The Thyroid Gland
- tend to feel the cold and suffer from cold hands and feet?
- find that your energy can be low for no obvious reason?
- think your powers of concentration and memory are not what they were?
- seem to be steadily putting on weight for some time, despite not having made any major changes to your eating habits or exercise regime and find it difficult to shed those extra pounds, despite eating well and exercising more?
If you identify with some or all of these situations, then it would be good to consider the role of the thyroid gland.
The Body’s thermostat
This is about the size and shape of a bow tie and sits in front of the neck. It is essentially the body’s thermostat, determining its temperature and the speed at which it burns fuel.
Each cell in the body burns fuel for energy, some of which is released as heat. The speed at which the cells do this is known as ‘metabolism’, and this is regulated by the thyroid gland. If the thyroid and the metabolism are flagging, even slightly, this can lead to real problems with excess weight.
The thyroid produces a variety of hormones; the most important is thyroxine (T4). Outside the thyroid T4 is converted into T3 (tri-iodothyronine), which is the active form of the hormone.
In normal circumstances T3 travels in the bloodstream to all the body’s tissues, entering each of the body’s cells. T3 stimulates cells to burn fuel with oxygen to release energy, some of this being released as heat. The more T3 there is around, the faster the metabolism works, resulting in a reduced tendency for weight gain and a warmer body.
The thyroid’s production of hormones is itself regulated by another gland, the pituitary (brain). The pituitary monitors and controls the level of thyroid hormones in the blood.
Thyroid and health
The effect of thyroid hormones on the body is far-reaching. Low levels can lead to; weight gain, retention of water, salt & protein in the body, blood cholesterol levels tend to raise, growth of skin, hair & nails tend to be slower, mental fatigue & sluggishness.
Testing for low function
The conventional medical test:
Blood sample is measured for TSH and T4. If thyroid function is low, then we should see this reflected in a low T4 level. As TSH tends to rise as T4 falls, the low T4 should also be accompanied by a high TSH level. However, there are huge numbers of people who appear to have significantly reduced thyroid function, and who respond to thyroid support, yet come up normal on the blood test.
Why can this be?
- The ‘normal’ ranges may not reflect what is truly normal
- The body can become resistant to the effects of thyroid hormones (as it can with insulin)
- Thyroid hormone levels may be altered by unrelated factors
- We’re checking the wrong hormones
Home testing of thyroid function
An American doctor called Broda Barnes became very interested in the thyroid gland. After years of research he concluded that conventional tests for thyroid function were inadequate. He discovered that it was possible to get a very good idea of thyroid function by measuring an individual’s temperature first thing in the morning.
In the absence of infection, the body’s temperature is essentially determined by thyroid function. Low thyroid function is therefore often reflected in a low body temperature.
The “Barnes Test”:
Take a mercury thermometer and before you go to sleep shake it down and leave it by the bed. On waking and before getting up, place the bulb of the thermometer in your armpit and wait for a full ten minutes. Record the temperature.
Normal body temperature in the morning is between 36.6C and 36.8C (97.8F and 98.2F). A temperature of 36.4C (97.4F) or less strongly suggests a thyroid that is not keeping pace.
What can cause low thyroid function?
- Iodine deficiency
- Chemical pollutants
- Genetic factors
- Treating a sluggish thyroid
There appears to be three therapeutic options:
The natural approach – nutrients and herbs
The conventional approach – thyroxine
The combination approach – thyroid extracts
The natural approach:
- Iodine – highly essential to thyroid function
- Selenium – enables conversion of T4 into T3
- Vitamin A – very important role in thyroid function
- Zinc – thyroid function and hormone production
- Calcium and Magnesium – Helps in the regulation of the thyroid
- L-tyrosine – an amino acid which has an essential role to play in the formation of thyroid hormones.
- L-glutamine and L-glycine – required for normal thyroid functioning
Some specific foods to try and incorporate in to your diet are:
- Fish (especially oily like salmon) – good source of selenium and Iodine.
- Nuts – Brazil nuts are very rich in Selenium
- Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Sea vegetables – rich in iodine, calcium, Vitamin A.