Glandular Gladness - The Magical, Mighty Thyroid

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which includes the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thymus, pineal gland, testes, ovaries, adrenal glands, parathyroid, and pancreas. It makes hormones (e.g. T3, T4, free T3 and T4 and reverse T3)) that travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolism, brain and heart function, and reproductive and menstrual cycles.

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that lives just below your Adam’s apple and quietly does its thing without getting much attention until your doctor checks it with their hands during a routine exam. Unless something unusual is found (e.g., swelling) or symptoms manifest that indicate a problem, your doc probably won't take a second look at it. If they do check your thyroid on a blood test, they will often tell you only if your thyroid is within normal range, not if it is functioning optimally or not.

When the thyroid is not functioning properly, a chain reaction of hormonal events takes place that involves many other glands/hormones of the endocrine system and the bodily systems they regulate. The end result is one of two primary types of health conditions: hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underachieve thyroid).

Common Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction

  • Depression
  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • headaches / migraines
  • constipation
  • menstrual irregularities 
  • infertility and/or miscarriage
  • anxiety / panic attacks
  • poor memory
  • Inability to concentrate / focus
  • muscle & joint pain
  • decreased sexual interest
  • cold intolerance
  • swollen abdomen, legs, feet, hands
  • insomnia
  • sleep apnea
  • low body temperature
  • irritability
  • thinning hair
  • acne
  • allergies
  • iron and B12 deficiency
  • dizziness / vertigo
  • high blood pressure
  • gallstones
  • bladder & kidney infections
  • easy bruising
  • osteoporosis

I know, crazy long list, right?! And this isn't even a complete list of all the possible symptoms.

8 Ways to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy

1. Eat from the sea. The sea provides many natural sources of iodine, a building block of the thyroid hormone. Salt has a high concentration of iodine, but it can raise blood pressure. Instead, opt for saltwater fish, or try seaweed in a salad. Cod and halibut are high in selenium, which protects the thyroid gland during periods of stress and helps regulate hormone synthesis. Fish oil is also excellent since it provides essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation.

2. Eat foods high in B vitamins, which are precursors to thyroid hormones and influence cell energy. Balance your diet with pasture-raised meats and poultry, nuts (especially Brazil nuts) and seeds. Red meat provides iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and other minerals essential for thyroid hormone function, and the health of other bodily systems affected by thyroid disorders (skin, hair, metabolism).

3. Avoid dietary pitfalls that can compromise thyroid function. If your diet is too low in protein, fat or carbohydrates or too high in sugar, alcohol or soy products, you could be setting yourself up for thyroid problems. There is also a lot of talk about "goitrogens" or cruciferous vegetables being a potential enemy to the thyroid, but after a lot of reading and research I believe their benefits outweigh any potential problems, especially if they are cooked and not consumed excessively.

4. Love your liver and listen to your gut. If your liver is stressed in can inhibit your ability to convert T4 to T3 and produce thyroid binding globulin (TBG). Gut health must also be addressed and optimized to achieve healthy thyroid function.

5. Catch some rays. Vitamin D is also crucial for thyroid health and a plethora of other functions in your body. Try to get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) several times a week and take a Vit. D supplement if your live in dark climate or don't get outside often enough.

6. Take time to unwind. A daily relaxation practice, such as just 10 minutes a day of silence and deep breathing, can make a difference in the state of mind and body. Stressed adrenal glands are often at the root of thyroid problems, so adrenal health should be addressed before beginning thyroid treatment.

7. Move your body! Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Yoga is particularly good for thyroid health, including poses such as butterfly, fish pose, shoulder stand, and child’s pose.

5. Get supplement-al insurance. Our diets aren’t perfect, so supplementing with a vitamin/mineral or botanical (herb) regimen can provide extra insurance against exposure to stress, toxins, and even genetic predispositions. Be sure to consult with your wellness practitioner about the best nutraceutical options for you.

If you suspect a thyroid condition, talk with your doctor or wellness practitioner right away. There are a variety of tests (micronutrients, thyroid-adrenal, hormones) that can help them create an appropriate treatment plan.

 

Resources

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. “Natural Therapies for Hypothyroidism.” October 11, 2013. 

American Thyroid Association. ATA Patient Education Web Brochures. Accessed May 2015.

Hormone Health Network. “Your Thyroid: What You Need to Know.” Accessed May 2015.

Women to Women. “Alternative Hypothyroidism Treatment.” Accessed May 2015.

 

The information offered by this post is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this web site.