Optimizing Thyroid Function
It might be tiny, but thyroid gland is powerful! According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. What’s even more staggering, is that up to 60% of those with a thyroid condition are unaware of it!
Located just below your Adam’s apple, in the middle of the lower neck, is a butterfly shaped gland responsible for the regulation of your inner state of balance (also referred to as homeostasis). There are generally three categories of malfunction: Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and autoimmune disease. The effects of malfunctioning (either over or under active) thyroid can manifest in various ways:
- Sluggishness, fatigue and difficulty getting things done
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Elevated LDL (that’s the bad cholesterol)
- Irritability, anxiety, and/or rapid heart beat
Let’s take a minute to find out more about what the thyroid does, how to know if there’s a problem, and most importantly optimizing thyroid function.
Thyroid Function Overview
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, primarily T3 and T4 but has effects on production of other hormones as well. Hormones travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolism, brain and heart function, and reproductive and menstrual cycles.
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 or hypothyroidism. (Autoimmune disease often results in either hypo- or hyper- function)
Hyperthyroidism results when the thyroid is overactive. Think of hyperthyroidism like a butterfly that can’t stop fluttering its wings. Everything is on overdrive, including metabolism, frequency of bowels, emotions (anxiousness), increased sweating, and for women, very light menstruation or cessation of the menstrual cycle. Symptoms often include feeling hot and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. There are also bouts of exhaustion from trying to maintain this intense state of arousal and it often puts the adrenal glands on overdrive.
Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid is underactive. This is more common condition of the two. In this case, the butterfly just can’t get its wings to get going. Weight gained, sluggishness, and brittle hair and nails are very common symptoms. These are also often accompanied by feeling cold and tired, depressed, and often suffering from constipation. Menstruation for women with hypothyroidism is often irregular and heavy.
5 Ways for Optimizing Thyroid Function Naturally
- Eat from the sea. The sea provides many natural sources of iodine, a building block of the thyroid hormone. Table salt has a high concentration of iodine because it’s been fortified, but it can also raise blood pressure. Sea salt is also a good source of natural iodine, but should also be used sparingly if you are having water retention issues or concerned about hypertension. Instead, you may choose to opt for saltwater fish, or seaweed. Cod and halibut are high in selenium, which protects the thyroid gland during periods of stress and helps regulate hormone synthesis. Fish oil provides essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation, which plays a role in causing autoimmune diseases.
- Eat from the earth. Eat foods high in B vitamins, which are precursors to thyroid hormones and influence cell energy. Balance your diet with poultry, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains (avoid refined grains* like bread and cereals). Red meat provides iron, zinc, magnesium, and other minerals essential for thyroid hormone function, and the health of other bodily systems affected by thyroid disorders (skin, hair, metabolism).
- Relax. A daily relaxation practice, such as just 10 minutes a day of silence, deep breathing, or meditation can make a big difference in the state of mind and as a result, the body.
- Move! 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. Not the yoga type? No problem! Any exercise, as long as you’re consistent, can be beneficial.
- Get supplement-al insurance. Our diets aren’t always perfect, so supplementing with a vitamin/mineral or botanical (herb) regimen can provide extra insurance against exposure to stress, toxins, and perhaps your own family history. Confused about what nutraceutical product is best for you? Talk to a nutritionist or someone qualified to evaluate your need and give appropriate recommendations. (email me to find out about the Supplement Overhaul).
*A note on refined grains: Flour is often fortified with bromine, an element that resembles iodine. Unfortunately, when ingested bromine often replaces iodine in the thyroid, causing the thyroid to under-perform. You can find “unbrominated flour” products, but in general this is yet another good reason to avoid refined carbohydrates, and stick to whole grains.
If you suspect a thyroid condition, talk with your wellness provider right away. There are a variety of tests that can help your doctor and clinical nutritionist create an appropriate and integrative treatment plan for optimizing thyroid function and re-balancing your hormones.
- American Thyroid Association. “General Information/Press Room.” Retrieved July 1, 2015, from http://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. “Natural Therapies for Hypothyroidism.” October 11, 2013. http://www.naturopathic.org/blog_home.asp?Display=1452
- American Thyroid Association. ATA Patient Education Web Brochures. Accessed May 2015. http://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/ata-patient-education-web-brochures/
- Hormone Health Network. “Your Thyroid: What You Need to Know.” Accessed May 2015. http://www.hormone.org/~/media/Hormone/Files/Infographics/Thyroid%20low%20res%20EN.pdf
- Women to Women. “Alternative Hypothyroidism Treatment.” Accessed May 2015. https://www.womentowomen.com/thyroid-health/alternative-hypothyroidism-treatment-2/