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Thyroid gland

General characteristics

General characteristics

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland, divided into two lobes which are situated at the front of the neck just below the Adams apple area. It is the largest endocrine gland (its hormones are secreted directly into the blood) in the body and its healthy functioning is crucial to health. Four smaller parathyroid glands are also located (2 on each lobe) on the back of the thyroid gland and help to regulate blood levels of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.

The thyroid gland tissues use iodine in order to produce T3 and T4.

 The thyroid gland works in co-operation with the pituitary, parathyroids, adrenals and ovaries.

 Under the influence of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, the thyroid secretes 3 different hormones triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and calcitonin. T3 and T4 control body metabolism (how quickly calories are used by the body), affects fat, protein and carbohydrate use, have an effect on every cell in the body, help to control body temperature, can speed up or reduce the heart rate, affect muscle strength and bone growth, help brain and nervous system development, helps control the rate of digestion, increases the body's sensitivity to hormones such as adrenalin, affects reproductive hormones,

 When the thyroid is under-producing hormones (under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism) the body metabolism slows and weight may be gained or prove very difficult to lose. Other symptoms include cold intolerance, dry cold and thickened skin, dry hair, hair loss, enlarged thyroid gland (goitre), puffy face (due to water retention), diminished mental and physical capabilities, fatigue, slow heart rate, poor wound healing, depression, infertility, menstrual irregularities, endometriosis and constipation. Cretinism may result if the thyroid is under-active in an infant or in early childhood.

When the thyroid is overproducing thyroid hormones (overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism) the metabolism speeds up resulting in weight loss an/or an inability to put weight on. Other symptoms include increased body heat and intolerance to external heat, increased heart rate, goitre, nervousness and anxiety, trembling muscles (especially the hands), hot sweaty skin and diarrhoea.

Both an under and over-active thyroid gland can lead to its enlargement, or goitre.

 The thyroid gland can become over or under active as a result of adrenal fatigue (due to long term stress or anxiety), a lack of iodine in the diet, overdose of iodine (e.g. radiation exposure), liver disease, pregnancy, excessive fluoride consumption, environmental toxins (such as the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to make non-stick coatings for saucepans and as a stain and water repellent for carpets and fabrics and a rocket fuel agent called perchlorate and other petroleum products), systemic candida, thyroid medications, pesticide exposure (eat organic!), exposure to compounds in plastics, inflammation or destruction of the thyroid tissue itself, infection, overexposure to petroleum and its products, during menopause, cancers and autoimmune disorders. Thyroid disorders in general are much more common in women than men.

 The key to keeping the thyroid in good health relies on eating a well balanced diet, learning to avoid or deal more effectively with stress and emotional tensions, avoid environmental toxins where possible and maintain good overall health. The overall health of the liver, kidneys, digestive system and the adrenal glands should be improved and the heart protected with herbs such as hawthorn berry. The immune system should also be bolstered and strengthened through good diet and herbs.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Avoid environmental toxins wherever possible, this is especially important in the home or workplace.

 

Eat a diet rich in fresh organic whole foods based around vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits etc.

 

For under-active thyroid disorders, eat foods rich in selenium such as brazil nuts, crimini mushrooms, cod, shrimp, tuna, halibut, salmon, scallops, chicken, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, lamb, and turkey. Eat 3 meals daily, based around lightly steamed vegetables and rice with fresh juices as snacks. Warming digestive herbs like ginger and chilli may be added.

 

For an over-active thyroid foods that are earthy and grounding in their nature should be eaten. These include all root vegetables, grains such as millet, barley, quinoa and rice.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

 

 * If you are taking thyroid medications you should always consult a qualified herbalist before taking any herbs that may amplify or reduce the action of your medication. Consult the pages on individual herbs to see if their are any contraindications or cautions for each herb.

 

Agnus castus may help by influencing the pituitary gland which regulates thyroid hormone secretion.

 

Nettle and oatstraw tea (equal parts)  is a useful remedy to help nourish both the adrenals and thyroid. It also provides a wealth of nutrients. Drink up to 3 cups daily.

 

Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and can be used when goitre is present. Add it to foods or take in capsule form.

 

Taking kelp or other edible seaweeds will decrease the amount of radioactive iodine uptake in the thyroid following over-exposure to radiation.

 

Blue flag tincture can be useful for thyroid health.

 

For an under-active thyroid herbs such as parsley, kelp, oatstraw and oat seed, celery seed, sarsaparilla, ginseng, gotu kola and cayenne (chilli) will be useful. Digestive or 'bitter' herbs such as dandelion root and gentian root will also help to improve digestive abilities.

 

For an over-active thyroid try bugleweed (not if pregnant or breastfeeding) and lemon balm.

 

For any thyroid condition, a formula based on immune supportive herbs could include siberian ginseng, reishi mushroom and ashwagandha.

 

Support thr heart with hawthorn berries and flowers.


Natural healing

Natural healing

Respected herbalist Susan Weed has a novel way for testing if the thyroid is healthy. Paint a small patch of iodine tincture on the skin of your inner arm, if it disappears within an hour you need more iodine and the thyroid is probably suffering a little.

 

High doses of thyroid hormone (medical thyroxine) can weaken the integrity of bone structure so take the lowest dose possible and do not overdose.

 

Get plenty of rest and relaxation which greatly benefits the thyroid.


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