What is the thyroid, and why is it important to keep this little gland healthy, you may ask?First a bit about the thyroid to put you up to speed. The thyroid is a gland that lies below your Adam’s apple and above the notch of your breastbone. This little gland controls the metabolism in every cell of our body, through hormones called T4 and T3 Thyroid hormones. The secretion is being controlled by the brain, where the hypothalamus send signals (TRH) down to the pituitary gland in the brain, and further signaling down to the thyroid (TSH). In healthy individuals this signaling pathway maintain a perfect harmony between the signaling hormones and the thyroid hormones. In disease, this is when we start observing irregularities in the bloodworks.
Now what may happen to the thyroid? One increasingly more common abnormality is the underproduction of thyroid hormones. The thyroid start to struggle to produce enough hormones to sustain a normal metabolism in the body. This causes the brain to send increasing signaling hormones, as if saying, keep up guys! This may push the thyroid into producing enough. Even so, if this situation lasts, there may be hard for the thyroid to produce enough thyroid hormones, no matter how much (big brother) is pushing it along. Here symptoms of what we call hypothyroidism may appear, which include lethargy/fatigue, brain fog, brittle hair and nails, hair loss, weight gain, poor memory and concentration and so on. This we treat with supplementing with thyroid hormones T4 and T3.
The thyroid gland may also start producing too many thyroid hormones, usually due to an inflammation in the gland (or parts of the gland). The feedback effect on the brain is opposite, where there is a reduction of the signaling hormones TSH, trying to slow the thyroid activity, as if saying Woooo there! This may also work for a while, but may lead to sudden og gradual onset of what we call hyperthyroidism, where symptoms include anxiety, sensation of a fast beating heart, insomnia, weight loss, dizziness and many more. Here treatment is not so straight forward, and include medications to decrease the thyroid activity, and maybe radio iodine and/or surgical resection of the gland.
So why does this concern you, dear reader? Well, I believe in taking care of this gland, before abnormalities occur is a great preventative measure. And now finally we are getting to the good stuff. How to take care of your thyroid. There are three nutrients which are essential for the thyroid to function optimally, and these are
Also, Vitamin D, which is now considered to function more like a hormone, will potentially influence the thyroid hormones. So, how can one ensure to maintain good levels of these nutrients? Iodine used to be sufficient before when ingesting dairy. This is unfortunately not true anymore. The simple reason for this is the cows diet lack this mineral. To get good amounts of iodine it is important to ingest foods from the sea (and I am not talking about omega 3 capsules). Seafood (non-harvested) and shellfish contain decent amounts of iodine. Even so, seaweed is far superior. Seaweed such as kelp contain good amounts of iodine. In my practice, I use iodine supplements frequently when I see this lacking, as this has many health benefits, including aiding the thyroid and gastrointestinal tract. Frequently there is a boost in energy upon taking the kelp supplement. A note of caution though – When there is an inflammation in the thyroid, leading to hyperthyroidism, then it is not advisable to take iodine supplements, as it may worsen the condition.
Selenium is easier to come across. I frequently advice my patients to ingest basil nuts on a regular basis, as these nuts contain good amounts of selenium. Zinc is in many different foods, including seeds and nuts, particularly pumpkin seeds, meat and seafood, such as oysters. Vitamin D we boost by being exposed to the sun. While this may be easier during the summer months, during the winter this may not be so. Therefore, taking a vitamin D supplement in the dark months of the year is a good way to maintain a healthy level of this essential vitamin.
There are also other underlying mechanisms to thyroid abnormalities that functional medical practitioners are aware of. These include possible food intolerance, gut flora imbalance (particularly fungal), and of course genetic predispositions. There is also increasing evidence that chronically elevated stress-levels may influence the thyroid. When considering food intolerance, I have countless examples of thyroid abnormalities being normalized after a period of gluten free diet. A dairy free diet may also do the trick. One of the most effective ways to limit stress is to sleep well. As I covered in the article on sleep, there are also many other ways to calm down the body-mind.When the gut flora is in an imbalance the first step is decreasing the amount of refined sugar ingested, and also boosting the beneficial flora with probiotics. This may gradually lead to a better flora, and consequently a better immune and hormone balance. Here we will go more in depth in later articles.