Where is the thyroid?
A busy butterfly-shaped gland resides just below your Adam’s apple and is responsible for the regulation of your metabolism. The thyroid quietly goes about its business, like a butterfly, without getting much attention unless your doctor checks it during a routine physical exam or runs a blood test during an annual check-up. Unless something unusual is found at that time (e.g., swelling around the throat, called a goiter) or symptoms manifest that indicate a problem, there won’t be much further conversation about your thyroid.
What does the thyroid do?
Let’s take a moment to find out what the thyroid does, how to know if there’s a problem, and how to keep your thyroid healthy.
The thyroid is part of the complex endocrine system, which includes the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thymus, pineal gland, testes, ovaries, adrenal glands, parathyroid, and pancreas. It makes hormones that travel through your bloodstream and regulate your metabolism, brain and heart function, and reproductive and menstrual cycles.
When the thyroid is not functioning properly, a chain reaction of hormonal events can take place that involves many other glands/hormones of the endocrine system and the bodily systems they regulate. The end result is one of two primary types of health conditions: hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism results when the thyroid is overactive
Think of hyperthyroidism like a butterfly that can’t stop fluttering its wings. Everything is on overdrive, including metabolism, frequency of bowels, emotions (anxiousness), increased sweating, and–for lady butterflies only–very light menstruation or cessation of the menstrual cycle. This butterfly often feels hot and can’t maintain a healthy weight. There are also bouts of exhaustion from trying to maintain this intense state of arousal.
Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid is underactive
This butterfly just can’t get its wings to go. It’s gained weight, feels sluggish, and has brittle hair and nails. It feels cold and tired, is kind of depressed, and suffers from constipation. The lady butterflies usually have irregular, heavy menstruation.
How to test your thyroid
In order to test the thyroid, most doctors will run a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test. If that test number is out of range, then a diagnosis is made. There can be many variables to the testing of the thyroid. Taking the testing late in the day can show a lowered TSH, making it look in range, when in actuality, a morning test may have shown the numbers out of range.
The TSH does not test the thyroid gland itself; it looks at what the pituitary is telling the thyroid to do. This is why looking at the Free T4, and Free T3 numbers are important, so you know how well the thyroid is making and converting hormone to be used by your cells to run your metabolism. If you are hypothyroid, testing the Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPO’s), will let your doctor know if your hypothyroidism is caused by the auto-immune component, Hashimoto’s Disease, or primary hypothyroidism. These results can affect how diet and treatment should be directed.
5 Ways to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy
- Eat from the sea. The sea provides many natural sources of iodine, a building block of the thyroid hormone. Salt has a high concentration of iodine, but it can raise blood pressure. Instead, opt for healthy fish, such as Wild-caught Alaskan Salmon, or try seaweed in a salad. The omega-3’s found in fish oil provides essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation, which plays a role in causing auto-immune diseases.
- Eat from the earth. Eat foods high in B vitamins, which are precursors to thyroid hormones and influence cell energy. Balance your diet with poultry, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Selenium is an important nutrient used to convert inactive T4 from the thyroid to active T3 your body uses. To get your daily dose of selenium, eating three brazil nuts (raw, not roasted) per day is all it takes. Red meat provides iron, zinc, magnesium, and other minerals essential for thyroid hormone function and the health of other bodily systems affected by thyroid disorders (skin, hair, metabolism).
- Relax. A daily relaxation practice, such as just 10 minutes a day of silence and deep breathing, can make a difference in the state of mind and body. This helps reset the adrenal glands to decrease cortisol levels that can affect your thyroid function. If you are new, try guided meditations, I enjoy the free podcasts at www.meditationoasis.com <http://www.meditationoasis.com/>.
- Get moving, especially getting outside in the sun. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, going for a walk, or doing light yoga is particularly good for thyroid health. Include poses such as fish pose, legs up the wall, child’s pose, shoulder stand, or if you’re an advanced yogi, headstands.
- Get supplement-al insurance. Our diets aren’t perfect, so supplementing with a vitamin/mineral or botanical (herb) regimen can provide extra insurance against exposure to stress, toxins, and perhaps your own family history. Be sure to consult with your wellness practitioner about the best nutraceutical products for you.
About the Author
Dr. Terra Provost is a licensed naturopathic doctor and owner of Crossroads Vitality Natural Health <http://www.crossroadsvitality.com/> in Fargo, North Dakota. Her practice focus is on women’s health and hormone balance. As an entrepreneur, Dr. Terra is now building her third business. Each venture brings new lessons and challenges.
Her first practice focused on sports medicine; the second was a 5 year established general health practice she joined in California, in which she doubled the patient load in two years with her approachable demeanor and expertise. With relocating back to her roots in the midwest, Dr. Terra has come full circle in her health journey and has now redirected her focus to women’s health after dealing with her own complications with fertility. Dr. Terra realized the lack of information and support for couples seeking to start a family in the midwest and now seeks to help women to support optimal health naturally.
Dr. Terra is a public speaker, transmitting information through written articles, speaking events, podcasts, and appearing on local television as a health expert in the field of women’s health and hormone balancing. Most importantly, Dr. Terra is mom to her, and her husband’s four rescued fur-babies and “personal taxi” to their soon-to-be little boy.
American Thyroid Association. ATA Patient Education Web, Brochures. <http://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/ata-patient-education-web-brochures/> Accessed May 2020.
Women to Women. ‘Alternative Hypothyroidism Treatment. <https://www.womentowomen.com/thyroid-health/alternative-hypothyroidism-treatment-2/>‘ Accessed May 2020.
Natural Medicine Journal. ‘Thyroid-stimulating Hormone Fluctuates With Time of Day. <https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2012-12/thyroid-stimulating-hormone-fluctuates-time-day>’ Accessed May 2020.