Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty? Or keep trying different diets, only to stay at the same weight? Are your hands and feet always cold?
If so, you can thank your thyroid gland.
Your thyroid gland is your body’s thermometer and metabolic chief. It also plays a large role in regulating your energy. Let’s explore!
The thyroid gland is the small butterfly shaped gland that is located under the “Adam’s apple” or larynx in your neck. The thyroid operates by taking iodine from food, combining it with an amino acid called tyrosine and thus creating two thyroid hormones known as T3 and T4.
The pituitary gland controls the thyroid gland by regulating the amount of hormones circulating in the body. When the thyroid hormones are too low, the pituitary sends a signal to the thyroid gland to produce more and vice versa. You can think of the thyroid gland as the body’s furnace and the pituitary gland as the body’s thermometer. The thyroid hormones are like the heat in your body. When the heat gets back to the thermometer, it turns off. When the body is too cool, the thermometer starts to produce more heat.
Then there’s one more key player in the system of your thyroid. The hypothalamus gland. This gland determines the heat setting your body needs. It is the gland that is responsible for stimulating the pituitary gland. You can think of the hypothalamus as the person who decides at which temperature the thermometer should be set at.
As you can see, there are many parts involved in regulating your thyroid hormones. Assuming that everything is functioning optimally, your thyroid would be balancing your breathing rate, heart rate, nervous system, body weight, muscular strength, menstrual cycle, body temperature, cholesterol levels and much more.
But let’s say that you have an imbalance in your thyroid gland, then what? Well, if your thyroid gland is OVER-producing, called hyperthyroidism, you may experience:
- Anxiety, Irritability or moodiness
- Nervousness, hyperactivity
- Sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures
- Hand trembling (shaking)
- Hair loss
- Missed or light menstrual periods
- Weight loss or trouble putting on weight
The medical recommendation for this is often to slow down the thyroid gland with medication or to slow down your heart rate to avoid the feeling of palpitations. However, many people with hyperthyroidism go undiagnosed.
When you are UNDER-producing thyroid hormones, also called hypothyroidism, you may experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin and hair
- Sensitivity to cold temperature
- Frequent, heavy periods
- Joint and muscle pain
- Difficulty losing weight
There are over 12 million Americans that experience this type of thyroid imbalance. And one in seven of these people do not respond well to prescribed medication.
When it comes to nutrition, the remedies for your thyroid gland are often overlooked. Lifestyle plays a large role in how your body regulates its hormones and health. Giving it the tools it needs through healthy eating is one of the best, most gentlest ways to enable your body to heal. Why is this prescription often overlooked? Medical doctors are generally not trained in nutrition. If you suspect you may have an underactive thyroid, here are ways to support your thyroid gland that do not involve drugs.
Iodine rich foods – Iodine is the key nutrient used by the thyroid gland. It also helps with the metabolization of fats and is important in physical and mental development. Foods that are high in iodine include iodized salt, seafood, saltwater fish and kelp. You can also find trace amounts in asparagus, dulse, garlic, lima beans, mushrooms, sea salt, sesame seeds, soybeans, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard and turnip greens.
Some foods, however, can block the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland when eaten raw in large amounts. These include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, peaches, pears, spinach and turnips.
Wait, spinach can support the thyroid and hinder it? Let’s explore this further.
Spinach is considered a “goitrogenic” food, along with the other foods listed above. Basically speaking, it is believed to promote an enlargement of the thyroid gland. However, by gently steaming or sauteing your spinach, you will be breaking down the properties that could enhance thyroid enlargement. Other foods fall into this category too. It is true that cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower also contain these natural goitrogenic chemicals that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. As mentioned, the goitrogens in these foods are inactivated by cooking, so there is no need to forego the valuable antioxidant and cancer-protective effects cruciferous vegetables afford. It’s also important to note that normal consumption of goitrogenic foods will not cause a goiter. The benefits far outweigh the risk. In fact, the fear of goitrogenic foods is an example of how people have taken a study to conclude that eating any small amount of these foods can cause an enlargement of the thyroid or throw you into a hormonal disbalance.
There are a couple different things that many people overlook which could be more toxic to their thyroid gland than a spinach salad. What are they? Fluoride and Chlorine. Where do you find these? Toothpaste and Tap water.
Here’s the science, on a very basic level, behind why tap water and toothpaste could be more toxic to your hormonal health than an extra serving of cruciferous veggies (which have been proven to fight cancer and help your body detoxify). Do you remember your periodic table? If you have a quick look:
You will see that iodine has the same outer ring as chlorine and fluorine. Which means, that they respond the same way, attaching to other atoms that have the same properties. So, when you have too much fluoride and chlorine in your system, this can disrupt the opportunity for iodine to be metabolized. By reducing this disbalance, you can encourage the body to use the iodine that it is ingesting.
How do you do this? If you have hypothyroidism, you may want to consider using non-fluoride toothpaste or drinking reverse-osmosis water. This will lower your intake of iodine competing elements. Start here and notice if you find a difference, feeling more energy and having a more normal body temperature. Enjoy your cruciferous veggies, one daily serving either raw or cooked, trusting that this will not promote a thyroid imbalance. The benefits of these vegetables will support your immune system and detoxification system, which are also vital in keeping you from experiencing hormonal imbalance.
Finally, if you experience severe symptoms of hyper or hypo-thyroidism, please take the time to consult your physician and ask to have your TSH levels, and also your T3 and T4 levels, checked. It is possible that you have a subclinical thyroid imbalance. In which case, exploring natural remedies will be paramount to feeling better.