(NaturalNews) How much do you really know about your thyroid?
Extrapolating that further, how could you tell if your thyroid wasn't healthy, and what could you do to fix it?
First things first. Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped structure that sits just below the thyroid cartilage (your Adam's apple) and wraps partially around your larynx (wind pipe). It's main function is to produce hormones; when healthy, your thyroid is responsible for a) boosting your energy; b) warming you; c) keeping your immune system up and running.
Sometimes your thyroid produces too many hormones. That condition, known as hyperthyroidism, can produce rapid, forceful heartbeats, breathlessness, dramatic weight loss, nervousness, insomnia, an increased appetite, sweating and - in women - light or absent periods
But your thyroid can also work too slowly; that is known as hypothyroidism, and it's the more common thyroid disorder. Some of the signs of an underactive thyroid include swelling in the arms, legs or face; abdominal weight gain; cold hands and feet (and fungus growth in your nail beds); increased susceptibility to colds and flu; and dryness, which can manifest itself as hair loss, brittle nails, achy joints and constipation. The condition can also lead to moderate-to-severe depression.
One thing to note: There seems to be a disagreement within the medical community these days about which tests are more effective evaluating thyroid function.
According to BodyEcology.com, "traditionally, TSH, Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone that is released from the pituitary gland in the brain, would be checked along with the two thyroid hormones it produces, T3 and T4. However, it has become commonplace to only test for TSH, and that is only one part of a very detailed picture. There are many other mechanisms at work in thyroid health."
What makes your thyroid tick?
A healthy thyroid; for instance, relies on a few factors:
-- Stable levels of other hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. "Too much estrogen, such as from the birth control pill, will create too many thyroid-binding proteins," says BodyEcology.com.
-- Beneficial gut bacteria. "Antibiotics wipe out these good microbes, which account for around 20 percent of the conversion of T4 to usable T3," said the site.
-- A healthy liver.
-- Good adrenal gland function.
"Clearly, with so many pathways available for the production and conversion of thyroid hormones, there are a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong," says BodyEcology.com.
There are other things that affect thyroid health, says pharmacist Suzi Cohen.
"People with high insulin levels face a greater risk of thyroid problems because it can cause thyroid resistance; the thyroid hormones can't get into the cells or aren't as effective as they should be," she writes, making reduction of excess insulin levels "critical."
Making your thyroid work like it should
There are ways - traditionally and naturally - to treat thyroid problems. As always, consult a physician.
One way is with traditional medicine. "Most physicians treat hypothyroidism with medications because it's quick and easy. And drug therapy is necessary in many cases, at least for short periods," Cohen says, cautioning that those with diabetes and heart disease should use caution in taking such medications.
But there are other, natural ways to preserve - and rebuild - thyroid health.
A diet rich in fruits and veggies is good, but you need to be careful: "Long-term consumption of soy foods or eating too much oatmeal, fiber supplements and fiber-rich foods (like cereal) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts) may interfere with proper thyroid metabolism or absorption," says Cohen.
Iodine is critical in the production of thyroid hormone (Cohen says she supplements with Iodoral, a combination of iodine-iodide). "Stay away from food made with white flour because processing creates the toxic chemical bromine, which competes with and replaces iodine," she writes. Iron is also necessary for the production of thyroid hormone.
Antioxidants also seem to help correct improperly functioning thyroids. "Doctors may use Glutathione in their treatment of chronic thyroid conditions. Glutathione is the "mother-load" of anti-oxidants," says the National Thyroid Institute. "Many doctors at the institute have seen miraculous changes in our patient population as a result of our specific glutathione protocols. Glutathione is especially helpful with autoimmune diseases."
Finally, many experts recommend low-glycemic foods. "Strategies to reduce your "glycemic load" include eating more whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, fruits and non-starchy vegetables, cutting back on high-glycemic foods, such as skinless potatoes, white bread and instant rice, and limiting sugary foods, like cakes, candy and soft drinks."