Home » How Does Air Quality Affect Thyroid Health?

How Does Air Quality Affect Thyroid Health?

A USC research study found that air pollution may affect the fetal thyroid development. (Photo/Courtesy of the South Coast Air Quality Management District)

This is a guest post from Thyroid Advisor.


Every year, air pollution gets worse and worse, and it seems as if there is no way out of it. There are many negative effects that come from breathing that polluted air, and while we might not be aware of them, at the moment, the consequences are unavoidable.

The rate of lung cancer, infertility, cardiovascular diseases, and brain development issues continue to grow due to air pollution.

In this article, we explore the many negative effects that the common air pollutants have on our thyroid health.

A quick review on your thyroid gland

The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland, which means that the hormones that it produces get released within the body itself, where they have many important functions. Your thyroid gland is located in the front part of your neck, shaped in the form of a butterfly.

The thyroid gland is responsible for producing and secreting two very important hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

It is estimated that one in 20 people have some kind of a thyroid issue.

Basically, there are two common disorders that can happen – hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

Both have negative effects on every single cell in the human body, considering how many body functions are regulated with the help of thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Swelling, nodes, cancer, and thyroid eye disease are severe issues related to your thyroid gland health. (1)

What do you need to know about air pollution?

Air pollution is the term that is being used to refer to the release of pollutants in the air. These pollutants are known to have quite the negative effects, not only on our bodies but also, on the whole planet Earth in general, endangering every aspect of it.

As for its impact on our health, there is a long list of negative effects and health issues that are happening due to the enormous air pollution. The most vulnerable of them all is of course fetuses, infants, small children, pregnant women, chronically diseased patients, and elderly people.

The biggest negative effects that air pollution has regarding our health are:

  • Increased risk of respiratory diseases, especially lung cancer
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and worsening of the symptoms of the previously diagnosed cardiovascular diseases (2)
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and many other nervous system diseases (3)
  • Infertility within men and women (4)
  • Increased risk and worsening of sleep apnea
  • Irritation of the eyes, throat, and nose
  • Interrupted brain development within children

There are many other negative effects that come from breathing polluted air on a daily basis.

What are the negative effects of air pollution on our thyroid health?

Can you guess how your thyroid gland can be endangered due to the presence of air pollution around us?

Because know this – your thyroid gland, like any other organ and body tissue in your body, is not spared when it comes to breathing polluted air day after day.

The truth is that air pollution has numerous negative effects when it comes to our thyroid health as well, unfortunate as that is.

To say it in the simplest way possible, there are three pollutants that we should be afraid of when it comes to our thyroid function with those being perchlorate, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxin.

Perchlorate is usually found in contaminated drinking water, while polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin are to be found in the polluted air that we keep breathing. These two pollutants, among many others, endanger our thyroid function, as well as, every single other body function.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), despite the fact that they are banned in the United States, are still present in the environment, harming our thyroid glands. The PCBs endanger our thyroid function in many ways.

For example, a scientific study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found out that the PCBs actually bind to the thyroid transporting hormone receptors, making it hard for the thyroid hormones to bind to the existing thyroid transporting hormone receptors due to their noticeably reduced number. (5)

Another study published in 2003 found proof that by binding to the thyroid transporting proteins, the PCBs actually reduce the circulating T4 in the human body, and impairing the enzymes in the liver which are needed in order for T3 to be converted into T4. (6)

The negative symptoms of thyroid disorders might be the work of the PCBs in the air and everywhere around you, according to some scientific studies. (7)

Dioxins are to be found in the polluted air in some parts of the world as well. They also have plenty of negative effects on the human body, including our thyroid gland. Dioxins have been found to clearly reduce the thyroid function, and reduce the levels of T4 in the body.

The researchers that came to this conclusion also stated that women are more likely to suffer from the negative effects of the dioxins on their thyroid function as compared with men, although there is still no clear result why that is. (8)

A study from 2012 revealed some interesting findings as well. The present chemicals in the polluted air are affecting the thyroid peroxide (TPO) activity. Thyroid peroxide (TPO) is an important glycoprotein that is responsible for the transfer of the iodine so that the thyroid hormones production can happen.

Breathing all of that polluted air causes the TPO activity to slightly drop or slightly increase, affecting our thyroid hormone levels. (9) No matter if it causes the TPO activity to increase or drop, the effects are still unwanted, since it brings us closer to the risk of suffering either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

This news is certainly not good for patients who have been already diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, as their symptoms are expected to worsen due to these events.

The presence of heavy metals, especially mercury, in the polluted air can have further negative effects on our thyroid health as well.

Mercury has numerous negative effects on our bodies, but it especially targets our thyroid gland, threatening to put it at the risk of developing hypothyroidism and even autoimmune disease, because it is so easy for your thyroid to mistake mercury for iodine and store it instead.

Since iodine, and not mercury, is required for the proper thyroid hormone production, hypothyroidism may occur. An autoimmune disease may possibly develop as well. (10, 11)

Negative effects of the polluted air on the thyroid function and brain development within fetuses and infants

Unfortunately, before you have even laid your hand on your little one, air pollution might be the one that has beat you in that race.

Despite the fact that the fetuses are free to develop over the period of nine months in their mother’s safe and sound womb, they can still be affected by the negative effects of air pollution, especially when it comes to their thyroid function, and with that, to their brain development. (12)

The present PM2.5 and PM10 particles in the polluted air have been noticed to cause an increase in the total thyroxine (TT4) levels within the fetuses’ bodies. This is unfortunate, since it is of vital importance for the thyroid hormone levels to remain stable within the nine months of pregnancy within the mother, and the fetus as well.

It has been suggested that babies who have developed within the presence of polluted air around them, are at an increased risk of being born with low birth weight.

And since the thyroid hormones are closely involved in the brain development, any present interruptions in their production which have resulted in either an increase or a decrease in certain thyroid hormones can lead to intellectual deficits.

Congenital hypothyroidism may also occur due to the low thyroid hormones levels being present over the nine-month period of time. (13)

How to protect our thyroid against air pollution?

It is of essential importance to work on improving the air quality around us. And until we do that, we have to put a lot of time and work into protecting us against the harmful effects that air pollution has on our bodies.

It is especially important for pregnant women and their fetuses, infants, chronically ill patients, and the elderly to be protected against air pollution as much as possible.

Some great tips that will help you to minimize the negative effects of air pollution on your thyroid, and your whole body in general are:

  • Checking the daily air pollution forecasts and avoiding to spend too much time outside on days when the levels of air pollution are high
  • Investing in a good air purifier for your home and good air filters for your car
  • Placing air purifying plants in your home and office such as aloe vera and spider plant
  • Introducing natural antioxidants through your diet
  • Exercising regularly and eating clean for a healthy body and mind.


The negative effects that air pollution has on our bodies, especially on our thyroid glands are far too many for us to ignore.

It is never too late to start protecting your body against the negative effects of air pollution. Protect yourself against autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism, and most importantly, if it pertains to you, protect your baby from these harmful effects as well.

With just a few simple methods you will be able to minimalize the harm that your whole body is under due to the polluted air that you are breathing each second.


About Thyroid Advisor

Thyroid Advisor is a resource for those interested in two primary topics: the relationship and role of the thyroid with other body functions and natural supplements to improve the health and function of the thyroid. Articles written by the Thyroid Advisor team are carefully reviewed and edited by qualified medical practitioners, experts, and thyroid patient advocates to ensure the best available information is given to the readers. Resources and research papers from peer-reviewed scientific journals and research papers can be found at the bottom of each published article.

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