Your thyroid really is a fascinating part of your body.  

It's a gland that plays a key role in so many different areas and systems - many of which you may not even realise are related (such as your digestion, reproductive hormones and your energy levels).  Every tissue and organ within your body needs thyroid hormones in order to function. 

Therefore, it goes without saying that our thyroid gland is definitely something we want to take good care of...so that it in turn takes good care of us.  


What Is Your Thyroid...And What Does It Actually Do?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck.  Its job is to produce the hormones  'tetraiodothyronine' (T4), and and 'triiodothyronine' (T3).  These hormones play a central role in your metabolism, which includes how effectively you burn food for energy as well directing growth, renewal and repair processes.   T4 is produced in greater quantities than T3, however, T3 is the more active of the two hormones.  Plus, your body also needs to break down some of your T4 into T3 via a process of conversion in organs like your liver and peripheral tissues.  When this process is bumping along at the ideal rate, you are likely to be feeling pretty good, and your thyroid function is optimal.

Healthy hormone production and conversion from T4 to T3 is reliant on certain nutrients - in particular, iodine, zinc and selenium (and to a lesser degree, iron) and the amino acid tyrosine.  And thyroid function can be negatively affected by factors such as toxic metals (lead, cadmium, mercury), nutrient deficiencies, illness, surgery or stress.


What Can Go Wrong?

Thyroid disorders are reasonably common - and are far more likely to be found in females than males, due to the influence of reproductive hormones.  Here are the most common thyroid issues that can occur:

  • A) Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases. There are two common thyroid diseases that affect the thyroid gland – Hashimotos Disease and Graves Disease.  It's important to recognise that in both of these conditions, it's not the thyroid gland that is the problem - it's the immune system that is the culprit.  Our immune system is powerful, and capable of mounting an incredibly strong response to anything it views as a threat - and in the case of autoimmune thyroid disorders, it's the poor thyroid gland that is the victim caught in the middle - and as a consequence suffers the collateral damage!  In Hashimotos Disease, the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland over time, and thyroid is unable to keep up production of the hormones T4 & T3.  Graves Disease occurs when the immune system causes the thyroid to become over-stimulated.
  • B) Post-Partum Thyroiditis.  This is a reasonably common thyroid disorder estimated to affect around 1 in 10 women who have recently had a baby.  The thyroid usually regains its balance, however if you have experienced this condition then you are more likely to have further thyroid problems later in life, and it is a good idea to have your thyroid function checked regularly.
  • C) Sub-Clinical Hypothyroidism.   A sub-clinically sluggish thyroid means that you can be experiencing symptoms of a thyroid imbalance, yet blood tests show up as being ‘fine’.  What this means is that the thyroid is 'ok' but not optimal - yet blood test results are not showing up in the range of warranting medical intervention.  This is probably the scenario that I see the most with women I'm working with in the clinic - and it's something I'm always taking into consideration, as well as checking via pathology where possible.  From a naturopathic point of view, there is a HUGE difference between test results that are 'normal' and those that are 'optimal' - and it's important to be on the lookout for potential thyroid problems before they become serious enough to need medical treatment. 


Symptoms Of An Unhappy Thyroid:

As mentioned above, because the thyroid is dynamic in how it functions, thyroid symptoms can result from a thyroid gland that is running too fast...or too slow.  Sometimes they can even overlap (an overactive thyroid may become underactive following medical treatment, for instance).

Symptoms of an overactive thyroid can include:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety, palpitations, nervousness or an inability to relax
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Eye problems such as protruding eyes, or a gritty feeling in the eye

As an underactive thyroid slows down a lot of your bodily functions, the following symptoms are common:

  • Fatigue, exhaustion (even when you have had enough rest)
  • Low moods and depression
  • Concentration problems, ‘brain fog’, slow thinking
  • Feeling the heat or cold more than others
  • Unusual pains or cramps – often the sole of the foot feels hot or tingly
  • Cholesterol issues – high cholesterol despite a healthy diet and lifestyle
  • Hot flushes not related to menopause
  • Unexplained iron deficiency
  • Shortness of breath
  • Gut upsets such as constipation
  • Period problems like irregular periods or unexplained infertility
  • Dry skin or hair, and in particular thinning of the outer edge of the eyebrows
  • Weight gain, or difficulty losing weight even when watching diet and exercise


What Can You Do To Keep Your Thyroid Happy?

  • Stay proactive when it comes to stress.  The thyroid is easily upset by stress and it communicates with your body’s stress system.  Take time out when you need it, get some exercise, and try to get enough rest to recharge your batteries.
  • Break up with dieting.  Restricting your food intake too much, for too long can play havoc with your thyroid function, and ultimately slow your metabolism down.   This includes fasting – it can really backfire on your thyroid!  Our Metabolic Balance program is fantastic for supporting thyroid health, as it provides guidance around sensible portion sizes and a lovely balance of eating with appropriate meal timings built in. We've seen some great results with clients who have come to us with poor thyroid function.
  • Eat nutrient-rich foods.  Aim for foods rich in the minerals iodinezinc and selenium. such as wild-caught seafood, raw nuts and seeds, and plenty of fresh vegetables.  These will help provide your thyroid with the building blocks it needs for healthy thyroid hormones.  A good proportion of the population do not get enough iodine or zinc in their daily food intake, and Australia has quite selenium-poor soils, which can also lead to inadequate intake of selenium.  This can reduce the metabolism and how effectively your thyroid hormones communicate with the rest of your body.
  • Avoid exposure to toxins as much as possible.  The heavy metal mercury can interfere with proper thyroid function.  While seafood is important as a source of iodine, certain types of fish (such as flake and swordfish) tend to accumulate mercury more readily than other types of seafood such as wild-caught salmon, or shellfish.  Fluoride (which most of us are exposed to via toothpaste and/or fluoridated water) can also be problematic for the thyroid gland, as it competes with iodine for absorption.  
  • Look after your gut health.  If you have already been diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease, or you have another type of autoimmune condition then paying attention to the health of your gut and microbiome (gut bacteria population) is crucial.  Remember, 70% of our immune system is located in our gut, and disruption of our gut immunity is often where autoimmune diseases begin.

At the end of the day, because our thyroid gland plays such a pivotal role in our health, it deserves a bit of TLC.  And keeping it happy is well worth the effort!


Tags

fatigue, thyroid, weight gain


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