These days the health of your thyroid is a growing concern for Americans and individuals worldwide. Thyroid conditions from Hashimoto’s to Graves disease to thyroid cancer are terms appearing more and more frequently across news channels, health magazines and in social media circles. In fact, over 20 million Americans are suffering from some form of thyroid disorder and what’s more – a whopping 60% of those people are not even aware of their condition. Thyroid disorders can wreak havoc on your metabolism and energy levels leading to weight fluctuations and hormone imbalances. Are you one of the 20 million who are suffering from symptoms of underactive or overactive thyroid? Here are some of the tell-tale signs to see if you, too, may be one of the millions of Americans whose thyroid condition is going undiagnosed, plus tips on what you can do to alleviate or eradicate many of those plaguing symptoms.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. Its role in the body is to produce thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism as well as influence energy levels and heart rate. If your body produces too much thyroid hormone, you may suffer from a form of thyroid disease called hyperthyroidism also known as an overactive thyroid.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:
- muscle weakness
- unexplained weight loss
- sleep disturbances
- vision problems
- eye irritation.
Conversely, if your body produces too little thyroid hormone – a slightly more common form of thyroid disorder – you may be suffering from hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- severe fatigue
- low libido
- dry skin
- brittle nails
- unexplained weight gain
- and low basal body temperatures
What causes thyroid disorders?
The thyroid uses the pituitary gland and a trace mineral called iodine to produce thyroid hormones. Iodine is in every cell in the human body and is found in concentrated sources in our diet such as seafood (especially seaweed), eggs, yogurt, milk, and various fruits and vegetables like cranberries and potatoes. If your diet contains a lack of iodine, that could eventually lead you down a path to the hypothyroidism.
It is said that 2.2 billion people worldwide live in areas where iodine deficiency is prevalent. This is due to iodine-deficient soil and living in regions where seafood and sea vegetables are scarce. However, current research is also finding that the overabundance of certain halide elements such as bromide, fluoride, and chlorine – found in everything from flame retardants to drinking water to bromated flour used in the baking of bread and packaged products – are a growing cause of iodine deficiency. The reason is because these three elements are considered endocrine disruptors meaning they compete with iodine for the same receptors in the thyroid gland and, in turn, inhibit thyroid hormone production leading to hypothyroidism.
Speaking of endocrine disruptors, experts are pointing the finger at estrogen-mimickers like BPA found in plastics, pesticides, and other industrial by-products as a leading cause of thyroid cancer. Some studies suggest that estrogen may fuel the growth of thyroid cancer, and the fact that thyroid cancer and thyroid disorders are four times more common in women than men, further strengthens this theory.
Another component linked to thyroid cancer is radiation exposure. Some of you may have heard about the nuclear fallout from the Fukushima melt down in March of 2011 exposing much of the northern hemisphere to radioactive iodine-131andcesium-137. The danger here is that the thyroid is not able to distinguish radioactive iodine from non-radioactive iodine, and it easily sucks up radiation into the thyroid causing gene mutations that lead to cancer. While radioactive iodine has a half-life of roughly eight days, it will dissipate in a relatively short amount of time. However, cesium-137 is the long-term threat taking all of 30 years to dissipate and affecting not just the thyroid, but the whole body.
It is important to note that radiation exposure is not just a result of major disasters. There are high levels of radiation emitted from medical and dental x-rays, mammograms, and ct-scans. Even radioactive radon gas, a problem locally here in Portland, is emitted from the ground at unsafe levels that can negatively affect your health.
In addition to environmental toxins, you might be surprised to learn that certain types of legumes, vegetables, and fruits can have an unfavorable affect on the thyroid including:
- brussel sprouts
The common denominator among these foods is that they contain goitrogens. Foods that contain goitrogens are known to impair thyroid function, but are only a concern for people whose thyroid function is already compromised or sluggish. In this case, the thyroid reacts by growing more cells in an effort to compensate for inadequate hormone production, which can result in the formation of goiter – a swelling of the neck due to an enlarged thyroid gland. However, for people with a healthy thyroid, their system will naturally adapt to the goitrogenic foods by releasing more thyroid hormone as needed.
One of the most common thyroid-related health issue that people hear about today is Hashimoto’s Disease. This is an auto-immune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, resulting in inflammation of the gland (goiter) and slowing the production of thyroid hormone. Oddly enough, a very similar auto-immune disease with the complete opposite affect of Hashimoto’s is called Grave’s Disease. Graves’ Disease is characterized by the production of antibodies that mimic thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), thereby tricking the thyroid into releasing too much thyroid hormone. People who are prone to Graves’ Disease typically have a genetic predisposition, it tends to affect women slightly more than men as pregnancy can have a hand in triggering the disease, and severe emotional stress or trauma may trigger the onset of Graves as well.
How do you keep the thyroid healthy?
There are several things you can do to help regulate your thyroid. A healthy diet with regular exercise never hurts, but there are a few suggested staple items you may choose to incorporate, as well as a handful of things you might want to steer clear of to keep your thyroid functioning at its best.
- Consume thyroid-nourishing foods mentioned before that are high in iodine like seafood, sea vegetables, yogurt and eggs
- Take supplements such as selenium, vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3s which also help facilitate the proper function of the thyroid – or if you want to go straight to the source you can opt for potassium iodide & iodine supplementation likeIodoral and Lugol’s solution, which are especially important in the wake of a nuclear or radiation disaster
- Replace vegetable oil and canola oil with coconut oil(high in medium chain fatty acids) to cook your favorite recipes, add it to your fruit smoothies and protein shakes, even utilizing it as an all-over moisturizer on your largest organ (your skin) is a great way to absorb the components of the oil that benefit your thyroid
- Consider regular acupuncture treatments as it can help stabilize energy levels, regulate the production of thyroid hormone, and manage sleeping problems among other things
- Smoke cigarettes – It may sound like a no-brainer, but the chemicals in cigarettes will cause further detriment to the thyroid especially in the case of Graves’ Disease as it can increase the chance of developing thyroid eye disease
- Ingest too much wheat or gluten – Auto-immune related thyroid disorders can be exacerbated by allergenic foods like wheat, especially with the modern industrial practice of using bromated flour as bromine competes with iodine for receptors in the thyroid
- Overdose on soy – while the benefits of soy are now a hotly contested topic, the fact remains that it is goitrogenic so ‘consume with caution’ as it could impair thyroid function. Similarly, vegetables in the brassica family (cruciferous vegetables) left uncooked can cause the thyroid to slow its production of thyroid hormone so make sure to steam, cook, or ferment your vegetables and legumes prior to consuming as this process can generally eliminate or disengage the goitrogens from having the same negative effect on the thyroid
- Take the drug Lithium, a bi-polar medication, without doing research about its goitrogenic side-effects. Lithium, too, is known to inhibit the release of thyroid hormone, leading to goiter and underactive thyroid
While we are bombarded by environmental toxins and radiation on a daily basis, prescribed drugs that only mask a problem with negative side effects, unknowingly consume processed foods ‘enriched’ with bromine, and grow our vegetables in nutrient depleted soils – these hurdles can be overcome with the right know-how and the proper health care professionals guiding you through the process. Visit D’Vida Injury Clinic and seek the care of one of our practitioners who are standing by to rebalance, recharge, and reinvigorate your system today!
Written by Jasmine Cohen