The thyroid gland is situated just below the voice box in the front of the neck. This gland produces thyroid hormone and controls most aspects of metabolism, including maintenance of body weight, rate of energy use from blood glucose and heart rate. The parathyroids – small glands at the rear corners of the thyroid’s lobes – make parathormone (PTH), which increases the levels of calcium in the blood. It helps bones to release their stored calcium, to increase calcium absorption in the intestines and to prevent calcium loss in kidneys.
An imbalance of thyroid hormones disrupts the metabolism resulting in two most common thyroid problems: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. In this article I will concentrate on hypothyroidism as it is more common of the two disorders. Hypothyroidism refers to low function of the thyroid and is one of the common causes of excess weight. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include, but not limited to: sensitivity to the cold, elevated cholesterol levels, weight gain and difficulty to lose it, lethargy, headaches, constipation, swollen face, puffy eyes, thickened skin, thinned hair and – in extreme cases – goitre. The most common cause of chronic hypothyroidism is inflammation of the thyroid gland due to an autoimmune condition – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. A less common cause is a lack of iodine.
It is worth noting that many people start developing under active thyroid before they get diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or they might never get into that last stage, but have borderline low thyroid hormone readings, which is enough to experience all of the above symptoms. It is well worth checking the thyroid function from late twenties and onwards, keeping an eye on fluctuations. Although thyroid disorders may not be preventable, in many cases the progression to hypothyroidism can be avoided and it is possible to reverse the sluggish thyroid gland back to normal with the right lifestyle choices.
Nutrition for healthy thyroid.
Many people are under the impression that Kelp or iodine supplements offer the best support for thyroid health, in order to avoid hypothyroidism. While it is true that iodine is vital for the manufacture of thyroid hormones, its deficiency is quite rare. Moreover, excess iodine may impair proper thyroid function. Selenium and Zinc on the other hand, play an important role in manufacture of thyroid hormones and many people are deficient in these two nutrients. In fact, selenium deficiency is one of the possible causes of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Taking daily multivitamin and mineral formula will provide the basic amount of these nutrients and supplementing with extra zinc (up to 50mcg a day) and selenium (up to 200mcg a day) could be very beneficial for thyroid health and might help to avoid the progression to hypothyroidism and hormone replacement therapy.
The diet plays an important part in regulating thyroid hormones:
- Certain foods have been shown to suppress thyroid function and interfere with Iodine and Iron absorption. This might come as a surprise, but healthy brassica vegetables such as radishes, cabbage and broccoli are goitrogens, as well as soy products. Cooking these foods inactivates goitrogens, so there is no reason to exclude these foods from the diet, but it is best not to eat any of them raw.
- Organic vegetables are thought to contain more selenium than non-organic ones due to organic farming practice of changing the soil.
- Processed food must be avoided as much as possible as it disrupts hormones.
- Cold water fish and seafood contain both iodine and zinc, thus pescetarian diet would be ideal for those with under active thyroid.
- There is also some evidence that a gluten-free diet may reduce the autoimmune action responsible for thyroid degeneration.
Exercise support for under active thyroid.
Maintaining healthy weight is essential for those with under active thyroid. It may be twice as hard to keep healthy weight, but keeping lean is very important to avoid complications associated with hypothyroidism, such as obesity, high cholesterol and consequently heart problems, chronic fatigue, etc. The most efficient way of keeping your metabolism healthy is to increase muscle tissue through weight bearing exercise or interval training, trying to shock your body every day or as often as possible. Never allow yourself to go into routine with your exercise.
In conclusion, eating more fish and seafood with plenty of organic vegetables, exercising regularly and taking an additional Zinc and Selenium may help to keep your thyroid gland healthy.