Have you had your thyroid checked lately? A healthy thyroid is vital for a healthy you!
Located in the front of the neck, this butterfly-shaped endocrine gland secretes hormones which are important in regulating the metabolic rate and protein synthesis. The thyroid uses iodine and tyrosine (one of the 20 standard amino acids) to produce thyroxine, also known as T4, the primary hormone produced by the gland. After delivery via the bloodstream to the body’s tissues, a small portion of the T4 released from the gland is converted to triiodothyronine (T3), which is the most active hormone.
Hormonal output from the thyroid is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the anterior pituitary gland, which, in turn, is regulated by thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) produced by the hypothalamus.
If your head is swimming with technical terms right about now, here’s a real-world analogy from The Harvard Medical School Guide to Overcoming Thyroid Problems by Dr. Jeffrey R. Garber, published by McGraw-Hill, via the Thyroid Awareness website, to help understand the important role this small gland plays:
“Think of your thyroid as a car engine that sets the pace at which your body operates. An engine produces the required amount of energy for a car to move at a certain speed. In the same way, your thyroid gland manufactures enough thyroid hormone to prompt your cells to perform a function at a certain rate.
“Just as a car can’t produce energy without gas, your thyroid needs fuel to produce thyroid hormone. This fuel is iodine. Iodine comes from your diet and is found in iodized table salt, seafood, bread and milk.”
The thyroid may become diseased, either producing high hormone levels (hyperthyroidism) or low hormone levels (hypothyroidism). In either case, the symptoms presented may be misinterpreted. Due to their subtlety, thyroid problems are often attributed to normal aging. This is why regular thyroid check-ups after age 55 are essential.
Furthermore, with age, the chance of developing a thyroid imbalance increases.
The thyroid gland naturally produces lower levels of hormones, which explains this fact, courtesy the American Thyroid Association:
“Hypothyroidism is very common in patients over 60 years of age and steadily increases with age.”
To help invigorate your thyroid, here are eight foods and supplements to include in your regular diet:
1. Iodine. As was mentioned previously, the thyroid hormones T4 and T3 circulate in the bloodstream and work on every living tissue and cell to regulate metabolism and growth. Of the body’s iodine pool (about 15 mg in adults), 80% is contained in the thyroid gland. Healthy iodine levels, as provided by iodized salt, are imperative for normal thyroid function and thyroid hormone biosynthesis.
2. Selenium. The thyroid contains more selenium by weight than any other organ. This important mineral regulates thyroid hormone synthesis, preserves thyroid integrity in conditions of marked oxidative stress, and controls hormone metabolism in nonthyroidal tissues where the prohormone T4 is converted to biologically active T3 or its inactive isomer rT3.
3. Zinc. Zinc is another mineral that may be helpful in patients with low T3. It may aid the conversion of T4 to T3. But very high doses of zinc interfere with copper absorption and can lead to serious and potentially fatal copper deficiency – so also take copper with zinc supplements.
4. Turmeric extract. Golden turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin reduce inflammation, which plays a role in thyroid conditions as well.
5. Vitamin D. The “Sunshine Vitamin” helps the intestine absorb calcium and therefore helps maintain the ratio of calcium to phosphorous, which can be affected by low thyroid function and certain thyroid therapies.
6. Vitamin E. This vitamin has antioxidative properties, and may help protect thyroid cells and tissues, and scavenges damaging free radicals to facilitate the enzymatic conversion of T4 to T3.
7. Rosemary. Not only used to flavor food, rosemary is known to have medicinal uses, too. This helpful herb has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may help with hypothyroidism and its symptoms. It also may improve thyroid signaling through enhanced thyroid receptor activity.
8. Ashwagandha. Popular in Ayurvedic medicine, this healing herb has traditionally been used to strengthen the immune system after illness.
reveals an extraordinary fact: ashwagandha can help people with both hypo (low) and hyper (high) thyroid levels.
Although the exact causes of thyroid diseases are sometimes unknown, there is no doubt that regular exercise, periodic health check-ups, and keeping to a thyroid-friendly diet can improve the odds for prevention.
Now that wasn’t so hard to swallow, was it?