The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland positioned on the front of the neck, on either side of the windpipe, directly below the “Adam’s apple.” Part of the endocrine system, it is one of the first organs to develop in a fetus.
This gland has many functions:
- It affects protein synthesis within the cells and electrolyte transportation.
- It affects mental processes, sex drive and menstrual regularity.
- It allows for better muscle and cardiac activity.
- It regulates growth in children.
- It helps convert food into energy, enhances the secretion of gastric juices, and improves fat metabolism.
- It helps convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A.
- Thyroid secretions accelerate bone repair.
There are three known hormones secreted by the thyroid gland. They are known as thyroxine, tri-iodothyronine and calcitonin.
One’s entire blood supply filters through the thyroid gland once every hour. Any iodine in the blood is kept by the thyroid, which it will use to manufacture hormones.
A thyroid condition that is underactive is called hypothyroidism and is often marked by low iodine levels. It can manifest as a multitude of ailments and may be difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem. Fatigue, brittle nails, coarse brittle hair, hair loss, headaches, poor short term memory, anxiety or panic attacks, low blood pressure, depression, low libido, pale, dry or coarse skin, high cholesterol, puffy eyes, dry eyes, blurry vision, frequent respiratory infection, decreased perspiration, poor skin tone, tingling hands, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, constipation, hair loss, puffy eye lids, low body temperature, wounds that are slow to heal, infertility, goiter, rheumatic pain, emotional disorders, allergies, missing lower portion of eyebrows, poor sleep, flu-like symptoms, hoarseness, hypersensitivity, and fluid retention are all possible indicators that thyroid secretions may be low. Heredity, viral infection, fluoridated water and some medications can all affect the thyroid adversely. In Oriental medicine, low thyroid function is often related to a deficiency of Kidney energy.
Goiter, due to a poorly functioning thyroid gland causes a swelling around the necklace line of the neck. It is more prevalent in areas inland than those close to the ocean. As early as the 1920’s, iodine was added to table salt to reduce incidences of goiter. Goiter can be due to hypo or hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when there is an excess of thyroid hormones causing one’s metabolism is race out of control. Symptoms likely to occur are heart pounding, high blood pressure, feeling flushed, sweating, weight loss and overheated, inablility for the eyes to focus, insomnia, nervousness, heart racing, abnormally frequent bowels, anxiety, and diarrhea. This chemical imbalance can lead to heart failure if untreated. In Asian medicine, hyperthyroidism may involve a fluid deficiency in the body.
Simple Test to Check Thyroid Function
There is a simple test called the Barnes Basal Temperature Test to check thyroid function. Refrain from drinking alcohol that night. Before bed, shake down a thermometer and place it by your bed. In the morning, put the thermometer firmly in the armpit and rest for 10 minutes. A normal resting reading will be 97.8 F. (37 degrees C). Repeat this the next day. If it is lower, suspect an underactive thyroid. Women should do this after their menses is complete as temperature levels will fluctuate more during this time.
If iodine is deficient, the thyroid gland tends to swell and blood vessels get hardened. The Japanese, known for their diet high in iodine seafoods and sea vegetables, such as dulse, kelp and hiziki rarely have goiter. Most land based foods only contain trace amounts of iodine. The sea vegetables, constantly bathed in the rich brine of the ocean have a softening, cleansing.
Eating large amounts of foods in the Brassicaceae Family such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rutabaga, turnips and Brussels sprouts have been said to be weakening to the thyroid gland, as they contain thiouracils, which can block iodine uptake. However, this is really only a problem if one is deficient in iodine, Eating sufficient quantities of sea vegetables, can improve thyroid function. Apricots, parsley, Swiss chard, tahini and watercress are considered beneficial foods for thyroid health.
Foods to avoid, that inhibit thyroid function include millet, peanuts, and soybeans. The thyroid gland becomes damaged by the excessive consumption of caffeine, sugar and refined carbohydrates, all of which stimulate pituitary activity, and damage its ability to produce the necessary hormones that activate thyroid function.
Nature provides herbs that can naturally support thyroid health:
- Bugleweed herb is used to reduce an enlarged and hyperactive thyroid. It is a thyroxine antagonist.
- Irish moss, another seaweed moistens dry skin and soothes swollen glands. It is a a nutritive and moistening tonic for the body.
- Motherwort herb calms heart palpitations, hot flashes, anxiety, skin hypersensitivity and thyroid enlargement.
- Mullein leaf is used for hyperthyroidism and to reduces glandular inflammation.
- Nettle seed are considered a thyroid tonic.
The thyroid gland has a high need for Vitamin B-1, especially when over activity is the problem. Niacin, or vitamin B-3 is needed for smooth functioning of all the endocrine glands. B-6 improves iodine assimilation. A supplement of essential fatty acids may help decrease excessive thyroid hormones. The amino acid L-tyrosine is a precursor to the thyroid hormones thyroxin and triodthyronine,
A deficiency of Vitamin A can reduce the thyroid’s ability to assimilate iodine and contribute to goiter. So it would be better to use Vitamin A supplementation, rather than its precursor, beta-carotene. Use manganese to improve energy levels, control sweet cravings and decrease allergic reactions. An iodine supplement, which is usually derived from kelp, should also be given. Selenium helps thyroxin to be converted to T3.
Swimming in clean salt water will also benefit the thyroid gland. Exercise in the open air is also of great benefit. It is helpful to connect with the thyroid gland a couple of times daily to massage it. St. John’s wort oil makes an excellent application. Its effectiveness may be bolstered by the additions of essential oils of geranium or catnip diluted into the St. John’s wort oil for hypothyroid conditions. The ideal massage technique is done by grasping the front of the throat at the gland level using all fingers and moving the area up and down.