The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. It produces the thyroid hormone that can determine your mood, weight, energy level, and the overall condition of your health.
Every organ in the body requires a balanced amount of this hormone for optimal health. If you don’t have enough of this hormone in your body, your metabolism will be in the dumps and you will be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. If this is your diagnosis, you will be cold most of the time, depressed, listless, constipated, have brain fog, experience unexplained weight gain, and your sex hormones will feel like they're on a see-saw or roller coaster.
Woman demonstrating a clear view of the thyroid gland with the two lobes on each side of her windpipe. (Courtesy: Webmedread.info)
If you have too much of the thyroid hormone, your metabolism will seem like it’s running a sprint race, and you will be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. With this condition, you tend to feel nervous, anxious, and panicky. You have frequent bowel movements and you begin to lose weight, even though you're eating more. You will feel weak, and your hands will shake.
During a recent Partners in Health and Biz radio show, Dr. Victor Bernet, MD, Chair of the Division of Endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, explained the difference between an underactive (Hypo) thyroid and overactive thyroid (Hyper) condition.
Hypothyroidism -- “If you’re undiagnosed, and you get really severe deficiency of thyroid hormone, the body doesn’t necessary compensate well," he said. "And then a severe infection or medical condition like a heart attack or stroke can precipitate, and you are due to be even more sick, because you’re starting off with underlying hypothyroidism. So those are already bad enough things as they are, and they can tip you over.”
Most of the time, you will hear women speaking of a thyroid condition, even though men have a thyroid gland as well. In terms of various thyroid conditions, women are five to eight times more likely than men to receive a diagnosis of an unbalanced thyroid problem.
Hyperthyroidism -- “Conversely, the other condition we see is an overactive thyroid," Dr. Bernet explained. "It’s a little bit more complicated than that. So, when we mean an overactive thyroid, you can have excess thyroid hormone in your system, but sometimes the thyroid isn’t pumping it out actively and the thyroid gets inflamed."
If your thyroid is underactive, you could have an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s disease. This disease causes the body to attack and destroy its own thyroid tissue.
In many cases, this condition can be treated with diet, exercise, and making lifestyle changes, however, hormone supplements are often necessary.
A more serious condition of the autoimmune system related to the thyroid gland is called Grave’s disease, which can damage the liver, bones, and heart. Grave's disease can also cause bulging, red, and inflamed eyes, and commonly occurs in women before they turn 40. This condition should also be treated with a healthy diet, lifestyle changes, herbs, and medication when necessary.
Eyes of a Grave's disease patient. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
How to Boost Your Thyroid
If a person is concerned about keeping their thyroid healthy and avoiding thyroid cancer, it is advised that they eat high-quality, pasture-raised meat and wild-caught fish, as well as sea vegetables like kelp, which contain iodine, an element naturally found in thyroid hormone.
Avoid inflammatory foods, fast foods, processed foods, gluten, dairy, eggs, sugar, and caffeine.
In addition, iron, selenium, and zinc minerals also support thyroid function, so we should eat foods which are high in these minerals, including brazil nuts, spinach, grass-fed beef, and pork.
Brazil nuts are high in selenium and have been shown to help regulate the thyroid gland. (Courtesy: Organicfacts.net.)
The vitamins and supplements that should be taken include Omega-3 fats, vitamin A, vitamin B, and Vitamin D.
It’s also important that we reduce our exposure to toxins, get seven to eight hours of sleep per night in a cool, dark room, go to bed the same time every night, and reduce stress. All type of stress will wreak havoc on the thyroid gland. Yoga, walking outdoors, and stretching are all good ways to reduce stress.
Learn more about your thyroid by visiting the American Thyroid Association's website.