Updated: Jul 6, 2019
By Dr Spomenka Bizic, ND
What is the thyroid anyway?
The thyroid is an endocrine gland: this means it produces hormones that the body needs – so, a good way of thinking about the thyroid is that it is a key player in hormonal regulation! When we think of hormones we usually think of the typical male/female hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, however the body has more than just those that is uses to function properly.
The thyroid is located at around the mid/base of the neck. It has two lobes (left and right). When feeling for the thyroid a doctor will check to gauge if it is soft/firm or if there are any nodules or lumps present.
A typical test to screen thyroid health is to check TSH levels (this will tell us if it is over or under working). TSH is actually produced by the brain to regulate thyroid function– the thyroid produces hormones T3 and T4, as well as calcitonin.
These hormones regulate many functions in the body including: metabolism, body temperature, heart rate, digestion, mood, and bone maintenance.
Why is the thyroid important?
Because of the many functions it has, screening the thyroid can be helpful in understanding what is really going on at the root cause of some common health issues such as:
-being overweight or underweight (especially if diet/exercise doesn’t help the situation)
-changes in skin, hair and nails
-increased/decreased bowel transit time (constipation or diarrhea)
-changes in libido
*all of these could be due to a thyroid condition: hyperthyroid, hypothyroid, Grave’s disease, Hashimotos, etc.
How do I know if my thyroid is ok?
Your doctor will usually ask your clinical questions and look for signs/symptoms of thyroid imbalance, a typical test will usually look for just TSH levels. As a Naturopathic Doctor I usually also like to see T3 and T4 levels as these can indicate subclinical hypothyroidism (in cases where TSH is fine – but symptoms are still present).
Onto some practical advice:
The thyroid – like the rest of the organ systems in the body responds best to balance. This means: getting good steady rest (optimizing sleep), eating regular meals, a healthy balanced diet (lots of fruits/veggies and whole foods), lowering stress in your life, addressing any other health issues: quitting smoking, losing weight if indicated, managing depression/anxiety, etc.
Prolonged stress puts the body under strain and activates something called the HPA axis. This axis involves your adrenals (which produce cortisol) and its feedback to the brain and the amount of hormones to release! If we are chronically stressed (even at a low grade), this loop starts to affect the thyroid. Some things you can start doing to manage stress are: walking in nature, less screen time, cutting back on alcohol and processed food, yoga/tai-chi or meditation. Getting a good nights rest and going to bed early.
2. Diet and key nutrients
An anti-inflammatory (less processed food, red meat, alcohol and sugar) diet helps in prevention of stress on the body, but also potentially can prevent auto-immune conditions by regulating our immune system. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, some whole grains/legumes, and healthy sources of protein (think eggs, goat cheese, fish, nuts/seeds) will provide the body with the basic nutrients it needs to support thyroid function.
Some of these nutrients are:
Zinc (pumpkin seeds, green leavy veggies), selenium (brazil nuts), iodine (kelp, seaweed, greens, salt), iron (red meat, legumes, leafy greens) and sometimes vitamin-D (yes, sunshine)– these important nutrients are used by the thyroid the produce its hormones and stay balanced!
A word on iodine: deficiency in iodine is a common cause of hypothyroidism in the West due to lack of this important mineral in our diet – this is why most of our table salt contains iodine! It is highly found in seafood, kelp and other seaweeds and you can also find it in sea salt. It is essential for the thyroid!
If you’re interested in doing a full thyroid panel, this is a test I offer through the clinic. If you’d like to explore alternative treatments or adjuncts to conventional thyroid approaches feel free to inquire for more! You can also check out our next Introduction to Meditation series at the end of the month.
Yours in health,
Dr. Spomenka Bizic ND