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General characteristics

General characteristics

Goitre is the word used to describe an enlargement or swelling of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is a hormone producing structure that sits at the base of the neck, wrapped around the front of the windpipe. The hormones it produces are largely composed of iodine and are responsible for regulating the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, normal growth and development, increasing heart rate and blood flow as well as having effects on the nervous and reproductive systems.

The thyroid can enlarge if it is producing too much or too little of the thyroid hormones, usually as a result of certain health problems such as iodine deficiency or excess, Graves disease or Hashimoto's disease (both are auto-immune problems), chronic or acute stress, infection, poor diet, pregnancy or puberty, medications (some anti-depressants and the contraceptive pill) cysts or rarely, tumours. Sometimes the thyroid swells with no effect on thyroid hormone levels.

Other symptoms will depend on the reason for the thyroid swelling but an overactive thyroid (i.e. too much thyroid hormone), also called hyperthyroidism, speeds up the body's metabolism and can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, restlessness, weight loss, increased sweating, heat intolerance, fatigue, increased bowel movements, trembling hands, palpitations, warm moist skin, hair loss and insomnia. Too little thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid) produces the opposite effect as it slows down metabolism and causes symptoms such as weight gain, mental sluggishness, intolerance to cold, fatigue, fluid retention, depression, constipation, dry skin, dull and lifeless hair and muscle weakness. Difficulty with swallowing is a common symptom in most types of goitre.

Healing objectives are, obviously,  to determine and treat the underlying cause of the goitre. Careful observations will give important clues as to whether there is thyroid hormone imbalance, immune dysfunction or some other cause.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

The diet should be based around the consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. All berries are loaded with anti-oxidants and help to boost immunity and vitality. Fresh juices are a great way to get vital nutrients, choose fruits like apples, grapes and berries.

All goitre sufferers should avoid the use of refined and processed carbohydrates, processed fats and oils sugar and too much animal protein.

For an overactive thyroid, include plenty of earthy foods such as root vegetables and whole grains and avoid foods rich in iodine such as seaweeds. Members of the cabbage family such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale can help because they effectively reduce the production of thyroid hormones (cooking them seems to reduce this effect). Eat smaller meals more often (perhaps 5 a day) and make sure you don't skip meals. Avoid all stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. Eat protein rich foods such as legumes, eggs, organic yoghurt and cottage cheese to help prevent weight loss.

For an underactive thyroid, avoid members of the cabbage family (unless well cooked) for their thyroid hormone lowering effect, include a small sprinkling of seaweed in one of your daily meals to boost iodine levels and fresh organic or wild salmon and Brazil nuts, several times a week for their high selenium and essential fatty acid content. Eat 3-5 regular meals a day consisting of nutrient rich, fresh and unprocessed foods. Avoid 'empty' calories i.e. foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates that contribute to weight gain and provide precious little nutrition.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

For goitre that is described as 'hard' or 'soft' use half a a teaspoon of blue flag tincture 3 times daily. Blue flag is excellent at loosening and dispersing any hard or swollen tissues in the body.

Siberian ginseng will provide support for the body during the stresses and strains of illness and hormonal imbalance. Take a teaspoon of the tincture twice daily.

For goitre due to overactive thyroid use also equal parts of the tinctures of motherwort, valerian and bugleweed. One teaspoon of the mix in water 3 times daily to reduce thyroid hormone output and ease palpitations. Drink teas of herbs that calm and restore the nervous system such as chamomile, lemon balm, vervain and skullcap especially in the evening.

For goitre due to an underactive thyroid use herbs that are slightly stimulating and tonic in their nature such as oats, gotu kola, parsley, ginkgo, bladderwrack and alfalfa as a tea. Combine equal parts and take 1 cups morning and afternoon. You could try a tincture containing dandelion root, damiana, gentian and agnus castus (equal parts), 1 teaspoon twice daily

Natural healing

Natural healing

Cabbage leaf poultices can be used to reduce the swelling of the thyroid. Place some clean organic cabbage leaves on a towel and crush gently to bruise the leaves. Place the leaves around the base of the neck and secure loosely with a bandage. Leave on for an hour or so and repeat a few times a week.

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