Did you know that the thyroid gland affects how we deal with stress, make energy from our food, the health of our skin and hair, supports fertility and in fact nearly all hormonally controlled functions including our appetite?
This butterfly shaped gland that sits at the bottom of the neck influences how we feel on a daily basis and how we eat can make a big difference to how well it functions.
What is your thyroid gland?
Your thyroid gland is located on the front of your neck, below – on men - where the Adam’s apple sits. This gland is part of your endocrine system. The thyroid’s main role includes growth in the earlier stages of life (good thyroid health starts when you are in the womb), and controlling metabolism throughout our life by producing and secreting various hormones that all have different roles to play.
Thyroid dysfunction and disease
The British Thyroid foundation state that 1 in 20 people suffer from a thyroid condition but there could also be more people suffering from thyroid imbalance so mild that symptoms have not yet been detected or diagnosed by a doctor. Thyroid conditions vary from problems with hormone production, hormone conversion and those involving the immune system. At certain times of life we can be more at risk to thyroid issues – for example during pregnancy or around peri-menopause and menopause for women.
What are some of the most common symptoms of a potential thyroid condition?
Issues with hair and eyebrow loss, changes in body temperature, dry skin, weight loss and weight gain, fatigue and lethargy, problems with sleep, mood, brain fog and women may experience changes in their menstrual cycle. In more serious cases, a visible goiter may appear on the neck or the eyes make appear bulged.
Those with an establish serious (or suspected) thyroid condition should look for support with a doctor and qualified nutrition practitioner, but what could we all be doing to naturally support our thyroid gland?
4 methods of supporting our thyroid gland
Iodine contributes to the normal production of thyroid hormones and normal thyroid function. Sadly, research has shown that around 50% of people are iodine deficient and, worldwide, low dietary iodine is the leading cause of hypothyroidism (a low functioning thyroid).
Foods that contain iodine: seaweeds such as kelp or spirulina and also fish, seafood, dairy products, beans and lentils.
Selenium contributes to normal thyroid function. Selenium’s role is to support thyroid hormone conversion. Research has shown there has been a decline in the amount of selenium available in soil over the decades. Dietary intakes of selenium have fallen in the last 20 years so we all need to make a greater effort to maintain good levels.
Foods that contain selenium: Vegetables, high levels are found in Brazil nuts, other nuts and seeds, meat and fish. Selenium can be toxic at certain levels so increasing individual nutrient status through low level food state supplementation and diet is best advised.
3. Vitamin A
While there are no claims for vitamin A, this vitamin works biochemically to support the uptake of iodine and is required for actions involving specific thyroid hormones. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to look further into this topic since it’s estimated that 45% of the population struggle to convert plant-sourced beta carotene into retinol vitamin A. If you eat meat, fish and animal by-products such as eggs and cheese you should be getting small amounts of vitamin A via these foods.
4. Supporting the adrenal glands to help the thyroid
Less than optimal thyroid function may benefit from supporting the adrenal glands. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, supporting optimal energy and leading a calmer life are all areas that should be focused on to support a healthy thyroid.
- Go to bed earlier for 8 hours of sleep and include de-stressing activities in your life.
- Make sure you are taking in good levels of B vitamins and the mineral magnesium for energy and relief from fatigue.
- Since ancient Indian times, the wonderful herb ashwagandha (withania) has been used to help men and women ‘adapt’ to life’s challenges. Ashwagandha has also been shown to aid sleep and support a feeling of calm.