Prevent Thyroid Problems
The Butterfly Effect
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
When it comes to what goes on inside our bodies, it’s often the little things that count. Case in point: Your thyroid. Weighing in at less than one ounce, this tiny, butterfly-shaped gland pumps out hormones that have widespread effects on the body. Along with promoting growth, the hormones produced by your thyroid increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure.
This tiny gland also regulates your metabolism – decreasing weight and increasing muscle tone while boosting your energy levels. The thyroid is also crucial to healthy brain chemistry, enhancing our mental alertness and regulating our emotions and behavior. In short, this little gland, located in the lower front part of your neck, rules every function and cell in the body.
Problem is, modern life doesn’t support a healthy thyroid. Stress levels and diet deficiencies take a major toll on the thyroid – and when the thyroid becomes faulty or malfunctions, metabolic disorders occur. But, while there are more than 20 million Americans with thyroid disease, most of them don’t even know they have a thyroid problem!
The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, which is an under-active thyroid. Symptoms include low energy, sensitivity to cold, slow digestion and elimination, weight gain, slow heartbeat and even depression.
Stress – especially if it’s constant – is a major cause of thyroid imbalance. In fact, many people cite unusually stressful experiences before the onset of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). But unrelenting stress can also contribute to the development of hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, once stress and the thyroid gland start interacting, it’s a chicken-egg situation. Stress contributes to thyroid imbalance and the thyroid imbalance affects our ability to deal with stress.
Exercising for 30 minutes a day and learning deep-breathing techniques can help alleviate stress and should be an integral part of any thyroid therapy. Moderate exercise also stimulates the release of thyroid hormones while increase your body’s sensitivities to these hormones. Other stress-busting options include meditation, yoga or tai chi – all of which can help prevent future thyroid problems.
Feeding a healthy thyroid
What you eat can have a huge impact on your thyroid. Deficiencies in vitamin A, magnesium and iron can cause the thyroid to malfunction. Some studies have also shown that people who develop thyroid problems, most notably hypothyroidism, suffer from an iodine deficiency. Iodine combines with the amino acid tyrosine to make both of the hormones produced in the thyroid, so a lack of this trace mineral can lead to their under-production.
Although most of us get all the iodine we need from iodized salt, people on a low- or no-salt diet could be missing out. To boost the amount of iodine you consume, try kelp. Kelp is rich in natural iodine, which supports your thyroid. Another excellent source of natural iodine is walnuts.
Some studies also suggest that certain foods can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower contain natural chemicals that cause the thyroid gland to enlarge by interfering with thyroid hormone synthesis, but cooking these veggies inactivates this effect. Other foods that have a negative impact on existing thyroid conditions include sweet potatoes, lima beans, soy and pearl millet. But, while some practitioners recommend that people with hypothyroidism avoid these foods, none has been proven to cause hypothyroidism in humans. If you have a family history of thyroid problems, limit your intake of these foods to no more than three times a week.
Caffeine can also throw your thyroid out of whack. Every cup of coffee or can of caffeinated soda pop you drink causes your adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, which increases blood sugar levels and therefore energy. But this has negative effects on the thyroid. With the increased energy, the thyroid re-regulates the metabolism and, if repeated every day, the thyroid goes into hibernation. If you can’t give up your morning cup of joe completely, try supplementing with ginseng. Taking between 200 and 500 mg. of a standardized ginseng supplement daily is reported to mitigate the effects of caffeine and stress on the system, including the adrenal gland and thyroid.
Since we don’t always eat foods rich in the nutrients that support a healthy thyroid, supplements are a good way to fill in the blanks. Perhaps the most important is zinc. In one small study, levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine tended to be lower in people with lower blood levels of zinc. In those with low levels, supplementing with zinc increased thyroxine levels. More recently, researchers found that athletes suffering from low hormone levels due to exercise exhaustion were able to reverse the condition by taking a daily zinc supplement for four weeks.
The average American diet frequently provides less than optimum amounts of zinc – and this is especially true for vegetarians. Fortunately, taking a low-potency zinc supplement (15 mg. per day) can fill in dietary gaps. Just be aware that, when it comes to this trace mineral, more isn’t better. Taking too much zinc can cause gastrointestinal upset and regular use of more than 300 mg. a day can even impair your immune function.
If you do take a zinc supplement for more than a few days, you also need to take supplemental copper since zinc inhibits copper absorption. Some sources recommend a 10:1 ratio of zinc to copper. Evidence suggests that no more that 2 mg. of copper per day is needed to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency. But before you get a separate copper supplement, check the label on you bottle of zinc. Many zinc supplements already include copper in the formulation.
Zinc also competes for absorption with iron, calcium and magnesium, so take a multivitamin/mineral supplement to help prevent mineral imbalances.
One last thing . . .
If your thyroid isn’t producing enough of the hormones necessary for proper metabolism, you might feel sluggish, unusually cold and even depressed. You may also be experiencing dry skin and unexplained weight gain. If you suspect hypothyroidism, it’s wise to make an appointment with your doctor so that he can check your thyroid hormone levels.
In the meantime, you can do your own rudimentary test to see if you have an underachieving thyroid. To test yourself, keep an electronic or “basal” thermometer next to your bed. The minute you wake up in the morning, place the thermometer under your armpit and hold it there for about 10 minutes. Keep still and quiet since any movement can upset your temperature reading. A temperature of 97.5°F or lower for five days in a row could be indicative of an under-active thyroid.
This just in . . .
Do you seem to be getting more forgetful? If so, you might want to adopt some heart-healthy strategies. New research suggests that people with poor memory and slow reaction times are more likely to die from a heart attack.
While a clear connection hasn’t been established, scientists have known for years that both heart disease and stroke may trigger Alzheimer’s disease. Both conditions lead to a reduced oxygen flow to the brain, which increases the genetic activity that controls a key protein, beta-amyloid, which is believed to damage brain cells.
The good news? You can reduce your risk of future brain fade and memory loss with regular exercise and by getting your blood pressure checked annually. You can also lower the chances of both heart disease and dementia with what you eat. A recent study in Neurology shows that people over the age of 65 who ate at least 2.8 servings of vegetables each day slowed their rate of cognitive decline by about 40 percent. An added benefit is that vegetables, especially those rich in fiber and antioxidants, can also help you hedge your bets against future heart disease.
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Ciloglu F, Peker I, Pehlivan A, et al. “Exercise intensity and its effects on thyroid hormones.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 2005;26:830-834.
Kilic M, Baltaci AK, Gunay M, et al. “The effect of exhaustion exercise on thyroid hormones and testosterone levels of elite athletes receiving oral zinc.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 2006;27:247-252.
Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, et al. “Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change.” Neurology. 2006;67:1370-1376.