The thyroid is one the most important glands in our body. It secretes hormones that control just about everything – weight management, energy production, temperature regulation and even sleep. Hormones serve as messengers controlling and coordinating different functions throughout the body. I like to think of the thyroid as the metronome of the body, it sets the pace of all these hormones. Most people are unsure where to find the thyroid gland (hint: its roughly 5cm wide and lies just below the skin, underneath your Adams apple) and even more are confused about how to support its function.
Since the thyroid sets the pace of all the hormones in your body, you can imagine if it’s not functioning well you are probably going to notice. There are two main types of thyroid conditions – underactive (also known as Hypothyroidism) and overactive (also known as Hyperthyroidism). If you suspect you may have a thyroid condition, the first step is to chat with your doctor or Naturopath and have some simple blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. I would recommend you read our post on ‘Why your thyroid test might be wrong’ first, as often subclinical thyroid disorders can get overlooked by medical practitioners.
The most accurate way to determine if there is anything wrong with your thyroid OR to determine where along the process there may be an issue is to test the following markers:
- Free T4
- Free T3
- Thyroid Antibodies
- Reverse T3
From these results your Naturopath can work out what is really triggering your thyroid problems. It could be iodine deficiency, hormone imbalance, environment toxicity or inflammation!
As the thyroid affects the entire body, if results do indicate a problem, conventional medicine will immediately resort to prescription drugs. Thankfully thyroid function responds incredibly well (some would even say ‘best’) to food and lifestyle modifications. Eating naturally and utilising nutrients from food and therapeutic supplements is one of the best ways to support and optimise thyroid function. Food is medicine and what we put in our body dictates how we feel and how we heal, therefore the way we eat can either help or hurt the thyroid gland.
Four foods to better thyroid health
The thyroid gland needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones. Iodine is an essential component for good thyroid health. Unfortunately, Australian soil severely lacks iodine, so our natural consumption of this important nutrient must come from other sources. You are probably most aware of iodised salt? Did you also know that as of 2009 all packaged bread must be made with iodised salt due to the re-emergence of iodine deficiency! Thankfully you don’t need to up your salt intake or start eating over processed bread, why not include seaweed into your diet? Seaweed is a rich natural source of iodine. As an alternative to iodine supplements, eating plenty of toxin free sea vegetables or seaweeds is a great way to boost your intake. As a country, Japan, who boasts a healthy daily intake of seaweed, has a longstanding iodine sufficiency among their population. Seaweed can be found in lots of products – spirulina, hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori and kombu, all of which are loaded with iodine and other beneficial minerals. Feeling a bit squeamish about eating seaweed? Of course you can opt for some nori wrapped sushi or why not add dulse or kombu to your next batch of soup. These seaweeds are rich in flavour and function similar to stocks or broths! Seaweed also contains essential amino acids, vitamins A, C and E, omega 3 fatty acids as well as zinc, calcium, iron and magnesium…. Just in case you need any more convincing.
The highest amounts of selenium are found in thyroid tissue, as the thyroid requires this nutrient to metabolise thyroid hormones. The humble button mushroom is often overlooked for its superfood properties, but it is actually one of the richest sources of selenium.
Selenium is also required in the thyroid for the conversion of T4 to T3 and brazil nuts are also one of the best natural sources of this nutrient. In fact, three brazil nuts a day is enough to give you a healthy dose of this powerful antioxidant and thyroid mineral.
Zinc is just as important as selenium for the conversion of T4 to the active T3 and zinc is required for so many other physiological functions, it’s actually one of the most common minerals my new patients are deficient in! Surprisingly, pumpkin seeds have a healthy dose of zinc. I recommend consuming your pumpkin seeds raw to boost your intake as roasting and toasting these precious seeds will deplete their zinc status.
One food to steer clear of…..
If you need a reminder have a read about my thoughts on soy in an earlier post. If you struggle with thyroid function or you suspect there may be something going on with your thyroid, it is best to avoid soy products. Research does suggest soy products may interfere with iodine absorption (and our dietary intake of iodine is already compromised!) and thyroid function.
If you suspect you may have a thyroid condition and you would like some free advice from our qualified Naturopaths, drop in to the Herb Bar anytime Monday through Friday from 8am – 1pm or Saturday 9am – 1pm. No appointment necessary and a qualified Naturopath will be on hand ready to assist you with free advice, practitioner grade natural supplements and herbal medicines. The Herb Bar is located at Mullen Natural Health Centre, 16 Murray Street Hamilton NSW 2303.