefore an elevated level of Triac does not necessarily mean that one has taken Triacana. It could simply mean that one is on a diet. Let's note in passing that the natural production of Triac from T3 renders difficult or impossible its detection in a doping control drug test. However the question is moot since no thyroid extract appears on the list of doping substances of the IOC.
Triacana is not meant for persons desiring to lose fat.
To return to our topic, research has shown the peripheral actions (increase of calorie expenditure, lipolysis, etc.) of Triac are weak while its inhibiting action on TSH is powerful. Simply put, Triac has a weak action as a dietary aid but acts strongly to slow basal metabolism by its action on TSH. Therefore for the duration of a diet, Triac is going to prevent fat loss rather than helping it.
If we had a natural method of preventing T3 from being degraded to Triac, we would be able to lose fat faster and more easily with fewer harmful consequences to the thyroid gland. Moreover, without Triac, muscular catabolism during a diet will be less. Which is far from the promises of the black market dealers.
Why is this difference between the inhibiting action on TSH and the peripheral actions of Triac so pronounced?
Here also, the researchers have an answer. They have shown that Triac has a greater affinity for T3 receptors than T3 itself. This means that the thyroid hormone receptors are going to prefer to be activated by Triac than by T3. This would mean that Triac is more powerful than T3. Yet as we have seen, Triac is less powerful than T3 with regards to peripheral effects.
How to explain this paradox?
While Triac strongly binds T3 receptors, it remains bound to this receptor for much less time than T3 itself, hence its lesser effect. This is in regard to peripheral receptors. On the other hand, in the brain, Triac has a much more powerful inhibiting effect than the other thyroid hormones. Because conversion of T4 into T3 is increased in brain tissue when we diet, there is more T3 for conversion to Triac. Result: the brain is fooled, and is made to think that there is a high level of thyroid hormones in the blood. The secretion of TSH is therefore going to be inhibited. For those who are interested, they will find at the end of this article a detailed bibliography.
Now it is fair to ask the following question:
Why is Triacana on sale if it is so harmful during a diet?
Indeed, why wish to inhibit the thyroid without benefitting from peripheral effects? Simply because Triacana is not meant for people wishing to lose fat. On the contrary, it is perfectly appropriate for people stricken with cancer of the thyroid for example. The therapeutic objective for these people is to reduce the size of their thyroid gland (which is going to, one hopes, reduce or eliminate the cancer cells). On a blood test, this consists therefore of lowering the level of TSH to the minimum. All this without having to be subjected to an increase of the body temperature, of the cardiac rhythm and of caloric expenditures. What is needed is a product which is very inhibiting at the level of the brain and having few peripheral effects. And here, Triac is a thyroid hormone superior to all the others.
In the case of bodybuilders, all the other thyroid extracts are superior to Triacana. Obviously, one must not forget that during a diet, the transformation of T4 into T3 deteriorates, and that even a supplementation in either T3 or T4 is going to increase the level of Triac.
What remains for the natural bodybuilder?
There are two key elements here.
To detect the moment when the thyroid gland begins to atrophy.
To restart it.
We have seen, a slowing of the thyroid activity translates to a lessening of the basal metabolism. One of the consequences of this is lowering of the temperature. During your diet, if you take your temperature each morning, you will easily detect a weakening of the thyroid gland.
Taking your temperature is therefore the first thing that you should do upon arising. If the drop in temperature persists for a few days, you have two solutions: to lower again the number of calories ingested daily, at the risk of sacrificing musculature, or to stop the diet for a while. Don't forget that the lowering of thyroid activity is a sign that the body tries to protect itself. It is not going to respond as you would wish. Why fight against it? If your body asks for calories, supply them. Therefore if you prepare for a competition, begin well in advance. It is judicious to eat normally for 1 to 2 days each 5, 7, 10, or 15 days of the diet. One of the reasons is to prevent the lowering of the activity of the thyroid gland. This will delay this lowering, but it cannot eliminate it. When you detect a weakness, the best thing is to stop the diet and eat normally (but with care).
What to eat?
Glucagon and cortisol participate in the reduction of thyroid activity while IGF-1 and insulin increase this activity. The act of resuming a normal diet will lower the level of cortisol. In contrast, restarting the secretions of IGF-1 and insulin demands a special strategy. The best thing is to plan meals that will increase the secretion of insulin (which will itself reduce the secretion of glucagon). It is still necessary to take care that this insulin secretion should not be too extreme. It is most valuable when prolonged as opposed to a short burst. It is necessary therefore to prefer duration to intensity.
An example of a meal would be whey protein plus rice. One must absolutely avoid all fats; these slow the secretion of insulin by slowing digestion. Two meals of this type per day are enough (in addition to the others). The ideal would be that one of them would be taken after training. The essential fatty acids will be taken in other meals. One meal rich in omega 3, another in omega 6. It takes about one and a half to two weeks in order for the restarting of the thyroid gland to be strong and lasting. More, if your gland already tended to be slow before the diet. Once again, only the daily taking of the temperature will give you an individualized estimate of the time required for this restart.
To summarize, thyroid extracts are not required during a diet, especially if it is a question of taking Triac. It is sufficient to respond to the needs of our body. The thermometer is our best ally for dealing with the thyroid gland. While periodically resuming a normal diet is not the most efficient means to lose weight, it is the most healthy for losing fat while saving our muscles.
TweetLengthy but well worth the read- Thank You IPL